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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 www.fsc.org.
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? 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Here are the basic steps:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.