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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sustainable architecture and passive building designs are swiftly increasing in popularity and as a NY green contractor we have been busy developing creative and sustainable structures in Brooklyn, NY. Our current project is a two story studio and office space built from 5 recycled shipping containers. A more comprehensive post will be added regarding the entire project, however we are first adding a short series of photographs displaying the process of installing a 9 foot circular window in the second story of the container.
Most of us have probably come to recognize that plastic is an extremely difficult item to cut out of our lives. From tupperware to composite lumber, plastic has become so engrained in the modern way of life, most people do not even realize how strong their dependency is upon it. There are ways, however, to curb the impact of our plastic addiction on both the environment and our health.
The EPA’s Resin Identification Code for plastics categorizes plastic into seven numbers. The numbers are useful for consumers who can tell whether a plastic product is recyclable in their neighborhood based on the ID number. For example, #1 and #2 (PET and HDPE) are considered the “most” recyclable and can be broken down into their base form and reworked entirely. Examples of these categories are translucent milk jugs, soda bottles, and plastic bags.
Moreover, the system also shows which types are most harmful to human health. #3 (PVC) and #7 (Other) are considered particularly hazardous to health. The chemicals in plastic have the ability to leach onto food, especially when they are left in the sun or microwave. According to an article in Health magazine, #3 and #7 are often used in “cling-wrap” for meats and cheeses, and plastic baby bottles. Chemical intake can lead to lowered testosterone levels, malformation in children, and cancer. Our advice against this? Buy a refillable metal water bottle and transfer your meats and cheeses to a paper container as fast as possible.
Construction and building is the number two user of plastic products (second only to packaging). According to the EPA, only about 8 percent of plastic waste generated in 2011 was reclaimed for recycling (http://www.reportlinker.com/ci02375/Plastic.html) This is impacted by the fact that most common plastics in construction are rarely recyclable (especially PVC piping). According to a 2000 Green Paper, only 3 percent of PVC is recycled, 17% incinerated, and 80% landfilled. These numbers have improved in recent memory, owing in part to a popular trend in Europe to recycle PVC in window-making (including Eco Brooklyn friend, Klearwall http://ecobrooklyn.com/klearwall-windows-doors/) . One way around this problem is to use PEVA (non-chlorinated vinyl), which is biodegradable and does not contain the hazardous chemicals of PVC.
Temperature has assuredly become a hot topic in offices throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the recent heat wave. Eco Brooklyn’s office is no exception to the heat. However, we have a unique approach to the problem.
Passive housing has been a cornerstone of environmental design since the ancient Greeks and Romans (check out this article on the history of passive housing: http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/energy-efficient-building-passive-heating-and-cooling). While technology and techniques have become more advanced, many of the principles used by the ancients have stood the test of time. Most notably, this includes the use of exterior shades to protect from heat in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter.
Exterior shades differ from internal shades in a few major ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is that when using internal shades, the sunlight is allowed to enter the room through the window. The heat will be trapped inside of the shades. As it dissipates on the interior, the home is heated much faster.
The second major difference between interior and exterior shades is the dynamic ways one can utilize external shades and shutters. For example, the use of an overhang is an effective way of using angles to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower in the winter, the sun can enter the room under the overhang.
Furthermore, this concept of exterior shading offers an opportunity for synergy – a mark of sustainability in the green building community. Currently, Eco Brooklyn’s offices employ the use of internal honeycomb shades, which are highly effective at absorbing heat. However, we have plans of making an even more effective and synergistic approach. Namely, we would like to install an exterior overhang to accomplish the above-stated goals; with one catch: We will install solar panels on the overhang to absorb the heat and reroute it to power the house. This is a great example of an integrated solar power system.
As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise across the world (especially in NYC: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/new-york-city-flooding-by-2050_n_3417348.html), New Yorkers will be expected to assume a heavy burden of increasing energy bills. One way to combat these growing expenses is by building green. Passive housing is a great way to not only take advantage of the Earth’s natural energy, but prevent it from escaping your house as well.
Another approach to natural cooling is to use a green facade, or living wall. This concept involves the use of growing vines and other vegetation in a vertical direction to cover a wall or other surface of a building that is in direct sunlight. Green walls can vary in design and allow room for creativity. For further information on green walls check out this link: http://www.greenscreen.com/direct/GS_AdvancedGreenFacadeDesign.pdf
Eco Brooklyn would like to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of a fellow green advocate located in Brooklyn.
InsideClimate News is a rising nonprofit news website that focuses chiefly on environmental issues. Their objectives include providing scientific and objective investigations and news stories to inform the public and our officials living in these times of serious energy change. Additionally, InsideClimate News attempts to preserve the tradition and utility of environmental journalism.
InsideClimate News covers a wide scope of environmental information. Their hot topics include Keystone XL, natural gas drilling, climate change, nuclear energy, and environmental economics. It is a great site to keep people informed on green topics – from individuals to companies.
Most notably, InsideClimate News won the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for its investigative journalism on a 2010 oil spill in Marshall, Michigan. Their ebook, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of” is the work of journalists Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer. The book’s message details how the spill in Michigan was exacerbated by misinformation, substandard preparation, and a delayed response.
For example, the pipeline that leaked into a local stream, which entered the Kalamazoo River and threatened Lake Michigan, was carrying diluted bitumen. Diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” is a very heavy type of crude oil which is diluted with a cocktail of chemicals. More importantly, no one knew that the pipeline was carrying dilbit and the company, Enbridge Inc., did not inform first responders what they were dealing with until days after the spill was reported.
When all was said and done (though cleanup is still going on at some capacity) at least one million gallons of oil over 36 miles of between the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo. These bodies of water were closed for over two years and about 150 families were permanently relocated. The $765 million+ that Enbridge spent on the spill makes it the most expensive in US history. The reason why the spill went virtually unnoticed by the popular media was because the BP Deepwater Horizon spill occurred around the same time.
Enbridge is a Canadian oil and gas company. The dilbit that flowed through the pipelines comes from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. It is very similar to the type of oil that would be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline.
For more information check out ICN’s website at www.InsideClimateNews.org
Eco Brooklyn was visited today by Klearwall Industries. Klearwall is a certified Passive House windows company. Originally based in Ireland, Klearwall is looking to make its mark in the US market. They offer triple-paned windows and doors for domestic and commercial needs, ranging from single-window installation to entire buildings. Their windows are billed as eco-clad, future-proof, and affordable. All of this is with good reason.
