Greenbelt Native Plant Center

Native plants are equipped to live under a specific set of conditions including but not limited to climate, soil types, amount of sunlight, and surrounding species of flora and fauna. Plants and animals that have evolved together depend upon one another for survival. Native plants do a better job of providing food and shelter for native wild animals. Sometimes, only a single species or sub species can fill a niche role in an ecosystem. For example the iconic monarch butterfly relies on a single species of milkweed in order to survive. It lays its eggs on the fleshy, sap-filled leaves. Larvae feed on the plants sap, absorbing the toxins which remain in the insect throughout adulthood, making them resistant to predation. Milkweed plants are often destroyed in agriculture in landscaping. Many do not realize the plants serve a significant function in the lifecycle of an iconic species.

Problems often arise when homeowners or professional landscapers plant. In my experience as a landscaper in central Connecticut, aesthetic value often overrules the use of native plant species in decorative landscapes. Clients often have a very specific idea of what they want to achieve, and many falsely assume that planting natives will result in a look far from the immaculate images in their minds.

At Eco Brooklyn, almost all of the plants used in landscapes are native. In rare cases, the species that aren’t are not harmful to the surrounding ecosystem, have a low probability of environmental contamination, and require low levels of maintenance. The aesthetic created captures the natural beauty of the New York City area. Planting native landscapes in gardens, rooftops, and natural swimming pools is not only for aesthetic reasons however. A changing attitude about the plants we interact with is the most valuable result of planting native. Changing the common opinion on natural plants from a method that, although environmentally sound, will lead to lackluster results, is paramount to creating a healthier urban ecosystem.


To carry out our projects, plants are sourced from the Greenbelt Native Plants Center. Greenbelt is a nonprofit nursery and seed bank located in Coney Island serving all 5 NYC boroughs. It specializes in providing native plants, grown on its 14 beautiful acres, to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation as well as professional landscapers in order to restore degraded land and enhance the city’s green spaces. There are over 2000 plants native to the New York area, 336 of which are cultivated using seeds collected from wild, local populations. Species also include submersibles, plants that thrive underwater some or all of the year, often a rarity for growers.

For Eco Brooklyn’s most recent natural pool project on Fire Island, over 800 native submersibles from grasses such as sedge to brightly flowered irises were used. Due to Greenbelt’s status as a nonprofit organization, the plants are extremely affordable, and the staff is extremely knowledgeable about their products, providing consultations and advice on the plants they care so much for. We simply could not do what we do without the easy access, and I would like to encourage anyone interested in taking a thoughtful approach to landscaping.


Northeast Pool and Spa Show: Where’s the ECO?

The 2015 Northeast Pool and Spa Show is coming up this January. It is a big deal. All the players are there. It is the BIG event for pool people on the East Coast. They have hundreds of classes, seminars and presentations.

And not one on Natural Pools…

Just in case you forgot how beautiful a natural swimming pool is.
Just in case you forgot how beautiful a natural swimming pool is.

As a natural pool builder I just shake my head in amazement. Do we even share the same planet?

A natural pool uses no chemicals, has a tiny pump if any, and is the most wonderful magical swimming experience you can imagine.

Toxic pools use massive amounts of chemicals that take a lot of energy to make, they have energy guzzling pumps and lots of PVC materials, and is like swimming in a giant cup of noxious chemicals.

How in the world is it possible the pool pros aren’t pushing natural pools as the best swimming experience? Apart from the swimming experience, the two paragraphs above explain very clearly why the pool industry is not pushing Natural Pools. With Natural Pools there isn’t anything to sell! You build it and walk away. With a toxic pool you build it and guarantee a lifetime of product sales in chemicals, pumps, filters etc.

This image shows how much energy toxic pools consume, and this does not include all the energy it takes to make the chemicals. A natural pool consumes nothing.
This image shows how much energy toxic pools consume, and this does not include all the energy it takes to make the chemicals. A natural pool consumes nothing, or at the very most it uses a small pump (about 100W).

Natural Pools have to come through customer demand, not industry supply. The pool industry is just fine with what they are selling and don’t want to stop selling it. But if customers stop buying things change.

Demand a natural pool. If you have a toxic pool, convert it to a natural one. Lets get right of toxic pools and increase natural aquatic ecosystems that are good for humans, plants, and the planet.

Converting a toxic pool to a natural pool is even more ecological. Not only do you create a natural swimming pool using less energy but you also remove a toxic one.

What is the best wall construction for Passive House?

A recent article in the Home Energy Magazine analyzes the embodied energy of different wall structures for Passive House construction in cold climates. Basically, it’s great to have super insulated homes, but home much extra energy does it take to build them? Said another way, how many years will it take before the embodied energy it took to build the walls becomes less than the energy those walls saved.

They compared the following wall structures

  •  TJI frame with blown-in fiberglass insulation, built in Urbana, Illinois.
  • Insulating concrete form (ICF) with exterior expanded polystyrene (EPS), built in southern Wisconsin.
  • Structural insulated panel (SIP) filled with urethane foam with an interior 2 x 4 wall filled with blown-in cellulose, built in Belfast, Maine.
  • Advanced 2 x 12 stud framing filled with open-cell spray foam and insulated on the exterior with either EPS or vacuum insulated panels (VIPs), built in Bemidji, Minnesota.
  • Double 2 x 4 stud wall insulated with blown-in cellulose, built in Duluth, Minnesota.

The energy payback time for the wall assemblies ranged from immediately for the double-stud wall to 4.4 years for the mass wall—not a big chunk of a building’s expected lifetime. Because of the HFC blowing agent, the advanced frame with spray foam envelope has a carbon payback of 23 years.

Although the double-stud wall comes out smelling of roses in these comparisons, as long as you avoid specifying insulation made with an HFC blowing agent and minimize the use of energy-intensive materials, such as concrete and OSB, all of these envelopes would have a good energy and carbon payback.

Here is the double studd wall with cellulose:

The double studd walls stop thermal bridging while the cellulose insulation has very low embodied energy.
The double studd walls stop thermal bridging while the cellulose insulation has very low embodied energy.

As a New York Passive House builder the big question for me is how does this affect Passive Houses built in existing Brownstone buildings. The double stud and cellulose can easily be applied on the inside of the Brownstone brick walls. But there are two problems with this.

One problem is space. Brownstones cost a lot of money and to loose an extra several inches of floor space is a big deal.

The second problem is deterioration of the brick walls. Those brick walls have survived wonderfully for the past 100 years thanks to the nice warm heat from the building. Once you install the double stud walls you isolate the brick on the outside of the thermal envelope and the bricks are susceptible to freezing.

When the mortar in a brick wall freezes it expands. When it thaws it contracts. Over the years this wears away all the mortar and the wall falls apart. How long this takes is still a bit in the air since all Passive Houses in NYC and Brooklyn are only a couple years old.

One solution to both these issues is to build a less thick wall. You gain space and a little heat is lost to the outside, stopping the bricks from freezing. Clearly this is not ideal given the lost energy.

If anyone has solutions to these issues I am very interested to hear them.

Hempcrete for Brooklyn Brownstone Extensions

We at Eco Brooklyn have been in love with Hempcrete – a mix of lime and hemp for walls – for years. A hempcrete wall provides strength, protection and insulation all in one.

Compared to stick and frame building it uses much less wood and is much more solid of a structure. A hempcrete home feels solid. And the soundproofing qualities are amazing.

The one drawback is that you do need a thicker wall – at least 12′. In space starved NYC this can be a problem. The wall doesn’t, however need any kind of finishing (sheet rock for example) so space is saved there.

We think a Hempcrete application is perfect for a brownstone extension. It is so much greener than the cinder blocks often used. And in terms of comfort it is unmatched. No air leaks or thermal bridges.

Eco Brooklyn is a New York Hempcrete installer. We feel that it has it’s place in the NY green building lexicon. More and more, though, the green building lexicon is simply becoming building lexicon. Green building makes sense.

We are eager to install more hempcrete walls. Even if it is just one wall that acts as a centerpiece, the visual beauty and tactile comfort of hempcrete is makes it practically a work of art. Optionally you can plaster the wall with clay, another beautiful material.

Check out this video on how a hempcrete wall is built. You will notice how very simple it is.

Wood Certification

A little while ago we visited a green pavilion with “sustainable” oak floors. We were intrigued by the concept of sustainable oak since oak trees are protected by law and the meaning of sustainable is often skewed by marketers.

After some research we found that there are more than 50 certification systems worldwide, the two largest being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both are third-party certifiers in that they are independent and non-governmental.

In North America, the three additional certification systems endorsed by the PEFC are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. Currently only 10% of the forests in the world have been certified as sustainable.

