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:

Materials:

5-gallon plastic bucket

2 2-liter plastic soda bottles

Dirt, grass (or hay), and water

Marker

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.

 

 

DIY Indoor Vermiculture Composting

If you are a fan of living sustainably you have most likely felt the urge to reduce your waste and begin composting. But living in New York City often leaves residents without much outdoor space. A large part of Green Building in Brooklyn involves meshing innovative techniques with salvaged materials, which is why do-it-yourself composting is a fantastic solution to a massive problem. Eco Brooklyn is a big fan of “Passive House”  philosophy and indoor composting is as energy conscious as it is environmentally friendly. Composting indoors sounds, or rather “smells,” fishy right? In fact if your compost is smelly it’s probably not functioning correctly.

Black Gold

Black Gold

Composting is a simple process by which organic material, mostly complex carbon and nitrogen molecules, are broken down to produce the basic building blocks to support plant like organisms. This compost or “black gold” is essential to reducing the wasted-tons of organic material sent to landfills every time one throws away those banana peels, coffee grounds and filters, or even used paper towels.

With a little human energy and a bit of patience, one can easily turn their two-pound-per-day organic waste into nutrient rich soil for their house plants or garden. The first step is to find a suitable container with at least four cubic feet of volume; basically a trash can with a diameter of 1.5’ and a height of 2’. The container should be salvaged or recycled, must have a lid, and bigger is better if you have the space.

 

This compostee used an old paint bucket and found a solution to reducing those pesky fruit flies. Her method suggests adding felt to the inside of the aeration holes to prevent any unwanted invaders. I imagine using the activated carbon mesh found at pet stores for cat litter boxes would also do the trick while reducing any unwanted odors.

Keep the Flies Away

Felt on Aeration Holes

 

Use to Prevent Pests and Odors

Use to Prevent Pests and Odors

 

 

Next you will want to find a suitable tray to place underneath the compost bin with some newspaper in case of spillage. The bin should be place in a dark place for best results. Usually under the kitchen sink or on the floor of a pantry will do. Add some soil from anywhere, except near the Gowanus.

 

Then mix in around four pounds of red worms, depending on how much suitable waste you generally produce, as they will eat about half their weight in material every day. Aeration holes are critical as they allow oxygenation for the worms and the aerobic (need oxygen) bacteria. Foul smelling compost is usually due to “anaerobic” (do not need oxygen) bacteria, so make sure to churn your compost once a week and have at least a dozen ½” size holes in the lid or the top sides of the bucket.

 

What can you add to your compost bin? Here is a great list of 81 items suitable for composting. Keep in mind that a higher concentration of carbon rich material; “brown stuff”, newspaper, paper towels, wood clippings, will prevent ammonia smells caused by the anaerobic breakdown of nitrogen rich material; “green stuff”, fruit, veggies, coffee grounds.

DIY Composting Bin

“I’m Red, but I produce Black Gold”

Composting generally takes a few weeks, but this wait is very rewarding. It is probably best two have at least two bins as one will get full after a couple weeks and it will need time to mature, which is a great time to start your second compost bin. Also make sure to add “brown” material with your “green” stuff and sometimes a little water if it is too dry or newspaper if it is too wet. Then churn, churn, churn, because there is always a season for composting.

Too much compost? Donate your extras to a local farm or farmers market. The NYC Green Markets are also happy to take your clippings, and “green” waste for composting.

-Anthony Rivale

Permaculture Tour this Sunday 03/10/13 @ 11:30 am

Eco Brooklyn will be hosting a Permaculture tour of at least 30 people this Sunday. It is open to all who are interested in touring the Eco Brooklyn Show House and learning about permaculture.

Location: 22 2nd Street Brooklyn, NY 11231

Time: 03/10/2013 @ 11:30

No RSVP required, just show up.

Permawhat?

Permaculture is a synergy between land use, agriculture, and human development. Coined by the environmentalist-authors Bill Mollison and David Holmgren from the phrase “Permanent Agriculture.” Permaculture evolved into a social awareness philosophy that focuses on a healthy planet in which to sustain a human population. It thrives on understanding the natural processes of biology to sustainably integrate farming, aquaculture, and land development. Permaculture advances the organic efficiency of pre-industrial farming  and places more value on renewable resources and limiting waste production.

Major concepts of this philosophy include: Food Forests and Guilds, Poultry and Backyard Animals, Rainwater Harvesting, Polyculture and Multipurposing, Watershed Restoration, Natural Building, and Waste Management.


For more information visit the NM Permaculture Institute’s website.

For classes in New York visit homebiome.