Klearwall boasts an R-Value as high as 9.8hr.ft².˚F/BTU, which results in a 60% to 74% solar heat gain (depending on single or double glaze). Their PVC frame option is guaranteed to last 35 years and is sold at a bargain of approximately $33 per square foot.
Klearwall’s products are designed, fitted, and tempered in Ireland and shipped to the United States. Their plant is one of the largest carbon neutral factories in Europe and is powered solely by renewable energy. They offer a range of products – from windows in all-wood, aluminum, PVC, or a combination. The PVC and aluminum used is recycled from salvage jobs and treated at the plant.
As a pioneer in passive housing, Eco Brooklyn is always interested in companies such as Klearwall for their business strategy and philosophy. We wish them all the best as they try to help make New York a greener place.
Check out their website at http://www.klearwall.com/
Inhabitat recently posted an article exemplifying innovative underground houses around the globe. As a green contractor Eco Brooklyn is continually using cutting-edge ideas to improve upon Passive House designs. Underground housing can provide New York State with low energy housing at reasonable prices without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal of living above ground.
Structures built underground are protected from large temperature swings and extreme weather. At depths below 3 feet the ground maintains an average temperature of the yearly climate. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the benefit of home protection is priceless. The greatest benefit to homeowners is one that benefits their wallet. These buildings utilize the earth’s natural insulation and thus require less energy to heat and cool. Besides saving energy, subterranean buildings provide security though access limitation. They exist within nature instead of disrupting the environment. Under-grounding takes up less space and is less environmentally invasive. Unlike standard housing, driveway and backyard space are unnecessary as those amenities are provided directly above the structure.
One of the novel designers of earth-sheltered housing was Malcolm Wells. His underground designs merged iconoclastic principles with modern architecture. The New York Times stated it best:
“…his designs incorporated the land. He designed some homes (and other buildings) that seemingly burrowed into hillsides, and others whose main living space was subterranean, perhaps with above-ground lean-to roofs or atria and skylights to let in the sun. In general, his roofs were covered with layers of earth, suitable for gardens or other green growth.”
Much of Malcolm Wells’ design incorporated concrete and Eco Brooklyn suggests using rammed earth or tires to add structural support to underground buildings. Gennaro has also developed a design to alleviate the stress of the barrier walls by engineering a bowl-shaped structure with a one-to-one slope.
Eco Brooklyn is currently working with Michael Reynolds to develop an earth-sheltered home just north of New York City, so check back for updates on our Underground Housing
Eco Brooklyn was recently commissioned to insulate a new development in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. As a specialist in insulation and air sealing we have seen an increase in business from the many new multi unit apartment buildings that have shot up – not during construction, but AFTER construction.
As housing demand has continued to rise in New York City, developers have been driven to build quick, and build cheap. In this process, the basic concept of insulation is bypassed in favor of a quickly constructed shell of a building to show potential residents the physical product, but all too late, residents come to realize that they end up paying enormous utility bills because the units they live in are exactly that – a shell.
A brand new development….
As a Green Builder, energy conservation is an important focus for us. Not only do residents personally benefit from the energy savings (40% of energy costs are due to air infiltration that proper insulation will greatly reduce) and a comfortable sound and temperature controlled home climate, but they put less strain on the energy grid as a whole, which has far-reaching effects for the country and the world.
More importantly, the idea of conservation, to use only what is necessary rather than gratuitously simply because we are fortunate enough to be able to, is a multi-layered concept that is all too easy to forget when one lives in a developed country such as our own. The DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program (BECP) provides a guide for national energy codes.
Major sources of air leaks, image courtesy of the US Department of Energy
The two basic forms of insulation that Eco Brooklyn used are Cel-Pak, a loose cellulose spray, and spray foam.
Cellulose is a green alternative to fiberglass largely because of its mostly recycled content of roughly 85% shredded newsprint that has been chemically treated to resist mold, fire, and pests, without the use of formaldehyde, asbestos, and glass fibers. According to the Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA), “In 2007 about 3,000,000 tons of newspapers went to U.S. landfills. This paper could have been used to produce an additional 200,000,000 bags of Cellulose Insulation. There is enough paper going to landfills to produce enough Cellulose Insulation to replace nearly all other types of insulation.” The manufacture of cellulose as well requires significantly less BTU to produce that standard fiberglass.
A large benefit of loose cellulose spray is the ability to conform around plumbing, wiring, outlets, and vents, allowing for a custom fit uniform thermal barrier for every cavity. It has an R-value of 3.8 per inch, allowing exterior wall designs to reach a higher total R-value. Though this is not the highest, its cost per R-value is low enough to make it a sound investment.
Holes are drillled into the tops of walls and the spray cellulose is blown in until the capacity is reached. There is a tendency for the material to settle up to 20%, therefore requiring that the application be continued after some settling time. In this case, Eco Brooklyn used this method to insulate the exterior walls of the building.
Holes are drilled into the walls and ceiling
Eco Brooklyn insulated our client’s building with Cel-Pak, a regionally produced insulation alternative.
The spray cellulose is blown in by hoses connected to the spray containers filled with the material.
Closed-cell spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is a cheap form of permanent flood resistant insulation that is easily available. SPF has an R-value of 6.0 per inch, which is greatly superior to that of cellulose. However, the environmental impact from its manufacturing is far greater and the adverse health effects caused by its chemical makeup have been brought up by the EPA, and therefore minimal use is preferred. Eco Brooklyn used SPF in the exterior walls and behind the baseboards of the building where moisture has a greater tendency to collect, It’s waterproofing feature is best used here to prevent mold growth. Rockwool is used as a filler to reduce the amount of foam needed, and the openings are covered with cut foam board. Tescon tape provides an airtight, waterproofed seal.
Rockwool provides most of the filler for insulation.
SPF provides permanent dense waterproofing.
SPF sprayed around the rockwool creates the greatest insulation for the exterior walls.
Foam board is cut to conform around opening.
Tescon tape is used to seal the seems, providing airtight waterproofing.
Holes are drilled into the drywall behind the baseboard.
In 2012 Eco Brooklyn Inc. made a conscious choice to NOT grow. As a for profit corporation this may seem a bad business choice. But ironically we see this as thinking BIG. Peoples’ obsession with growth is such a massive part of us and it is illogical and suicidal.
Especially in speed crazed NY is this obsession rampant. I meet people on the street and ask them how things are and it’s so often, “Oh things are great, I’m so busy. Got these great jobs. Just hired another employee….”
What people forget is that cancer is a growth. Mold is a growth. Tumors are growths. Obesity is growth. Just because it is full of growth doesn’t mean anything. It could be good, it could be bad.