The Forest Stewardship Council was the first established third-party certification system and many others followed suit. There is criticism that the abundance of certification systems results in consumer confusion in relation to standards, therefore allowing some systems to uphold laxer standards.

LEED only accepts certification systems that adhere to the USGBC Forest Certification Systems Benchmark. A draft is available here.

Currently only Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood is eligible for LEED points. FSC accredits its associated certification bodies and checks compliance through audits.

The FSC has 10 general principles for responsible forest management:

Principle 1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles – to comply with all laws, regulations, treaties, conventions and agreements, together with all FSC Principles and Criteria.

Principle 2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities – to define, document and legally establish long-term tenure and use rights.

Principle 3: Indigenous peoples’ rights – to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of ownership and use of land and resources.

Principle 4: Community relations and worker’s rights – to maintain or enhance forest workers’ and local communities’ social and economic well-being.

Principle 5: Benefits from the forest – to maintain or enhance long term economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest.

Principle 6: Environmental impact – to maintain or restore the ecosystem, its biodiversity, resources and landscapes.

Principle 7: Management plan – to have a management plan, implemented, monitored and documented.

Principle 8: Monitoring and assessment – to demonstrate progress towards management objectives.

Principle 9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests – to maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests.

Principle 10: Plantations – to plan and manage plantations in accordance with FSC Principles and Criteria.

The FSC certification promotes forests that are exemplary of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable management practices. Sustainability has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, so the certification ensures that forest managers ensure the long-term health of the forest in question.

FSC also provides chain-of-custody certification, which takes into account all companies that have touched the lumber before it is purchased by a consumer.

The detailed standards can be found at

The certification systems promote responsible building practices by allowing builders to work with sustainable materials. At EcoBrooklyn, we try to work mostly with materials salvaged from dumpsters, which is the most sustainable option available. It is rare we buy new wood any given year.

Certified woods offer an acceptable last option alternative. But as a green building company we are skeptical of certifications. Most of them are simply labels that allow the consumer to feel better about their purchase and allow the producer to sell more, but in reality not much has changed. Trees are cut down, habitats are destroyed.

It is impossible to reproduce that. Even when companies replant trees, they do it as a mono-culture with one species of tree. That is like saying elevator muzak and Mozart are the same. One is lifeless. The other is full of life.

Understandably our view is not main stream. If it were then most construction would come to a screeching halt and we would love that. But realistically certifications are a move in the right direction for mainstream builders. With time hopefully the certifications will get more and more stringent.

Are Illegal Drugs Green?

Are Illegal Drugs Green? The answer is no. Reason being anything that isn’t regulated is driven purely by monetary benefit without any rules or oversight. If you think big corporations are bad for polluting rivers, think what damage a large meth lab can do. Not only do they have a lot of chemicals to dispose of but they need to do it secretly – they aren’t going to pack the contaminants into barrells and send them off to an approved waste processing plant. They are going to dump it into a secluded river. “Secluded” being another word for no humans, meaning nature.

This occurred to me when I read the cool info on this Addiction Support site. They offer fantastic info on how drugs as they are made now are not sustainable.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it's almost impossible to stop illegal companies.
Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it’s almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

As a green builder in Brooklyn we work near the Gowanus Canal, a great example of what happens when waste is not regulated. Now we are paying for that big time. The millions they saved by using the canal as a dumping ground is many millions more that we have to pay to fix it. Thank’s guys! Next time just charge me a couple cents more for the product and do the right thing.

The mouth of the Gowanus Canal 1851.
A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.
A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

From an environmental point of view it is a lot healthier for our society to legalize drugs. Tax the hell out of them, regulate them up the wazoo and strictly control where, when and who can consume them. And most importantly, control how and where they are made. Are they clear cutting mountains and drenching them in illegal pesticides to grow that marijuana or are they growing it in low footprint warehouses using solar electricity and city waste-water?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm...who's the biggest drug addict?
Global Drug Routes. Hmmm…who’s the biggest drug addict?
Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production. The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.
Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production, like the clear cutting for Marijuana growing in California above . The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

People are not stupid. Well, that’s not true. Many are. But it is my experience from having three kids that working with them is much better than against.

Why is alcohol legal and other dangerous drugs aren’t? Makes no sense to me. Why is is totally legal for my six year old to light a fire in our fireplace and yet I can’t legally buy some pot to light up on my back porch? Trust me, my son lighting a fire is a million times more dangerous to society than my addled brain on pot could ever be.

And I don’t even like pot. I want this stuff legalized – and meth and LSD and crack – because I am a New York green builder and I understand that burning down tropical forests in Burma to grow opium is going to directly affect my life in the big apple.

I want to see sustainably grown opium in my corner store. I want it to be really expensive and I want the profits to go towards Addiction Counselling and a new swing set for my local park. Now that is something I could get high on.

Green Roof Layers

Eco Brooklyn installs different kinds of green roofs but the basic technology is always the same: to replicate a normal soil environment in a very shallow depth and a harsh environment.

A green roof replicates a much deeper soil depth similar to normal planting.

The basic components are plants, growing medium and then an assortment of water retention, drainage, root barrier and soil retention. This can be one layer or a bunch of layers.



We love doing slanted roofs and usually build our own soil retention structures but the general idea is like the image below.

This is a good product for slanted green roofs.
This is a good product for slanted green roofs.

Here are the basic steps:

These are the steps for a green roof installation. There are actually several different ways to do it but this one works.

Installing a green roof is really cool and pretty simple. The problem is that you are high up in the air on the main barrier between the building and rain. So lots of things can also go wrong. As a green roof installer we have learned a lot and thankfully haven’t screwed up too badly. Despite the fact that we are constantly pushing the barrier. Our latest installation involved a river on a roof. Pretty cool.

River on a Brooklyn Green roof.
River on a Brooklyn Green roof.

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available throughout North America on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program.

The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:
· Advanced Green Roof Maintenance
· Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture
· Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)
· Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites
· Ecological Green Roof Design
· Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects
· Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Tuition for each full-day course is around $400 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $200 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $500 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is available at select times throughout the year.

In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD.

Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers.
Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers with some low laying native sedum.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry is growing by over 100% each year, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC accreditation does require a financial commitment.

For standardization reasons, the green roof methods taught in the GRP program teaches industry standard techniques, usually involving brand name products. As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the waste of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials.

This means we often go outside the envelope of normal green building techniques. We’ve tried all sorts of green roof experiments using alternative salvaged materials. We’ve used bottle crates as soil stabilization on sloped roofs. We once saved 6,000 used diapers and used them as the base for the growing media. The plants loved that one. And we almost never use the traditional palette of non-native sedum, preferring to use native plants and grasses.

How to Maintain a Green Roof

Whenever we install a green roof we strongly recommend the client pay for ongoing maintenance, regardless of whether they do it with Eco Brooklyn. It is not like caring for a green roof is difficult, in fact it is very easy and pleasurable, but if you don’t there could be problems.

EcoBrooklyn's green roof with Strawberries
EcoBrooklyn’s green roof with Strawberries

Green Roofs, like all gardens, require some amount of maintenance and, like gardens, the type of green roof you have will determine the amount of maintenance it needs. Intensive green roofs (more than 6″) will require much more time and effort than extensive ones. So as there is no simple answer to the question of “how to maintain a green roof,” here are some general green roof maintenance tips.

General Green Roof Maintenance and Care

Keep the drainage areas clear of plants. The border around the edge of the roof and the areas around drain outlets and other roof penetrations should be kept clear of all plant life and vegetation. Plants growing too close to the drain will clog it up, causing possible leaks and in stress to the building structure. If plants grow near roof penetrations it could cause a leak, or it could make it hard for maintenance. Biannual weeding should suffice.

Add compost biannually. Organic mater in growing media decomposes over time. It gets absorbed by plants and gets washed away. Nutrient-rich compost should be added to the roof garden in spring and autumn. This provides plants with important nutrients and replenishes the soil. How much really depends. A rough rule of thumb we use is to add 1/4″ of compost, making sure it does not cover too much the existing plants.

Weed out unwanted plants, also known as volunteer plants. Being on a roof, seeds dropped by birds or carried by the wind inevitably find their way into your roof garden. Some of the seedlings are fine and can be left alone. It’s your call. Others, such as a budding oak tree, are not desirable for obvious reasons. Smaller bushes and plants are also not desirable because they may have aggressive roots that may cause leaks. Monthly walk-throughs should be scheduled to monitor the types of vegetation growing on your roof.

At the very least a thorough weeding should be done in the spring to get them as they are freshly coming out of the soil. And then another weeding should be done in the summer just before the weeds get a chance to spread their billions of seeds.