Phone Booth Aquarium

When was the last time you used a pay phone?  For me, I think it was when I was in High School in the early 90s when I was stranded downtown.  But since everyone, and I mean everyone, has a mobile phone now, pay phones are obsolete.   In a way, I am saddened by the fact that phone boxes are useless.  They are cinematic icons (Superman, Charade, and the Birds, just to name a few) and can be found in cities large and small around the world, in various shapes and sizes.

So what happens to all of those phone booths?

 

Sadly, many have already been sent to the landfill.  Others lay unused and neglected on the roadside.  Some, however, are being rescued and converted by very cleaver people into things such as loos and libraries, showers, and sofas.

 

Some of the most exciting phone box conversions have been into fish tanks.  One of my favorites is by designers Benoit Deseille and Benedetto Bufalino as part of the Lyon Light Festival in France.  It is a local curiosity and a big hit amongst visitors.  The Lyon Light Festival is an anual event celebrating the Mother Mary, who, legend has it, spared the town from the Plague in 1643.

Aquarium phone box Lyon france

 

Other examples of phone booth aquariums are this goldfish aquarium in Japan:

Telephone booth fish tank

This lovely red phone box aquarium in England:

phone booth aquarium

This aquarium, which was part of an entire exhibit featuring creative fish tank ideas:

fish tank telephone booth

And this New York-themed fish tank design is from Animal Plant’s “Tanked.”  In doing research for this post I came upon an ad saying that the owners of this aquarium did not like it and put it up for sale on Ebay.

phone booth fish tank

Seeing creative adaptive reuse ideas such as these phone booth aquariums makes me want to go out and adopt an abondoned phone booth.  I wonder if it would fit into a taxi?

If you want to see more creative phone box conversions, click here.

Natural Fungus Gnat treatments

As a green builder, EcoBrooklyn is a green wall installer. Recently we designed and installed two green walls in the Area Yoga studio on Montague St. in Brooklyn, one in the entry office and one in the studio itself. The luscious plants beautifully enhance the serene and calming vibe of the space and allow for an escape from the stressors of urban life. The cascading vines and tropical hues transform the studio into a peaceful haven.

Intern Malone Matson tending to the yoga studio's living wall

The system we created uses soil with high organic matter content to nourish the plants. Many of them are of tropical origin and therefore have high nutritional needs. In addition, the studio is hot and humid, a requirement for both the plants and the activity type it was designed for. Our building philosophy embraces low-impact building, and as such we do not use pesticides to keep the plants flourishing. Additionally we allow organic matter to compost on site. The wall is irrigated by a gray water system that keeps the soil generally moist.

While the conditions in the studio are ideal for both the yoga participants and the plants on the green wall, they also provide a welcoming environment for fungus gnats. The gnats feed on organic debris, fungi, algae, and nibble on the small roots of plants.

We have developed a multi-layered plan to keep the gnat population at bay. Much like our plant-based mosquito repellent service, we rely on natural sources of gnat control to diminish the population.

Like our mosquito treatments, we attack all stages of the gnat’s life cycle. Fungus gnats have larval, pupae, and adult stages.

Anti-larval treatments

1) The primary treatment involves the use of cinnamon. We are using a cinnamon spray (cinnamon bark, cinnamon oil, water, and baby shampoo to reduce surface tension) applied twice a day to deter the gnats and create an uninviting environment for them. Cinnamon is a fungicide, reducing the larvae’s food supply.

There are two types of cinnamon: ceylon (cinnamomum verum), and cassia (cinnamomum burmannii). Most cinnamon found in conventional North American stores is cassia, but this form is not a fungicide.

cinnamomum verum on the left and cinnamomum burmannii on the right

2) We are also using Summit mosquito/gnat bits, with the active ingredient bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. These bacteria are a biological control for larval Dipterans such as mosquitoes and fungus gnats due to the presence of cry toxins. When fungus gnat larvae eat bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crystals, the cry toxins bind to receptors in the gut and the larvae cease to eat. The gut wall breaks down and the toxin spores and other gut bacteria enter the larvae’s body, which results in death.

The bits are scattered throughout the soil and replenished every two weeks.

Bt does not affect beneficial insects or plants and is a naturally occurring soil bacterium.

According to the EPA, thirty years of widespread Bt use has produced no confirmed reports of immediate or delayed allergic reactions despite significant oral, dermal, and inhalation exposure to the product. Bt has not been found to affect the endocrine or immune systems. Although it does not proliferate in aquatic habitats, it should not be applied to drinking water.

