Steep Green Roofs and Living Walls

In my ongoing obsession with putting earth and plants on city walls I have found some more resources. My ongoing research is for several jobs Eco Brooklyn has in the works to put living walls on Brownstone exterior walls. There are many ways to do this and I have not decided which to go with yet.

My main consideration is maintenance, durability and embodied energy.

The wall must require zero or low maintenance. This means the plants need to take care of themselves year after year. The main consideration is water, which would be provided by the gray water produced by the brownstone. Otherwise the large amount of water a living wall requires would render it unsustainable if it used potable water.

In terms of durability the Brooklyn living wall needs to have plants that don’t die. Obvious enough but easier said than done. They need to be native plants that like hanging on cliffs. There also needs to be a mix of evergreen and perennials. The evergreens would keep the wall from looking bleak in the winter and the evergreens would keep the wall vibrant.

More importantly the structure needs to be durable. Earth and wood are key ingredient for termites so unfortunately we can’t use the abundance of salvaged wood for the frame that holds up the living wall. I don’t want to use the existing brick wall of the brownstone to support the living wall since I don’t trust that it won’t bow out over time. I have seen too many walls do this without thousands of pounds pulling on it.

The obvious choice is a metal framework.

But that needs to be balanced out by embodied energy. A living wall with a metal framework would mean a lot of embodied energy even if the metal was made from recycled content. It takes a lot of heat to melt down metal. Finding salvaged metal is still a challenge for Eco Brooklyn, both in electrical and plumbing material, since scrap collectors get it before we do. We are working on building stronger ties with scrap collectors but so far our salvaged metal sources are scarce.

Anyway, here are some items that are helpful in my growing knowledge of the perfect Brownstone living wall.

UrbanHaBitats.org offers some good articles on urban living walls. They list all their sources for further digging.

This woven plastic may be an important element in a living wall. The material would allow the plant roots to weave into it and help create the support structure. Otherwise the plants and earth will sag with gravity.

Zinco offers holding cells for sloped green roofs that could be incorporated behind a mesh in a living wall. They also have a good moisture retention mat.

Green Roof Layers

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

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

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

 


drainage_plate

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

This is a good product for slanted green roofs.

This is a good product for slanted green roofs.

Here are the basic steps:

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

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

River on a Brooklyn Green roof.

River on a Brooklyn Green roof.

Green Roof Professional certification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers.

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

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

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

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

How to Maintain a Green Roof

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

EcoBrooklyn's green roof with Strawberries

EcoBrooklyn’s green roof with Strawberries

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

General Green Roof Maintenance and Care

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

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

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

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

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

Roof maintenance is great fun.

Roof maintenance is great fun.

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

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

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

Vote For Green Roof

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

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

Library Green Roof

Green Roof Habitat

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

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

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

Cost
$250,000

Vote for green roof

Library Green Roof

Best Urban Space Remodels: Our Instagram Claim to Fame

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Mosquito Control

Summer might not be just around the corner, but once gardens are in full bloom safe insect and pest control will become a necessity. As a NY green contractor that specializes in green roofs and gardens it’s part of our job to ensure that the spaces we create can be enjoyed to their fullest potential.

Mosquitoes and other bugs will exist naturally within any green space and it is important to be able to control their populations. The best option is to use safe and natural methods so as to reduce diseases spread by mosquitoes and maintain a clean and healthy setting. It’s much easier for our clients to enjoy their urban landscape when they are free from worry regarding insects and pests.

With this article we aim to provide a deeper understanding of how one of the most annoying and dangerous pests, mosquitoes, finds a host and the current scientific advancement in safe pesticide production and application.

The focus here is on the mosquito species Aedes Aegypti AKA the Asian Tiger mosquito; most well known for being a royal nuisance but also very importantly responsible for spreading yellow fever. When mosquitoes hunt for a meal they detect a number of chemicals, including carbon dioxide, lactic acid, ammonia, and octenol.

Octenol, in particular, is emitted by all mammals and is a carbon-based compound that has a molecular structure that can take on a “right-handed” or “left-handed” form. Both the right and left forms are a mirror image of the other and the “handedness” of either form determines how its molecular bonds are assembled.

A test performed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologists concluded that mosquitoes are more likely to be attracted to the right-handed form of octenol emitted by mammals. Information regarding compounds that most attract mosquitoes can be crucial in determining effective pesticide and repellent use.

Traditionally, a variety of man-made chemicals are applied to the body or a garden to repel insects. These chemicals are known to have harsh smells and negative health effects especially when applied directly to the skin. Folk and homeopathic remedies have long been used by indigenous cultures and many are coming under current scientific review.

The USDA and their chief scientific research agency the ARS along with a few collaborators have recently found that the ancient Pacific folk remedy of using breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) to repel mosquitoes actually holds scientific weight.

Three chemicals within male inflorescences of breadfruit have been identified as being more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the leading repellent known as DEET. These chemicals – Capric, undecanoic and lauric acids (or C10, C11, and C12 saturated fatty acids) – have been recorded as being entirely successful in repelling the malaria carrier.

A separate study that examined the effectiveness of a variety of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids as mosquito repellent found that participants wearing a cloth treated with these compounds were protected against mosquito bites. Dried clusters of the flowers can be burned, as is done in native pacific cultures, to release the chemicals and stave off harmful mosquitoes as well. This is the first scientific research validating the effectiveness of the folk remedy.

In the same respect, ARS scientists studied the effectiveness of the Indian and African method of burning Jatropha curcas seed oil to repel insects. Jatropha curcas is a versatile plant with all parts having homeopathic functions.