The best practice is to also just weed a little every time you see one. It takes two seconds. Be sure to remove the weed from the roof. Throwing it on the soil could release its seeds.

Roof maintenance is great fun.
Roof maintenance is great fun.

Green roofs should be watered as little as possible for ecological reasons. But there are times when it is so hot and dry that some water may save them. Experiment with plant types and, depending on how much rain you get, try to get to the point where you don’t have to water your roof at all. When it does become necessary to water your plants, err on the side of under watering. Also, if your roof garden is on a pitched roof, begin watering at the top of the roof to the water can trickle down through the plants at the bottom, which may not need any water at all.

Watch out for pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for pests and diseases that may come to your roof garden. While green roofs are designed to attract insects and increase biodiversity, sometimes unwanted insects come along. This is rare given the harsh environment up there. Pests can find much more pleasant places to bother.

If you are at all inclined, keep a detailed maintenance log/diary. Schedule when you’re going to do these checkups (and follow through!) and keep and detailed record of your findings. This will also help you see what plants do best in your roof’s environment. This is optional. Maintenance is really pretty simple and doesn’t need much except some common sense.

Shipping Containers as New York Buildings

If you are interested in green building, environmentalism, or architecture, chances are that you have seen some of the chic structures coming out of the shipping container building movement. These structures range from the Redondo Beach container home, which won an award for innovative design from The American Institute of Architects in 2007, to the 85 foot tall Freitag container structure located in Zurich.

Redondo Beach Container House
Redondo Beach Container House Shows Containers Can Be Luxe
Freitag Store is World's Tallest Shipping Container Structure
Freitag Store is World’s Tallest Shipping Container Structure

Closer to home here in Brooklyn there are several container structures.

5,000sq.ft single family residence in Brooklyn made out of containers
5,000sq.ft single family residence in Brooklyn made out of containers
Eco Brooklyn built this 1,500sq.ft container building as an art studio space for a client in Brooklyn.
Eco Brooklyn built this 1,500sq.ft container building as an art studio space for a client in Brooklyn.

Although these buildings are architecturally interesting, the reasons container homes really shine in the eyes of Eco Brooklyn are more practical: environmental, cost, and function.

A container home is environmentally sound because it is the product of reused materials. As the economy ebbs and flows and as import and export changes, there inevitably are shipping containers that fall by the wayside to gather rust and eventually become scrap metal.

In terms of time savings, re-purposing a shipping container into a home allows the supporting structure along with the ceiling to come with almost no new production, resulting in large savings in lumber. This process also cuts down on the energy that would be required to turn a container into scrap metal before that metal is reused.

It should be noted though that the biggest mistake people make is underestimating the extra work a shipping container requires. To turn a metal box into a cozy home takes a lot of cutting, welding and drilling. Nonetheless if designed correctly a shipping container can be cheaper than a normal structure.

The modular nature of shipping container construction allows for building the modules in a large warehouse for example. This creates savings on production materials, labor hours, and carbon emissions in comparison to conventional on-site building. These advantages are gained through the ability of shipping container home construction to be carried out in a central location free of things like weather, site constraints and delivery issues.

This allows for the project manager to easily have materials shipped to the assembly location so there is no reason to buy more material than is necessary, which is common practice for on-site construction. The laborers can work in a climate controlled setting with all of the necessary tools readily available, and it is not necessary to move large quantities of people to an obscure job site every day.

Of course getting the modules to the final site is not always easy. But keep in mind these are shipping containers, designed to sit nicely on trucks, trains and boats.

Shipping containers are extremely functional when it comes to use as a pre-fabricated building material considering their low price (as low as $1500 per unit). These functional advantages include strength, availability, stackability, transport ease, speed, and addition ease. Shipping containers are used as heavy cargo carriers with the ability to be stacked upon one another on sea-going ships. This means that the containers are far stronger than what is necessary for a home.

Their modular nature also means that building does not have to be done all at once. You can build one container, then add another one later.

In port cities (most of the biggest cities are port cities) used shipping containers are readily available in all kinds of sizes and conditions. Even if you are not located in a port city, shipping containers are easily transported by truck. This allows for the use of shipping containers in very remote areas, like the Australian Outback, because they can be built where the work is and then easily transported to where the remote home may be located.

Shipping container construction is inherently fast. This is because the relatively small amounts of site work including foundation pouring and landscaping can be done simultaneously with the container construction. This allows for about 50% shorter construction time. Unlike conventional homes, container homes can be easily added onto without needing to make large changes to the existing structure since the modules are individually supported.

Shipping containers have some inherent disadvantages regarding their design and previous uses. Since steel conducts heat very efficiently shipping containers must be heavily insulated in extreme climates. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being in a steel box when it is cold or very hot.

Used shipping containers have possibly been filled with food spills, pesticides, and lead paint. When cargo crosses country borders it is common for the border patrol to spray the containers with pesticides to reduce cross country contamination of rodents and invasive plant species.

Because of this, the container needs to be cleaned thoroughly before conversion and in some cases it is necessary to remove the wood floor that they come with and seal or get rid of lead contaminated paint entirely.

Since shipping container architecture is new, another hurdle is acceptance by local building inspectors. Steel is an uncommon structural material for homes and it can be difficult to acquire a zoning permit and for the structure to pass building code.

Aside from some easily fixable inherent disadvantages with shipping containers, and one very difficult to deal with issue concerning zoning and building code, container homes create an elegant sector of green architecture. Companies like Intermodal Design are creating simple and affordable housing solutions by taking advantage of these structures.

Other companies like Container Home Consultants Inc., run by Alex Klein, are finding ways to help families help themselves by showing them the relative ease of DIY shipping container (ISBU) home building compared to conventional home construction.

Eco Brooklyn is a shipping container builder and we are experimenting with new ways to make the containers more habitable. One technique is covering the roofs with green roofs, reducing the heat in the summer. We also like berming two or even three sides of the container, much like in Earthship construction.

We are currently working on a shipping container music studio for a client in Brooklyn. The challenge there is soundproofing, since metal is not a great material for that. But we think a green roof, some berming and lots of sound deadening cellulose insulation will work just fine. We’ll keep you posted when that gets started.

Dumpster Diving Goldmine

Eco Brooklyn does a lot of dumpster diving. Most of the materials we use for jobs – floors, decks, pergolas, paving, stairs – comes from dumpsters in the New York area. One reporter called it “guerrilla green building.”

Salvaged Beams from Dumpster
Salvaged Beams from Dumpster


The very same wood from the image above was turned into a roof garden. The Pergola and Bulkhead are made from the wood.
The wood from the image above was turned into the Pergola and Bulkhead in this rooftop garden.

Our lucrative dumpster diving is a testament to the massive waste our society creates. We have literally rebuilt an entire brownstone using salvaged materials for everything but the mechanicals and windows (those things needed to be new because it was a Passive House renovation). And this is high end NY construction.

This is why we love Rob Greenfield. He does the exact same thing only with food. Check him out. Think about it next time you buy a bag of perfectly shaped shinny apples at the store. Don’t you wonder where all the other apples that aren’t 100% perfect go? But perfection won’t even keep food from being thrown out. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to throw it out than store it for the next day.

One Dumpster Diving Excursion
One Dumpster Diving Excursion

Smart Grid

As green building gains momentum so does the quest for new sources of power and ways to tap into that power. And as those energy sources keep increasing there becomes a need to organize them. Enter the Smart Grid.

The smart grid will bridge that gap between buildings and power sources, both the new green sources like solar and the older traditional ones like damns.

This will make it easier for a solar installer like Eco Brooklyn to install a solar array and plug the source to the grid without any fancy wiring. This reduces installation costs, worker skill set, and in turn makes solar a much more attractive option for homeowners.

Smart Grid
Smart Grid

Con Edison has already put plans into motion to build NYC’s 3rd generations’ grid – The new grid structure will include smart meters, building management systems, smart Photo Voltaic installations, and the ability to plug in hybrid vehicles.

Currently our grid only delivers power mainly in one direction and there is almost no communication between source and user. It is possible to install a Grid-Tied solar system, where a home owner’s solar array sends unused electricity back to the grid. But the process is not optimal and remains clunky to install. The new system allows for flexibility and two way communication needed to accommodate and manage growth and energy need of future generations.

The automation increases the reliability and security of our power supply too. Smart meters gather information and send it back to ConEd which allows them to see how we are using energy; enabling them to monitor the supply more efficiently.

Given the US electric infrastructure is grossly outdated and overtaxed, increased monitoring can mean the difference between a working air conditioner on a hot summer day and a complete blackout in the entire state.