Studies have shown no toxicity or pathogenicity to birds, non-target insects, honeybees, freshwater fish, and estuarine and marine mammals. However, it has been found to be moderately toxic to Daphnia freshwater invertebrates and is under further study. Since our affected site is an indoor planting site, in this particular case we are not concerned about the affect on Daphnia species.

Anti-adult treatments

1) We have applied yellow sticky pads on wire stems hidden within the foliage. The gnats are attracted to the color. We change these out when the surface area of the pad is covered.

2) We have filled jars with apple cider vinegar with a couple drops of baby shampoo or dish soap to break the surface tension. We poke a couple holes in the lids to allow the fungus gnats in but not out. The jars are better for office spaces and bathrooms, and seem to be quite effective.

Additional treatments:

1) ‘Damping off’ is a condition cause by fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. The gnats help the fungi proliferate. The fungi infect seedlings and result in a constricted stem and eventual death. The condition can be prevented by the application of chamomile tea. Although this does not attack the gnats themselves, it treats a related condition.

A plant that has experienced 'damping off'

2) Adult fungus gnats like to lay eggs in moist soil. We recommend applying a sand topsoil, which drains quickly and thus prevents the laying of eggs.

3) Sliced raw potatoes placed throughout the affected area attract larva. These can be deposed of and replaced as often as is deemed necessary (they can get pretty infested).

 

We have been treating the green walls for about two weeks now, and have noticed a huge decrease in the fungus gnat population. The workers and customers at the studio have also had positive reports. Not only is the cinnamon spray affective, the aroma of cinnamon pervades the space and complements the character of the studio. EcoBrooklyn will continue to test natural methods of insect control at its job sites.

 

 

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

The growth in sustainable and green living has given rise to a movement of eco-tourism in a variety of forms across the country.  Specifically the use of salvaged materials is making a breakthrough in the realm of practical and/ or novel green construction.

Across the country salvaged building trends and communities are blossoming and their projects range from the awe-inspiring to the comical.  I recently came across this link to a list of 8 “roadside” attractions made primarily or entirely of salvaged materials:

 

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/8-roadside-attractions-made-from-salvaged-materials/must-see-places

 

There’s a beer can house, a quilted-oil-protesting-gas station, and the largest tree house ever built (complete with sanctuary and basketball court).  Besides roadside attractions I’ve come to find through friends and my own travels a number of interesting things made by hand with salvaged materials.

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

Once a year in Glover, Vermont there is a gathering of people, “The Human Powered Carnival”, that is the only (to my knowledge) 100% handmade and human powered carnival in existence.

 

Internationally there is a movement of “freeganism”, a life style based around obtaining all necessary materials to live well without using money, this means dumpster diving for food, squatting (sometimes clandestinely), bartering services, and general scavenging.  There is enough usable waste produced by most large companies and institutions to feed, clothe and shelter everyone who needs it.  This movement is intrinsically related to the Human Powered Carnival, there is no advertisement besides word of mouth and there is an air of communal co-operation in all aspects of the event, from cooking to cleaning and operating the rides.

One of Cyclecides attractions

In a similar spirit, in California, there is “cyclecide”.  Cyclecide is an organization based on finding expressive, interactive and alternate uses for bicycles and bike parts.  This idea sprang in 1996 and is rooted in a “freegan” ideology, their first pieces came from dumpstered bikes and some still do.  Their main event is a touring “bike rodeo” featuring varied attractions, from art installations to interactive bike or “pedal” powered rides, and valuable information.  This rodeo is not for the faint of heart, group events and contests such as tall bike jousting, while extremely fun and entertaining do pose some real danger, perhaps that’s what makes it so fun?

This is an excerpt from their website that clearly describes the group’s core beliefs;

“We remain passionately devoted to the idea of the bicycle as a piece of interactive kinetic sculpture that can make music, breathe fire, even save the world!”

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

What I find most exciting about this small grassroots movement is its power to subtly invoke great change in a person’s cognition, with the near comic novelty of some of these art pieces and attractions people will let their mental guards down and approach this concept with a more open and relaxed mind, which is sure to get the wheels turning in ones head (whether pedal powered or not).

Natural Mosquito Repellent

Brooklyn’s beautiful summer days coax us outdoors to converse and lounge in our parks, backyards, and porches. In the heat of the summer, water features are a welcome cooling sight and draw the abundance of people looking to maximize their free time. However, these same water features are also home to pesky mosquitoes, diminishing the quality of our outdoor experiences.

At Eco Brooklyn, we are developing natural methods of mosquito control. These methods aim to diminish the mosquito’s presence while maintaining the balance of our fragile local ecosystems. We have a mosquito-repellant service with several components and options, which we make available to the community in an attempt to combat the mosquito problem on a larger scale.

