Dumpster Diving Goldmine

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

Salvaged Beams from Dumpster

Salvaged Beams from Dumpster

 

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

The wood from the image above was turned into the Pergola and Bulkhead in this rooftop garden.

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

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

One Dumpster Diving Excursion

One Dumpster Diving Excursion

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

Upcycled Shipping Container: Windows

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.

Outline and frame for circular window in the second story

Outline and frame for circular window

 

Our welder cutting out the circular design from the container

Our welder cutting out the circular design from the container wall

 

Smoothing out the edges and showing off the beautiful view from the second story

Smoothing out the edges and showing off the beautiful view of the port from the second story

 

IMG_5832

Window installed

 

 

View from the street

View from the street

 

Plastic

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.

Christopher Jeffrey

Salvaged Douglas Fir Deck

20130708_161631

 

Eco Brooklyn’s latest project was developed for our client in Williamsburg. The client was looking to renovate their distressed backyard and create a beautiful space to sit and relax. We first develop a design and render it for the clients approval. This deck is perfect for small gatherings, allows access to the yard, and the large stairs double as sitting space.

Prior to Eco Brooklyn

Williamsberg Deck Rendering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The project began be removing the existing stairs and gathering our salvaged Douglas fir from the storage yard. Once all the materials are gathered on site we begin the work of building the deck from the foundation up.

Salvaged Wood

Salvaged Wood

Prior to Sanding and Eco-Oiling

 

After the deck is built we are able to sand and Eco-oil the wood with a milk protein finish. Blending recycled materials and utilizing techniques to prevent environmental degradation are the goals of our green-building project, so the end result is not only eco-friendly but aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Eco Friendly Finish

Eco Friendly Finish

Post and Rendering by Anthony Rivale

Klearwall Windows and Doors

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/

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

Crown Heights Project – 100% Salvaged Material Fence

Eco Brooklyn has been working on an interesting sustainable project in the Crown Heights area. The challenge is to build a fence using only salvaged material.

How does this project work?

Our green building team collects extraneous wood from the local company, U.S. Fencing Systems, Inc. The staff there are extremely gracious and are happy to see the wood go to good use rather than having to see it lugged off by dump trucks every week. The wood is then transported to the work cite where interns and construction workers de-nail the wooden planks, cut them for sizing, and mount the planks onto the salvaged metal poles extracted from a dumpster near Prospect Park.

This job is a captivating snapshot of what we do as green builders. By reaching out to local businesses and the community, people get excited about sustainability and are more likely to build it forward.

Christopher Jeffrey

Crown Heights Fence

Shipping Containers as Buildings

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

Although these buildings are architectural masterpieces, the reasons container homes really shine in the eyes of Eco Brooklyn are not really how they look but rather their environmental, cost, and function elements. Truthfully I find them too box-like to be aesthetic wonders. My personal taste is for more curves and less straight lines.

However, a container home is environmentally sound because it is the product of reused materials. Repurposing a shipping container into a home allows the supporting structure along with the ceiling of a home to come with almost no new production, resulting in large savings in lumber. This process also cuts down on the energy that would be required to turn a container into scrap metal before that metal is reused. Repurposing also does away with the possibility of improper recycling or disposal of the container.

The modular nature of shipping container construction allows for large savings on production materials, labor hours, and carbon emissions in comparison to conventional on-site building. These advantages are gained through the ability of shipping container home construction to be carried out in a central location.

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

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

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

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

Shipping containers have some inherent disadvantages regarding their design and previous uses. Since steel conducts heat very efficiently shipping containers must be heavily insulated in extreme climates. Used shipping containers have possibly been filled with food spills, pesticides, and lead paint. It is necessary to remove the wood floor that they come with and seal or get rid of lead contaminated paint entirely. Since shipping container architecture is new, and steel is an uncommon structural material for homes, it can be difficult to acquire a zoning permit and for the structure to pass building code.

Aside from some easily fixable inherent disadvantages with shipping containers, and one very difficult to deal with issue concerning zoning and building code, container homes create an elegant sector of green architecture. Companies like Intermodal Design are creating simple and affordable housing solutions by taking advantage of these structures. Other companies like Container Home Consultants Inc., run by Alex Klein, are finding ways to help families help themselves by showing them the relative ease of DIY shipping container (ISBU) home building compared to conventional home construction.

 

 

 

How long do things last?