The smart meters have an in home display that shows the user how they are using the energy, giving them the capability to manage power hungry devices. The term ‘out of sight out of mind’ will be something of the past as far as energy use is concerned. The in home monitors are the first step for users to first become aware of and then break their old energy using habits. Now that they know how much it costs to run the A/C at 65 degress they may get comfortable with a little more heat in their life.

Given the intelligent two way monitoring of a Smart Grid, electric powered cars can be charged easily and have the option to charge when prices are low.

All of these improvements make it easy for green builders and green contractors to incorporate new power generation sources for the consumer. In turn the new grid gives the average consumer the capacity to adjust their power usage to save themselves money and consequently reducing load on our power delivery system. For Eco Brooklyn this simplification is good news. We struggle to explain the benefits of a solar installation but the Smart Grid makes our job much easier.

Composting Toilets

The book Everyone Poops states an obvious fact, and so humanity has forever been forced to answer the question: what do I do with this shit? Literally. Throughout history, societies have come up with a range of strategies to dump what’s been dumped, from burying it in pits to simply letting it run in the streets. For those of us born into the affluent West within the past 250 years, however, there has been only one acceptable system: the flush toilet.

Forget What’s Your Poo Telling You? (does it float? Gassy stomach), the flush toilet took a giant pair of shears to the connection between ourselves and our waste. Simply make a deposit, and a magical current of sparkling, drinking quality water will whisk all evidence away, to a never-never land, the great sewer in the sky. The flush toilet officially makes your poop Not Your Problem.

Certainly there are health and hygiene benefits to be found in separating human populations from mountains of fecal matter. But the system we have become dependent on to solve this issue was never going to be sustainable. Its basis lies in taking clean potable water, polluting it, then using more energy to clean it from the waste we added.

According to U.N. water statistics, conventional flush toilets in middle-class households account for approximately 30 percent of global water use.
According to U.N. water statistics, conventional flush toilets in middle-class households account for approximately 30 percent of global water use.

Or worse, the sludge is dumped into in a river or ocean where a normally very beneficial and nutrient rich mix creates havoc on the water ecosystem.

The flush toilet was thus perhaps the most harmful, least beneficial and yet most celebrated invention to ever be celebrated as a success of “development.” These seemingly luxurious seats of porcelain take a helpful, nutrient-filled substance and turn it into waste, while dirtying clean drinking water. The traditional toilet where it’s mixed with fresh water and thrown away just doesn’t make ecological sense.

There is evidence of water-powered sanitation systems even in archeological sites dating from the 31st century BCE, in Britain’s Skara Brae, Orkney, but it wasn’t until the 1850s that our familiar, clean water-intensive toilets became widespread. Since then, people have polluted an obscene amount of drinking water by using it as transportation for their waste, not to mention using energy and polluting through our bathrooms. Americans alone flush 4.8 billion gallons of water down their toilets every day. The waste from water toilets accounts for 90% of each household’s environmental pollution, and toilets account for about a quarter of the average home’s water use.

Skara Brae house site, Orkney Islands. There is evidence that water was piped under the settlement, possibly for sanitation.
Skara Brae house site, Orkney Islands. There is evidence that water was piped under the settlement, possibly for sanitation.

Luckily, after only a few generations, people are beginning to realize what an error we’ve made, and are designing toilets that combine ancient understandings of human waste’s potential with current sanitation technology.

Enter: the composting toilet.

A composting toilet is a dry toilet that uses a predominantly aerobic processing system that treats excreta, typically with no water or small volumes of flush water, via composting or managed aerobic decomposition.

By installing a composting toilet, you can transform your waste from environmental problem to solution. These toilets eliminate the use of water, instead transforming waste into compost through aerobic decomposition. The benefits to you and the environment are enormous. A compost toilet will provide you with a constant source of quality soil, save you money (installing a compost toilet costs 25-75% less than a septic system), and spare waterways the harmful runoff from common sewage systems.

After the initial time to get over any lingering squeamishness you might have after a lifetime of seeing your waste magically sail away, the transition to a composting toilet doesn’t have to be difficult at all.

There are two main types of composting toilets: self-contained appliance toilets, which compost waste directly under the toilet seat within the room, and central systems, also called remote or bi-level, which transport waste to a container located in another location. When preparing to make the switch, first consider what your space is like. Do you have enough for a bilevel? Do you have access to an adequate supply of energy, or will you need a passive design? Compost is catalyzed by heat, so consider whether you can put your toilet in a heated room or will have to heat and insulate your toilet separately? Consider locating your toilet next to a south-facing window or near a heat-generating machine to effortlessly increase its temperature.

Composting toilets appear similar to flush toilets. Their structures range from simple boxes to familiar ceramic seats, many of which have two chambers to guide the separation of urine from feces. After each use, all composting toilets require additional input of a cover material, such as ash, peat moss, or wood chippings. Bacteria and fungi then work their magic to alchemize human waste into humanure- a rich, humus soil, which is 10 to 30 percent of the original volume.

Composting toilets range from multi-thousand dollar high-tech machines to buckets with a toilet seat. Self-contained units allow waste to decompose right under the toilet, and must be emptied, while more complex remote systems funnel waste to a further location, perhaps a basement or backyard. Most pre-built composting toilets cost around $1,500 to $3000but pay for themselves in avoided water and sewage bills. Many high-tech toilets include special features to catalyze decomposition and prevent odor, including heating units, injected air, air baffles, and worm units. These add-ons will naturally require some energy input, however. A simpler model, built yourself, can be as cheap as the materials you can salvage.

Adding a composting toilet to a New York City residence is not easy. Eco Brooklyn has done it when we do gut renovations. We did it in a brownstone and in a shipping container building. The reasons for doing this in Brooklyn or NYC are primarily to reduce the flooding of the rivers with sewage when it rains.

In places outside of the city it makes even more sense. If you are in a place that uses ceptic systems then the reasons are even greater.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, you have a variety of options:

You can build your own.

Instal an Aquatron system to decompose your waste at a distance or in your basement.

Buy one of Envirolet’s dual-fanned toilets.

These are half the price of most models.

Sun Mar produces self-contained models if you don’t want a separate holding tank.

A less expensive, simple box design.

A high end firm that consults and installs their own designs.

A New York and Brooklyn Composting Toilet Installer: Eco Brooklyn. These gays are amazing.

One unfortunate hurdle to installing a composting toilet is that, as with any building project, you must apply for a permit, and since they are relatively unknown in the United States, composting toilets sometimes face ignorance-induced discrimination from the local department of building (DOB).

This happened to Eco Brooklyn when we applied for a permit to install a composting toilet with SunMar. The DOB denied us because of concerns that it might release too much carbon dioxide, despite the fact that composting toilets are vented like any other toilet. Bottom line, their response was not based on fact: they didn’t know how a composting toilet works so simply denied it. A bottle of sparkling water releases more carbon dioxide into a house than a composting toilet. And besides, who cares. Carbon dioxide is hardly dangerous to a home.

Once installed, a composting toilet requires slight maintenance. Frequent addition of carbon heavy organic material is the most frequent maintenance, but think of that cupful of sawdust as the equivalent to a flush. Composting toilets will only clog if you overload it at a pace more rapid than it can decompose, so you no longer have to worry about dragging out the old plunger. If it does start to smell, troubleshoot by adding more cover material. You can put anything you would put into a normal composting pile into your composting toilet.

Preservation or Conservation: Building for the Past or the Future?

One could argue that the greenest buildings are the ones that last the longest- not only because of the material, but also design.

Borgund stave church, in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway, built in the 12th century
Borgund stave church, in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway, built in the 12th century

As with all things – buildings erode. From the 16th century half-timbered houses in Norway to the Chrysler building – even the best built structures wear with time. As time moves forward, and the paint chips off, our emotional attachment to these structures only grows. It seems obvious that we should allocate funds to restore and maintain these buildings as these are icons of a time and space which no longer exist. But then a question arises: do we preserve their original integrity or do we implement new technologies to make these famed structure more energy efficient to comply with changing times?

Conservation is the process through which historic materials and design integrity are prolonged through carefully planned interventions. Preservation is a process that seeks to preserve and protect building, objects and landscapes in their original form.
Although these two schools of thought may seem to be very closely related, there seems to be a tension that has emerged.

To examine these difference in the ideology of preserving and conserving, I will examine two case studies-the first of which is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage. The second is Mies Van De Rohe’s Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Frank Lloyd Wright was designed over 1000 structures and completed 500 works. He believed that architecture should work in accordance with nature to create a harmonious relationship between the natural and built environment – he called this philosophy organic architecture.

The Seth Peterson Cottage – a two-room, 880 square foot lakeside cottage located in the Mirror Lake State Park in Wisconsin was designed in 1958. Seth Peterson, the owner, took his own life prior to the completion of the cottage; the next two owners completed the project.