Our service uses three main tools to reduce mosquitoes:

1. Landscaping Mosquito repellent plants – yards, pots and living walls.

2. Water features for mosquito predators – Fish and Dragonfly ponds.

3. Natural oils applied to the skin and garden area surfaces.

New York and Brooklyn were originally full of marshes, rivers and wetlands, which most probably had lots of mosquitoes. The difference now is that those areas are gone, and so are all the creatures and plants that kept mosquitoes at bay.

Now, with little left but clogged gutters and putrid waterways like the Gowanus Canal, there are few predators to the mosquito. Add to that the introduction of non-native mosquitoes from Asia that have even less predators here, and you have a real mosquito heaven (for the mosquito that is. Not for us humans).

Mosquitoes are a problem worldwide.  A wide variety of defenses have been put into effect to reduce the impact of the insect, some with more success than others.

Many of these methods have negative affects on the surrounding environment and may in fact be simultaneously attacking the mosquito’s natural predators. Broad-spectrum insecticides such as the organic pesticide Pyrethrum may kill mosquitoes and other insect pests, but they also kill beneficial pest-controlling insects such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Any attempt to reduce mosquito numbers must be founded in the natural lifecycle of the mosquito itself. The mosquito lays its eggs in standing water and hatches as larva before changing into pupae, then emerging and taking flight. Any standing water greater than a bottle cap’s full can serve as a mosquito-breeding site.

As such it is very important to eliminate small containers that have the potential to fill with rainfall and remain inactive. The elimination of all rainwater collection sites, however, is far from necessary. Slightly larger ponds can be effective methods of mosquito control by acting as habitats for the mosquito’s natural predators.

Some of the mosquito’s natural predators are dragonflies, damselflies, bats, and numerous fish species. While bats do consume mosquitoes, they are at most 5% of their diet. Extensive bat preservation policies, while beneficial to the bat, may not in fact greatly diminish the inhabiting mosquito population. Many fish will consume mosquitoes, but some are better adapted to the task than others.

Fish

The highly touted mosquitofish Gambusia affinis can consume 42-167% of its body weight in mosquitoes per day.  Its mouth is faced upwards towards the sky, allowing for more efficient consumption of mosquito larvae. It can tolerate various temperature changes in the water, salinity, decreased food supply, and organic pollutants and is compatible with goldfish, koi, and karp.

A nonnative species, it was first introduced to New York’s waters as a biological control for mosquitoes. However, mosquitofish were found to be ill-adapted to the cooler waters. Most importantly, it is not compatible with native species and very few instances of coexistence exist.

As such EcoBrooklyn does not recommend the introduction of mosquitofish into existing garden ponds. If your brownstone garden already includes a fish pond, we recommend finding a hardy native fish species that can reproduce in the local climate, such as the fathead minnow.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Fish are not the only mosquito predator reliant on a pond source. Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in foliage above or below the waterline of a pond. They then hatch as aquatic predators, consuming mosquito larva to feed and grow.

Depending on the species, this stage of life takes 1-2 months to 5 years. The larva then climb out of the pond via a plant stalk or rock and seek protection in nearby foliage before taking flight and attacking mosquito adults.

The life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies therefore shadows that of the mosquito, but the predator-prey relationship remains the same effectively controlling mosquito populations. Adult dragonflies and damselflies return to water features to feed and sun themselves, and eventually lay eggs in the pond.

Eco Brooklyn offers a dragonfly pond building service as a component of its mosquito solutions. Dragonfly ponds are a beautiful addition to a brownstone garden, and the insects provide welcome entertainment on a summer’s eve.

15% of North America’s 307 dragonfly species are in danger of extinction, and a new dragonfly habitat can help the graceful insects to reestablish themselves while also providing a welcome solution to the mosquito problem!

A dragonfly pond by Carole A. Brown

A dragonfly pond should vary in depth, with a segment around 2 ft in depth and flat rocks such as slate on the shallow side. Water plants should be included in the deeper parts of the pond to serve as nurseries, with perching sedges and rushes on the side for adults. It is also recommended that a small wildflower grassland be planted on the side of the pond.

The pond should include erect and submerged plants to allow for dragonflies and damselflies at all stages of the life cycle. A small pump can be included to keep the water clean and oxygenated, although this is not necessary for larger ponds. While the best dragonfly ponds are 20 feet wide, this width is not practical for a NY lot nor is it necessary to maintaining a healthy population.