And yet in capitalism no growth means death. If you aren’t growing, expanding, taking over the world then you are not a successful company.
Eco Brooklyn is really one person, me, Gennaro Brooks-Church. Certainly I have employees and all sorts of people who make Eco Brooklyn shine, but in the end it is my vision. When I write “we” it isn’t a group of people sitting at a conference table. It is me sitting at my deck with a gold fish bowl next to my monitor.
And I have seen enough businesses to know that no matter how big they are, it usually is only one or two people working very hard. Yet they portray themselves as so much bigger than that, like puffed up roosters.
The temptation to grow is great. Yesterday I visited two clients. One wanted me to replace their front metal fence. The other wanted me to sheet rock their cellar. I talked them out of it. The fence was fine – it needs some paint and new footings. The cellar was fine. The beautiful brick walls just need a little patching and a coat of paint.
Again, it may seem strange that I am doing this. But I honestly think this is the most intelligent business move I could do. I will be fine financially. Getting less work will not break my company. I’ll just get more work elsewhere. Yet I saved a lot of materials yesterday. I also saved my clients money. Money is energy. Energy is resources. There is a connection with that money and the ecology of the planet.
So all this is to say that I found a term for this kind of thinking. It is called Degrowth and it is very self explanatory.
Next time you meet somebody in the street resist the low self esteem temptation to appear successful. Instead say, “I’m doing my best to not do much. Today I’m taking the day off from work and just wandering.”
The trick to all this is to lower your needs. In a world where we are educated to need and expect so much from life this is hard. It takes a lot of undoing. And until you pay off your debts it is not easy. But it is a valiant goal and one that will give you more happiness that anything I can think of. Happiness isn’t everything but it sure beats a life full of pointless business.
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:
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.
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.
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!”
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).
Last week, the interns from Eco Brooklyn went to the Net Zero Symposium sponsored by Das Haus in White Plains, New York to hear lectures and view a model of Das Haus, a passivhaus model made from two shipping containers that functions completely off the grid. The conference was held at the White Plains Public Library and about 100 people were present.
Das Haus (German for “The House”) is a traveling pavilion featuring German innovation in photovoltaics and energy efficiency. Das Haus is calling on ten cities across North America. Das Haus tour hopes to accomplish two goals: introduce North America to Germany’s innovations in solar energy and green construction, and create an ongoing dialogue across the country about policies, construction materials and techniques, etc., regarding sustainable design.
During the Das Haus conference in New York, the lecturers were a mix of Germans and Americans. The Americans who spoke are based in New York and addressed what is going on in the state.
Guy Sliker, from the New York Power Authority personified the attitudes of the typical American: America knows best, we’re number one, look at all that we have accomplished, go America! Mr Sliker spent the majority of his speech listing numbers that prove these (mis)conceptions. Mr Sliker was overconfident in New York Power Authority’s progress and too comfortable is the direction the ship is sailing.
Kim Curran, PV Instructor from the Bronx Community College, gave a distilled explanation of how PV works and the challenges the industry is facing. She gave a more realistic picture of the solar industry and the problems it is facing, such as bringing down cost, increasing efficiency, and the state of government incentives. Kim’s and most of the other presenters’ presentations can be viewed here.
It is an amazing thing that some of Germany’s technology is coming over the pond to North America. Germany has been using PV panels, energy efficient designs, and green roofs for decades and are lightyears ahead of North America in their development, understanding, and implementation of sustainable ideas. This is a giant step for progress in North America.
I recently heard about a book called “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, so I checked out Diamandis’ TED Talk available below. He has some good points, namely that technology will continue to create abundance for humans…..but his view is so incredibly human centered I am skeptical. It reminds me of when humans thought the earth was the center of the universe.
To make my point I counted the key words in his speech:
1. All words like “human”, “people” or references to people like “A lady…”, “All of you…”.
2. All words like “technology” or references to technology like “computer”, “phone”
3. All words like “oil”, “gas”, “fossil fuel”
4. The word “Abundance”
5. The words Nature, Plants, Animals or references like “Dog”, “Tree”
The numbers came out like this:
1. Human words: 85
2. Technology words: 65
3. Gas words: 1
4. The word “Abundance”: 3
5. Nature words: 0
His message? Humans are the only life forms that are important, and our intelligence will harness technology to stay great. Technology is what has driven us to our current success (not oil). Technology will give voices to the voiceless (all humans).
Plants, other animals and nature in general is not part of the equation, and if they are then they are simply raw materials to harness (sun, water etc).
He does mention nature three times and water fourteen times but they are purely human centric:
1. He uses the word “environment”: For survival reasons we are programmed to monitor how the “environment” can harm us. In this case the word is not really about nature but about the things surrounding humans (cars, muggers, falling pianos).
2. He mentions “climate crisis” and “species extinction”. It is used dismissively, though: Yes we have problems like climate crisis and species extinction but still humans are great.
3. His mentions of water are nothing to do with nature but merely about how humans can use technology to collect the raw material “water”.
I don’t disagree that technology and humans are great but I have a problem with his myopic view that excludes all other life forms. How different is his view to that of a white male a hundred years ago who’s decisions may have never considered women or blacks? I guess he is more open minded because he has broadened his view to include all humans?
His web site lists people who endorse his view:
Jeff Skoll Co-founder of eBay
Arianna Huffington CEO, Huffington post
Richard Branson Chairman, the Virgin Group
Ray Kurzweil Inventor & Author, The Singularity is Near
Matt Ridley Author, The Rational Optimist
Elon Musk CEO, Tesla Motors, Co-founder, PayPal
Stewart Brand Author, Whole Earth Discipline
Timothy Ferriss #1 NY Times bestselling author
These people are all pillars of what I call new capitalism, which is a slight variation on old capitalism. They love technology, they still love growth, and they exalt the power of humans to overcome all obstacles. Yea, they are pretty similar to old capitalists, the ones who trashed the planet in the first place.
Only this time they are way cooler. Capitalism Lite; still the great consumerist taste but with less guilt ridden calories.
Could fuel have been the jumping stone to get us to our next technology driven stage? Maybe.
But that is not my point. When your global plan completely ignores the opinions of 99.99% of the planet’s life forms, as Diamandis’ human centered viewpoint does, you are being extremely narrow minded.
His presumption is that humans and technology can do it alone. We are that great. My answer to that is, first why would you want to? and, second, I don’t think so.