As a green builder I am always looking for ways to reuse garbage. For example I have used Gaia Soil for green roof medium, which is crushed Styrofoam waste and compost. In this process of recycling I need to know how long the particular material will last. Here is an informational list of items and their expected life span.

Of course what might be great in one scenario because it lasts a long time may be terrible in another. For example plastic is great because it lasts so long as a container, but put it in the ocean and it sucks that it lasts that long.

What toxins it gives off when it does decompose is a whole other blog post.

Here is the list:

Paper Towel – 2-4 weeks
Banana Peel – 3-4 weeks
Paper Bag – 1 month
Newspaper – 1.5 months
Apple Core – 2 months
Cardboard – 2 months
Cotton Glove – 3 months
Orange peels – 6 months
Plywood – 1-3 years
Wool Sock – 1-5 years
Milk Cartons – 5 years
Cigarette Butts – 10-12 years
Leather shoes – 25-40 years
Tinned Steel Can – 50 years
Foamed Plastic Cups – 50 years
Rubber-Boot Sole – 50-80 years
Plastic containers – 50-80 years
Aluminum Can – 200-500 years
Plastic Bottles – 450 years
Disposable Diapers – 550 years
Monofilament Fishing Line – 600 years
Plastic Bags – 200-1000 years

Phone Booth Aquarium

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

So what happens to all of those phone booths?

 

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

 

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

Aquarium phone box Lyon france

 

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

Telephone booth fish tank

This lovely red phone box aquarium in England:

phone booth aquarium

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

fish tank telephone booth

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

phone booth fish tank

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

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

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

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

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

 

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

 

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

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

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

 

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

One of Cyclecides attractions

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

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

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

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

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

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.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

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.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“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.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Natural Pools

We at EcoBrooklyn engage in a number of exciting green building projects and experiments throughout the year, but with the hot months ahead at the top of our list is the natural pool for the show house and with its completion so close we can almost feel the cool, energetic, life infused water on our toes.

A “Natural pool” is more about incorporating nature into the design and functions of the pool, harnessing natural processes to maintain quality, swimable water and blurring the line between built and naturally occurring.

A healthy body of fresh water has a number of checks and balances that keep it in balance. A Natural Pool simply recreates these elements. Nature does the rest.

A Natural Pool has the swimming area and then another area called the regeneration zone. This zone contains plants and, most importantly, surface area usually in the form of gravel that microbes can live on.

The plants and microbes compete with algae for food and since you pack it with surface area the microbes beat out the algae. In essence you create an environment where food (leaves, soil, bugs, and other organic matter) is scarce, so what food there is becomes eaten by plants and microbes instead of algae.

The process is fairly flexible and can be as simple or complex as you like as long as you have a few basic elements:

-No chemical fertilizers/ pesticides used adjacent to the site

-Natural filtration system

-A variety of different plants, surface area and microbes to promote a balanced ecosystem

The beauty of natural pools

The primary appeal of a natural pool is the absence of the typical cocktail of harsh chemicals designed to kill pretty much everything in the water, except the swimmer more or less.

The second attraction is the positive ecological effect; this is something you can build with salvaged and recycled materials while helping to reinstate local/native ecosystems.

As with most things green there is a degree of time and thought investment not usually associated with the typical energy sapping, chlorinated eyesore.

there’s no competition really

 

Maintenance is still simpler and less expensive, but one needs to learn and follow a set of steps and rules, which as one grows with the pool these steps become second nature, or perhaps first nature…

Thankfully there are always pioneers braving new frontiers and providing the general populace with valuable resources and tools to implement in their own projects.  The Europeans especially have been at the forefront of the natural pools race for over a decade now. They have built massive public natural swimming pools that cater to thousands of people with great success.

beautiful design

wide range of options

Below is a list of websites and organizations specifically geared towards natural pool construction; they provide excellent technical suggestions for all types of designs and constraints as well as helpful trouble shooting for any problems that may arise.  Also they can provide you with competent local green contractors and builders in your area familiar with this sort of construction.

Eco Brooklyn hopes to become a leading natural pool installer in the New York area. We feel this is an excellent option since it adds so much to a garden, both for humans but for native wildlife.
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2002-08-01/Natural-Swimming-Pool.aspx
http://www.biotop-gmbh.at/

http://www.ibnature.com/

http://www.totalhabitat.com/p&p.html

http://www.clear-water-revival.com/

 

-Michael DiCarlo

Demolished Buildings Get a Second Life as Contemporary Furniture

12×12 is the maximum dimensions a shelter in North Carolina can be before it legally becomes a house, subject to property taxes. For this reason it is a hallowed number among the off-the-grid set, and the title of a popular book on one man’s foray into the world of tiny houses.