In fact, adapted whiskey barrels, fountain basins, and earthen or plastic lined ponds can all provide welcome habitats as long as there are sloped sides and varying depths. The dragonfly larvae like to hide in the depths of the water to escape predation, but sufficient plant cover may substitute for that in the case of shallower ponds.

A simple stake in the pond can substitute for erect perching plants. It is very important that the pond be 70% in the sun and that no fish are added to the water.

Fish consume dragonfly larva as well as mosquito larva and are therefore incompatible, unless we design the pond to have two sections so there are safe places for the larvae to escape.

Once the pond is built we jumpstart it with a few spadefulls of soil from a nearby pond with a known dragonfly population.

The following plants work well in a dragonfly pond:

Deepwater -submerged plants

Curly pondweed – Potomogeton crispus

Water Starwort – Callitriche spp

Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum

Spiked Water Milfoil – Myrophyllum spicatum

Deeper water Floating Plants

Stiff-leaved Water Crowfoot – Rannunculus circinatus

Frogbit – Hydrocharis morus-ranae

Broad-leaved pondweed – Potomegetum natans

Amphibious Bistort – Polygonum amphibium

Yellow Waterlily – Nurphar lutea

Fringed Waterlily – Nymphoides pelatata

Shallow water emergent plants

Flowering Rush – Butomus umbellatus

Water Horsetail – Equisetum fluviatile

Bur-reed – Sparganium erectum

Water Plantain – Alisma plantago-aquatica

Common Spike Rush – Eleocharis palustris

Bog Bean  – Menyanthes trifoliate

Plants

EcoBrooklyn also installs plants as  a direct means of mosquito control. We offer several plant-based services:

-vertical frames planted with mosquito repellant plants, to be hung on the walls of porches, balconies, and other outdoor activity areas. The frames are made of cedar or pine as both of these woods repel mosquitoes.

-plant troughs filled with mosquito repellant plants, placed near outdoor activity areas

-herbal oil concoctions designed to specifically repel mosquitoes; these can be applied directly to the skin or sprayed on the surfaces of an outdoor activity area

-dried mosquito-repellant plants placed into sachets to be hung in desired locations

Below we have organized known mosquito repellant plants into two categories: native and nonnative species. Edible plants are subcategorized. We work with clients to offer aesthetically pleasing plant combinations.




Once planted, it is advised that plants be brushed before engaging in outdoor activities in order to release some of the scent. The compounds citronellal, geraniol, geranial, and pulegone are all known to repel mosquitoes. Plants containing these compounds are the most effective.

It is important to note that the plants themselves will not repel mosquitoes, it is the oil within their leaves that acts as a repellent. This is why brushing the leaves (resulting in small breaks) helps to repel mosquitoes. Our plant troughs and vertical installations  are meant to be a reliable supplier of leaves for your own herbal concoctions while also aesthetically ameliorating your home.

We highly recommend troughs consisting of edible mosquito repellent plants, which provide the additional ecosystem service of providing food.

Herbal solutions

While there are many variations of mosquito repellant liquids, they are made similarly.

The first method uses actual plant leaves from mosquito repellant plants. These are steeped in water, strained, and then the liquid is added to isopropyl alcohol.  Any combination of plants works well as well as using a single plant per batch.

The second method involves mixing 2 ½ teaspoons of any combination of essential oils (basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, juniper, lemon, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary) with 1 cup of 190-proof grain alcohol. These concoctions can be applied directly to the skin or used in a spray bottle. If applied to the skin, it may take some experimentation to determine what combination of oils works best with one’s body chemistry.

As described by the above overview, there are many natural means of combating the mosquito problem in Brooklyn. EcoBrooklyn is constantly improving its services through experimentation in the Green Show House and offers its solutions to the community.

These solutions aim to repel mosquitoes, add to the aesthetic value of Brooklyn brownstones, and support native species and the local ecosystem.

Do it Yourself Solar Water Heater

Eco Brooklyn is a solar hot water installer. We do a great job at installing solar hot water systems on NY brownstones. But the greatest issue with the installation of renewable energy systems in homes and businesses is the large initial investment.

On builditsolar.com they have developed a low cost alternative to conventional store-bought solar water heating systems that costs around $1000.

The steps are simple, the execution is likely not, but the do-it-yourself mentality that is being proposed by this site is necessary for green building methods to be readily available to low and middle class populations.  If this design proves to be as efficient and inexpensive as it appears, it could be a major step to reducing green house gas emissions.