Diamandis and his cronies need to wake up and smell the flowers. They need to calm down from their oil induced speed binge and realize that the last hundred years were a blip in the planets overall trajectory. And we may very well look back at these hundred years as a momentary time of “irrational exuberance” and unrealistic bubbles.
Over the past several thousand years humans have moved from infancy to youth to middle age. I think it is time to start acting like adults and not teenagers with our father’s car, regardless of what fuel that car uses.
How a grown up would act is for another blog post, or more accurately it is all the blog posts on this site. The answers are not single bullets. They are a web of connected awareness that go far beyond humans and their meager little technological playthings.
Recently a group approached Eco Brooklyn to help build a cool project involving shipping containers. The project is ambitious: three walls of containers arranged around a central triangular courtyard. The
walls are six levels of shipping containers high totaling 84 shipping containers overall. This is a second attempt to get such a project going. Their first attempt – an eight story shipping container on the Upper East Side – fell through.
As a New York green contractor we really like shipping containers as buildings; they appeal to our affinity for creative reuse and modular construction. Thousands and thousands of shipping containers are sitting stagnant in ports all over the world. In the 1970’s “shipping container architecture” began as trend in design and more recently the already existing building material is moving to the forefront of the sustainable architecture movement. Here are a few examples of architecture which ingeniously utilizes these bountiful, colorful, movable boxes.
Sky is the Limit
Typically when we think of a Japanese tea house, we think of low, thatched roof structures, but with Sky is the Limit, Portuguese artist, Didier Faustino decided to perch this space resting high above the rough sea in Yang Yang, South Korea.
He used two shipping contains to provide a sea-facing observation space atop a tower made out of scaffolding. Visitors must first climb five flights of stairs in order to reach the top of the 65-foot scaffolding.
Holiday Cabana at Maduru Oya
Sri Lankan architect, Damith Premathilake was commissioned to design and build a holiday cabana at Maduru Oya.
The lake house sits on an army training camp surrounded by jungles facing a lake as mountains appear in the distance. The structure is made out of materials that were all found on site such as timber from weapons boxes and shipping container.
The project took a total of one month to complete and is total of 700-square feet.
Korean designers, Keehyan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have used shipping containers to design a public observatory called Oceanscope. In order to overcome the restraints of the building site, where the ground level is too low to view the sunset across the harbor, the architects utilized old shipping containers to overcome the limitation.
The shipping containers are angled at 10’, 30’ and 50’ to achieve different views. As depicted in the diagram, the observer enters the shipping container and rests ones back against the angled wall, to view the reflection of the sunset through the mirror on the opposite side.
Shipping containers are used for temporary shelter in many rural areas of Korea because of their low cost.
However, indiscreet uses of this recycled product often don’t create harmonious relationships with the natural context because of their industrial aesthetic. Keehan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have been able to take this construction building block and mold it into an innovative prototype for the future of shipping container construction.
Globalization has given people the ability to not just be citizens of one city or region but become citizens of the world. Luca D’Amico and Luca Telso, two Italian architects submitted this “Nomad Skyscraper” design to a Skyscraper competition in 2011.
The concept centers on using shipping containers that act as individual, personalized apartment units, which can be plugged into the permanent scaffolding. The main structure would provide basic infrastructure as well as recreational areas.
Units could theoretically be transported by ship, truck and train and transported to other cities, which have this same infrastructure.
These shipping container projects are also happening right here in Brooklyn. Take Dekalb Market for example, this low impact, relatively low cost, shopping center has become a centerpiece for the architecture of New York City.
Newark, New Jersey is home to one of the largest ports in North America, there is plethora of these module containers (in a variety of colors!) sitting and waiting to be shipping back to their port of origin. UK developers Urban Splash created a configuration made out of 22 shipping containers occupy a portion of Downtown Brooklyn.
Frietag Flagship Store
One of our readers spent us a link to another incredible example of innovative shipping container design. The Frietag flagship store is composed entirely of rusty, recycled shipping containers that have been gutted, reinforced and configured to serve Frietag, a Swiss company that specialized in products made from recycled materials.
Frietag took its initial objective (creating beautiful products from truck tarpaulins) and pushed it a step further by selling its recycled products within a recycled product.
The building is striking upon first glace, the first two floors are composed of four shipping containers (4×2), and the number of shipping container decreases as the height increases.
This structure is the world’s tallest recycled building, but short enough so that it does not infringe upon the coding laws of Zurich.
Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos. What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.
“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”
One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller. Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.
His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”
Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.
According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”
In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative. According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:
-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.
-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.
-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.
-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.
-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.
-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE…
The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.
For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”
You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.
With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”. This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;
“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-‐toxic, net-‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”
This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.
The intent of Bergman’s book was to give perspective on what sustainable design is and where it is headed versus where we want it to go. He reminds us that before the Industrial Revolution people designed with what nature provided but after we started looking at nature as an obstacle, something to overcome. As Szenasy pointed out, people wanted to subdue nature and we always referred to nature as “her.”
Green design, in many ways, is an attempt to return to the pre-Industrial Revolution way of thinking in order to sustain our natural resources long into the future. Bergman argues that it has evolved into several stages from “Design as Usual” to “Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Usual”. In a nutshell, designers first started doing unusual things in response to the environmental movement– this got labeled as green design– which eventually became more commonplace in the design world, or “usual.”
Now Bergman asks if we should be heading toward a new stage called “Design as Usual” where the green element of design becomes transparent. “Transparent green” is the idea that green thinking should be integral to all design and not a separate category. It sounds good but Bergman poses this question: if green is implied in design, will consumers stay aware of sustainability issues? This is where the panel started.
It seemed to be unanimously agreed that sustainability must be achieved through redesigning systems, not just products. Milne stated that government has the ability to create sustainable, closed systems and that there is an opportunity there to change market demands and standards, unlike within the private sector, which seldom stays in a closed system and has different motivations.
Joachim asserted that there is a need to reform education so that systems-thinking is better incorporated. He was opposed to the idea of specified majors that restrict students to only thinking about the world in one sense. Bergman agreed and said that that is why he loves architecture so much, “It is one of the last generalist fields.”
There needs to be a shift in society’s mindset toward consumption. Product designers shouldn’t be working with perceived or planned obsolescence in mind. Architects shouldn’t be wasting tons of materials and energy on decorative features. The public should divorce itself from such things as the idea of shopping as recreation. How do we do this?