A stockbar

This stockbar by Fort Maker was made from 200 year old casks!

It is also the name of a new exhibit of contemporary furniture. New York designers were challenged with creating something beautiful out of the remains of demolished New York City buildings. 12×12 is the innovative result.

Trunks by Karl Zahn, one of the twelve designers whose works were displayed in the show

The exhibit aimed to draw attention to the potential of materials abandoned to the trash from the many buildings demolished daily in New York. Eco Brooklyn fully supports this goal, as New York’s demolition sites are our preferred resource to build new structures or renovate older ones without requiring any more trees to be felled. In fact, as a New York City green contractor, we have never bought new wood, including all our joists, studs, floors, subfloors, stairs, and doors, with the exception of FSC formaldehyde-free plywood for kitchen cabinets.

A bathtub Eco Brooklyn crafted from salvaged materials

An example of Eco Brooklyn's work, made with completely salvaged materials

By using wood from our very own Gotham Forest, we can help protect living forests by reducing the demand for deforestation, a major driver of climate change and habitat destruction.

A seesaw made from reclaimed wood

Sometimes green design is fun and games: a see-saw by Nikolai Moderbacher

The designers sourced their lumber from landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island, as well as buildings from another era and another New York, such as a warehouse from 1832, one of the last of the 19th century’s dry goods district. One of the most glorious aspects of buildings is their ability to serve as witness to countless events and histories, and so the transformations of these storied buildings into furniture allows the sleek, contemporary pieces a depth and richness in their mysteriously alluring backstories.

a sleek wooden chair made from salvaged materials

I used to be a Park Ave water tower: chair by BELLBOY

Some of these stories inform the new pieces, infusing them with a thoughtfulness and humor found in the continuation of a theme, such as a “Vice box” made from the floors of a Prohibition-era dance hall, or a liquor cabinet made with wood sourced from the East Village Mars Bar. You can discover the buildings that became the furniture here.

circular bench

This round bench doubles as a storage unit: bench by Louis Lim (photo credit: Inhabitat)

Perhaps best of all, the unique pieces were sold at silent auction to raise money for Brooklyn Woods, a woodworking training program for low income and high risk New Yorkers, helping to pass on the tools and inspiration to keep New York’s buildings flowing into reincarnations that pay homage to the city’s history while providing for some truly green design.

-Jenna Steckel

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/

Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here

The book Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here is a cross between Malcolm Wells and redneck literature.

The author, Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, is a scrappy young guy who took his love for kid forts and turned it into a deep study of how to build tiny shelters on a budget.

The book is full of scribbles and rambles (very much along the humor and style of Malcolm Wells) on how to build your own back yard or forest hideaway.

As a New York green contractor I appreciate his creativity among all else. At Eco Brooklyn sure we eco-renovate New Yorkers’ homes and commercial spaces but what we really do is find creative ways to re-purpose garbage.

We come across a dumpster and we’re like, “Here is a cool piece of garbage, how can we turn it into something useful? I know! Lets make a counter out of it!”

And the next thing you know we are putting it into a two million dollar brownstone and making it look like a million bucks. You can’t buy that at a store.

 

 

New York Contractor Builds Passive House out of Salvaged Materials

Here is a short video we threw together of the Passive House renovation in Harlem. The video mostly discusses the budgeting of the project.

Now that the construction is for the most part done I think that our initial budget of $175/sq.ft is not sustainable. Of course it is great for the client in the long run. But as a company that practices the triple bottom line  – people, planet, profit – our budget did not  satisfy all three items.

Out of the three I can say without a doubt the planet was benefited by this job. We built a Passive House. We salvaged almost everything to build the house, creating a negative impact on the dump, meaning the house removed more garbage from the dump than it created.

Unfortunately the other two items – people and profit – did not get a fair deal. The workers were not paid enough, the client is not happy and the company did not make enough of a profit. Workers and company need to be taken care of in order for us to continue to make a meaningful impact on the world. Happy clients means more opportunities to build green.

The clients came to us with a very tight budget, $800,000, which is not enough for the scope of the complete gut rehab Passive House. $1,200,000 would have been more realistic.

But being realistic in not what got Eco Brooklyn to where it is now. You don’t start a cutting edge green building company because you are realistic. You start it because you are deeply idealistic and willing to sacrifice everything in the hope that it will make a difference to the world. There are huge risks to this.