 

Fig. 1: Basic Solar Water Heater Design.  Courtesy of builditsolar.com

 

Figure 1 visually explains the basic set up.  The key steps to building this system are:

1.Understanding the System Philosophy

2.Building the Collector

3.Building the Insulated Heat Storage Tank and Heat Exchanger

4.Plumbing

 

1. The Philosophy

Energy is taken from the sun and used to supplement a previously installed hot water heater.  If water comes into the hot water heater at the working temperature, then the heater will not use any new energy to further heat the water.  This happens when the sun comes in contact with the collector and heats the piping that cold water is traveling through.  This water is isolated in the system and will never be used in the home, but will stay in the collector and storage tank system.

In the storage tank a looped tube will carry city water used in the home through the heated water from the collector allowing the energy collected from the sun to be transferred to potable water in the home.  It is important that the collector is built above the heat storage tank to allow for the water to flow back down when the pump is turned off, and for the collector to be positioned south-facing (if you are in the northern hemisphere) with an ideal tilt angle equal to your latitude.

 

2. Building the Collector

Fig 2: A collector with serpentine copper tubing

 

There are two low cost options for building the collector, and they both involve building a plywood support with serpentine tubing attached to it with water flowing through this tubing.  The water is heated by aluminum fins that are installed over the tubing and painted black.  The option is between what type of tubing will be used.  Copper tubing is the expensive option, but has approximately 15% better results than the PEX tubing option.  To make up for this efficiency difference one can choose to size up the system.  This price difference changes drastically based on the current copper prices.

 

3. Building the Insulated Heat Storage Tank and Heat Exchanger

Fig. 3: Heat storage tank under construction

 

The storage tank is built with a combination of plywood and 2x4s with a PDX (rubber) liner to prevent leakage.  This system is then insulated with polyisocyanurate.  Dimensions of the design can change, but it must be carefully constructed, as it will be carrying approximately 150-200 gallons of hot water.  The heat exchanger is simply a coil of PEX plastic pipe.  This is where the city water will gain energy before it is sent to the hot water heater.

 

A practical length of tubing is 300ft x 1in diameter and will carry about 9 gallons of water.  This means that, given enough time, there will be 9 gallons of hot water that will be at the temperature of the heat storage tank water between uses.  The water that follows will warm steadily and the output temperature will be based on the flow rate during use.  Basically, this is extremely efficient if enough time is given between uses and less water than the heat exchanger can hold is used.

 

4. Plumbing

There is a pump that is submerged in the storage tank and left at the bottom (this is where the water in the storage container is coldest). The pump runs water up a tube connected to the PEX or copper tubing at the bottom of the collector.  From the top of the collector a tube brings the hot water back to the heat storage tank.  The beauty of this design is that when the pump shuts off the water flows back into the storage container and will not freeze in the collector if it is being exposed to winter temperatures.  The city water is simply run through the heat storage tank to the hot water heater with a connection before the heater to allow cold water to also be used in the house.

 

Conclusion:

With the use of do-it-yourself designs like this one from builditsolar.com green energy is becoming available to more people everyday.  If designs like this become trusted, and the impacts are seen and understood by the public, global warming can be mitigated while increasing the standard of living for families that financially struggle to heat their water.

DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens or living walls are a beautiful and efficient way to maximize green space within an urban context. Aesthetically, vertical gardens can be used to improve the façade of buildings while providing other ecosystem services such as enhanced air quality.

Perhaps first employed by the Mesopotamians to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the principles of design have expanded past cascading plants to include plants rooted at different heights of a wall. Living walls vary in size, design, and complexity.

Two of the best-known living walls are on the Marché des Halles in Avignon and the Museé du Quai Branly, both designed by Patrick Blanc. However, man-made living walls are not constrained to grand public buildings.

Marche des Halles en Avignon, designed by Patrick Blanc

It is very feasible to create you own, and in fact personal vertical gardens beautifully complement the exterior of Brooklyn brownstones, although it is recommended a professional be consulted for walls higher than 7 feet.

The character of your vertical garden is determined by the framing material and plant selection. While plant selection may vary by individual taste, native species are generally hardier and better suited to the local climate and pest and disease conditions.

Green landscaping with native species is also a proactive way to support the area’s native ecosystems. You may decide to choose a theme to guide your plant selections, such as a foliage wall, mosquito-repellant wall, epicurean wall (pick your salad ingredients!), aromatic herb wall, or a perfumed wall.

Succulents are easy plants for beginners since they do not need substantial irrigation. For vertical gardens created sans soil, epiphytes and lithophytes are necessary plant selections. Epiphytes attach to other objects solely for physical support and are not parasitic. They obtain nutrients from rain, air, and debris. Common epiphytes in temperate zones such as New York are lichens and mosses.

We will list and describe framing methods with increasing complexity.