Szenasy wonders why these issues haven’t gotten better PR. Why, for example, isn’t New York City prouder of its green efforts? City planners across the country look to New York as a leader in green design. Milne applauded the city’s efforts toward “active design,” which is where city infrastructure is built to engage the public and force them to exercise. But how many people are even aware that the city is doing that? How many people would be upset that the city is doing that? Look at the High Line. Cities around the country are starting projects to mimic New York’s great park yet the panel wondered, how many New Yorkers are aware of the sustainable implications of the park, how it’s revitalized a neighborhood, how the use of native plants has reduced water and energy use while also increasing native biodiversity, and so forth?
Someone suggested one reason is because when people think of “green”, they think of the apocalypse. People don’t want to think of the possibility of humanity ending, especially if it is because of their own irresponsible behaviors. Joachim said many people see green standards as a loss of liberty. Living sustainably often means giving something up and no one wants to be forced to do that.
In the end, it seems like the solution lies somewhere between education and redesign. Society needs to better understand how and why to live green and the systems we live in need to be reorganized.
One of the things we have realized is that if you build a green home but the inhabitants are not green you have lost half the benefit. As a New York green contractor we learned that educating ourselves and our clients in green lifestyle habits is an important part of the green building process.
One of the huge elements of green living is being in harmony with your surroundings – your neighbors, your community, the cycles of day and night and the seasons – very much like it is important for a green building to work in harmony with its surroundings – rainwater runoff, energy consumption, sewage discharge, heat island effect…
One of those things listed – the seasons – has a lot to do with died. There are benefits to eating local as most people know, but equally connected to this is the importance of eating seasonal. If you don’t eat seasonal there is no way you can eat local. For example if you live in New York there are no naturally growing watermelons in the winter. If you eat one they come from far away – Central and South America most probably, but possibly as far away as China.
The exception to this is the evolving art of greenhouse growing and/or hydroponics, a synergy between traditional farming and current science – plastics, pumps, plant food extracts, electric lights…not to say this can’t be green but it definitely is more carbon intensive than carrots in the old farmer’s soil.
The one pro greenhouse/hydroponics argument is that you can grow more food per square foot than traditional farming. Maybe. But at what carbon footprint cost? And compared to what? Certainly not compared to Permaculture.
Even so, it pays to eat seasonal and local whenever possible. The food is fresher and there is nothing more magical than eating in harmony with the season. A watermelon in the dead of winter just isn’t the same as one in the life of summer.
Here are two great graphics showing the availability of of fruits and another vegetables for a Northern Hemisphere location. They are not only beautiful but extremely helpful. The one caveat is that they aren’t locally focused. For example they list kiwi and pineapple as available in the winter….available from New Zealand maybe.
But nonetheless it just takes a little common sense to use the charts for local and seasonal eating.
Ed from NJ Renewable Energy made a great video about the construction of his passive house that you can view below. It discusses the many benefits of building a Passive House, the amazing energy savings that are possible and the details behind how they built this specific one in New Jersey.
As a NY Passive House contractor we appreciate his hard work and dedication to sharing the information with the public.
Eco Brooklyn obsesses over energy. Our projects are built to minimize heat loss and optimize gain, while providing individual homeowners ways to generate their own energy through solar panels. We want to minimize homes’ reliance on energy generated through fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Three Mile Island. Chernobyl. Fukushima Daiichi.
These names instantly bring up an instinctive fear of nuclear power as an insidious danger to public health.
McMasters considered her life fairly normal but first realized something was wrong when her college roommate asked why she was always going home to funerals. Further research revealed an abnormally high rate of cancer and disease in Shirley residents. The prime suspect was low-level radiation from Brookhaven National Lab, whose reactors had leaked…into aquifers supplying water to all of Long Island.
Democracy Now! did an extended interview with the director, Sheena Joyce, and Kelly McMasters, incorporating clips from the film. You can watch part 1 here, and a link should appear to part 2.
As far as I can tell, the story is a troubling and evocative view of human suffering caused by the presence of a nuclear facility, exacerbated by unwillingness of government and investigative agencies to act in the people’s best interest.
But I don’t think it’s a compelling argument against nuclear power. Shirley’s story exposes poor planning (who thought it was a good idea to build nuclear reactors on top of the only aquifer system anyway?) and corruption, which would be dangerous regardless of the technology in question.
McMasters is a modern-day Erin Brockovich, except the bad guy’s now nuclear power instead of Pacific Gas and Electric. Erin Brockovich decried unsafe conditions and inadequate disclosure, not the existence of gas and electricity. The same horror stories surround any town exposed to chemicals and poor operating standards. What about Minamata disease? The Bhopal disaster? The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Those tragedies weren’t enough to stop gas or electricity or plastics or oil from becoming ingrained in our modern lifestyle, so why chicken out with nuclear power?
Nuclear power has the potential for massive devastation. I’m going to quote freely from the Wikipedia article on Chernobyl here. More than 350,000 people had to be relocated. The cleanup effort spanned two decades, used 500,000 workers, and crippled the Russian economy. Russian estimates place the number of premature deaths as a result of Chernobyl near one million. The area surrounding Pripyat is still a dead zone, the first legal tourists just beginning to tiptoe in.
Let’s look at some more numbers. There are 441 nuclear reactors in the world, 60 more under construction, and another 150 being planned. They produce 6.3% of the world’s energy and 15% of its electricity. France is the leader in reliance on nuclear power (75% of total energy generated) but the U.S. wins in total number of reactors (144). Some countries, like Italy and Australia, steadfastly refuse to go nuclear. Germany and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima accident. The future of nuclear power is a deeply polarizing topic, but given the prevalence of nuclear plants, having just a handful of major accidents doesn’t sound unreasonably risky to me.
But is nuclear power worth the risk? Is it truly sustainable? (Nuclear reactors still consume fossil fuels, cost billions to build, and produce tons of dangerous nuclear waste.) Can safety ever be ensured? What alternatives are available?
At present we don’t know enough about nuclear power to guarantee safety and efficiency for people living near plants or people using electricity generated by reactors, so nobody should be guaranteeing those things. Saying that nuclear reactors are clean and safe is a big fat lie. Nuclear science’s destructive side is still engrained in the global consciousness. In school we learn about Hiroshima years before we get to physics.
That’s why we need to be realistic and focus on research and accountability. Walking away from nuclear power out of fear rather than a well-informed decision is failing to make use of all the possibilities. Maybe the facts also say that nuclear power isn’t sustainable, or that the likelihood of an accident is too high.
“The Atomic States of America” might become a new rallying point for people opposed to nuclear power, but don’t forget, it centers around an intensely personal story. The featured testimonial for “Welcome to Shirley” reads: “A loving, affecting memoir of an American Eden turned toxic.” It was from Oprah. I’d rather not have Oprah making energy policy. Her car giveaway habits would definitely not be sustainable.