So in that spirit we took on the job, our main goal to find a way to build a cutting edge green home on an affordable budget. We accomplished this, so from that point of view it was a great success.

But the clients are not happy and the company was hit hard financially. It may seem odd that the clients are not happy given they gained a $1 million plus house for $800K. We literally saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars all the while helping the environment.

But to achieve that we all had to make sacrifices. The main sacrifice was that as a company we could not afford to hire enough management. The job process was rocky. A green company needs to be even better organized than other companies because we are dealing with new cutting edge technologies with steep learning curves and we salvage materials thus we can’t tightly control the delivery time of materials.

This lack of management meant details were missed and client/contractor interaction was not as common. So even though behind the scenes we felt we were performing miracles to save the client money and add value to their home, the client did not see this.

The client simply felt they were paying what to them felt like a lot of money and we were not delivering as smoothly as they wanted. Because they don’t have a good grasp of what things cost it did not matter how many times we told them they would never be able to get this value elsewhere on their budget.

And when they did look elsewhere for comparison they saw crappy building with nice fixtures – the so called luxury condo that looks like a million dollars for the first couple years and costs a fortune to run. When you compare that to our building that does not look as fancy they felt shortchanged.

Never mind ours costs nothing to run and is built to last a hundred years. Those things are not as sexy as sparkling appliances and brand new moldings.

So we felt we were loosing our battle with the clients. It was very frustrating because we believe deeply that the building we made is decades ahead of any building built in the city today.

Core Values

In hindsight the main conflict was between the company’s and the client’s core values.

The company’s core value is clearly to put the benefit of the planet before anything else, with the understanding that by doing this we are benefiting ourselves as well. And in this case we did it to a fault (we should have done less for the planet and more for ourselves in order to continue strong in the long run).

But going balls out for the environment is both our strength and weakness.

The clients core value was to put their own benefit before anything else. This is not to say they did not care about Eco Brooklyn or the environment. But like most people, at the top of list is their own financial security, their family and their home, and when possible, but only when possible they consider the rest of the world.

I get that. I am a family man.

But I am also a green builder and sometimes things get complicated.

The problem was that we feel looking out for the environment is the best thing we can do for the client in the long run, even if it means less of a perfect construction process in the short run. The client however just wants a home for their family. Getting that done is challenge enough, never mind some idealistic and abstract global thinking.

Because of this we found ourselves at odds. For us if we could help the environment more we would. Even at the expense of short term discomforts and stress imposed by our main mistake – not budgeting for enough management and budgeting too much for the green building items – which arose from our over ambitious attempt to build a home for hundreds of thousands less than normally it would cost.

The client however found this inexcusable. If it is a choice to go some time without water in order to get gray water plumbing installed or skip the gray water and have water for their kids to take a bath they pick the later.

Unfortunately we were doing the building and not them. And we are very hard headed.

We picked to do the gray water, which delayed the job and meant the clients went without water for longer. Inexcusable in their eyes. Simply bad management. In our eyes it was a small sacrifice for something that will benefit the planet for many years to come…..which in turn benefits them.

It wasn’t like we expected the client to sacrifice alone. Eco Brooklyn always sacrificed first. If we found a way to satisfy the client and the environment at the cost of our profit then we made sure we did that first. Our priorities were planet, client then us.

Maybe we are wrong. Maybe that priority serves nobody. But I have this idea that we are connected and the ecology is in a lot worse shape than we are. Since we are ecology that needs to be dealt with first……?

But when the client is spending their hard earned money and the feel like the second fiddle, good will goes out the window fast and they stopped caring for us.

Towards the end of the job when we realized our ecological zeal had put our finances in tight stretches we got no mercy from the clients. In their memory was the lack of water and they made sure to withhold money accordingly. Water is just an example our of many conflicts of core values that arose.

What have I learned from this?

I can’t expect others to sacrifice for my cause. Next time I will only take on clients who can afford $1,200,000 and be done with it. They will get the job they were promised and I will be able to build houses that harm the environment a lot less.

This means that many people will be priced out and not benefit from Eco Brooklyn’s amazing green building.

But I have learned the hard way that when things get tight people hunker down and look out for themselves. It is about survival and humans can be the most brutal creatures on earth when they feel their own is being threatened.

I can’t put myself in that position of dealing with clients like that. Nor can I put the clients in that position. The clients of this house are scared. They feel we managed the job recklessly and this puts them at risk.