In an effort to validate the folk remedy, Natural Products Utilization Research Unit (NPURU) chemist Charles Cantrell extracted the smoke from the plant and analyzed its repellent properties concluding that the free fatty acids and triglycerides present were effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting. Fatty acids have previously been observed to have mosquito repelling properties, but this study is the first to include triglycerides in its findings.

Folk remedies are regarded as safer methods of repelling mosquitoes due to the toxicity of modern pesticides. Chemical pesticides often have a strong negative impact on humans due to the similarity in physiological systems shared by humans and pests.

In further scientific advancement, ARS scientists have tested a new form of mosquito control that they have concluded to be safe for humans, yet detrimental to insect populations. This nonchemical approach involves using a molecular pesticide technology that prevents mosquitoes from producing essential proteins necessary for their survival. The protein present in this pesticide is a nucleic acid such as DNA or RNA that interrupts specific genes within pests.

Due to the gene technology involved, this method can be designed to target a specific pest species and is even effective against species that are resistant to certain chemical pesticides. It is important to use caution with any technological advancement, however this alternative to modern pest control is reported by the USDA to negatively affect only the species towards which the method is directed. This new, nonchemical approach to preventing mosquito bites could serve as a model system for developing new, safer pesticides.

When enjoying your days and evenings in your Brooklyn green roof or garden you probably won’t be using natural pesticides like jatropha curcas seed oil or breadfruit to stave off pesky mosquitoes. But we are looking at these ingredients and many more as possible natural mosquito control. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as our research continues!

Green Roofs Reduce Electromagnetic Radiation Penetration

As a New York green roof installer we may be doing more than reducing storm-water runoff and energy costs when we install a green roof on a NY building. It turns out that green roofs are also excellent at stopping Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). This is a good thing since there is no shortage of EMF’s in NYC. It seems every rooftop is littered with radio transmitters and the like.

EcoBblog1 pics2

Formerly believed to effect only thermal levels in humans as represented in international exposure limits, electromagnetic frequencies are currently believed by experts to have a multitude of negative health effects on the body. The International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection has published safety levels or guidelines to ensure that exposure to radiation from base-stations involved in telecommunications does not result in an adverse degree of body heating that will exceed what the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism can deal with thus limiting the allotted radiation intensity. With permitted radiation levels being too low to effect the thermoregulatory system of the body it can only be concluded that non-thermal influences associated with electromagnetic frequencies surrounding base-stations are responsible for adverse health effects on the biochemistry and electromagnetic sensitivity of the human body which is characterized by a frequency similar to those found in GSM/TETRA signals (systems of telecommunications) and varies by individual.

Living organisms are sensitive bodies that can recognize and discern the presence of external electromagnetic radiation due to biological oscillatory electrical activities that exist within our bodies. Internal electrical pulses in each living organism are essential to biocommunication and the control and regulation of bioprocesses essential to the health and functionality of the brain and body. Specifically, the human body can detect electromagnetic fields millions of times weaker than those found around GSM/TETRA base-stations. Therefore this functionality is likely to be impaired by exposure to radiation of sub-thermal intensity that contains bioactive frequencies.

EcoBblog1 pics7

Tests performed on rats concluded that the GSM frame repetition rateof 217Hz is similar to coherent electrical oscillations found in the rat’s hippocampus, effectively influencing learning, memory, spatial awareness, and epilepsy. Low frequencies or pulses emitted by GSM/TETRA base-stations have been found to influence human mood and behavior ranging from depression to rage.

Specific effects manifested in the human body associated with electromagnetic radiation exposure around base-stations include, but are not limited to: reduction of melatonin released from the pineal gland, sleeping disorders, headaches, memory problems, anxiety, nose bleeds, “unexplained” clusters of human cancers, nose bleeds, compromised immune system, nocturnal hallucinations, and a reduction of the white blood cell neutrophil. Non-thermal radiation adversely effects brain function, electrical activity, electro-chemistry, and the blood/brain barrier (BBB) via alteration of the natural rhythm of electrical activity in the brain, disturbance of the delicate balance of chemicals in the brain – specifically the dopamine opiate system, increased permeability of the BBB therein facilitating the passage of chemical toxins from the blood into brain fluid. Increased permeability of the BBB caused by EMR is directly associated with the appearance of dark neurons indicating damage to brain cells and can result in reduced brain reserve capacity. REM sleep and nocturnal secretion of melatonin are noted as being effected by EMR and both effects can correspond to sleep disruption and concentration problems. In addition to being an oncostatic hormone, melatonin can block the effect of exposure to low intensity microwaves on DNA fragmentation subsequently reducing interference of microwave radiation on DNA replication and the natural repair of normal DNA breakage. Reduced melatonin levels directly alter molecular conformation in DNA and can allow microwave radiation to interfere with these essential processes.

While many symptoms have been dismissed as merely psychosomatic the recorded observance of neutrophil depletion and BBB issues supports the theory that sub-thermal radiation associated with base-station frequencies have actual effects on biological oscillatory electrical activities within living organisms.

With the proliferation of telecommunication devices, transmission towers are now commonly located on top of buildings where we live and work. Studies conclude that green roofs, and specifically the vegetation, are shown to reduce and essentially eliminate electromagnetic radiation penetration via absorption during chemical processes that may be encouraging for buildings with rooftop telecommunications equipment. Green roofs have been found to block almost all incoming and in some cases outgoing electromagnetic radiation. Reducing our daily exposure to electromagnetic radiation with green roofs can have significant heath benefits.

EcoBblog1 pics6 The most popular location for base-stations is atop the roofs of schools

So if you are concerned about EMF exposure for yourself or your children, it may be worth looking into a green roof for your building.