The Woolly Packet Garden Company offers a series of “woolly packets”, pouches made from recycled water bottles with an impermeable moisture barrier and felt to wick the water. These packets are easy to install and arrange as you please. Although the design is not constrained to vertical garden use, the pouches lend themselves well to such installations. Watch this video for further description:

Flora Grubb Gardens is featuring an example vertical garden installation in their store.

Wooly Pocket installation

For a more complex system, pre-made frames are available for sale from several manufacturers. Gro-Wall offers easy to stack frames.

VGM also offer green wall modules. Drip irrigation coupled with the effects of gravity water the plants in both systems, although this can also be adapted.

Our favorite option at Eco Brooklyn for small walls is using salvaged pallets as a frame for a living wall. We are currently creating a wooden pallet living wall installation in the Green Showroom. Simple and effective, this method limits the amount of new material needed for the project and decreases life cycle emissions and cost.

Pallet living wall

 

Pallets can often be found for free at local gardening stores. Pallets without significant back support may need to be augmented with scrap wood on the back. You can then staple landscaping paper to the back, bottom, and sides to create a secure void for the soil. Soil is poured through the slats and the selected plants are then planted in place and watered. Once planted, the pallet needs to remain horizontal for one to two weeks until the roots can take and stabilize the soil.

There are two easy ways to create your own frame.

The second method does not require the additions of any soil!

Succulent frames

Method 1: Cut 4 pieces of lumber to the desired length and nail them together at the corners to create a box frame. Staple or nail wire mash to the front face of the frame and a piece of plywood to the back face. Fill the void with soil and then poke the stems from plant cuttings through the mesh. Allow the installation to remain horizontal until the plants are securely rooted. Water lightly or use a drip irrigation system. For smaller frames, it may be easiest to lay it flat when watering and allow the soil to drain before hanging it back up.

Note that the above method works best for small frames, as it does not require a complex irrigation or fertilizer system.

 

Method 2: This last method is the most involved in terms of infrastructure but very rewarding. It isn’t that green either since it requires a pump. It is however the most popular system and many massive walls have been created this way.

Noémie Vialard’s book Gardening Vertically offers a more in-depth description of the process, which was initially developed by Patrick Blanc. While it is possible to make a portable system, it is most effective as a permanent display.

Wooden battens are first fixed to the selected wall space, and then a PVC panel and two layers of irrigation matting are added over the battens. The irrigation system consists of a perforated pipe connected to a pump, which activates a couple times a day for a few minutes.

Nutrients can be diluted into the water tank to fertilize the ecosystem. The plant roots are inserted through holes in the second layer of felt (such that the plant is secured between layers of irrigation matting).

Because the system has no soil substrate, there is no water retention. To mitigate the high water usage, you may want to plant perennials at the foot of the wall to consume surplus water or create a fish pond at the base. Use gray water to irrigate if possible.

Apart from the electric load, this system is not sustainable in another way: if you stop the pump the plants die quickly since there is no humid soil to keep them. In that sense it is a very artificial environment. The closest natural habitat is a rock wall in a tropical jungle.

For this reason we prefer the soil based living walls. We build our own structure instead of buying pre-made products because it allows us to save costs and customize to the space.

A vertical garden installation can beautifully augment the aesthetic value of your home. Living walls do not need to be grandiose or complex and the concept can easily be adapted to personal usage. Outdoor walls are easier because you don’t have to worry about flooring issues in the house. But indoor walls, provided they get sunlight, don’t get blasted by weather extremes. Indoor walls need special attention to avoid mold issues, but if that is under control they add a freshness to the air that is wonderful.

Eco Brooklyn is a living wall installer because we really love what a living wall does to a space. It fits perfectly with our mission to turn NY green!

Native Plantings for an Ecological Landscape

As an New York Ecological Landscaper and Contractor, we understand there are ways to plant a garden “smarter” and “greener.”  While looking for new evergreen species for the green show house garden at Home Depot, we came across a long list of possibilities, only some of which met our criteria of being native North American plant species.

They stocked: Emerald Green Arborvitae, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, Green Velvet Boxwood, Rheingold Arborvitae, Colorado Blue Spruce, Wiltoni Juniper, Ramapo Rhododendron, Standard Rhododendron and the English Roseum Rhododendron

We want evergreens to add aesthetic value with year-round foliage and provide a protective habitat for birds and other animals without negatively impacting our solar heat gain, hopefully Home Depot and other stores begin to carry more native varieties to choose from.