When they came to us they entrusted us as professionals to guide them in the building of a green home. They had no idea how much emphasis we put on green and at some point they wondered if we even cared about their home.

So in the future we won’t try the affordable green building thing because we can’t trust the client will be as willing as we are to build green. Instead we will charge. That way it won’t be a choice between having water on time or having a gray water system. We will have a budget to do both on time.

The clients of our current house had a tough time of it. I think with time they will forget the discomforts of the building process. As that fades they will see the value of the house. They might even be grateful towards us. But I doubt it.

Would I do it again? Yes. I think the struggle was worth the gain. It is an amazing house.

It is the first time in the history of building that a Passive House was built with such a high percentage of salvaged materials. It is revolutionary. And we did it not on some plot of land in Oregon but in one of the most expensive places to build on earth. For the price of a crap “luxury condo”!

But like all revolutions it was painful. And I am hurting more than anyone. I made sure I put my money where my mouth was. The clients probably will never understand that. But that is ok. I care about the house that we brought into existence.

When we are all dead that house will still be a wonderful home for families. That is a great gift. It is the least I can do for the planet and my fellow humans.

Here is the video that prompted this post.

Material Reuse with the NYCMEDP

Eco Brooklyn has partnered up with the NYC Materials Exchange Development Program, a great non-profit that keeps reusable materials out of the trash by connecting people with unwanted materials to others who can reuse them.

The NYCMEDP runs a number of ongoing service, outreach, and research programs.  The NYC Waste Match, for example, is a free service that can help green builders salvage materials efficiently by connecting us directly with businesses and individuals doing demolition and construction.  Waste Match also helps these people save money on disposal costs while building an environmentally friendly image.  Salvage is a win-win situation, and we hope that more people will choose to reuse materials now that the NYCMEDP is providing an easy way to do it.

Check out our member page on their site!

Composting Leaves – What are your options?


It seems like just in the past week the trees of New York have decided to shed most of their leaves. Around EcoBrooklyn, leaves are floating down onto our green roof and some of our projects in the yard. The smell of fallen leaves overpowers the smell of city, and it’s a welcome scent indeed.

However, I was very disappointed to learn that the City of New York has cancelled their leaf collection this year due to budget cuts. I don’t understand how New York can have so many dog walkers, nannies, and therapists, but somehow cannot afford to compost their leaves. I understand that New York has fewer trees per capita than some other cities, but this does not seem like an excuse, considering the vast amount of trees that are in fact in this city.

However, if you are upset by this lack of city service, there are options. NYC Project LeafDrop has many locations throughout the city where residents can bring their leaves for composting. LeafDrop asks that residents store leaves in plastic bags or brown paper bags. The vast majority of these locations are in Brooklyn. If you would like any information, please go to this website: http://nycleaves.org/

Occupy Wall Street

On 10/11/11 Eco Brooklyn, a green builder and supporter of a better America and world, went down to the Financial district to check out Occupy Wall Street. Nearly 30 days ago, a diverse group of citizens took to the street in NYC, and marched down to Zuccotti Park, formerly “Liberty Plaza Park”, placed in between Wall Street, the financial center of the U.S., and Ground Zero.

            Although formal demands will not be made, the message brought by Occupy Wall Street is clear.  They call for an end to corruption and greed, to bring about a better, cleaner, fairer world.  Cleaner, fairer, and better are all words that definitely relate to the idea of sustainability, which seems to be a theme for the protesters at OWS.  They hope to create a sustainable system of economics and government that’s not only sustainable for the people in charge and involved now, but also for the people of the future.  Similarly to OWS, Eco Brooklyn sees the need for an immediate change in the building and construction industry. For too long, a system has been used that leads to crumbling infrastructure and high energy costs, and now it’s time for an immediate change to use recycled and salvaged material to make zero energy homes.  This is a practical goal, that’s sustainable not only for the people living in the new homes, but also for the generations to come.

OWS also has areas for making and displaying art, garbage collection and recycling, a food buffet, a drum circle/music group, a webcast, an info center for volunteers, as well spaces to access the internet and charge cell phones and battery powered devices.  With mattresses and sleeping bags spread throughout these areas, one had to be careful navigating between the people protesting and things and people on the ground, but despite the difference in peoples body language and stature, the feeling of unity was unmistakable- everyone united as one, fighting for a better, fairer, cleaner world.  For more check out Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.

Green Contracting and Universal Design – What’s the connection?