On the other hand, it’s easy for me to cheer on nuclear development because I’ve never lived in a Shirley. I am, however, in a state that’s highly dependent on nuclear-generated electricity.
New York is one of the 5 states with the highest nuclear capacities. We get 30% of our electricity from nuclear energy. Part of my enthusiasm for nuclear power comes from the fact that it powers 30% of my internet browsing habits. In the end it comes down to sacrifice: would you use less energy to lower the need for nuclear power, or would you rather give up the assurance of a future without nuclear accidents?
One of these will be the obvious right answer to you, but maybe not to the next person. That’s why films like “The Atomic States of America” are so important–they keep the conversation going about a topic that’s dominated by big money and politics, but affects us all.
Being a green builder is a constant search for more ecological ways of doing things.
That’s why we listened when Justin Hall-Tipping told us that in the future, all energy could be sustainable, green, and free.
Justin Hall-Tipping, CEO of Nanoholdings, gives a TED talk about the energy applications of carbon nanomaterials. It’s worth a watch, if you have ten minutes.
A few key points:
Carbon nanotubes are 100 times more conductive than copper wire.
Transparent sheets of carbon nanomaterials, when paired with a polymer, can be applied to windows (or any surface, really) and convert light into energy.
Collected energy can be fed into systems of batteries that store it for later–or be turned back into light and beamed to the next house over.
Widespread applications of this model has mind-boggling implications: free sustainable energy, for everyone, for as long as the sun shines.
The downside is that we couldn’t harness the collaborative powers of the network until the model goes mainstream. And why would the model go mainstream, when just about every house in a developed nation is already hooked up to a grid and paying into the existing system? We have the technology to do this. We also have the technology to make hovercars. We could be zooming everywhere, but we wouldn’t, because we already have roads and cars that get the job done. The prohibitive cost and arguably unnecessary risk of replacing entire infrastructures holds us back.
Consumption is already ingrained in our lifestyle to the degree that stepping away from it would take a massive amount of willpower. Ec0 Br00klyn’s Zero Building method minimizes consumption by using 100% salvaged materials in our projects. We install green roofs, solar panels, and water recycling systems that help homeowners wean themselves off the official lines. We help one determined homeowner at a time move beyond consumption, toward a future of free energy.
It’s not easy. Pushing against “normal” ways of doing things is a daily struggle against our own habits and those of the structures around us, but we can’t NOT fight it, so we forge on.
Justin Hall-Tipping’s research and ideas are very inspiring. We are keeping a keen eye on his developments since it would be a huge leap forward for green building.
First 2000, and now 2012: Years in which people think the world might possibly end.
The world probably won’t end with a bang, but might just crumble beneath the accumulated consequences of our actions.
Meanwhile, American politicians’ opinions of science, especially climate science, are at an alarming low. Sometimes TV makes me wonder if there are people who think a 2012 apocalypse is more plausible than global warming.
Watching GOP candidates in debate is a bittersweet experience. On one hand, the stupid things they occasionally blurt out invariably wind up on YouTube for my amusement.
You-becky-becky becky-becky-stan-stan, anyone?
On the other hand, these guys have a fair shot at becoming arguably the most powerful person in the world. That’s where the bitter comes in. They speak in a sober, defiantly ignorant voice, with the seeming expectation that what they don’t know doesn’t matter.
Sometimes it does matter (a combination of egregious dumbness and sexual sketchiness shamed Cain off the stage) but what scares me is when it doesn’t.
Someone asked how he integrated recent findings of climate change into his policies. He waved away the whole issue by using scientists, icebergs, and tail-wagging dogs in a meandering metaphor to demonstrate why climate science is not worth considering.
And when he was done talking, people clapped! Kind of half-heartedly, but still! That stopped The only thing more frightening than ignorance is ignorance with power.
Basically, he argued that there are so many factors so we can’t know for sure what’s causing any changes. Nevermind that just about anybody with a lick of sense agrees that we’re making a lot of CO2, which gets stuck in the atmosphere.
Nevermind that nobody knows the perfect method for, oh, say, oil mining, but they rough through it anyway because the result is valuable. Not knowing something doesn’t mean that we should give up; it means we should devote more resources toward finding the answer. Santorum using ambiguity as a reason to disregard the question only draws attention to how his party has utterly failed at giving climate science the support it needs.
Around Christmas, a short piece showed up in the New York Times about how climate science is stagnating, despite 2011 being one of the most extreme weather years on record.
In May of 2011, 100% of Texas was abnormally dry. 48% was officially in exceptional drought conditions–that’s even more extreme than “extreme drought.”
At the other extreme, New Jersey had an extreme winter: 50.7 inches (more than four feet) fell in my hometown of New Brunswick. I’ve lived there for 15 years but can count the white Christmases we’ve had on one hand.
These are quick and dirty examples of extreme weather conditions with immediate effects at home. Objective truths about global warming will emerge as trends in data analysis performed by climate scientists, and I’d like these truths to emerge before they show up as three feet of snow on my car every other week.
It’s true that there are hundreds of factors that contribute to climate change, but it’s stubbornly naive to claim as Santorum does that CO2, as a byproduct of industrial processes, is not the primary actor. It’s true that climate science and efforts to change energy use in major industries can incur significant costs, but so can bad weather. The final cost of this year’s weather extremes is still being tallied, but will likely surpass $50 million. That’s in comparison to a typical year that costs the U.S. $3 or $4 billion.
Making sense of these changing weather patterns will require scientists to analyze large amounts of data, integrating trends over years and millions of square miles. They need personnel, and concerted support from the Federal government, not half-assed pooh-poohing from a man who could well become President.
The GOP in general sets a bad example by blocking efforts to organize and increase funding for climate research initiatives. Republicans overwhelmingly deny the general consensus on global warming, disparaging it instead as a “propaganda attempt” by the Obama administration.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy still finance climate research, but many scientists find that there’s not enough to go around.
This research also has valuable practical applications. Our company, for example, depends on climate data to calculate things like insulation thickness, heating and cooling loads, and gutter sizes. We’re a green contractor, so energy efficiency is more crucial to our calculations, but every building depends on this information being accurate. The more efficient our homes, the more money clients save.
Global change affects everyone, not just Americans, so hopefully other governments will have more sense than Congress and fund this crucial research. Passive houses, for example, have greater momentum in Europe than in the U.S., so more resources are available to passive builders and passive houses are cheaper to build.