It is important to use native species as much as possible for a variety of reasons.  Nonnative species can become invasive, and spread to the surrounding areas on shoes, animals and in bird droppings.  These can squeeze out native species and cause a loss of natural ecological diversity, species extinction, and general harm to the environment if mismanaged.  Furthermore, native plants are easier to grow because they are well-adapted to the climate, look naturally pleasing and protect the environment.


Rhododendron

A second consideration is whether the plant will impact the structure at all.  The positioning, type and quantity of a particular plant can impact the home’s ability to gain solar heat.  If an evergreen is planted near a south-facing window for example, it can block the sun year round, limiting the winter solar heat gain and therefore increasing the home’s dependence on energy to heat it.

Contrasting that would be a deciduous tree planted near a south-facing window, it will shade the home in the summer heat and (by losing its leaves) open the window up to absorb the solar heat as much as possible in the winter.  This is not as much of an issue in non-southerly facing windows, but interior light should always be considered when planting near buildings, specially for evergreen varieties.For an ecological landscaper like Eco Brookyln, planting the showhouse garden requires care and planning, but will result in a much more environmentally responsible and efficient landscape, that is beautiful as well.
Check out the USDA PLANTS database website for information on native plants
and to research more possibilities.  http://plants.usda.gov/java/

Get Your “Passport to Green NY” and Celebrate Earth Day Early!

As NY Green Contractors, we work hard to turn NYC green and we love any opportunity to share our labors with the public because it spreads awareness of green building.  The Earth Day New York organization has created a great way for New Yorkers to celebrate Earth Day as well as learn more about green businesses and opportunities in the city.  The event is called “Passport to Green NY” and runs from March 20 to April 21.

 It is essentially a scavenger hunt style event that encourages participants to visit as many of the participating green businesses as possible to compete for prizes and raise awareness about what’s available in NYC for those looking to live greener.  The “passport” also includes valuable coupons and discounts that can be used at the participating green locations, everything from Build it Green NYC to the Bronx Zoo to Bare Burger.  For example, head to the New York Botanical Garden for 20% of any all-garden pass when you use your new passport from Earth Day New York.

This event gives people incentive to choose green products and services by offering discounts, prizes and simply by spreading awareness about them.  As a NY Green Contractor and green business, we love events like this because it gives us a chance to highlight our work, as well as showing us the work of others who share the common goal of turning NYC green.

To download your own copy of the Passport, check out the website.  Happy (green) shopping and eating!

Sub-Irrigation Planting – the most sustainable urban gardening method?

Being a New York green contractor we consider urban farming to be an important consideration for every project. Given every building has walls and a roof it is always worth asking wither they are well suited for vertical or roof farming.

Sub-Irrigation Planting Systems (SIPs) are a perfectly sustainable answer to urban farming, according to Frieda Lim, creator of Slippery Slope Farm, a rooftop micro-garden in Brooklyn that utilizes this technology.  This is not your typical urban garden – the beds are portable for one, the plants are also healthier, they produce far more veggies per square foot and require up to 90% less water.  Pretty impressive for a garden that can be created in just about any outdoor space available, requiring very little green thumb and using virtually whatever containers you have available (salvaged wooden boxes, storage tubs, re-purposed soda bottles)
These benefits are all basically achieved by watering from below (hence sub-irrigation).  A water and air reservoir is contained at the bottom of each plant container, with the soil and actual plants suspended above.  The plants get their water through their roots, and the owner waters them through a “fill tube” which eliminates the waste of traditional top soil watering.

Want to get started on your own SIPs garden this spring?  Check out the website, http://www.slipperyslopefarm.us/index.html, where Frieda offers services for those who need help designing and constructing all types of sub-irrigation systems.  She also explains the methodology in more detail here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1tn0FpiVE

Happy Gardening!

Green Walls 101 Class at NY Horticultural Society

Check out this great event hosted by the New York Horticultural Society, a perfect opportunity to learn new ways to incorporate green walls into your space! Also, you’ll learn about the design, benefits, major components and systems, as well as market drivers behind this modern green building technique.  We think they’re a sustainable, beautiful and efficient way to create a unique wall on many building types – chances are, after this class, you’ll agree!

More information and registration here:

http://www.cvent.com/events/green-walls-101-systems-overview-and-design-new-york/event-summary-4a08dd5e062b4ef581ccf12330aded07.aspx

Where
The Horticultural Society of New York
148 West 37th Street, 13th Floor
New York City, NY 10018
http://www.hsny.org/
When
Thursday, February 23
1:00pm – 5:00pm
Space is limited. Reserve your seat now.
Tuition
$175 for HSNY and GRHC members
$199 for non-membersIncludes a detailed 70-page course manual.