Green design is a broad term. In an attempt to narrow it down, we are looking at how green design and “universal design” or lifespan design are linked. First of all, you’re probably wondering what universal design means. Here are the seven principles that define universal design, according to North Carolina State University (check out the link here http://www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/udi/):

1. Equitable use
2. Flexibility use
3. Simple and intuitive use
4. Compatible and perceptible information
5. Minimal hazards
6. Minimal physical effort required
7. Size and space appropriate for use

But how are these related to green design? Focusing on numbers 1, 2, and 7 will show how green design and universal design are similar. Being sustainable and “green” are all about sharing, being resourceful, and generally creating a solution that can be sustained through changes that may come in the future. According to adaptiveenvironments.org “Green design focuses on environmental sustainability, Universal Design on social sustainability”. However, I think that both environmental and social sustainability are two sides of the same thing – sustainability overall. Sustainability calls for fair outcomes, both for people and the environment. Universal design calls for a sustainable space that can be continually and easily used by people for changing purposes. At the heart of green design is sustainability – using recycled materials, and installing green roofs are all steps towards an overarching goal of conserving resources for the future.

Universal design is about using your existing space for different things. For example, a couple moves into a small house. Then they have two children, but instead of moving into a larger house, they adapt their space to accommodate their children – building an extra room within a larger room, or adding one on. They can also child proof their house with simple amenities such as adjustable counters, or by adding carpets. Basically, both green design and universal design are about using what you have and working with it.

If you would like more information about the concepts of green building and universal design, check out Yes! Magazine at yesmagazine.org, and specifically http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/sustainable-happiness/how-to-build-a-tiny-house, for an article on green houses and universal design.

Zero Brownstone Technique and Salvaged Materials

EcoBrooklyn Director Gennaro Brooks-Church, talks about the importance of salvaged materials which are crucial in helping achieve the company’s goal of zero or negative waste created and zero or negative new materials used. This is one of the main things that separates Eco Brooklyn from an ordinary NY contractor – finding floor joists, wood flooring, insulation, sheetrock and many variations of plywood, just to name a few of the many salvaged products used. The triple bottom line (people, profit and planet) is kept in mind as the spectrum of values in measuring the company’s success.

Here is a video explaining some of what goes into this sometimes laborious but very important job.

Salvaged Crystal Stone

Eco Brooklyn’s business model is to salvage as much as possible. We believe this is the true definition of a NY green contractor in a city with such abundant and high quality trash. We recently salvaged what we thought was marble. We cut it down to make all the bathroom and kitchen counters for the Brooklyn Green Show House.

But it turns out it is not marble but Crystal Stone, a human made product from waste glass, marble and other rocks. For us this is a double win: salvaged material that is recycled.

We discovered that it was Crystal Stone the hard way: after breaking several masonry bits. This stuff is HARD!

We should have suspected it wasn’t marble after leaving it outside in the rain and sun for a year. It didn’t stain or fade at all.

It is good stuff. Check it out here.

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Here is the stone after a year of sitting in the mud, sun and rain

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We cut it to shape and sanded it down

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And then sanded it some more...

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And here is the salvaged Crystal Stone in the kitchen. We made matching bathroom counters too.

It Should Be a Crime!

A typical thing happened today in the life of Eco Brooklyn. One of our workers noticed a dumpster full of wood and called it in to the office. I dispatched our “Rescue Truck”, Eco Brooklyn’s veggie oil pickup, to go salvage the wood before it was carted off to the dump.

This wood has sat in a brownstone for over 80 years. It is beautiful douglass fir, in the form of studs or joists. Nice thick wood with another hundred years of life left to it, at least. It is beautiful wood. You can sand it down and put oil on it for a kitchen counter or island. You can cut it down and use as siding. Or cut it into planks for flooring. Or put it back into a house simply as joists or studs. It is like art. Art direct from nature.

You can’t get this wood today. It comes from old trees and has had a hundred years to cure. It is part of a long ago history when wood was as abundant and healthy as the bison.

When the driver and helper got to the dumpster the workers on the site had started putting soil on top of the wood. We asked if the contractor would stop for a few minutes to give my guys time to take out the wood. We don’t push the ecological logic in this situation. We point out the financial logic that the dumpster will cost about $800 and if we take half the wood we save the contractor maybe $400.

But the contractor refused. So my guys worked frantically to save the wood as the other workers poured soil on top of it. We got only six beams before the soil became too much to move. We watched as they covered up the other sixty beams.

Today we didn’t succeed. Some days we do but it is a constant fight.