Green Roof

 

 

 

Subterranean Living

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.

Living Passively

Living Passively

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.”

Wells Art Gallery

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.

EcoBrooklyn Undergound House

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

-Anthony Rivale

Green roof mat

Last week we met the representative from Kawasaki Greenhouses to check out their new green roof product. It is a pregrown green roof mat that is light-weight and easy to handle. They grow the sedum on coconut jute, which is basically like a stringy organic fiber sponge. The end result is very similar to mats of grass sod, although instead of grass you have a low and thick layer of sedum plants.

The green roof mat is very light and easy to work with. It bends easily without being damaged – makes it easy to install a green roof on a brownstone.

What we liked about the product is that it allows for an easy plug and play application because once laid the roof looks like it has been there for years. Their sedum choice, although not native to the NY area, is varied and colorful and picked to be hardy and low maintenance.

Notice the coconut jute. Very cool natural green roof option.

As a green roof installer, we are always interested in new products and we feel this one looks promising. We would use it on a roof that can not handle much weight and where the client needs immediate satisfaction.

The one bit of feedback we gave them is that we prefer to use only native sedum. They said they’d look into it.

Their product is similar to Sedum Master

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.

 

 

Green Roof Professional certification

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

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

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

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

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

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

I am A Weed (part 2)

This blog post is in response to my post last week, “I Am a Weed.

NY green build-design

Since a lot of Eco Brooklyn’s work involves creating ecological plant-scapes, the issue of weeds and native species arrises a lot. As an ecological landscaper we’ve learned that the only difference between a weed and a plant lies in the definition of the beholder. For example we plant a lot of native grasses, considered your archetypal weed to the typical green lawn installer. In general we tend to plant in a much more “wild way” than your typical landscape design.

We also plant in a lot more places than considered normal in a city – on roofs, walls, stairs and any other surface. By doing this we are aware that our work spreads a lot of native plants throughout the city through wind and bird droppings.

If cities were to increase their leniency toward spontaneous urban plants, how could they do so responsibly? There are some valid points to be made in the argument against weeds. Some plants, such as ragweed, cause allergic reactions. Others have the ability to completely dominate a landscape and kill off any other competing plants, like japanese knotweed. In a few rare cases, exotic spontaneous plants have brought in diseases or funguses that affect native plants. Dutch Elm Disease, which was actually introduced by an insect, not a plant, is the most infamous of these. It’s an impressive feat for a plant to survive in the crack of a building, but if it grows so large that it jeopardizes the building’s infrastructure then that is a problem. So where should these plants be grown and how?

A passive answer to this question are brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned or underused patches of land that once facilitated industrial or commercial activity. These unattended sites can quickly become inhabited by spontaneous plants and given free reign, soon grow into little forests, discreetly nestled within a city block. In these scenarios, an unsightly vacant lot morphs into a green field with zero human effort or money put into it.

 brooklyn contractor

A more proactive way of including spontaneous plants in our urban environments is via brown roofs. Brown roofs are very similar to green roofs. They share many of the same construction methods and benefits. The difference is that the dominant aim of a brown roof is to increase biodiversity, whereas green roofs tend to focus more on aesthetics. A green roof requires a certain amount of tending whereas a brown roof is purposely left undisturbed so that local wildlife can colonize it. In this unmanaged state, brown roofs offer hospitable land for the airborne seeds of spontaneous urban plants.

urban landscaping

A brown roof can be seeded when it is first created or it can be designed to set up the proper conditions (i.e. a plantable substrate) for plant life to grow and then left to the forces of nature. In the latter scenario, it takes about two years for the brown roof to fully grow in. Although somewhat popular in Europe, because of the slow rate of return and lack of control over the roof garden’s aesthetic, brown roofs are very rare in the US. I think it is understandable to prefer a green roof on one’s home or in a public area, but I propose that large buildings like factories looking to cut down on energy costs consider building brown roofs as they will help insulate the building while requiring very little maintenance.

ny green roof builder

Sometimes piles of logs or stones are added to brown roofs to further promote biodiversity

To clarify, although brown roofs can largely be left to themselves, they don’t and shouldn’t be left entirely untouched. Undesirable plants, such as those that cause allergies or are aesthetically unappealing, can be removed. Invasive plants should be pruned or taken out. What it comes down to is reconsidering “gardening” altogether, not just the plants being used. Recall land artist, Michael Heizer’s, work Double Negative (see “The Earth Art Movement”). Heizer makes us question whether something is art if it is created purely by subtraction. With a green roof or any other garden, we choose the plants and place them where we like– addition. However, a brown roof that is left to colonize itself can be developed simply by taking away plants– subtraction. Subtraction, in this case, is the less energy intensive option. It is working within nature instead of outside it.

In the book Eaarth, Bill McKibben suggests that global climate change has reached the point where it is no longer preventable. It is happening and there are going to be dramatic changes to our world. McKibben says we can either keep wasting our time trying to stop the unstoppable or we can accept the reality of our situation and prepare for a new way of life. To a lesser extreme, I believe the debate about spontaneous urban plants is a similar one. Perhaps it is time to realize that eradication is impossible and to start working with them instead of against them.

Ecological builder brooklyn

 

By: Malone Matson

How to Maintain a Green Roof

how to maintain a green roofAs a green roof installer we have learned that it is crucial to keep in touch with the client for the first couple years to make sure the roof is cared for correctly.

There are some simple tasks that are important to do during the first two seasons so that the roof develops.