The cottage went into disrepair after 1966. It was not until the 1980’s when local activists came up with the idea of completely restoring the now State-owned cottage to offer as a getaway to renters.

The State hired Chicago architect John Eifler to do the restoration. Following the initial inspection of the cottage, Eifler’s mechanical engineer concluded that the existing single-pane glazing (which covers 60% of the façade) would lead to a building that would be virtually impossible to heat in the winter. Eifler proposed a double pane glazing increase the heating efficiency, but the State Historic Preservation Office refused his initial proposal.

Eventually, Eifler succeeded with the proposed double pane glazing and installed his windows and added appropriate Usonian-style furniture and was able to restore the FLT gem to its original glory.

Eifler didn’t just restore the original FLW design but rather built it towards the future by considering the present and expected energy concerns. Eifler added a radiant floor heating system, with insulation beneath the heating system to ensure that the heat rises into the house, rather than seeps into the earth and electronic roller shades that drop down on winter nights providing further insulations.

Mies Van Der Rohe’s Crown Hall
Mies Van Der Rohe’s Crown Hall

Our second case study concerns Mies Van De Rohe’s Crown Hall, which is the home of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Completed in 1959, Crown Hall is one of the most architecturally significant buildings of the 20th century. As one of Mies’s masterpieces, Crown Hall is a perfect example of steel and glass construction and an example of the beauty that is inherently found in function – a notion that is also applicable to Green building.

By 2003, Crown Hall was in desperate need of repair, the stairs were cracking, the once-jet black facade had faded to a shade of gray and ivy had begun to climb up the exposed steel structure.

In order to restore the structure, Krueck& Sexton of Chicago along with preservation architect Gunny Harbow were commissioned to update the iconic structure. In order to maintain design integrity the architects chose to use huge low-iron glass sheets for the façade/ In order to keep these massive sheets in place there were forced to diverge from the original design. They were forced to design diagonal sloping “stops” – this made the right-angle-Mies-worshippers crazy. The result was not only successful but the low iron glass restored the cool elegance of increased natural light which lead to lower light use and cut down on the heating requirements.

Although both these projects are dealing with structures by modern masters, Eifler was dealing was a small, residential building were as Krueck &Sexton were dealing with one of the Mies masterpieces. For Krueck & Sexon, maintaining the authenticity of the original design was the greatest concern and outweighed the energy concerns. To the Crown Hall crew, prolonging the life of the building while maintain the highest level of artistry and expression was the objective. For example they felt it was inappropriate to install a green roof just to cut down the urban heat island effect not merely outfitting a classic example of architecture with solar panels.

It seems that when that there is a pivotal choice that has to be made: what meaning or interpretation do we choose to express in a restoration? Artistic integrity or buildings for the future?

The Eco Brooklyn Showhouse is a hybrid of both the preserve and the converse schools of thought. When Gennaro and his partner, Loretta in 2008 the bought their Carrol Gardens Brownstone was livable but the latest restoration had taken place in the 1970’s. Gennaro knew that he would use this structure has a laboratory for green research, design and construction. Over the past four years he has refurbished the entirety of the interior and exteriors not just by repairing what needed repairs but diving into the history of the structure.

The Eco Brooklyn show house combines original details like the slate and painted flowers with new details like the planters.
The Eco Brooklyn show house combines original details like the slate and painted flowers with new details like the planters.

When cleaning paint off of the siding on the house, Gennaro discovered reminisce of three painted flowers. He has since updated the paint and the flowers are now an interesting and historic detail that is once again visible on the façade.

Gennaro also used the original staircase and banister that connects the first floor to the third. When they first bought the house, the original banister was in terrible condition. Gennaro and his crew had to deconstruct and then rebuild the banisher to its originally glory.

Although, preserving the historic integrity was not the only goal of this Carroll Gardens restoration, this house was to be a green Showhouse, so it not only needed to represent the past, but simultaneously build for the future.
Through the restoration Gennaro suscessfully created an extremely tight thermal envelope similar to the standsards used for Passive House, and also added a natural pool, green roof, and a garden pond.

By going back to these old structures, whether that be a lakeside cottage in Wisconsin, a steel and glass academic building or a classic Brooklyn brownstone one can learn something about efficiency and function. Advancing technology often brings us away from the simplicity of good design. In the Frank Llogd wright cottage, the floor plan centered around the fireplace to effective heat the entire space. The Mies building had large glass windows to increase natural light and the Brooklyn brownstoners abut each other to retain the heat. There is something to be learned from the past as we move forward.


Friends —

Are you ready for a climate movement that doesn’t compromise? One that takes the struggle directly to the profiteers creating the crisis?

Ahead of the UN climate summit in New York City, green groups are expecting more than 200,000 people to join the People’s Climate March to demand that the establishment act before it’s too late.

What’s really exciting is that after the People’s Climate March, thousands will join #FloodWallStreet, a mass direct action on September 22 confronting the root causes of the climate crisis and the Wall Street tycoons that profit from it.


If you help make #FloodWallStreet a huge, global phenomena, we can make clear we are no longer going to compromise and will pursue nothing less than radical action against the fossil fuel industry and its profiteers. So let’s kickoff #FloodWallStreet today by flooding the net.

Here’s the idea: By promoting #FloodWallStreet in a coordinated fashion, all on the same day, we can dominate the Facebook and twitter feeds of people connected to the climate movement. We can recruit thousands more to participate in #FloodWallStreet both online and in the streets and even shift the narrative before the action begins!

Will you help invite 20,000 people to the #FloodWallStreet Facebook event? That’s double the current number of invites.

Here’s what to do:

1. First, click here on this link: 

2. Then, RSVP for the event by clicking “Join”

3. Once you’ve joined, you’ll see a new set of buttons. Next, click the “Invite” button that just appeared, and pick “Choose Friends”

4. In the box that pops up, select the friends you’d like to invite, and then when you’ve selected everyone, click ‘Save.’ You can also search for particular friends, or do a second round of invites if you don’t get everyone the first time.

5. Click here to share the image above on Facebook.

6. Post to twitter about #FloodWallStreet. We suggest something like this including the image above:

#FloodWallStreet! Mass action to confront climate profiteers! -Wear Blue- #PeoplesClimate



Thanks for all you do,

– Flood Team 🙂

Passive House Conference

Passive House Architecture and Building Conference in New York Will Present Critical Blueprints for Mitigating Climate Change by Increasing Building Efficiency

Passive House, an international building standard, is the only proven architectural and building method that can enable the dramatic carbon reductions called for by the international scientific community.

New York City (PRWEB) May 19, 2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment released in April and the third U.S. National Climate Assessment released this month, both state clearly the need to radically reduce our carbon emissions by 2050 or face disastrous runaway climate change. Scientists also report that we have just reached one irreversible tipping point, the melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf.

In the last month, political leaders from President Obama to New York Governor Cuomo have called for increased building efficiency as a way to address climate change. On May 5th, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the construction of 200,000 units of affordable housing, and specified that they be environmentally sustainable.

The NY14 Passive House Conference and Expo on June 17th will benefit stakeholders working in climate change mitigation, community and power supply resiliency, environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and affordable housing. The presentations will detail current design and building strategies that have succeeded in dramatically reducing energy consumption of apartment buildings, schools, shops and office buildings, for both new construction and in retrofitting existing buildings.

Buildings are responsible for approximately forty percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In New York City, buildings account for approximately seventy-five percent of carbon emissions, according to former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Greater Greener Buildings Plan report. A Passive House building uses ninety percent less heating and cooling energy than a typical building, while offering comfort and resiliency. Ken Levenson, President of New York Passive House, expects NY14 Passive House to be “the most in-depth conference program to address building efficiency and climate change mitigation ever held in the U.S.”

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, the coordinating lead author for the IPCC report that led to the group receiving the 2007 Nobel Prize. She will provide a critical look at the recent IPCC Fifth Assessment, the 2050 carbon reduction goals and the pivotal role of building efficiency.

“When thinking about climate change mitigation many are focused on renewable energy production,” says Richard Leigh, Director of Research at Urban Green Council. “But to make a decarbonized power grid achievable, it’s critical that we also lock dramatic energy reductions into the fabric of what we build and renovate. The more energy savings we lock in, the easier and more economical the decarbonization task becomes. And Passive House offers a proven and practical way to achieve the savings we need.”

In a panel entitled “The Energy Puzzle,” Mr. Leigh will be joined by Tomás O’Leary, Passive House Academy founder, Jeffrey Perlman, founder of Bright Power, and others from the renewable energy and power distribution sectors. They will discuss the essential interplay between building efficiency and a decarbonized grid, the emergence of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) and Passive House certifications that encourage energy positive buildings.