And what does all this have to do with Eco Brooklyn, beyond normal climate calculations? As green contractors, we obviously take the local environment of each home into consideration when designing a plan for energy efficiency. Compare that with, say, a large non-green building company like Toll Brothers, who may build the same exact house in Texas as in Nebraska.
Now that the environment is hitting higher record temperatures and precipitation levels than ever, Eco Brooklyn is venturing into what we call “Survival Building.”
We’ve started taking examples from extreme climates and integrating them into New York’s brownstones, in order to prepare them against heat waves, snap freezes, and flash floods. We take inspiration from the “Earthship” and “Passive House” movements, which focus on installing tight insulation and maximizing solar gain to reduce heating and cooling needs. These homes remain naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We put up a blog post recently that explains these concepts in detail.
Our our buildings consider rainwater runoff seriously. We build green roofs, dry wells, rain gardens, and other water harvesting systems to reduce flooding.
We use clay walls in our houses that work like adobe walls in Pueblo architecture. If they can endure the New Mexico heat, they can handle New York heat waves, with the benefit of retaining heat in winter. Our passive houses are sealed tight against energy loss, but the envelope also protects against extreme wind or rain.
Eco Brooklyn’s brownstones are green fortresses.
So even if we see the beginnings of a climate apocalypse in 2012, we’ll be ready, and if Santorum gets elected, at least we’ll be insulated against his hot air.
As New York green contractors, we’re always interested in emerging innovations, but take special interest in locally-developed technologies because we believe that green solutions should have a local focus. An effective way to build green is to ensure that each building make the best use of the environment in which it’s located.
In New York state, for example, we have hot summers and cool to cold winters. Insulation is important for keeping homes at a comfortable temperature while minimizing energy costs. We also have farmland and woodland…which means mushrooms.
Ecovative Design started out as two RPI students’ mutual fascination with mushrooms. A class project resulted in growing a mushroom-based composite that could replace synthetic materials like Styrofoam. Rather than lessening the impact of traditional synthetics, Ecovative is introducing radical materials in un-heard of ways. The innovative start-up is currently growing into one of the most promising manufacturers of green building and packing materials.
We’re mostly interested in their mushroom insulation.
It’s not quite the same as the mushrooms we buy at the supermarket: Ecovative makes their materials out of a mycelium composite. Mycelium is the thready part underground; fruiting bodies are the parts we see and eat.
Filling your walls with fungus might not sound like such a great idea, but let me tell you why it’s amazing.
Mushroom materials are as safe and sturdy as traditional insulation. They won’t melt in the rain. They achieve a class 1 fire rating without needing toxic fire retardants and have very few volatile organic compounds or none at all. There is no need for toxic adhesives like formaldehyde. They can be touched and handled with no special protective gear. There are no spore or allergen concerns, since materials are heat-treated after growing.
That’s right, growing. Ecovative grows their materials out of farm junk and mushrooms, an upcycling process that reduces waste. They start with agricultural byproducts, which are then inoculated with mycelium and grown to the exact shape needed by the client. They’re basically made from an unappreciated waste product (seed hulls, husks, etc) and a renewable resource (live mushrooms). When you’re done, they can be composted like any other organic material, leaving behind neither chemicals nor waste.
The humble mushroom is a powerhouse. In Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World, Paul Stamets describes the potential for “mushroom ecoremediation,” in which we take advantage of mushrooms’ natural digestive abilities to clean up organic pollution. Mushrooms can eat through all kinds of trees and houses like nobody’s business, but they can also digest complex organic particles found in petroleum and other messy contaminants. Stamets describes an experiment where he watched oyster mushroom mycelia absorb brown gunk, slowly return to its original white, and send up robust fruiting bodies. In other words, the mycelium ate our garbage, and made extra big mushrooms–more food for us!
But back to mushroom as a building material. Mushroom materials can benefit builders, clients, and the environment. They’re efficient by building and safety standards. They become increasingly cost-effective as petroleum and plastic prices rise with oil prices. Their production, use, and recycling leave no mark on the environment.
The major downside to mushroom insulation is that you can’t have it yet. Ecovative’s building materials are currently under development and are not yet for sale. As green builders, we eagerly anticipate the debut of a locally-developed material that offers homeowners an affordable, safe, and eco-friendly alternative to current methods.
We’re Brooklyn-based green builders dedicated to turning our local neighborhood green, but we’re always following the latest developments in global standards for more sustainable living.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Durban over the past two months in order to hammer out a plan for extending the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCC is the body of the UN that is in charge of pulling together all the countries under one unified agreement on how to handle important climate issues. Getting 194 nations to agree is no small task.
Stressed out: Conference President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa
The main focus of this year’s talks was to establish a binding agreement that would build upon the Kyoto Protocol by applying the same emission limits to all nations regardless of industrialization. The U.K., for example, would be held to the same standard as India, even though the U.K. is highly developed with a high average standard of living–in contrast with India, where hundreds of millions still live in poverty.
The greatest conflict erupted between the E.U. and India, due to the E.U.’s determination to lay out a “road map” for a legally binding agreement for all nations. Developing industrial powers led by India and China argued fiercely against what they saw as an unfair constraint on projects that would improve standards of living nationwide.
They make a compelling argument: first world nations achieved their high standards of living through decades of environmentally damaging industrialization, so why should rising nations have to pay the price through limits on their own development? India, especially, refused to sign off on an as-yet-undefined “road map” that they viewed as signing away their future development rights.
The Kyoto Protocol, first established in 1997, was a global agreement to limit emissions in the interest of sustainability. 191 nations have signed it so far, but the U.S. is still holding out because we refuse to accept the point that nations are held to different emissions criteria depending on development status.
Grey: undecided nations/Red: nations with no intention of ratifying.
The U.S., as the only major power not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, stayed mostly quiet in the Durban brawl but will add a third dimension to finalizing an equally binding agreement. Did we refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because we didn’t want to be held to different standards than developing nations, or because we didn’t want to be bound at all? Will we throw around our economic and political clout in further attempts to avoid emissions regulations? Will the agreement conceptualized in Durban become a reality?
So, what was really accomplished on Sunday? Not much, according to most commentators. It’d be easy to bash the agreement as an inadequate solution, but let’s focus on the hard-won victories:
1. Compromise was achieved between the E.U. and India/China. All nations agreed for a legally binding framework to be completed by 2015 and implemented by 2020.