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

 

General Green Roof Maintenance and Care

  1. Weed out unwanted plants. The soil comes with weeds and during the first season it is crucial to remove them to let the still junior plants establish. If you let the weeds run free then the plants we installed will be crowded out and you will be left with a roof full of dead weeks.
  2. Keep the drainage areas clear of plants.  The border around the edge of the roof and the graveled areas around drain outlets and other roof penetrations should be kept clear of all plant life and vegetation.  Plants growing too close to the drain will clog it up, which completely defeats the purpose of having a drain.  Biannual weeding should suffice.
  3. Add compost biannually.  Nutrient-rich compost should be added to the roof garden in spring and autumn.  This provides plants with important nutrients and replenishes the soil.
  4. Weed out unwanted plants (again!).  Being on a roof, seeds dropped by birds or carried by the wind inevitably find their way into your roof garden.  Some of the seedlings are fine and can be left alone.  Others, such as a budding oak tree, are not desirable.  Most likely your roof could never support the weight of an oak, unless your building something like Derry and Toms in London.  Monthly walk-throughs should be scheduled to monitor the types of vegetation growing on your roof.  Unwanted plants, such as the aforementioned oak tree, should be replanted somewhere else, if possible.  Get a group of friends together and do some guerilla gardening with those “unwanted” plants!
  5. Green roofs should be watered as little as possible.  Water is extremely heavy and creates additional weight on the roof.  For lightweight roofs with 4-6 inches of growing medium, desert-type plants are ideal because they require so little water.  Experiment with plant types and, depending on how much rain you get, try to get to the point where you don’t have to water your roof at all.  When it does become necessary to water your plants, err on the side of under watering.  Also, if your roof garden is on a pitched roof, begin watering at the top of the roof to the water can trickle down through the plants at the bottom, which may not need any water at all.
  6. Watch out for pests and diseases.  Keep an eye out for pests and diseases that may come to your roof garden.  While green roofs are designed to attract insects and increase biodiversity, sometimes unwanted insects come along.
  7. Keep a detailed maintenance log/diary.  Schedule when you’re going to do these checkups (and follow through!) and keep and detailed record of your findings.  This will also help you see what plants do best in your roof’s environment.

We Love Motherplants

MotherPlants is a nursery in Ithaca, NY that specializes in growing plants for green roofs. MotherPlants is a women-owned company, committed to environmental sustainability. They use renewable energy, healthy growing practices, and dedicate a large portion of their land for wildlife.

living roof

These woman do green roofs right. They focus on plants that are drought resistant, have shallow roots, and are hearty enough to survive Northeastern winters. MotherPlants offers a variety of plant options such as “plug plants” (already grown plants with developed root systems that will grow immediately), unrooted cuttings (cuttings take less time to install and are cheaper but take more time to get established and should be planted in the spring), pre-grown mats and modules, and they will even grow custom plants by request. Many of these plants are sedums and grasses– check out their catalogue here. They also sell green roof media and can help you design your green roof.

ny green contractor

As an NY green roof installer, Eco Brooklyn is very attracted to MotherPlants because of their expertise, commitment to sustainable practices and native species, variety, and proximity (so as to reduce our environmental footprint.) Many of the plants we use in the green roofs we design are sourced from MotherPlants. When possible, we like to use clippings from the roof garden at the Eco Brooklyn Show House when propagating new roofs to avoid unnecessary use of fossil fuels through transportation… and just because we like to share.

ny green design build

Above is a photo of Eco Brooklyn’s green roof at the Show House. MotherPlants highly recommends on their website that people avoid the do-it-yourself method of installing a green roof. We agree; building a green roof should be done by an expert who can assess a roof’s ability to support the weight of a green roof, can install a well-insulated and well-sealed garden that will not leak, and can choose plants that will thrive in the conditions created specifically by your roof’s location and design.

As an NY green contractor, Eco Brooklyn can help you design and build your green roof in keeping with the most sustainable practices and products. Contact us to learn more about living roofs in NYC.

Riverside Park: Flushing Away the Porter Potties, Adding Composting Toilets

In 1875, Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Riverside Park, in 1935 Robert Moses built a highway right thought, but somehow the park has prevailed and it now going to be home to one of the greenest structures in the city – a composting toilet.

Riverside Park is home to the cities only clay tennis courts, this of course results in waits up to two and three hours. Waiting on a grassy knoll with perfect views of the Hudson doesn’t sound to shabby, but as nature calls, there is an inevitable need for a bathroom. That is why the Riverside Clay Tennis Association has decided to build a facility that will accommodate the needs of the parks visitors while being ecological, something public toilets rarely are.

The Riverside Tennis Association has commissioned Rick Cook of Cook & Fox to design a facility equipped with composting toilets and solar panels. Cook & Fox are also responsible for the LEED certified Bank of America tower across from Bryant Park.

Cook & Fox are taking this incredible concept one step further by designing this center to the Living Building Challenge standard, which is one of the toughest green standards out there. We recently wrote a blog about Bucky Fuller and the Living Building Challenge -a standard that we at Eco Brooklyn aspire to.

Living Building Challenge is difficult to achieve for multiple reasons, but the most challenging aspect of the standard is the water limitations. Buildings have a hard time qualifying for the LBC because bathrooms use such a large amount of water. The standard is so tough that in most places it is illegal, as most building codes demand a connection to water and sewer – the LBC standards call for net zero water (capturing rain water and discharging it onsite).

The design proposed a small building; the majority of it located underground, equipped with composting toilets, the compost generated by the toilets will be used to fertilize the greenery. Which is the one of the main reasons that we, at Eco Brooklyn ae so excited about this project. As green builders, we have installed numerous composting toilets. The design also incorporates photovoltaic panels which will be scattered in tree-like formations to power the building. Solar panels are another element that makes this project to actractive to NY Green Contractors like ourselves. We currently have plans to install solar panels on the rook and siding our the Ecpo Brooklyn Showhouse.