A series of presentations will feature specific Passive House building projects by leading practitioners from around the world, including:

  •     A multi-family apartment building by Chris Benedict, Chris Benedict Architect (New York)
  •     Primary school and university buildings by Jonathan Hines, Architype (London)
  •     Dormitory housing by Brian Kavanagh, Kavanagh Tuite Architects (Dublin)
  •     Brussels Greenbizz city district by Sabine Laribaux, Architectes Associés (Brussels)


One session will demonstrate retrofit strategies across New York City from Borough Park and Brownstone Brooklyn, to a condominium conversion in Tribeca. The majority of buildings that will be standing in the coming decades already exist today. Therefore, retrofitting building stock to the highest levels of efficiency during the normal course of component replacement and renovation is essential in the implementation of an effective citywide energy strategy.

Projects to be presented from the New York area that meet Passive House retrofit, or “EnerPHit,” standards, include:


  •     Tribeca Condo EnerPHit by Stas Zakrzewski, Zakrzewski + Hyde Architects (Manhattan)
  •     Borough Park Ambulance Dispatch Center EnerPHit by Gregory Duncan, Gregory Duncan Architect (Brooklyn)
  •     Brownstone Brooklyn EnerPHit by Cramer Silkworth, Baukraft Engineering (Brooklyn)
  •     Red Hook Sound Studio EnerPHit by Ryan Enschede, Ryan Enschede Studio (Brooklyn)
  •     Bedford-Stuyvesant Wood Frame EnerPHit by David White, Right Environments (Brooklyn)


New York’s iconic skyscrapers can also achieve Passive House performance. Lois Arena of Steven Winter Associates (New York) will present on the unique challenges of low-energy, high-rise construction.

A session on the finance and economics of Passive House construction will begin with a detailed examination of a dental clinic by Adam Cohen of Passiv Science (Virginia). The panel discussion will be moderated by Jeremy Smerd, Managing Editor of Crain’s New York Business and include Rob Conboy of Better (US), Larry Sprague of Sustainable Energy Funding Program (US), Melissa Ruttner of BuildForward Capital (New York), and Andrew Padian of The Community Preservation Corporation (New York).

The day will conclude with a survey of the latest international Passive House developments, presented by leading consultant Günter Lang (Vienna). A panel discussion will follow, moderated by William Menking, Editor-In-Chief of The Architect’s Newspaper, covering the potential impact of Passive House in New York and featuring former Mayor Bloomberg’s Deputy Director for Green Building and Energy Efficiency Laurie Kerr, and Urban Green Council Executive Director Russell Unger.

Over 30 of the leading Passive House component and service providers will also be exhibiting, including Platinum Sponsor, IT Windows and Doors; and Gold Sponsors, Zehnder America ventilation systems, European Architectural Supply windows and doors, and Passive House training provider Association for Energy Affordability.

AIA HSW continuing education credits will be available to qualified attending professionals.

Event Information:


  •     Name: NY14 Passive House Conference and Expo
  •     Date: June 17, 2014
  •     Time: Registration begins 8am, Expo open until 6:30pm
  •     Location: Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, New York, NY


For more information and to register for the event see the NY14PH Conference registration page.


About New York Passive House:

New York Passive House (NYPH) is a New York State tax exempt trade organization which promotes the Passive House building energy standard in New York State and the New York City metropolitan area. NYPH provides public outreach, education, support of industry professionals and advocacy to support the success and vitality of the Passive House community. See

About the Passive House standard:

Passive House is an international building standard developed by the Passive House Institute in Darmstadt Germany, which represents a roughly ninety percent reduction in heating and cooling energy usage and up to a seventy-five percent reduction in primary energy usage from existing building stock – meant to aggressively meet the climate crisis carbon reduction imperative while making a comfortable, healthy and affordable built environment. Passive House is the most cost effective pathway toward the growing demand for net-zero or nearly-net-zero construction. Passive House is also a methodology that requires designers to consider orientation, massing, insulation, heat recovery, passive use of solar energy, solar shading, elimination of thermal bridges, and internal heat sources. The term Passive House may also be used to refer to a building that has been tested and certified to meet the Passive House standard. Passive House buildings are extremely energy efficient, healthy, and comfortable for occupants; predictable to manage, and resilient by design. See

Is Green Building Ethical?

Most people would agree that green building is a desirable thing. But sometimes it isn’t so clear. Ethics, even with something as virtuous as green building, can get murky fast. Join us this Tuesday May 13, 2014 for a USGBC Urban Green talk by Gennaro Brooks-Church where he will discuss these topics.

More info here

Hemp Lime Hempcrete in New York

Hemp mixed with lime, aka hempcrete, is not concrete and thus needs structural support. It's main use is insulation and air sealing. In this photo it is stick frame. In the future we suspect somebody will find a way to make it structural. A skilled green builder could use this for NY extensions as well as insulating existing brick structures.
Hemp mixed with lime, aka hempcrete, is not concrete and thus needs structural support. It’s main use is insulation and air sealing. In this photo it is stick frame. In the future we suspect somebody will find a way to make it structural. A skilled green builder could use this for NY extensions as well as insulating existing brick structures.

My friend Jim Savage from Build Green just sent me his latest presentation on Hemp-Lime, also called Hempcrete. His company is gearing up to provide the New York area with hemp that is sourced on this continent. Us green contractors are very excited by this prospect.

Hemp is still imported from Europe where it is widely used in France as a building material with great success. But to import it to the US is not the most carbon friendly process. As a New York green builder the lack of hemp-lime installation in our services offered is a real pain. With Build Green’s efforts we are hopeful that hemp will soon become available more locally and more affordably.

When you mix hemp with lime it creates a wonderful substance that outperforms many of the current semi-structural insulation products available on the market, at an exponentially more ecological impact.

Please check out the brochure below. It outlines hemp-lime’s historical use and its many key benefits.

GreenBuilt_Eco-Brooklyn Hemp-Lime

Hemp grows quickly and as it does it absorbs massive amounts of CO2. When you cut it and put it into buildings you are sequestering that CO2.
Hemp grows quickly and as it does it absorbs massive amounts of CO2. When you cut it and put it into buildings you are sequestering that CO2.

Let Children Play With Fire

I once heard a study of two groups of animals, one group were in barren cages, the other group were in the wild. Guess which group had more developed brains: the wild animals. Guess which group lived longer: the caged animals.

This confirms the old saying, if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Or in this case, if a tiger doesn’t eat you, your brain is more developed. And likewise, a life free of challenges may give you a face with less wrinkles but it does no good for your development.

Now go take a look at your average school playground.

playground design

Apart from looking menacingly close to a prison it also is a prison of the senses. It is void of anything dangerous and thus anything interesting for the mind and body to interact with. It is an evolutionary wasteland.

Certainly in terms of deaths per thousand it does great. The stats are low. Thus less law suits.

But what have we lost? What is the real price of this so called safety? I argue it is huge.

Here is a great article that makes this same argument. Titled, “The Overprotected Kid” it headlines with:

A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

A playground where kids are allowed to play with fire.
A playground where kids are allowed to play with fire.

As a New York green landscaper we come across this conversation a lot. Clients are very interested in creating a “safe” back garden. When we mention a water feature, instead of thinking how great an experience that would be for the kids, the client’s first comment is, “Isn’t that a drowning risk?”

The answer is yes. But I think it is a risk worth taking. Unless you are a crack head parent who doesn’t keep an ear out for your children. when they are playing outside. If you hear water and then silence then take a peek outside. Chances are your child is entranced by a tadpole rather than head first in the water. Their aren’t stupid.

Here is a photo of my back yard:

My son exploring our native garden designed with inspiration from the book Manahatta
My son exploring our native garden designed with lots of rocks and other sharp objects.

My garden is not a safe place. There are all sorts of things that can cut your skin, burn your eyes, and break your bones. It’s called nature. And it’s also a children’s wonderland. My son can climb like a monkey and run barefoot over loose boulders. There is nothing more gratifying as a father than to see my son confident in his body and with nature.

Gennaro Brooks-Church and son Cazimir checking out the arrival of bees.
Gennaro Brooks-Church and son Cazimir checking out the arrival of bees.

We have a bee hive and the kids play freely around it. Our two year old was obsessed with walking up to the hive and catching the bees. But we gently talked him out of it. And once he did get stung. Now he is six and a master at recognizing which bugs are safe and which bugs are dangerous. Does this skill translate to other things in life? Absolutely. Was it worth the pain of that one bee sting? Tenfold.