Throwing away this wood should be a crime. The waste is so saddening. Such ignorance, such arrogance.

It is so frustrating that this is legally and morally acceptable. Thousands of dumpsters a year, millions of board feet a year thrown into the trash heap.

Sometimes I think I am surrounded by insanity. Or maybe I am insane.

One client I met with today just came back from the Amazon forest recording sounds. He has been going for ten years. He says it is getting hard to go because the forest is disappearing so fast before his eyes he can’t bear the pain. He said on the plane he overheard some forest company workers joking about how they had lied to government officials about the origin of a certain tree in order to log it. They thought it was funny.

We live in a spiraling time where we have the power to destroy or save the planet in an astoundingly short time. Never in the history of humanity have we had this power. There is a crisis in the world. Wake up. Become humble. Do good.

Salvaged Wood Synergy

Here is a cool example of creative salvaging. They have taken planks from an old brownstone roof and flipped them upside down as a ceiling.

wood ceiling

The one consideration is fire. This was done in a restaurant, which means it shares the ceiling with an apartment upstairs, which means the ceiling has to be 2 hour fire rated, which the wood planks clearly are not. So to be code you need 2 hours of fire rated sheet rock above the planks.

At that point the planks are purely aesthetic. From a green point of view they are an unnecessary use of extra resources.

As a green builder we are always looking to create at least two synergies with every step of construction. For example a counter not only has to look great but it also should be recycled. Or the plumbing not only needs to perform to code but also must save water. By leveraging synergies you conserve materials, space, money and ultimately build a more streamlined green brownstone.

A Brooklyn green contractor is constantly looking where these synergies come together during the brownstone renovation and is part of the holistic view instead of the more conventional category view of a non-green renovation where each segments is isolated from the next – the plumber does his thing, electrician his thing etc.

In a green brownstone renovation the plumber is asking the electrician how to best calibrate the water pumps so they use the least amount of electricity. The electrician is talking with the carpenter to see where the light shelves are going to be built since that will effect the increased efficiency of electric usage.

In a sense instead of each person having their specialized interests, they share a broader interest along green building lines such as efficiency, conservation and ecology. These are things that are not immediately relevant to their job and most plumbers for example don’t see a connection between world ecology and putting food on their table.

But a green builder sees a direct connection. Maybe the biggest difference between a green builder and a non-green builder is the amount of connections between all the elements. A green builder sees a lot more.

So with the ceiling planks shown above where most people would be “wow, cool salvaged wood ceiling, that is really green,” a green builder would say that too but would go a step further and ask if it would have been more synergistic on a floor for example where they are not just a nice to look at but also serve another purpose.

But hey, the ceiling looks great nonetheless.

Green Counter Top Options

I realize concrete has huge embodied energy and creates tonnes of CO2 during it’s manufacture but I still can’t resist reading up on the uses of concrete for residential interior applications.

Eco Brooklyn is guilty of making some concrete counters too.

I just read Concrete at Home by the concrete fanatic Fu-Tung Chen. He has definitely cornered the market on interior concrete applications with his little empire of books, CD’s and concrete products. He took a highly expensive niche service and made it available to the masses.

With his products pretty much any contractor can make a concrete counter top for their client at reasonable prices.

So why would a green contractor like me be obsessed with a product that clearly contributes to our ecological problems? Concrete is possibly the largest producer of CO2 in the list of toxic building practices.

There is something deeply satisfying about building a concrete counter. It is an artistic process with real practical applications and such a combo is bliss.

Here are the pros and cons as I see it.

Pros

It is manufactured on site, keeping transport costs low and money local.

It lasts a long time, reducing future resource depletion.

Cons

It creates a lot of CO2.

It has a lot of embodied energy.

Concrete plants cause large environmental damage.

I don’t think the Pros outweigh the Cons…..which causes a dilemma for me. I have upcoming concrete jobs and eagerly look forward to them. Next week we are building a double sink counter for a bathroom that will be undulating like a wave. It will be made into a dark polished concrete counter that should look truly beautiful.

Obviously concrete counters made on site are better than any new counter on the market. I don’t care if it is Paperstone, Icestone or any recycled counter. They all use vast amounts of energy to produce. They are shipped all over the place. They are pretty low on the green scale in my eyes no matter what their sales rep says.