Composting toilettes typically use about three ounces of water compared to the 1.6 to 0.8 gallons per flush that typical high efficiency toilets use.

The design incorporates other green aspects besides composting toilets and solar panels. The architects plan to use recycled building materials, a green roof planted with native species and blast furnace slag in the concrete to circumvent the carbon heavy manufacturing process of cement.  For the past two weeks, we have been researching and planting native plants in the Show house. Last week we were weeding and plantings native species on a green roof in Brooklyn. We are excited to see that Cook + Fox have taken native species into account to create this NY design.

The Green design came out of necessity. The high water table and proximity to the Hudson makes it impossible to install a septic tank and leach field, in addition to those obstacles there is no connection to the city sewage system (sewage lines stop on the other side of the Henry Hudson Highway). Essentially their only option was to go green. Once again green building pushes past limitations that we humans have created for ourselves.

The bathrooms replace two portable toilets, a small brick shack and a repurposed shipping container that is used for storage; it will be built on the southeast corner of the courts.

The facility’s estimated cost is around $5.5 million and is scheduled to open this summer.

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!

International Center of Photography Pics

Last week students from the International Center of Photography came by to photograph the show house green roof and back garden. Here is what they came up with.

Our Favorite:

RobertSJohnson_EcoGarden

As green roof installers we are particularly in love with the green roof on the show house. It is where we do a lot of experimentation to see what works on NY green roof installations.

 

As New York green roof installers we are particularly interested in creating roof top sanctuaries not only for humans but for native animals. This birds nest is part of that process of turning a bleak roof into a home.

New York Natural Swimming Pool

From the green roof you can see the back garden which is under construction. It has all native plants arranged in a native hardscape. It also has a natural swimming pool that will be cleaned by plants and stones.

 Eco Brooklyn NY green roof service is doing well and we are now expanding to provide natural swimming pool construction services for New York residents with small back yards. We feel this is a great thing that adds to the ecosystem and quality of life. Our first one is being built in the Eco Brooklyn green show house. We are making all the mistakes we can to perfect the process.

The natural pool is common in Europe but Americans are still stuck on keeping nature and humans apart, and this applies to chlorinated pools as much as it does to other things. But as we learn that nature (bugs, microbes, dirt) actually can help keep us healthy it makes a lot of sense to swim in a natural swimming pool.

With time we hope more and more people will see that chlorinated pools are actually lass sanitary that natural swimming pools due to the connections between chlorine and health issues like cancer, rashes and breathing disorders.

 

Green Source Magazine Products

Reading through the March-April 2012 issue of Green Source Magazine I came across their products section, which featured some very interesting new green roof and living wall items and exciting companies.

By now most people are aware of and understand the benefits of living/ green walls and roofs;

-Health and wellness

-Urban wildlife

-Aesthetics

-Building protection

-Energy savings

-Acoustic dampening

-Property value

-Sustainability

-Improved air quality

-LEED credits

The first product listed designed by Green Over Grey was an improvement on the typical modular living wall system.  Their living walls use a soilless grow medium in a stainless steel frame which allows for a greater range of plants grown per module including anything from ground cover to small trees.

The company was commissioned recently to design/ build the largest green wall in North America in the Edmonton international airport using this system.  While the design is nice and the system is effective it is still run on a hydroponic irrigation system that requires a pump running 24hours to the keep the plants watered, which in our opinion makes for a very nice wall but isn’t ecological.

We don’t use this system for that reason.

edmonton international airport green wall

edmonton international airport green wall

The next company is Colbond Inc. they are global manufacturer of high-performance construction products and textiles.  On their website is a section geared specifically to green roofs and roof gardens.  Their products are a small range of drainage/ water retaining mats and liners for various roof gardening applications.

Their featured item is the “Enkamat” which anchors roots, drains water and grips growing medium, making it useful in sloped roof or high –wind conditions.  Their “Enkadrain” is a water proofing membrane made from 40% pre-consumer recycled polypropylene.  The company itself is not quite a “green company” having a very limited selection of green products compared to the rest of their catalogue.

We have used the Enkamat is our New York green roof installations with good results. Because it offers drainage and water retention in one it makes for an easier installation.

enkamat
enka drain green roof system

enka drain green roof system enkamat

Tournesol Siteworks is another company specializing in module green wall systems; this one like the Green Over Grey system is capable of supporting a variety of plants making it an improvement on typical systems.  This VertiGreen trellis and Tournesol VGM exterior green walls use soil, between 4 and 8 inches and are designed for easy maintenance with modules that can be independently replaced/ removed. The framework for the wall garden is comprised of recycled polypropylene boxes and stainless steel mounting brackets.

A couple drawbacks are; this system does not come with a built in irrigation system, they recommend a water saving drip system but you are left to figure that out with your green contractor/ builder. This is an important part that could make or break its success. Also the system comes disassembled, your green builder has to assemble the pieces, do the planting and wait 1-3 months before they are ready to hang.

At first you may think this is not the most efficient system or company model.  But it increases work for local labor, decreases shipping load, and moves you away from the “instant product” that people have become obsessed with at great cost to the environment.

Letting the plants grow in place has many benefits. You haven’t invested a lot of money in plants if they don’t survive, the plants that are happy will grow, you get to see them go from zero to full, and the cost is lower since you aren’t paying somebody else to grow your plants.