2. There’s a definite timeline: work on the new agreement will start next year.
3. Nations confirmed the Green Climate Fund, which was first agreed on in Copenhagen in 2009. An as yet undetermined body under the U.N. will oversee the fund, which is to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations adapt to problems posed by climate change. The exact terms for the fund remain vague, with no definite plan on where the money is to come from or how much is already in the fund.
Our dream is to turn New York green, one brownstone at a time, so we understand the necessity of taking very small steps to achieve a greater goal, but the talks’ tendency toward compromise and vague planning represent procrastination rather than progress. But still, I guess it’s a good thing that the climate conversation is still grinding on, one year at a time.
At Eco Brooklyn, we do energy-efficiency retrofits that involve huge amounts of air sealing, air barriers, vapor barriers and insulation. We aim for the super stringent Passive House building envelope standard and net-zero energy consumption. This is as radical it gets in energy conservation.
Sealing the home in an airtight shell requires a bit of patience and a lot of tape. You wouldn’t believe the number of tiny pinpricks that managed to perforate our plastic membrane, and their aggregate effect on air leakage is equally surprising.
Currently, there are both European and American companies that specialize in several unique kinds of tape for different stages of the envelope sealing process. Onetape, for example, has a soft fabric edge that allows the builder to plaster it airtight against masonry surfaces like brick walls. Another is made for simple, airtight patching over those small pinprick holes.
At the Harlem Passive House we used products from Siga andPro Clima. We’ve purchased custom tapes through Four Seven Five, a new distributor based in NY. 3M has some special tapes but the European products above are still much better; we hope the US companies will catch up.
If you live in New York city you know the summers can be hot and muggy, with humidity levels shooting through the roof. As a New York green contractor we are faced with the challenge of creating healthy and happy indoor air environments while keeping energy consumption low.
So how do you remove humidity from a New York apartment in the summer?
The obvious is to make sure both the kitchen and bathroom is well vented to the outside, either with a small energy efficient fan or via a well designed home that provides window cross breeze. The last thing you want to do is add humidity to the already muggy air.
The best way to do this is with an ERV or HRV, or Energy Recovery Ventilator or Heat Recovery Ventilator. The ERV does a better job at removing humility. The two best ones on the market is the Zehnder and the Ultimate Air. We install both. It is not cheap but you can’t beat the fresh air 24/7 in the house.
But in the heat of the summer these units may not remove enough humidity. The common sense option is to add a dehumidifier. In that case the Santa Fe Dehumidifier is a good choice. We like it because it is very efficient. Also very important is that it creates very little heat!
Another great option is your Air Conditioner! Duh. Air conditioners are great dehumidifiers. In fact part of the effectiveness of an air conditioner to make the room cooler is dehumidification. Dry air feels cooler than humid at the same temperature.
But both the typical dehumidifier and the air conditioner are huge energy hogs no matter how efficient they are…..so what to do. The most efficient option is the Mini Split. Fujutsu makes a SEER 26 unit we like to install. SEER ratings indicate how efficient an AC is.
SEER 26 is efficiency on steroids! Your typical window unit is SEER 12…. need we say more.
But honestly, our favorite tactic is the ceiling fan. In terms of energy efficiency you can’t beat it. That and a different attitude to heat. It’s hot, get used to it! Enjoy it.
Americans are terrible when it comes to wasting energy to cool their homes. Americans also have the highest rate of obesity in the world. According to one source almost 30% of Americans are obese! And if you are wearing a permanent coat of insulation on your body then obviously you don’t tolerate heat well.
So….yes New York summers are unbearably humid…and there is a place for ERV’s, HRV’s, dehumidifiers, AC’s and fans. But just as importantly is the importance of tempering those energy consuming machines with good ventilation of baths and kitchens, and even more important is keeping our bodies healthy so we tolerate heat better, and changing our attitudes so we are more tolerant of heat culturally.
Because, hey, we all know things are just going to get hotter……
In this book Paul lays out in clear detail how Mycelium, commonly known as mushrooms, are the building block upon which all other life grows.
The mushroom we know, say the Portabello, is just the outward form. What is actually more important is the “root” structure of the mushroom, something that resembles a vast carpeted web that can span thousands of miles of space and is constantly communicating within it’s span. As Paul says, “Mycelium is nature’s internet.”
The awe inspiring power of Myceluim is vast and I strongly suggest you read the book.
But in short Mycelium’s power to both give life and destroy is an underutilized element that Paul is only beginning to scratch the surface of.
For example he shows how in a matter of weeks a couple scoops of Mycelium can turn a pile of toxic deisel and oil earth into a verdant little green garden. It quickly becomes clear that Mycelium could decontaminate all sorts of toxic situations, such as radiation, heavy metal, oil spills, and sewage to name a few.
Paul has discovered how to turn the destructive power of Mycelium into powerful tools against insects like termites and carpenter ants, essentially creating natural pest control that is more effective than your most toxic chemical.
For green contractors in NY this is good news. Termites are a big problem. We have had more than a couple jobs where the wood in a brownstone was infested with termites.
Another interesting thing is using mycelium as soil remediation for those toxic New York gardens. How about the Gowanus Canal? Newton Creek? Mycelium would eat that up!
On a beautiful fall day in early October, Eco Brooklyn, a New York City green contractor, took to the South Plaza of Union Square in downtown Manhattan to check out New Green City, an event hosted by GrowNYC. The event hosted many contributors, ranging from non-profits and schools to entrepreneurs, government agencies, and corporate sponsors. All sharing programs, services, products, and insights as to how to make New York City, New Green City through solar, wind, and agricultural terms. The tents were wide spread over the south side of Union Square, with a large crowd through most of the afternoon.
Two really great tents were Ethikus, a online community of ethical and sustainable shoppers, that also offers deals and discounts to these great local shops in downtown Manhattan, and The New School’s Eco-Lectures focusing on sustainable foods, Eco-Farms and solar energy, giving out great information these subjects. With a ton of other great tents thanks to GrowNYC, everyone in New York should take advantage of these great green companies.
Aside from the goal of a New Green City, at Eco Brooklyn we believe that the ultimate goal should be a total green city, built from the ground up with recycled and reused materials, and making zero energy homes. Although the companies at New Green City don’t specialize in building, they do make great strides in lowering energy use and continuing the discussion of green policy, which are things that can not wait but happen immediately. Not only did New Green City bring together lots of outsiders to the green movement, but also created the opportunity for great minds in the green industry to collaborate, furthering our knowledge and reach as a green community. Eco Brooklyn will definitely have a tent next time, or next year, but until then, these are great ideas and options for making NYC a greener place.