The only truly green counter is salvaged wood made by a local carpenter. After that it would be salvaged marble or granite. The difference between salvaged products are little. Anything salvaged is good as long as it isn’t toxic like a plastic counter or something that would hurt the users. But salvaged wood trumps marble in NY because there is a lot more salvaged wood available and thus less chance that it will be depleting resources and causing more demand for new wood. If you deplete the scarce amount of salvaged stone then you quickly increase demand for new quarried stone.

So what is a Brooklyn green contractor to do? Keep reading. Keep searching. We still have a little time before the planet is completely destroyed.

Habitat ReStores

Since we are in the salvage and reuse business for all our building we are always on the look out to get good salvaged stuff in the New York area. Here is a great place: the Habitat ReStores. It’s not exactly in the NY area but it is close. We’ve not had the opportunity to get up there but I’ve seen some of their stuff online as well as their prices and both are great.

Check them out:

524 Main Street, New Rochelle (914)636-8335 x206 – Monday – Saturday, 8am-6pm
591 Main Street, New Rochelle (914)355-2001 – Monday – Saturday, 9am-5pm
266 Riverdale Ave, Yonkers (914)966-0132 – Monday – Saturday, 9am-3pm

Their blurb:
The Habitat for Humanity of Westchester ReStores sell new and used furniture, household items and building materials to the public at deeply discounted prices! We are here to save you money on all of your home improvement and redecorating needs. Please come visit us often as our inventory changes daily!
All donations are tax-deductible! All proceeds generated from our ReStores go directly to funding the many, worthwhile Habitat for Humanity projects throughout the county.
We happily accept donations of all types with just a few exceptions. We cannot accept used clothing, toys or mattresses. We DO accept all major appliances and TVs under 10 years old! If you would like to donate to Habitat for Humanity, please feel free to drop off your donation at any of our ReStore locations during our regular business hours.

Demo Bags – Trash Bag Alternative

One of the most revolutionary things to happen to our company was the discovery of Demo Bags, a contractor garbage bag alternative. It is revolutionary because it is so simple yet so profound. We are a green construction company in Brooklyn. We salvage, reuse, and recycle like obsessed neurotic 1950’s house wives if they did such a thing.

And yet despite our frenzy to save the world we had no better alternative to the age old black plastic construction bag. The core of our salvaging and reusing was based around a disposable plastic bag….there was something wrong, very, very wrong with this picture.

And there is not a construction company on the North American continent, no matter how crunchy green they are, who does not have the black plastic contractor bag as the core of their disposal process.

It hadn’t even occurred to us that there was an alternative. We understood that there were some things in life, like death, taxes and contractor bags that you just can’t avoid.

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And then one day in the Brooklyn Home Depot we saw the Demo Bags. It is the simplest idea in the world. Reusable contractor bags. Duh!

We bought a pack and have never looked back. We fill them with garbage, our carting company hauls them off to the dump where they empty them and return them to us on their next delivery.

We have about a hundred bags in rotation. We load them heavy enough so a strong guy can lift them with one hand. Each bag if treated normally can basically last forever. We have yet to throw one out. The pack says you can reuse them five times but we go way beyond that number.

These reusable construction bags are a great alternative to garbage bags. You can get them in Brooklyn at the Home Depot in Red Hook and I’m told Lowes has them too.

Or you can buy them online.

Any self respecting construction company should be using these bags instead of throw away ones. Forget about the environment for a second and just look at the savings. A pack of 20 costs $25 at the Brooklyn Red Hook Home Depot.  That’s a buck and a quarter per bag. Black garbage bags cost us $15 for 50. That’s 30 cents a bag.

If you use the Demo Bag four times you have spent the same amount of money. Lets just say we have used ours eight times. That means the Demo Bags are half the cost of normal trash bags.

Clearly Demo Bags are cheaper and better for the environment. It is one of those things in life that are no brainers. If a construction company is NOT using Demo Bags they really don’t have a grip on their finances nor do they understand how easy it is to help the environment.

Eco Bike

We just added another bike to our small fleet of Green Building Transportation. Unlike new construction (yuk!) where you can plan the process better, working in a Brooklyn Brownstone has a lot of surprises. So it is common to need a small thing to keep the job going – a certain size screw, some brackets, etc.

Because hardware stores and big chain stores are all over Brooklyn the parts are always a short bike ride away.

So we have a lot of bikes and some scooters to do our deliveries. Our scooters are Razor and Zooter from Area Kids Toy stores on Smith st. They are the best.

We just got another bike off craigslist. It has gone through three owners with three incarnations and recycling (pun intended!!!!). Just the way we like it.

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