We like this product because it uses soil and not hydroponics. We also like the fact that it does not cater to people who are willing to spend lots of money for the instant fix. Assembly and growing in place is much more ecological.

The main issue I have with this system is that the square boxes are very visible even when the wall is fully grown. There is no way you can make the wall appear natural. If you highlight the squares like some installers have done then it looks great.

But Eco Brooklyn is more of a naturalist green wall installer in that we like it to look like it just grew there. For that reason we haven’t used this system despite all the great things we like about it.

tournesol greenwall
tournesol module

tournesol module

The GAF materials corp is one of the largest roofing manufacturers in North America and have made an exciting and sincere commitment to sustainability within their company.  Their greenroofing product listed is a way to simplify the installation and implementation of roof gardens by modulation.

Their Product DuraGrow does the work of four separate items by retaining the plants water, provides adequate drainage, protects its membrane and prevents clogging.  The company also provides extensive warranties on all their products.  The website www.gaf.com also has a section for green builders to put together a type of “scorecard” for each of their products to gain a better idea of their level of sustainability.

GAFs commitment to sustainability is exemplified by two of their manufacturing plants that have reached a level of zero waste to landfill, this means virtually nothing from the facility enters directly to the waste stream.

Gsky based in Vancouver, BC, Canada is probably leader in green wall panel systems with so many patents on their products and flexibility in the design.  The panels are independent and customizable, they use nonsoil structural growth medium, and they pre-grow the plants into the panels before shipping, the irrigation is a very sophisticated automatic drip system that monitors the moisture levels throughout the day and the system itself is mountable to virtually any surface.

westelm L.A. greenwall

westelm L.A. greenwall

Carlisle-SynTec, Inc is a company focused on modular green roof systems but with the ability to work with intensive or extensive systems and produce region specific sedum tiles for the extra conscious green builder.  Their Hydropak is a module system built with 100% recycled HDPE trays pre-grown plants in a varied growing medium.

carlisle-syntec brochure

carlisle-syntec brochure

There is the “greenscreen” system by Greenscreen in Los Angeles, CA.  This is the least exciting item of the bunch in my opinion.  The greenscreen is essentially a glorified trellis in that it is only a simple welded wire mesh grid in 3D.

The system only provides a climbing/ hanging support for plants, though can be mounted to an exterior wall or left free standing it is a not a product an east coast or NY green contractor would want to invest in as the shipping cost economically and ecologically would greatly outweigh the limited benefits provided.  Not a bad product and relatively inexpensive compared to more integrated systems, just not quite worth shipping out of state.

 

Dallas international center Greenscreen trellis
greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

Overall we at EcoBrooklyn avoid greenwall systems that require a 24hr hydroponic irrigation system – those pumps are very energy intensive and not green. The Tournesol system is a bit more desirable due to its use of soil as a grow medium, this allows you to stay away from high energy irrigation systems that are constantly run, however to support the added loads of the soil, the fully grown plants, and the water weight you need additional support mechanisms which means more material, an added resource we feel is better than the energy wasted in hydroponic systems.

The soil based systems also have much better tolerance to extremes in weather since the soil acts as a humidity and temperature buffer. As a New York living wall and green roof installer you have to pay special attention to those extremes since a New York winter can be freezing while the summer can be blistering.

Earth Bags And Their Urban Gardening Applications

Earth bags are sacks, usually made of burlap or polypropylene, stuffed with natural materials like clay, sand, or dirt. They can be used to construct buildings as well as retaining walls, ponds and raised gardens.

First used by the military to create durable structures that are quick and easy to erect, the technique has become a popular green building tool.

sustainable building ny

Sacks can be salvaged from old feed bags, though new ones are still inexpensive. The fill, if the bags will be used to create a structure, can be sourced from the soil removed to build the structure, avoiding landfills. Or, if your bag will have a gardening or agricultural application, you can use compost. In other words, earth bags are very sustainable.

Earth bags can be used to create long lasting structures that are impervious to fire, natural disasters like earthquakes, and even bullets. They have been helpful in creating strong but inexpensive shelters for people in undeveloped countries.

They be useful to an urban setting for the following:

Pond walls

Rain Gardens

Raised planters for decoration and food

Landscaping walls

One story structures

Eco Brooklyn is particularly impressed by Filtrexx®‘s commitment to sustainability and quality in their production of earth bags. This company has designed earth bags that can be used as planters for gardens or farms, protecting the plants from weeds and pests and creating a raised bed to prevent drowning. Bags can be stacked vertically to make living walls.

Their tube shape makes landscape design very simple and contains the plants without extra maintenance. Filtrexx also produces bags designed to remove heavy metals from contaminated soil, which is a widespread problem in New York and other major cities. Finally the bags can be used to divert rain water, create bioswales, and prevent soil erosion.

For help designing and/or installing an earth bag garden, living wall, soil remediation project, or runoff prevention, contact Eco Brooklyn, your local NY green contractor and landscaper.

NY sustainable design

A Photo Update of the Eco Brooklyn Roof Garden

Eco Brooklyn’s green roof garden has been flourishing since we installed it over two years ago. Check out the photos below!

NY Green Roof installers

Native Plant Green Roof Installation

This roof garden relies solely on rainwater so we never have to waste water!

Eco Brooklyn Green Roof Garden Installers

Our bees act as natural pollinators, ensuring beautiful flower blossoms for seasons to come! Not to mention they provide us with tasty honey.

Green Roof Landscaping

Can you believe this self-sustaining oasis could exist on the roof of a New York City apartment? As a NY green contracting company, Eco Brooklyn can make it possible for you to have one of your own!