For me being a green builder in New York is about bringing back that wonder – we design gardens and rooftops to be diverse, both in the native species of plants and animals but also in the stimuli. We throw in a couple things that require you to, say, step over a water feature. Yes, you may slip and get your feet wet. But it also adds a sense of playfulness and “safe risk” that is crucial for a full and happy life.

I have three kids and have gotten progressively more relaxed about these things. If I found my first daughter eating dog food off the floor I would have freaked. Now, ten years and two kids later, if I were to find my third son doing that I’d just be grateful he was getting protein.

Thus went my attitude towards child gates. The other day a client told me they had spent a lot of money for a Child Safety Specialist to install baby gates on all the stairs. And a Brooklyn brownstone has a lot of them. It made me realize I had never installed gates for my third son.

I had for my first child, I sort of did for my second, but with my third I just made sure he didn’t fall down the stairs until I felt comfortable enough to let him go up and down by himself. It wasn’t because I had a plan. It was more about doing what made sense – and exposing him to a level of danger that I felt he could overcome made a lot of sense.

The results are pretty cool. He has a physical dexterity I think is very good for him. See for yourself how he makes a normal (for us) trip down the stairs. He is one and a half years old.

As a New York green builder and natural landscaper this tells me that if I suggest to my clients a more diverse, slightly less safe (within the boundaries of the child’s abilities) design option that it may improve the development of their children. That’s pretty cool.


Here is a great article by the folks at Sasaki, a design company that does mostly large projects, about cool alternatives to the dead zone some people call a lawn.

The article offers great resources and info on where to get and how to make a more ecological lawn. We all love an open green space. This article offers options that are loved by other animals too. As a New York landscaping company we often get asked to install generic sod for a lawn. And every time we offer these more environmentally friendly options.


Vote For Green Roof

Windsor Terrace Library is seeking city funding to install a green roof and you can help get them the money. You just need to vote for them to get the money. It’s that simple. Scroll down for details of where and when to vote.

Their hope is to use the green roof to reduce their energy use, limit stormwater run-off, improve air quality, add wildlife habitat & add beauty. As a certified green roof installer we have a vested interest in more money going to green roofs in NYC. And so should everyone else! The benefits are huge. So scroll down and find out when to vote!

Library Green Roof

Green Roof Habitat

Windsor Terrace branch of BPL, Ft Hamilton Parkway at E. 5th St.

Who Benefits
Windsor Terrace Library serves a diverse community of families, professionals, and retirees from many cultures. The branch serves many students from PS130 & Brooklyn Prospect schools, both nearby.

Project Description
The 7,500 sq foot green roof at Windsor Terrace library will beautify the area while improving the building’s energy efficiency & roof’s longevity. It will also absorb stormwater from entering the sewers. The project demonstrates environmental leadership to BPL patrons.


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Library Green Roof

Photovoltaic Doubles as Sun Shade

Installing Solar Photovoltaic (Solar PV) in New York is a great way to put your money into something that gives a steady return year after year. You install it and immediately start saving on your electric bill. After a couple years you have paid off the cost of the installation and you get your electricity for free, year after year. It’s a great deal.

But Solar PV takes up space and space isn’t abundant in New York City. Covering a roof with a PV Array takes away valuable space for a nice roof top hangout.

That’s where the PV array that doubles as a sun shade comes in. Check out these pictures. Eco Brooklyn installs Solar PV and as a NY solar installer we fully understand the need to maximize a rooftop space. If designed correctly, though, you can have a nice shaded roof top space, with sitting area, deck and green roof, AND have an energy generating PV Array that eventually makes your electric bill a thing of the past. Now that is cool. That is beauty to a NY PV installer.

Solar PV pergolla installation

Mix of greenery, pergolla and photo-voltaic installation

Roof top sun shade pergola made out of a Photo voltaic array pv installation

Deck shade made out of a PV installation

The solar PV installer can pick PV modules with more or less light passing through them depending on what client wants

Building Passive House with Hempcrete

One of the challenges we face when doing High Energy retrofits of NY masonry brownstones, by the Passive House standard for example,  is how to install insulation that will both be effective and maintain the historical integrity of the building. Most existing insulation materials have limited usefulness when installed on the interior of the envelope, due to condensation risk and potential freeze-thaw issues.

Enter Hempcrete. Hemp-lime insulation, due to its vapor permeability and the material’s virtual thermal mass, has proven to be an effective way to retrofit historic masonry buildings for improved insulation, and is now being used widely throughout Europe.

This opens up exciting possibilities for effective and affordable ecological renovations of New York’s many historical brick buildings.

Although well established in Europe, this technology is new to the USA. We have studied it a lot and Eco Brooklyn is eager to be a NY hempcrete installer. Since hempcrete can be either insulation or actually act as an insulating semi-structural material (like SIPs but without the plastic), we think that it offers a lot of options for high efficiency NY Brownstone renovations.

What is the tax rebate for solar panels in NYC?

As a solar panel installer I have to admit that even Eco Brooklyn sometimes gets confused. The rebates expire, then get reinstated and expire again.

Here is the current tax rebate agreement. Check out the text in red. This is in effect until January 1st 2015.[2/7/2013 11:51:36 AM] S T A T E O F N E W Y O R K
June 8, 2012
Introduced by COMMITTEE ON RULES — (at request of M. of A. Farrell) —
read once and referred to the Committee on Ways and Means
AN ACT to amend the real property tax law, in relation to a solar electric
generating system tax abatement for certain properties in a city
of one million or more persons
1 Section 1. Subdivision 1 of section 499-bbbb of the real property tax
2 law, as added by chapter 473 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as
3 follows:
4 1. The amount of such tax abatement shall be as follows:
5 (a) if the solar electric generating system is placed in service on or
6 after the effective date of this title and before January first, two
7 thousand eleven, for each year of the compliance period such tax abate-
8 ment shall be the lesser of (i) eight and three-fourths percent of
9 eligible solar electric generating system expenditures, (ii) the amount
10 of taxes payable in such tax year, or (iii) sixty-two thousand five
11 hundred dollars; or
12 (b) if the solar electric generating system is placed in service on or
13 after January first, two thousand eleven, and before January first, two
14 thousand thirteen, for each year of the compliance period such tax
15 abatement shall be the lesser of (i) five percent of eligible solar
16 electric generating system expenditures, (ii) the amount of taxes paya-
17 ble in such tax year, or (iii) sixty-two thousand five hundred dollars;
18 OR
EXPLANATION–Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
[ ] is old law to be omitted.
A. 10620 2
1 S 2. Subdivision 1 of section 499-cccc of the real property tax law,
2 as added by chapter 473 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as
3 follows:
4 1. To obtain a tax abatement pursuant to this title, an applicant must
5 file an application for tax abatement, which may be filed on or after
6 January first, two thousand nine, and on or before March fifteenth, two
7 thousand [thirteen] FIFTEEN.
8 S 3. This act shall take effect immediately.

Composting Toilets in NYC

As a NYC composting toilet installer we are interested in the composting toilet regulations, or lack of, in Gotham City. Currently we install toilets without seeking permission from the department of buildings. Read pm for an update on the current situation of composting toilets in New York City buildings.

Or don’t read on and know that not much has changed. Composting toilets in NYC fly under the radar. It isn’t against the rules but don’t go around asking for attention either.

Rollie Jones from  the Living Building Challenge Collaborative in NYC has done some good work researching current DOB rules and he just sent me an update. Get ready, it is as convoluted as you would expect from a large city.

As with all toilet stuff, it all comes down to where the stuff goes.  The “end product” as officials call it. No city official wants people to start processing their own sewage waste and for good reason. So the general rule of thumb is that toilets need to be connected to city sewers.

composting toilet
A composting toilet we installed in a brownstone. There were several toilets and the composting collection happened in the cellar.

The Queens Botanical Garden composting toilets for example, were allowed to be installed without any code involvement because the public restrooms were already connected to municipal sewer. The parks depsrtment just installed the Clivus Multrum composting system between the toilets and the sewer, which means nothing ever goes down into the sewer because it gets turned into compost first.

Call it a silly bureaucratic game, but hey it makes everyone happy.

Clivus Multrum (CM) met with the City Building Commissioner regarding the New York Botanical Gardens and was informed that composting toilets were allowed and would be approved on a case by case basis. Again, no clear rules for or against but people are installing them.

Managing the “end product” is a very complicated, multi-department affair. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is in charge of regulating the end product. They decide if a building gets connected to the sewer system or gets an on site septic system. In the city it is almost always a sewer connection.

The actual handling of the end product is done by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP). NYC has a combined sewer overflow system (CSO) where our sewers handle both rain water and building sewage. This causes a lot of headache for the NYCDEP because any time there is a good rain the sewers overflow into the rivers and canals.