New York Green Roof Installer Costs

I was bidding on a green roof in lower Manhattan the other day and the architect threw out a price of $25-$35 per square foot as a typical price to install a green roof.

He is correct that a green roof can cost $25-35/sq.ft. I have even seen really large jobs cost less. There are always exceptions.

But that green roof usually has certain qualities:

It is a shallow green roof of 3-4″
It is a large green roof with economy of scale
It does not contain construction elements like a box frame
It contains plugs or cuttings that take a year or two to spread
Roof access is easy (elevator or for large roofs, crane)
Street Access is easy (easy parking, lots of unloading space and time)

However, that square foot price jumps when the following are added:
Soil depth (more soil to ship and get to the roof and the plants tend to be larger and thus costlier)
Smaller roofs – base costs remain the same regardless of roof size
Construction elements like boxes, seats …
Pregrown mats or trays (you are paying somebody else to grow them plus the proprietary trays come at a premium)
Difficult access (like a recently finished and clean private home, narrow streets, no parking)

Essentially a green roof price starts at $25 if you have the most basic large size green roof, easy access and find somebody willing to cut prices.

But I have seen green roofs as expensive as $500 a square foot. If you have a 100 square foot green roof in a fancy apartment building in Manhattan your life is going to be really difficult. Parking tickets are the least of it. Difficult doormen, building rules, and unwelcoming neighbors are all part of the mix that drive prices up.

Throw in a fancy pregrown tray system, some custom made edging and a top of the line irrigation system because they want it to appear lush year round, and you have a green roof that costs more than a a farm in Indiana. But boy is the green roof beautiful! There is something about a green roof on the new York concrete jungle that really can’t be beat.

New York as envisioned by a NY Green Roof Installer

Green Roof Layers Mimic Natural Soil

Here is a great graphic showing how green roof construction mimics in a few inches what normal soil does in a couple feet. Plants want water, but not too much. They want something to dig their roots into that also provides nourishment.

Green Roof Diagram

Showing how the design of successful green-roof systems mimics earth’s natural soil layers

Green roofs have to provide this but because it is a roof you can’t have tonnes of soil up there. So much soil would be very expensive to install and support.

Normal soil is deep so it holds lots of humidity for the plant to drink from. But because it is deep the excess water drains down. This way the plants get water but their roots don’t rot in standing water.

The green roof accomplishes the balance with the help of several layers. The growing medium, filter sheet and protection layer act as sponges to hold water. The drainage layer has little cups that fill up with water. This provides a lot of water in relatively little space and with very little weight.

At the same time when the drainage mat cups fill up the excess water overflows and easily passes underneath it away and down the roof drain. This means the roots don’t sit in water and rot.

The green roof medium is usually an aggregate for the roots to dig into so the plants don’t fly away, mixed with something very nutritious to feed the plants. This mix also has to be very light. The aggregate ideally holds water as well.

Some examples of aggregate are crushed brick, lava rock, shale, and shredded Styrofoam. Sometimes clay is mixed is as an added water retainer as well as binder. As nutrition compost or peat is added.

The growing medium duplicates in very little space and with little weight what normal soil does.

The end result may not be as perfect as  natural soil, and this has to be remediated by using hardy plants that are ok with severe rooftop weather conditions and poor soil. Sedum is happy hanging on the sides of a cliff in the wild, as are many grasses and other small plants, so the options for a green roof are large.

As a New York green roof installer we use a mix of North American native sedum with some grasses and even small bushes. Even though the green roofs we install are typically less the 4″ deep, they look very lush and require minimal maintenance because the green roof replicate so well the natural soil conditions of the plants.

The trick with all green building, and this includes natural landscaping, is to replicate natural phenomena so that they work with little energy input from us. A green roof is a perfect example of this.

Image © 2011 by Erich Nagler

Brooklyn Green Roof

Here are some spring photos from the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House roof. It is two years old now. We don’t water it. We just let it do its own thing. The soil has thinned out and is only about 2.5″ thick. But we have bushes and plants along with a thick canopy of sedum. It is very pretty.

The bee hive is also buzzing. It is so productive that last season we left them the honey. We still have lots of honey from the year before!

Native Plant Green Roof Installer

Most New York green roof installers look towards Europe for green roof plant varieties. Europe has the largest green roof industry and has spent many years testing different plants.

Typically a New York green roof installer will specify a selection of  sedum native to the high mountains and wild places across Europe, including the Balkan Mountains and the Carpathians.

Sedum are a mostly succulent low laying plant that  like the bright sun and dry conditions of green roofs. Sedum can be found all over the world where rugged, well drained conditions exist.

They are often called stonecrop because they like to grow in the cracks of stones.

As a New York green contractor I too looked towards Europe for information on how to build the perfect Gotham green roof.

Eco Brooklyn is an ecological landscape designer and as such only designs and plants New York gardens with native species. The green roof has been our one exception, the original presumption being that there are not enough native plants to make an interesting green roof landscape. Or at least we didn’t know enough to try.

But as my experience and confidence expanded I started to research native species of sedum. I did a lot of testing on the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House roof. Some plants survived, others didn’t. What I learned is that the typical sedum suggestions for a shallow (extensive) New York green roof is extremely limited.

This is when we realized the opportunity to become a Green Roof Installer specializing in native plant green roofs.

For example we currently have three thriving Butterfly plants on the Eco Brooklyn Show House roof. In three inches of soil! Without watering them!

Butterfly plants on Eco Brooklyn's Show House green roof

Or how about our lambs ear, which is also a NY native. It is very happy on the Show House green roof.

Native Plant Lambs Ear is a good choice for New York green roofs

Another cool New York native is the Eastern Prickly Pear cactus, the only native cactus in northeast North America. It loves being on our roof, although you may not love it once it’s spines get into your skin. They are painful! I hear their fruit is good, although I have not braved the spines.

The Eastern Prickly Pear loves sandy dry soil, so a green roof is great for them.

And for those who don’t know, there are actually over 50 sedum native to North America. The only places in North America that do NOT have a native sedum are the far North of Canada and North Dakota! Not sure why. Even Greenland and Alaska have sedum.

Those 50 or so sedum fall into 18 genera. Here is the full North America genera list from the USDA web site:

Symbol
Scientific Name
Common Name
AEONI Aeonium Webb & Bethel. aeonium
COTYL Cotyledon L. pig’s ear
CRASS Crassula L. pygmyweed
DIAMO Diamorpha Nutt. diamorpha
DUDLE Dudleya Britton & Rose dudleya
ECHEV Echeveria DC. echeveria
GRAPT Graptopetalum Rose leatherpetal
HYLOT Hylotelephium H. Ohba stonecrop
JOVIB Jovibarba Opiz jovibarba
KALAN Kalanchoe Adans. widow’s-thrill
LENOP Lenophyllum Rose lenophyllum
PENTH Penthorum L. penthorum
PHEDI Phedimus Raf.
RHODI Rhodiola L. stonecrop
SEDEL Sedella Britton & Rose mock stonecrop
SEDUM Sedum L. stonecrop
SEMPE Sempervivum L. houseleek
VILLA Villadia Rose villadia

Check out this cool map showing all sedum in the USA.

We have a nice little Sedum Glaucophyllum (aka Cliff Stonecrop) in the Show House back yard. It is very happy perched amoung some stones.

Although actually native to Maryland and Virginia we deemed it acceptable to use it in our Brooklyn native garden.

Based on our experimentation and research we feel confident enough to plant green roofs in New York with only native plants. This is groundbreaking and merges two very important ecological traditions – green roof installations and native habitat creation.

A native habitat at the top of the concrete jungle offers protection and rest for animals in a very special way distinct from the more crowded lower gardens. Native plant green roof installations are crucial in building a city that offers homes for more than rats, pigeons and people.

If you have a roof you would like to turn green or know of somebody who does please give us a call! We are New York green roof installers specializing in native plant wildlife habitats and feel the more we are able to build the better the world will be!

General Guidance for NY Green Roof Installation

As a New York green roof installer we get asked the same questions by clients considering installing a green roof on their condo building or brownstone. So we decided to answer them here.

1. What does a green roof entail? Pricing? Plant types?

Go here for a great overview of general green roof installation facts, although their pricing is a little out of touch with current NY prices.

2. Do you need a permit to install a green roof in New York?

You don’t need a permit for green roof installations if the depth of the growth medium and containment does not exceed 4 inches in depth. However, it is recommended that you retain the services of an architect or professional engineer to evaluate the particular conditions and capacity of your existing roof.

3. What tax credits are there?

You can receive a one year tax credit of up to $100,000 ($4.50 per sq/ft) for green roof installations that encompass at least 50% of available roof space. This law is effective until March 15, 2013, at which point we hope to reinstate it and make it easier to process (the current law requires a lot of paperwork and is a pain in the butt). To get the rebate you need to file for a permit to the Department of Buildings, which means you need an Engineer or Architect. If the architect and expediting fees exceed the tax credit then it may not be worth applying for the credit. Go here for more info about tax credit.

The Eco Brooklyn Green Show House has a green roof. It is a good example of a brownstone green roof installation.

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/

Bus Roots on Bus Routes

Interactive designer Marco Castro has recently developed an innovative idea about how to efficiently increase green space in overcrowded urban settings through an interesting new reinterpretation of the term “green vehicle”.  The “Bus Roots” project is working to establish rooftop gardens atop buses in New York City and around the country so as to counteract the negative impacts of an environment warmed by cities lined entirely with asphalt, concrete and steel.

Castro has developed his first Bus Roots prototype with a garden topped bus known as the Bio Bus displaying a 15 ft2 green roof weighing a total of 225lbs (the estimated weight of one NYC public transit passenger).  With 4,500 buses in New York City’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) Fleet, Castro estimates a potential 35 acres of garden space lies atop New York City buses alone.

Bus Roots aims not only to beautify the city but to concurrently utilize green roof buses to reduce rising temperatures and increase CO2 and storm water capture. With this project Bus Roots aims to stimulate the conversation on urban planting, nomadic agriculture and environmental remediation that is imperative to the future of urban planning.   Since Ecobrooklyn is a New York green roof installer we appreciate and support this concept.

Digital mockup of a bus-top garden (Image: Marco Castro Cosio)

More information about Bus Roots is available at their website.

 

Gardening, Done Vertically

The folks from GardenUp just stopped by the EcoBrooklyn Green Show House to tell us more about their great new products for gardening.  They’ve created a simple vertical system based on hydroponic technology that is great for small spaces, easy-to-use and highly efficient – perfect for city living.


An example of one of GardenUp’s towers in Philadelphia

Basically, the vertical garden towers GardenUp has created can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, whatever you like, in a small self-contained space.  The towers can be used indoors or out and could be a wonderful addition to a green roof or backyard.  They even have different sizes for home or commercial use.  We think it’s a great step forward in the realm of sustainable, locally grown food!

Check them out here

Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of EcoBrooklyn meeting with Scott Seger, CEO and Boris Alergant, VP of Strategic Business Development and Planning for GardenUp

As a New York green contractor they contacted us to see if we could incorporate their product into the eco gardens we build and design. The GardenUp planter could be a great addition to any edible garden design.