I live near the Gowanus canal and after each rain you can see all sorts of stuff that people have flushed down their toilet – tampons, condoms, and of course big smelly turds. Nasty.

Polluting the waterways is against the law and basically every time it rains New York City violates the Clean Water Act. The city is being sued by Riverkeeper over this for example.

Then you have the New York City Department of Housing (NYCDOH). They regulate what goes on inside city buildings, including what kind of toilet you have, and thus if you have composting toilets they are responsible for regulating it. But they don’t really. At least I’ve never heard of them saying anything about composting toilets. The NYCDOH does not regulate where the stuff goes once it is flushed down the toilet..

Confused yet?

When the end product isn’t overflowing into the waterways it goes to local treatment plants where it is with other waste products (which may not be bio-compatible) to generate “fertilizer” which may not be actually useful for agricultural applications, but is used anyway. Hey, I’m just passing on this information.

The NYCDEP “treats” sewage and “recycles” as “fertilizer”, which due to the combined input of industry, rainwater and residential/commercial, cannot possibly be adequately measured for contaminants/pollutants. Doesn’t sound wholesome, but again, what do I know.

All this to say that the current system of treating sewage is overwhelmed and insufficient. You wouldn’t normally associate composting toilets with big city living, but I see composting toilets as a great way to reduce this strain on our CSO (also important is reducing rainwater and household water through rain gardens, gray water, green roofs etc).

So, the good news is that composting toilets continue to fly under the radar for the most part, and residential users don’t typically report and have not been asked to report end product usage. There are no “compost toilet police”. And why should there be. What’s the point of reporting that you aren’t using the sewer system.

Not to say we want all sort of novices composting their own waste. If done correctly a composting toilet produces a couple buckets a year of very rich and safe compost for the garden. But if not done correctly you have a big pile of crap festering in your home.

There are ways to regulate composting toilets in big cities. Lots of cities around the world do it. I look forward to when that happens in NYC. Until then we take it upon ourselves to educate our clients and regulate our installations. It’s not ideal but composting toilets are so important for so many reasons that we see no other way.

Renewable Energy Plan for New York

Let’s convert New York State’s energy infrastructure into something more sustainable. It’s a simple concept, with a multitude of benefits.  Converting to renewable energy will stabilize costs of energy and  produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage and overall improving the quality of life.

A recent study by Mark Z. Jacobson et al. finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert the fossil fuel energy infrastructure in New York State to one that is supplied entirely by wind, water, and solar power. The use of natural gas is argued against due to the dangerous hydraulic fracturing process and the air pollution produced.  The proposed plan provides the largest possible reductions in air and water pollution, and global warming impacts.

Jacobson and scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis have proposed the first fully developed plan to fulfill all sectors (transportation, electric power, industry, and district heating and cooling) of New York State’s energy demands with renewable energy. Additionally, they calculated the number of new jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for an infrastructure change of this magnitude. It also provides calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.

While a wind, water, and solar conversion will result in high initial capital costs, they will be made up over time due to the elimination of fuel costs. Overall, New York State’s end-use power demand will decrease by roughly 37% and create 58,000 permanent jobs with job exchange predicted. It is estimated that 4.5 million temporary jobs would be created during construction phase.

The researchers propose that New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors could be met by:

4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants

828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants

5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems

500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems

36 100-megawatt geothermal plants

1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices

2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines

7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist

To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of WWS resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply, and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand. The plan also includes a solution to the current protocol of shutting down facilities during times of overproduction that includes the sale of surplus.

Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal, and gas. This new plan looks to supply 40 percent of NY’s energy from wind power, 38 percent from solar, and 22 percent from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal and wave energy. All of these sources will be located in, or offshore of, New York State.

All vehicles will be replaced with battery-electric vehicles (BEV), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) and BEV-HFCV hybrids. Electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, heat exchangers and backup electric resistance heaters would replace natural gas and oil for home heating and air-conditioning. Air- and ground-source heat pump water heaters powered by electricity and solar hot water preheaters would provide hot water for homes. High temperatures for industrial processes would be obtained with electricity and hydrogen combustion.

Jacobsen et al. have provided a comprehensive and all inclusive energy alternative for New York State that boasts a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that will creates local jobs and save the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.

As a small ny green contractor most of these projects are currently too large for us to handle. But the large projects are not the only place to make an impact. Our focus on energy efficient building reduces the need for energy in the first place. Also, micro sustainable energy production such as a photovoltaic installation on a warehouse or home is certainly something we could do. Such decentralized energy sources reduce the load on the grid and in turn create back up options should the central grid go down.


DIY Rocket Mass Heater

The recent polar vortex has hit us all with some really harsh conditions and as a green contractor based in New York it has made work on our ecological construction sites difficult. Spending cold, winter days inside of an upcycled shipping container can leave you freezing for hours. Space heaters require electricity that you may not have access to.

We’ve figured out a way to heat our workspaces in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way that uses zero electricity and burns zero fossil fuels.  A rocket mass heater is an efficient wood burning stove and space-heating system. Two key things differentiate them as ecologically sound space heaters.

The first is that the design involved creates a small, efficient, high temperature combustion chamber capable of burning significantly more carbon than simply burning wood in a metal can or bonfire. Due to the high carbon-burning capabilities less ash is created and the smoke emitted is much cleaner.

The second is that the cob or clay acts as a thermal mass that physically stores the heat created during combustion for hours and releases it into the space through convection thereby decreasing the amount of electrical energy or fossil fuels used.

A traditional rocket mass heater involves a 55 Gallon drum built into a clay wall and extending into a room so as to transfer the most heat possible. This form is too large and too permanent for use on multiple construction sites.  The technical design of a larger scale heater is more complex, but we needed a relatively small heater that can be transported between sites.

The method of building a rocket mass heater outlined below enables environmentally conscious contractors and individuals to use materials that are more readily available or perhaps lying around the house or job site.

Here we’ve provided the simple DIY steps to creating a rocket stove or rocket mass heater:


5-gallon plastic bucket

2 2-liter plastic soda bottles

Dirt, grass (or hay), and water


Duct tape

Utility knife

A piece of metal lath or mesh


Step 1: Use the marker to trace a circle 3-4 inches from the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket and cut out the circle with your knife.

Step 2: Use the duct tape to tape the ends of the soda bottles together in an L shape. The soda bottles should be filled with liquid or remain unopened.

Step 3: Use the dirt, grass (or hay), and water to make the cob in a different bucket.

Step 4: Put some of the cob in the bottom of the bucket to the height of the bottom of the hole you’ve cut. Place the bottles you’ve taped together inside the bucket with the end of one bottle sticking out of the hole that you’ve previously cut.

Step 5: Continue to fill the bucket with the cob mixture and be sure to smooth all edges. The clay will need a few days to dry out.

Step 6: When the cob feels dry pour the liquid out of the soda bottles and cut off the tops of the bottles. Remove the bottles and tape by reaching into the bottles and pulling them out.

Step 7: If your cob mixture is not fully dry let it set for a few more days. Then place paper and small twigs inside and light a small fire to dry the cob entirely.

Step 8: Place the piece of metal lath or mesh, small enough to fit inside of the hole, in the side of the bucket. This will hold the fuel being used to heat your space. It should be long enough that it sticks out of the bucket to hold longer sticks/kindling.

Step 9: Add your fuel (paper, sticks, any natural carbon-based material will do) and ignite!

This rocket mass heater is safe, environmentally friendly, and portable. For use indoors this structure would need to be ducted to allow exhaust or fumes to be safely expelled outside. Additionally, use of this type of heater in a home remodel is not recommended however for work on an industrial space it is a perfect fit.

Click HERE for a link to a smaller, even more portable version.  We don’t recommend this exact method due to the high levels of BPA inside of soup cans so we suggest purchasing heater duct pipe (un-galvanized) to use instead.


Click HERE to see different designs for large scale and conventional rocket mass heater. These designs are meant to heat a home and emit smoke  and any potentially dangerous fumes outdoors through a duct system.



Best Urban Space Remodels: Our Instagram Claim to Fame

In the spirit of awards season, we’re pleased to announce that our green building Instagram account has been awarded an Instagrammy! Improvement Center evaluated the top ten home contractors to follow and we’ve been recognized for having the best urban space remodels.

Our feed features images from our Manhattan and Brooklyn ecological construction projects including gardens, green roofs, renovated shipping containers, passive brownstones, and more. In addition to project updates we include tips on green construction and sustainable design, a behind-the-scenes look at our salvaging techniques, and ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.

Big thanks to Improvement Center and be sure to take a peek at our Instagram account under the handle @ecobrooklyn.

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden
Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden