What is the tax rebate for solar panels in NYC?

As a solar panel installer I have to admit that even Eco Brooklyn sometimes gets confused. The rebates expire, then get reinstated and expire again.

Here is the current tax rebate agreement. Check out the text in red. This is in effect until January 1st 2015.


http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?sh=printbill&bn=A10620&term=2011[2/7/2013 11:51:36 AM] S T A T E O F N E W Y O R K
June 8, 2012
Introduced by COMMITTEE ON RULES — (at request of M. of A. Farrell) —
read once and referred to the Committee on Ways and Means
AN ACT to amend the real property tax law, in relation to a solar electric
generating system tax abatement for certain properties in a city
of one million or more persons
1 Section 1. Subdivision 1 of section 499-bbbb of the real property tax
2 law, as added by chapter 473 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as
3 follows:
4 1. The amount of such tax abatement shall be as follows:
5 (a) if the solar electric generating system is placed in service on or
6 after the effective date of this title and before January first, two
7 thousand eleven, for each year of the compliance period such tax abate-
8 ment shall be the lesser of (i) eight and three-fourths percent of
9 eligible solar electric generating system expenditures, (ii) the amount
10 of taxes payable in such tax year, or (iii) sixty-two thousand five
11 hundred dollars; or
12 (b) if the solar electric generating system is placed in service on or
13 after January first, two thousand eleven, and before January first, two
14 thousand thirteen, for each year of the compliance period such tax
15 abatement shall be the lesser of (i) five percent of eligible solar
16 electric generating system expenditures, (ii) the amount of taxes paya-
17 ble in such tax year, or (iii) sixty-two thousand five hundred dollars;
18 OR
EXPLANATION–Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
[ ] is old law to be omitted.
A. 10620 2
1 S 2. Subdivision 1 of section 499-cccc of the real property tax law,
2 as added by chapter 473 of the laws of 2008, is amended to read as
3 follows:
4 1. To obtain a tax abatement pursuant to this title, an applicant must
5 file an application for tax abatement, which may be filed on or after
6 January first, two thousand nine, and on or before March fifteenth, two
7 thousand [thirteen] FIFTEEN.
8 S 3. This act shall take effect immediately.

Renewable Energy Plan for New York

Let’s convert New York State’s energy infrastructure into something more sustainable. It’s a simple concept, with a multitude of benefits.  Converting to renewable energy will stabilize costs of energy and  produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage and overall improving the quality of life.

A recent study by Mark Z. Jacobson et al. finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert the fossil fuel energy infrastructure in New York State to one that is supplied entirely by wind, water, and solar power. The use of natural gas is argued against due to the dangerous hydraulic fracturing process and the air pollution produced.  The proposed plan provides the largest possible reductions in air and water pollution, and global warming impacts.

Jacobson and scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis have proposed the first fully developed plan to fulfill all sectors (transportation, electric power, industry, and district heating and cooling) of New York State’s energy demands with renewable energy. Additionally, they calculated the number of new jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for an infrastructure change of this magnitude. It also provides calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.

While a wind, water, and solar conversion will result in high initial capital costs, they will be made up over time due to the elimination of fuel costs. Overall, New York State’s end-use power demand will decrease by roughly 37% and create 58,000 permanent jobs with job exchange predicted. It is estimated that 4.5 million temporary jobs would be created during construction phase.

The researchers propose that New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors could be met by:

4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants

828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants

5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems

500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems

36 100-megawatt geothermal plants

1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices

2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines

7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist

To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of WWS resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply, and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand. The plan also includes a solution to the current protocol of shutting down facilities during times of overproduction that includes the sale of surplus.

Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal, and gas. This new plan looks to supply 40 percent of NY’s energy from wind power, 38 percent from solar, and 22 percent from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal and wave energy. All of these sources will be located in, or offshore of, New York State.

All vehicles will be replaced with battery-electric vehicles (BEV), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) and BEV-HFCV hybrids. Electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, heat exchangers and backup electric resistance heaters would replace natural gas and oil for home heating and air-conditioning. Air- and ground-source heat pump water heaters powered by electricity and solar hot water preheaters would provide hot water for homes. High temperatures for industrial processes would be obtained with electricity and hydrogen combustion.

Jacobsen et al. have provided a comprehensive and all inclusive energy alternative for New York State that boasts a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that will creates local jobs and save the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.

As a small ny green contractor most of these projects are currently too large for us to handle. But the large projects are not the only place to make an impact. Our focus on energy efficient building reduces the need for energy in the first place. Also, micro sustainable energy production such as a photovoltaic installation on a warehouse or home is certainly something we could do. Such decentralized energy sources reduce the load on the grid and in turn create back up options should the central grid go down.


Exterior Shades – The Anti-Heat Wave of the Future

Temperature has assuredly become a hot topic in offices throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the recent heat wave. Eco Brooklyn’s office is no exception to the heat. However, we have a unique approach to the problem.

Passive housing has been a cornerstone of environmental design since the ancient Greeks and Romans (check out this article on the history of passive housing: http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/energy-efficient-building-passive-heating-and-cooling). While technology and techniques have become more advanced, many of the principles used by the ancients have stood the test of time. Most notably, this includes the use of exterior shades to protect from heat in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter.

Exterior shades differ from internal shades in a few major ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is that when using internal shades, the sunlight is allowed to enter the room through the window. The heat will be trapped inside of the shades. As it dissipates on the interior, the home is heated much faster.

The second major difference between interior and exterior shades is the dynamic ways one can utilize external shades and shutters. For example, the use of an overhang is an effective way of using angles to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower in the winter, the sun can enter the room under the overhang.

Furthermore, this concept of exterior shading offers an opportunity for synergy – a mark of sustainability in the green building community. Currently, Eco Brooklyn’s offices employ the use of internal honeycomb shades, which are highly effective at absorbing heat. However, we have plans of making an even more effective and synergistic approach. Namely, we would like to install an exterior overhang to accomplish the above-stated goals; with one catch: We will install solar panels on the overhang to absorb the heat and reroute it to power the house. This is a great example of an integrated solar power system.

As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise across the world (especially in NYC: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/new-york-city-flooding-by-2050_n_3417348.html), New Yorkers will be expected to assume a heavy burden of increasing energy bills. One way to combat these growing expenses is by building green. Passive housing is a great way to not only take advantage of the Earth’s natural energy, but prevent it from escaping your house as well.

Another approach to natural cooling is to use a green facade, or living wall. This concept involves the use of growing vines and other vegetation in a vertical direction to cover a wall or other surface of a building that is in direct sunlight. Green walls can vary in design and allow room for creativity. For further information on green walls check out this link: http://www.greenscreen.com/direct/GS_AdvancedGreenFacadeDesign.pdf

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

Christopher Jeffrey

Das Haus New York

green builder brooklynLast week, the interns from Eco Brooklyn went to the Net Zero Symposium sponsored by Das Haus in White Plains, New York to hear lectures and view a model of Das Haus, a passivhaus model made from two shipping containers that functions completely off the grid.  The conference was held at the White Plains Public Library and about 100 people were present.


Das Haus (German for “The House”) is a traveling pavilion featuring German innovation in photovoltaics and energy efficiency. Das Haus is calling on ten cities across North America.  Das Haus tour hopes to accomplish two goals: introduce North America to Germany’s innovations in solar energy and green construction, and create an ongoing dialogue across the country about policies, construction materials and techniques, etc., regarding sustainable design.


During the Das Haus conference in New York, the lecturers were a mix of Germans and Americans.  The Americans who spoke are based in New York and addressed what is going on in the state.

Das Haus tour New York


Guy Sliker, from the New York Power Authority personified the attitudes of the typical American: America knows best, we’re number one, look at all that we have accomplished, go America!  Mr Sliker spent the majority of his speech listing numbers that prove these (mis)conceptions.  Mr Sliker was overconfident in New York Power Authority’s progress and too comfortable is the direction the ship is sailing.


Net Zero symposium New York

Kim Curran, PV Instructor from the Bronx Community College, gave a distilled explanation of how PV works and the challenges the industry is facing.  She gave a more realistic picture of the solar industry and the problems it is facing, such as bringing down cost, increasing efficiency, and the state of government incentives.  Kim’s and most of the other presenters’ presentations can be viewed here.


It is an amazing thing that some of Germany’s technology is coming over the pond to North America.  Germany has been using PV panels, energy efficient designs, and green roofs for decades and are lightyears ahead of North America in their development, understanding, and implementation of sustainable ideas.  This is a giant step for progress in North America.


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.


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

New Green City: A key element to Green design and construction.

On a beautiful fall day in early October, Eco Brooklyn, a New York City green contractor, took to the South Plaza of Union Square in downtown Manhattan to check out New Green City, an event hosted by GrowNYC.  The event hosted many contributors, ranging from non-profits and schools to entrepreneurs, government agencies, and corporate sponsors.  All sharing programs, services, products, and insights as to how to make New York City, New Green City through solar, wind, and agricultural terms. The tents were wide spread over the south side of Union Square, with a large crowd through most of the afternoon. 

Two really great tents were Ethikus, a online community of ethical and sustainable shoppers, that also offers deals and discounts to these great local shops in downtown Manhattan, and The New School’s Eco-Lectures focusing on sustainable foods, Eco-Farms and solar energy, giving out great information these subjects. With a ton of other great tents thanks to GrowNYC,  everyone in New York should take advantage of these great green companies.

Aside from the goal of a New Green City, at Eco Brooklyn we believe that the ultimate goal should be a total green city, built from the ground up with recycled and reused materials, and making zero energy homes.  Although the companies at New Green City don’t specialize in building, they do make great strides in lowering energy use and continuing the discussion of green policy, which are things that can not wait but happen immediately. Not only did New Green City bring together lots of outsiders to the green movement, but also created the opportunity for great minds in the green industry to collaborate, furthering our knowledge and reach as a green community. Eco Brooklyn will definitely have a tent next time, or next year, but until then, these are great ideas and options for making NYC a greener place.

Reasons NOT to do Solar (maybe)

Obviously, the author at these links is NOT selling PV systems (I haven’t checked their accuracy):

A PV Alternate Energy Summary…  (April 25, 2010)
… http://www.tinaja.com/whtnu10.asp#d04-25-10

” Present panel costs are $3.50 per peak watt.
For a significant net energy contribution, 25
cents or less per peak PANEL watt is required.
Thus, present costs are FOURTEEN TIMES
that required for net energy production.

” Subsidies that pay people to put known defective
gasoline destroying net energy sinks on inappropriate
rooftops are not only wildly nonproductive, but they
also are nearly certain to SET BACK pv net energy
breakeven by as much as FIVE DECADFS. Per
this analysis. ” –>

A PV Alternate Energy Summary… (June 16, 2009)
… http://www.tinaja.com/whtnu09.asp#d06-16-09

Much more is in Don Lancaster’s PDF Reports: —

PV Solar Summary Tutorial:

… http://www.tinaja.com/glib/pvlect2.pdf

Some Energy Fundamentals tutorial:

… http://www.tinaja.com/glib/energfun.pdf

More Energy Fundamentals tutorial:

…  http://www.tinaja.com/glib/morenrgf.pdf

… all of these links are from:

Don Lancaster – http://www.tinaja.com

Don Lancaster refers to: – weSRCH.com – http://www.wesrch.com/


” weSRCH.com is a virtual science forum for professionals who
engage in the fields of High Tech, Green Tech, and Medicine…”

Solar PV vs. Solar Thermal Costs

There is an increasing opinion amoungst New York solar installers that solar thermal pays for itself quicker than solar PV.

Looking at the numbers I thought so too and would recommend solar thermal as a better investment if the client had to choose between solar PV and thermal. Of course it is great when the client can afford both a solar thermal and PV installation since both have their benefits.

However there has been an interesting discussion on one of my email lists between solar experts. They are finding that maybe that assumption is wrong.

This is a big deal since solar panel installations, whether Photovoltaic for electricity or Thermal for hot water heating, are usually a large part of a homeowners renovation budget. If in fact solar PV does have a better payback that solar thermal installations in New York then this may change the way we do business.

Here is one comment:

We have found precisely the same with our net zero houses in Edmonton:  grid-connected solar PV can be less expensive than solar thermal.  This happens for a number of very interesting reasons:

a) solar PV is grid-connected and so does not have to pay for its own energy storage.  Solar thermal is off-grid and so has to incorporate and pay for its own energy storage.  Both have to pay for grid back-up of course.

b) High-fraction solar thermal wastes a lot of its energy in the summer because its energy storage is so limited, whereas grid-connected solar PV keeps on generating into the grid.

c) Grid-connected solar PV is very simple compared to solar thermal, especially high-fraction solar thermal, and especially active solar thermal space heating.

If solar PV was off-grid then much of its advantage over solar thermal would disappear.

The perception is that solar PV modules are much more expensive ($700/m2) and much less efficient (17%) than active solar thermal collectors ($300/m2 and 70% efficient)… well this changes in reality.  One needs to consider the costs of systems and not solar devices, as well as the efficiencies of systems and not solar devices.  High-fraction solar thermal has very low efficiencies in the summer because the solar energy is mostly wasted.

The keys in all this are “high-fraction” solar thermal — if it is a low-fraction solar thermal situation then there is not nearly as much energy spillage in the summer, the solar thermal system operates at its high-efficiency range much more often, and its balance-of-systems are much less complex and expensive.  In addition, high-fraction solar thermal systems have much much higher BOS costs with all the storage, piping, valves, heat exchangers and on and on and on.  Grid-dependent solar PV has a bit of wiring, 1 disconnect and an inverter for its BOS costs and complexities.

In 2004 I thought that “when solar PV generates energy more cheaply than solar thermal, then solar thermal would be dead in the water”.  I had expected this to happen by 2020 or so… little did I know that I would be seeing the first examples of this with the Riverdale NetZero house in 2007!  www.riverdalenetzero.ca The active solar thermal space-DW heating system cost $36000 and provides 4200 kWh of energy per year.  The 5.6 kW solar PV system cost $45000 3 years ago (and $38000 now) and generates 6300 kWh per year.  Do the math:  solar thermal cost $8.57 per annual-kWh plus maintenance costs and a 20-year lifetime; solar PV cost $7.14 per annual-kWh (in 2007, $6.20 now) with basically no maintenance and 50-year lifetime for modules and 15-year (plus) lifetime for inverter.  As a result our Mill Creek NetZero house www.greenedmonton.ca has a much simpler solar thermal system, and our Belgravia NetZero house has no solar thermal system — only ultra efficiency, ultra passive solar, solar PV and electric baseboards — very simple, much less expensive (no cooling loads here).

See www.hme.ca/presentations for a number of presentations that illustrate this.  I am not against solar thermal at all… just show me the numbers, and let’s see whether solar PV can out-compete or not.  The Drake Landing Solar Community www.dlsc.ca is a great project, great technology, and another great example of PV vs thermal.  The homeowners’ heating bills would be less without the solar thermal system than they are now!!! and solar PV could be installed today for 1/2 the public funding that was initially required for solar thermal, plus the homeowners would not have any solar utility management fees!


new york solar installer

Eco Brooklyn installing solar thermal onto a Brooklyn brownstone to supplemet the radiant floor installtion we did.

Solar powered attic fans

The following info to chew on was compiled by Martin Holladay, former associate editor at the Journal of Light Construction, former editor of Energy Design Update, currently senior editor for Green Building Advisor. GreenSpec recently delisted powered attic ventilation fans, to which the powered attic fan manufacturers have taken great exception.

– – – – –


Effective Attic Ventilation

Increased attic ventilation has long been promoted by roofing material and attic ventilator manufacturers as a way to increase shingle life, decrease attic temperatures and lower cooling costs. Unfortunately, there is no scientific data to validate any of these points and mounting evidence and research to the contrary.

Attic ventilation was added to the nationwide building codes to prevent/eliminate roof damage caused by trapped, moisture-laden air migrating into the attic during winter. This code change followed the widespread introduction of indoor plumbing and central heating systems. As the use of attic insulation increased, ventilation proved valuable in controlling another problem, ice damming. Ice damming occurs when certain areas of the roof become warmer than others, causing a thaw- freeze cycle that allows accumulated snow to melt, then re-freeze on colder portions of the roof. This re-freezing creates an ice dam that works its way under shingles only to later melt and create roofing leaks. Ventilation ensures the roof deck temperature remains consistently cold so ice damming cannot start.

At some point, the original purpose for attic ventilation was forgotten and/or replaced, in cooling climates, with the belief that it was to reduce roof and attic temperatures, thus lowering cooling expenses and increasing shingle life. This was further compounded by the leap of faith that increased or powered ventilation would be even better. While sounding logical, there is simply no research to validate it. In fact, scientific testing has shown that attic ventilation has almost no effect on roof surface/ shingle temperatures and very little effect on attic temperatures.

There is however, a growing list of research, computer modeling and field data that indicates powered attic ventilation can be a detriment to health and safety and actually increase cooling costs. The latest and most compelling findings by Natural Florida Retrofit and the AEC Applied Building Science Center found that in all the homes they studied, powered attic ventilators (PAVs) offered no benefits and sometimes caused serious health and safety problems. Their research found three reasons why PAVs are not a good energy investment:

1. PAVs can create negative pressures in combustion appliances causing the backdrafting of flue gases such as carbon monoxide in the living space. These same negative pressures can also draw increased levels of moisture and soil gases, such as radon, from the crawlspace.

2. PAVs can draw conditioned air out of the house and into the attic, causing the air conditioning to run more. Conditioned air is then replaced with moisture laden outside air, creating increased humidity levels inside the living space.

3. PAVs can increase utility costs substantially because of the increased energy necessary to run the fan and cool/dehumidify the outside air being drawn into the home.

The most effective strategy for minimizing the effects of summer attic temperatures and eliminating the potential for winter ice damming is as follows:

1. Eliminate air leakage between the attic and living space. Common leakage points are penetrations made by plumbing and electrical fixtures, top plates of interior walls, attic pull downs/ doors and plumbing chases. Use expanding foam or caulk for plumbing and electrical penetrations and weatherstripping for doors or pull downs.

2. Seal ductwork located in the attic using a commercial grade duct sealer or mastic and insulate with a minimum 2″ insulated duct-wrap with vapor barrier.

3. Insulate the attic floor to a minimum R-30.

4. Use light colored shingles to reduce roof surface temperatures.

5. Provide ridge and soffit or gable and soffit passive ventilation to building code specifications to remove moisture and prevent ice damming.

– – – – –


Solar Powered Attic Ventilation by Arnie Katz

Q: My sister Louise cut an article out of the newspaper about solar powered ventilation fans for attics. Do these things really work? I could install it myself, since no wiring is required, and the article said it would save money by cooling off the attic.

A: Ask Louise what she’s doing hanging out in the attic. And if she’s not spending time up there, why does she want to make the squirrels and bats more comfortable? If I wanted a powered attic vent fan, a solar powered one would be a good choice. But in my opinion, powered attic ventilators are generally not a good idea, whether they’re powered by nuclear electricity, burning water buffalo dung, landfill-generated methane gas, or directly by the sun.

I happen to think that using photovoltaic (solar) cells to create electricity to power our houses and businesses is an excellent technology that is proving itself both practical and economical in lots of different ways. But using the sun to power a marginal and even potentially dangerous item like a powered attic vent fan doesn’t make the fan more appealing.

Powered attic ventilators are promoted as doing three things: reducing summer air conditioning bills, removing moisture from the attic, and extending shingle life. Let’s look at each of these.

Theoretically, these fans reduce attic temperatures by pulling outside air into the attic. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell that to the air. In most of the houses we’ve tested, the attic fans were drawing some of their air from the house, rather than from the outside. In other words, they are cooling the attic by drawing air-conditioned air out of your house and into the attic. Air conditioning the attic is not recommended by anyone I know as an effective strategy for reducing your bills. Effective strategies include sealing the air leaks between the house and the attic, and making sure there is enough attic insulation and it is installed properly.

Another problem is that a large fan in the attic that is pulling air out of the house can create a negative pressure in the house. This negative pressure can suck the flue gasses out of a water heater or other combustion appliance. In one house we tested, we measured substantial levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the daughter’s bedroom in the basement. The CO was coming from the water heater next to the bedroom, which was backdrafting. The daughter had been suffering from flu-like symptoms for some time. The backdrafting was caused by the powered attic vent fan.

Vent fans are also promoted to remove moisture from the attic. In our part of the country, the humidity is typically high in the summer, when we’re advised to run the fans to “cool” the attic. To the extent that the fan is pulling outside air into the attic, that air will tend to have a high relative humidity, so it’s unlikely that it will reduce the moisture level in the attic.

If there’s an air conditioning unit with a leaky cabinet or leaky ductwork in that attic, there’s a chance that the moisture in the air will condense on the cold spots and cause moisture damage. Rather than solve moisture problems, the powered attic vent fan may, in fact, cause it.

Finally, powered attic vent fans are promoted as a strategy to extend shingle life by reducing the attic temperatures. Shingles are heated up by radiant heat from the sun. It’s possible that ventilating the attic can reduce the temperature of the air in the attic, which could reduce the temperature of the roof decking, which could reduce the temperature of the back of the shingles. I’ve seen no research, however, that supports the idea that powered attic fans actually increase shingle life.

If you are in a climate where you can be comfortable in your house without air conditioning, an attic fan won’t have the drawback of pulling costly air conditioned air out of the house. Also, if there is no air conditioning, there is little likelihood of having cold condensing surfaces in the attic, so moisture problems are unlikely. In these circumstances, a powered attic fan may be helpful. But be sure to check that the water heater is not back-drafting.

If you’re in a warm, moist climate where you need air conditioning, I would tell Louise that you’d much rather get a solar-powered outdoor lighting system or a solar hot water system. But a solar-powered attic fan? It’s like smoking cigarettes made with vitamin C.

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Ask the Builder

DEAR TIM: I am trying to make my house more comfortable and lower my air conditioning bills at the same time. It seems to me that a powered attic ventilation fan will help. Will such a fan exhaust enough air to lower my attic temperature significantly? If not, what is the best way to exhaust hot air from an attic and lower cooling costs? Amy V., Magnolia Park, FL

DEAR AMY: This is a classic example of where common sense does not always prevail. I used to think like you that powered attic ventilators (PAVs) are a great way to get hot air out of attic spaces. It turns out that these rooftop and sidewall mounted attics fans can actually suck air conditioned air from your house into your attic space. What’s more – in extreme cases – they can actually create serious life safety problems by back-drafting combustion gases into a house living space. I used to recommend PAVs for houses, but I don’t anymore.

This is a powered attic ventilation fan. If it doesn’t have excellent intake air around the soffits, it can actually vacuum air from inside your home.

When a PAV is turned on to exhaust hot attic air, it begins to move massive quantities of air. Smaller fans can easily move 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm). More powerful or multiple fans can extract thousands of cfms of air.

This movement of air creates a natural low pressure inside your attic space. To equalize this pressure difference, air begins to rush into the attic space from multiple points. If you have many passive roof vents, large side gable vents, and/or excellent unobstructed soffit vents, then there is a good chance that most of the makeup air will originate from outside your home. If you have few passive attic ventilation inlets, then most of the replacement air will come from the inside of your home.

If you have your air conditioner running at the same time your PAV is operating, you are sending expensive cool air from your living space into your attic. This air seeps into your attic through the attic access panel and hidden holes in the interior wall top plates where plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires enter the attic. Air also can easily slip between the space between bowed wall plates and drywall. To complete the circle, hot and humid exterior air enters your living space. Your air conditioner now has to work harder and longer to keep you cool while that PAV is merrily spinning away up in the attic!

Recently completed studies by the Florida Solar Energy Center have proven that as the sun heats up the wood roof sheathing and framing members in your attic they quickly and invisibly send this heat directly to the top layer of your attic insulation. The insulation in turn re-radiates this heat into the attic airspace. PAVs can lower the overall attic temperature to a slight degree but the secondary effects of sucking cool air from your house and possibly combustion gases into your living spaces offset this benefit. The danger of sucking combustion gases from hot water heaters and any other combustion appliance is real. This is especially true in tighter, newer homes. To feed the voracious appetite of the PAVs, air will enter your home at the point of least resistance. This point is often a chimney or hot water heater metal B-vent pipe.

Your desire to lower energy costs and keep cool should begin by boosting the amount of attic insulation to offset high attic temperatures. Not only will the added attic insulation help you in the summer, it will also help you to lower winter heating costs. Remember that you must maintain at least 2 inches of air space between insulation and the roof sheathing. At the same time, you must be sure that air can easily enter the attic space through the lower portions of your roof or soffits and travel unimpeded into the attic space. Once there it can be gently vacuumed from your attic through continuous roof ridge ventilation systems every time Mother Nature exhales across your roof.

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Drawbacks Of Powered Attic Ventilators

Powered attic ventilators, already suspected of using more energy than they save, can also create excess moisture, structural problems, discomfort, and combustion safety problems for home occupants, according to a recent study. John Tooley of Natural Florida Retrofit, and Bruce Davis of Alternative Energy Corporation’s Applied Building Science Center in North Carolina, presented “The Unplanned Impacts on Houses by Powered Attic Ventilators” at the 1995 meeting of the Energy Efficient Building Association.

The paper describes research conducted on eight homes over a period of three months. As a result of this research, Davis said that he wouldn’t recommend the use of powered attic ventilators. He emphasized, “If someone chooses to use a powered attic ventilation strategy, they need to do additional performance tests and take responsibility to be sure that it won’t cause other problems.” The potential for hazardous conditions is particularly high in homes with combustion gas appliances, because the ventilators can create negative pressures that cause backdrafting.

Tooley and Davis took measurements from July through September 1993 at eight homes in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Each attic contained passive ventilation in addition to a powered ventilator. All the houses had some depressurization when the ventilator operated, with pressures ranging from -0.5 to -2.5 Pascals (Pa). The tests showed that the powered attic ventilators, on average, drew 231 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of conditioned air out of each house and caused, by themselves, 0.72 air changes per hour (ACH). This flow from the house to the attic ranged from a low of 104 CFM to a high of 646 CFM, and ACH ranged from 0.38 to 1.2.

The houses had air volumes ranging from 13,000 to 32,000 ft3. The high figures above were for the largest house in the study, which had two ventilators and noticeable air leakage paths between the house and the attic. Tooley and Davis concluded that all eight of the sample homes wasted energy due to the high leakage of conditioned air into the attic.

Two houses had combustion safety problems resulting from the ventilators operating in conjunction with other mechanical equipment. At one, the water heater, located inside the conditioned space, stayed in a complete backdraft mode when the ventilators were operated with other equipment. During the seven minutes of the testing cycle, the area containing the water heater reached 40 ppm (parts per million) of carbon monoxide, and at five minutes the water heater flue contained 700 ppm of carbon monoxide. The study also reports anecdotal cases of combustion safety problems, including a Colorado family of three who died from carbon monoxide poisoning when an attic ventilator caused the furnace to backdraft.

Another two houses had moisture problems resulting from ventilator-induced negative pressures. At one house, a chain of events started with the repair of a leaky return duct for the air conditioner. Condensation occurred on the tighter (and colder) duct, which was located in a framing cavity, and moisture began to appear on the ceiling Sheetrock of the first floor. The suggested remedy was to increase the powered attic ventilation and turn on bath fans to remove moisture from the structure. This actually exacerbated the problem by increasing the pressure difference, moving more humid outside air through the building cavity, which created more condensation on the sheet metal duct. The moisture saturated the Sheetrock, which eventually fell to the floor. Discomfort problems were found in two study houses, one of which also had safety problems, while the other had moisture problems.

Tooley and Davis concluded that if a powered attic ventilator is to be used, the installer should provide a good air barrier between the ceiling and the attic, and ensure that adequate net free vent area is provided in the attic. The amount of air the fan moves must also be considered so that it can be properly sized (a bigger fan is definitely not better in this case), and pressure measurements should always be used to confirm safe operation. Powered attic ventilators are commonly used in some regions of the United States, such as the Southeast and the Midwest, and they have a positive reputation. They are actively promoted by builders, roofers, HVAC contractors, ventilator manufacturers, do-it-yourself retailers, and even some utilities, although few utilities are sponsoring installation programs as they once did. Davis said that ventilators are sometimes used as a quick fix to meet attic vent codes in homes with an unusual roof structure or design. Most powered ventilators are thermostatically controlled, with variable settings. Davis said that some manufacturers are also promoting these or similar products as crawlspace ventilators to help remove moisture, but this use can also cause other problems if it is not properly evaluated.

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The Office of Energy Efficiency, part of the Ohio Department of Development, produced a leaflet called “Office of Energy Efficiency Debunks Myths about Energy Efficiency.” That leaflet states, “Myth #4: Powered attic fans will reduce your air conditioning costs. Under ideal circumstances, attic fans would increase the air exchange in your attic, reducing the attic temperature. … However, in most homes, attic fans do not work this way because unsealed air leakage paths connect the attic and living spaces. When the attic fan exhausts attic air, conditioned air is actually drawn from the home and out the attic. This loss of conditioned air will increase your air conditioning costs. To add to the problem, as air is drawn from the house, warm and humid air from outside is drawn into the living spaces. Your air conditioner will now have to work harder to cool the air and remove the moisture.”

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Energy Design Update, August 1997

“Ventilation is like a little boy who goes around the house looking for a job,” notes Bill Rose of the University of Illinois Building Research Council. “He can do some things well, but can’t do anything really well.” The point, he says, is that people expect ventilation to solve more than its share of problems.

The solution for ice dams is not to place a fan in the attic, but to use adequate insulation and to seal leaks in the building envelope.

“In terms of dealing with ice dams you have a point,” admits Stanley, “but that doesn’t address the summertime issue of heat buildup.” Unfortunately, researchers have yet to accurately document the effect of attic ventilation on cooling load. In fact, says Rose, research suggests that the energy to run the fan for a powered attic ventilator can be higher than the savings in cooling energy.

The biggest potential problem, says Rose, is that power venting can cause a negative pressure in the attic. Since you can’t guarantee the airtightness of the ceiling, this could draw humid air from the house into the attic, causing moisture problems in winter. “There’s nothing that guarantees wide open soffit vents,” he says. “One of the worst things that can happen is to draw quantities of indoor air into the attic, and powered equipment is more likely to do this.”

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“Based on the matching period analysis, estimation of annual space cooling savings are on the order of 460 kWh. These savings have a value of approximately $37 at current Florida energy prices. Given that the costs for the two units was approximately $600, or about $850 installed, the payback of the ventilators is not very favorable at over twenty years.”


Attic vent fans

Powered attic vent fans ventilate just the attic and not the interior of the house.

Frequently, attic vent fans are thermostat controlled and run only when the attic gets hot.

Attic vent fans operated by a manual switch are also available.

Data measured at FSEC and elsewhere show that attics with nominal natural ventilation and R-19 ceiling insulation do not need powered vent fans. Such fans cost more to operate than they save in reduced cooling costs, so they are not recommended.

Consider the following alternatives in place of attic vent fans:

1. In new houses, install R-19 ceiling insulation with an attic radiant barrier. In existing homes, install an attic radiant barrier. See FSEC publications DN-6 and DN-7 for tips on using and installing radiant barriers.

2. Use continuous soffit vents at eaves and ridge vents at the roof peak to increase natural attic ventilation. For gabled roofs, gable bents may also be used. In all cases, use vents near the peak of the roof (either well-installed ridge vents at roof peak or strip vents near the roof peak). Avoid wind turbines. They work when new, but often become noisy and leaky after a few years.

Brooklyn Brownstone Solar Installation

Ever since the fire department threw a wrench in the New York solar installation movement this year New York solar panel installers have been scrambling to find alternatives for solar installations on Brooklyn brownstones.

The wrench in this case is a law that requires a SIX foot wide walkway from the front of the roof to the back, they claim for fire fighters to be able to work safely. But SIX feet? What are they doing up there, playing tennis??

For a Brooklyn brownstone a six foot swath of space is a massive chunk of real estate on a roof that already is minuscule in terms of solar panel wattage. It essentially reduces the amount of solar panels we can install to such a negligible amount that there is no way we can approach the eventual goal of running a whole Brooklyn brownstone off solar electricity alone.

So while the lawyers duke it out and try to reduce the walkway width, us solar PV installers are looking for alternatives. And what do New Yorkers do when looking for extra space? They build up of course!

And that is what New York solar installers are doing. Instead of laying the photovoltaic panels flat on the roof we are raising them on platforms above the roof so that six foot wide fire fighters have all the space they need UNDER the solar panels.

This of course raises engineering challenges and DOB hoop jumping. Solar panels are basically sails and if a good wind catches them they are more than happy to go sailing through the sky until gravity pulls them back to earth with a ferocious speed and weight.

So whatever support structure we build needs to be strong. One option is a pergola type structure out of wood or steel. Underneath you can have a deck, a green roof or even a salvaged bath tub for soaking. The solar panels become a nice form of shade.

Or you can get more visually dramatic and create solar arrays jutting out at dramatic angles like the solar tracker below.

solar tracker P.V. installation idea for brooklyn brownstone

Like all New York solar installers we aren’t happy about this new walkway regulation. But Eco Brooklyn if anything is deeply creative and we see this as another opportunity to push our perception of what normal brownstone solar installations should be.

Why shouldn’t all south facing walls of Brooklyn brownstones have building integrated solar panels above each window that create electricity year round as well as shade for the house during the summer? Why doesn’t every roof top have solar panels on platforms above a green roof?

Some New York solar installers derisively call this kind of thinking “Solar Heroics”. It is complicated and doesn’t give the great profits that a mindless flat panel array you install in a weekend can give.

But we love Solar Heroics. Hey, what’s life without playing superhero!

Green Roof and Solar Installation Tax Abatement

Navigating the maze of paperwork to get the New York Green Roof and Solar Tax abatement can be confusing, and we’re green roof and solar installers! Below is a list of all you need. The process is pretty simple once you figure it out. Any New York green roof installer and solar panel installer needs to know this stuff. The same goes for a  Brooklyn green roof installer and solar panel installer since they fall under the same jurisdiction.

The GreenRoofs.com site has a pretty accurate outline of all that is needed.

Check the DOB page out for FAQ

If you really want the nitti gritti on the laws check out this dense PDF

To start the tax abatement process get this checklist page

If you want to contact somebody about green roof and solar installation tax abatement info then email: greenroofandsolar@buildings.nyc.gov

They will send you all the links again. 🙂

Basically apart from all the paperwork the key number is 3 inches of green roof depth. Anything below that number and you don’t need to submit architect or engineer plans. Anything above and you do. You still need to have an engineer or architect inspection but no plans.

Solar PV for Brooklyn

Like most people nowadays we think Solar PV is sexy. When you have a Brooklyn brownstone it isn’t like you can have a lot of it, though. Especially now with the new fire regulations requiring a large area of the roof be left open for fire fighters. And if you want a green roof or some solar thermal, well, forget about it.

But we are solar PV installers and there are cases when a solar pv installation on Brooklyn brownstones make a lot of sense. Especially if we can maximize the use of space or efficiency of the panels.

That is why we are always checking out the new technology and applications. One of the places to watch is the Solar Decathlon where the best and brightest duke it out to show their inventions, which go way beyond simple solar PV. Like true green builders they integrate the whole thing.

The goal of the decathlon is to build a solar powered house. And these contestants make it look so easy.

Check out the winners.

Team Germany–An entire house covered in Solar PV. Looks really cool! single-crystal PV panels, silicon on the roof, thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide on the sides, custom-made vacuum insulation structural panels, phase-change material in both walls (paraffin) and ceiling (salt hydrate), etc.

Team Illinois–Their house is so efficient it can be heated with a single hair dryer! 30.5 cm of high-performance insulation incorporated into the walls, roof, and floor, laminated bamboo for structural elements, light-emitting diode lighting, etc.

Team California–a monitoring system that displays the house’s performance, a greywater pond, passive solar gain, a solar thermal absorption chiller that operates radiant cooling panels, an 8.1-kW PV system, etc.

Team Ontario/BC–An 11.9-kW PV system, evacuated-tube solar collectors integrated with cascading warm water storage tanks, R-60 insulation, salt hydrate phase-change material in the floor, automated exterior shading, etc.

One of the things that is clear to us as solar pv installers in New York is that we have to start using the south facing sides of the brownstones. When people think solar installation they think “roof”, but well placed panels on the south facing wall can become building integrated and also perform the dual function of shading the widows during the hot summer months when the sun is high in the sky.

During the cold months you want the sun to stream into the house and heat it. It can because during those months it is low in the sky and it passes under the panels.

We are implementing this strategy on the Brooklyn green show house. Installing solar panels on the wall needs to be done correctly so it is aesthetically and technically integrated. But it can be done! And the savings, both in cooling as sun shades and in electric generation make it a really worthwhile investment.

New Jersey Solar PV Paperwork

We are working on a solar PV job in New Jersey. Right now we are in the first stages of analyzing load, costs and paperwork needed. One of the people on our installation team is solar expert David Gibbs. He just sent me the paperwork required to apply for the New Jersey tax rebates and incentives for a solar PV installation.

They are listed below. Thought they might be of interest.

10 yr certification letter

2009 REIP Application 090430CG

2009 REP Eligibility Checklist

2009 Solar Technical Worksheet

LED Basics

LED lighting is not a new idea. It is only in the last few years or so that the technology’s efficiency and efficacy surpassed CFL and HID lighting. This makes it hard to find cost effective lighting replacement, without large upfront cost.  But at Eco Brooklyn we are passionate about improving the energy efficiency of Brooklyn brownstones and constantly tinker with the technology to see how we can use it in our building. So let the experiments begin!

LEDs are typically DC devices that can be powered either through a controlled Voltage or Current drive source. Voltage sources have to be stable. Any tiny fluctuation in voltage can cause a purportionally greater current spike. This translates into flickering lights.  On the other hand, Current driver circuits are expensive and yield low wattage, high efficiency configurations. This can cause an unreasonable cost associated with powering each led fixture.

To explain the difference between the two power source terms I will use a small analogy.  Think of electricity traveling through a wire as water through a pipe.

Voltage = ‘Pressure’ of electricity

Current = ‘Amount’ of electricity

If you happen to have a dead computer around then you might have a working voltage source. Your computer power supply can be converted into a stable voltage source with a high wattage rating. (Added benefits include built in protection against over voltage, short circuit, open circuit, temp, and just about anything else that could cause a safety issue. )

To drive an LED from a Voltage source you need to put a Resistor in series with the LED. This is a good way to create a simple stable voltage controlled current source.  What kind of resistor do I use? Well here is a calculator for figuring out your LED resistor needs. You will just need some of the information from your specific LED’s limitations.


From To E-Mail

Solar Heroics

Bob Cavello from Mercury Solar is one of the players in solar PV sales in Brooklyn. There aren’t many players and you get to know them all if you are in the green building community.

He has this great term: Solar Heroics.

Solar Heroics is when your installation pushes the limits of conventional solar installations. An installer likes a nice flat roof where they can lay the panels and be done with it. They don’t like puncturing the roof, they don’t like steep roofs, and forget about wall mounted or PV on pergolas. All of that just adds extra headache in logistics, paperwork, engineer fees, material costs, approvals…

This list of headaches is long when you attempt solar heroics. Like anything, the golden rule in solar installation is to KEEP IT SIMPLE.

But we at Eco Brooklyn love pushing the green envelope. When a “professional” tells us “It can’t be done” we hear, “There’s an opportunity to make it better.” Sometimes we don’t succeed, other times we do. But we always try.

And our answer to the “professional” is always, “How well is the current way working?” because the answer is current building methods are barreling us towards mass destruction of the planet. So no matter how great the current way is we need to change it or make it better. Because things are not working right now.

Green builders must push through the “Industry Standards” because those industry standards suck. They are literally killing us and our planet.

So needless to say we are doing some great solar heroics at the Brooklyn green show house. We have built a pergola on the roof to hold the Solar PV and thermal. And because of our huge affection for synergies we are putting solar PV on the south facing vertical wall above the windows so that they also double as sun shades during the summer.

We are in desperate times and desperate times call for solar heroics. Bob, who loves all solar, is trying to get Mercury Solar to agree to do the install but the verdict is not out on that yet. We shall see who ends up installing it….

Suntech Solar

I have a lot of respect for Suntech, one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world. It is one of the few exceptions I will make in my distain for Chinese products.

China has a lot of great products. But the moment you ship them half across the globe in gas guzzling tankers the products become a big contributor to wasted energy and petrochemical dependence.

Bamboo is great but not justified. Chinese tiles are great but not justified. Chinese plumbing, also great, but not justified. The list is long if great products that have a better alternative found locally.

But I have a personal fondness for Suntech and make an exception. Their innovation is so great and their commitment to affordable solar is so clear that I really like them.

This is despite the really wonderful company in our back yard: Evergreen Solar. They are also amazing. But we’ve not crossed paths like I have with Suntech.

What really caught me about Suntech was an article about their founder and it was clear that he has a vision that goes beyond simply making more money for his investors. From what I can tell he sees it as a moral imperative to make ecological power available and affordable and he is doing it on a scale like no other.

I can totally relate to that. Eco Brooklyn is all about that. Build It Forward is all about that.

So I was beyond happy when Colin Mitchell dropped by our Brooklyn Green Show house today unannounced for a tour of the house. It turns out he is the local distributor for Suntech and had heard about the show house and happened to be in the neighborhood….It was like your favorite band dropping by to play a few tunes in your front yard.

The synchronicity of it was great since just this morning we hired a solar pv and thermal installer in anticipation of the many Brooklyn brownstones that need those services.

Anyway, having fun in Brooklyn as the green building zeitgeist gathers momentum. There are so many passionate people in the Brooklyn green building movement and we are finding each other, realizing there actually is a movement, and a powerful one at that.

Urban Off Grid

My manager Jack and I were talking about the direction of Eco Brooklyn today and we were trying to put into words the concept of Eco Brooklyn’s services.

Jack came up with a genius term: Urban Off Grid.

That is exactly what Eco Brooklyn does. We create urban off grid houses. This does not mean you aren’t hooked up to the grid but you aren’t a slave to it.

Should the grid fail you won’t be too worried because you can work pretty well off grid too. And likewise the grid is very much less burdened by your house consumption and waste production.

For example an urban off grid brownstone in Brooklyn, which is what we specialize in, would have solar PV so that when the grid goes down you still have some electricity.

The urban off grid brownstone would have solar thermal hot water heating so that if the gas grid ever went down you wouldn’t worry about your boiler not making hot water. You would get hot water from the sun.

If there was ever a food shortage your edible garden would provide vegetables and fruit. And this isn’t necessarily about Armageddon. What if the local organic store is short on veggies one week? No worries, your snap peas are coming into season…

Likewise you’d have honey from your bee hive and eggs from your chickens.

And on the waste side your off grid urban home would be less of a burden to the grid. Your home produces less rain water because the green roof and garden suck it up, thus diminishing the sewer overflow problems.

The gray water reduces waste water ever further. And the back yard toilet composting reduces it even more.

There is no reason a Brooklyn brownstone needs to be connected to the sewer system.
All water and waste is more usefully used on site. Think about that! It is a revolutionary and simple idea with powerful benefits to the world.

Basically if the end of the world came it would not be the end of the world for an off grid urban dweller. And until the end of the world comes the current off grid brownstone owner in Brooklyn greatly reduces the burden on an outdated and underfunded grid.

The Brooklyn electric, gas and sewer system are old and in need of a overhaul, which it is not getting. The NY state grid is even worse. And the US grid is worse yet.

Apart from these practical issues, there is the great sense of empowerment in having an off the grid urban home. That way you can take advantage of the great advancements of modern society – standardized national electric/gas/sewer – while staying grounded in millennium old tried and true methods that bring you closer to nature and allow freedom.

This is what Eco Brooklyn helps achieve! It is a Build It Forward practice. It is a smart practice.

Lighting with LED 1

Lighting can account for 15-20% of your monthly electric bill. With recent advances in LED technology we are able to reproduce the same level of brightness for 1/5- 1/10th the power. This is a huge savings. If we all work together we can reduce this country’s electrical draw by 10%! That equates to a lot of CO2!

Here is some helpful information from the USgov Department of Energy.



Solar Panels on the Brownstone Roof

The Brooklyn green show house has a green roof, solar panels, and solar water heater panels. Needless to say that is a lot to fit on a 600 square foot space. So we’re looking at ways to fit it all in.

Considerations are:
Make it look nice from the street and back yard.
Make it wind resistent.
Make it useable.

Here is what we have come up with (thanks to our talented architect Nicholas Liberis):

Brooklyn: the Berkeley of the East Coast

Berkeley,California, is one of the few places in the world where the ideals of the 60’s went beyond drugs and loose sex and actually blossomed into some very powerful things.

Green building is one of these. Berkeley has examples of green building that carry a direct lineage back to 1960 hippie ideals. The houses are great examples of idealism embodied practically and efficiently. And the green building is in all parts of the social fabric, from the way they do city planning to the way they do health care.

I say all this because I was brainstorming today with New York solar installer Rob Ashmore from Aeon Solar about a marketing plan for the Brooklyn Green Show House and he pointed out that Brooklyn is the Berkeley of the East Coast.

It struck me as a very accurate statement. I didn’t realize this since I’m in the eye of the storm as a Brooklyn green contractor. But it is true. The convergence of idealism that can easily be traced back to the 60’s and current day smarts is very powerful in Brooklyn.

There is a great combination of elements in Brooklyn. NY, as one of the commercial and cultural centers of the world, attracts tremendous talent. They tend to be smart, talented and energetic people. You need to be in order to survive in NY.

And the vast majority of these people live in Brooklyn. Ever since the cultural bleaching of NY happened in the 90’s Brooklyn has replaced it as the cool place to live. Cheaper rents, nicer architecture and easy access to transportation has made Brooklyn the choice for cool hipsters.

And apart from the nauseating hipness of Williamsburg, Brooklyn retains a low key integrity. People tend to be very genuine.

Anyway, again I find myself raving about Brooklyn. My main point here is that these people are also more green than the average person. I suspect it is because they tend to be young trendsetters and artists.

And as such they also tend to be a little ahead of the curve. What people here are doing now is often what the rest of America will be doing in a couple years. And if what they are doing now is any indication of what is to come then the future is definitely green.

So as a green contractor in the Berkeley of the East Coast, AKA Brooklyn, I’m happy to say things are going good and the future looks positive.

Back to Rob from Aeon solar, we were marveling at how when you stand on a Brooklyn brownstone rooftop you can see miles of houses with hundreds of thousands of pristine flat roofs baking in the sun. For a green contractor and solar installer this is like casting your eyes on a field full of fruit trees in the spring time: the fruits are soon to come and abundantly so.

Brooklyn is ripe for solar power and green renovations. The time, place and people couldn’t be more synergistic.


Here is a cool app courtesy of NaturalHomes.org. It shows all the natural homes in the world (at least the ones they know of, which is probably one tenth the real number). The map at first only shows the US, but we’ll forgive them their nationalism in light of our recent and proud presidential election.

Basically if you thought you were safe from natural homes taking over the world, think again pal (or palette, which is the feminine form of pal, not the wood frame you use to load up with heavy things).

Yes natural homes are taking over the world and if this scares you, then be scared. Be very scared….in fact there might even be a natural home scheming itself into existence on your very own block….yes I know, as horrible as it may seem you must accept the reality we currently live in.

Natural homes, like death and taxes, are inevitable. Unless of course you are one of those people who cheats on your taxes and worships plastic surgery, in which case there is a non-natural homes commune in Florida you could join. You may have to sacrifice some of your personality but I hear they have a great dental plan.


Solar Panels, An Example in Green Considerations

The process of building green is different than normal building. There are new considerations to include in the mix.

Here is an example. Solar PV is a smart choice in NY I think. NY gets a lot of sun and although a Californian electrician might scoff at it, most NY professionals think it is a good move.

Now with NYCERTA incentives it makes a lot more sense because they will eventually pay back a lot of your up front costs, which are hefty. But to get their money you need to have a NYCERTA installer do the job, and they are not the cheapest. Of course they would argue they are higher quality and on average they are. But they also have a cornered market and that drives up their price too.

So you have to pay a lot to get some money back. Fair enough.

On average the difference between a non NYCERTA certified installer and NYCERTA install is not greater than the benefit of getting the NYCERTA money. So it makes sense to go with NYCERTA.

But then there is the option of getting second hand panels. Solar panels are like computers and cars: the moment you take them out of the store they drop in value. Which means you can get deals. The problem is that many NYCERTA installers will not go for this. You never know what you’re getting with second hand stuff.

But the cost you save with second hand makes it more attractive to go with a cheaper non certified installer. Now you can get a good system at lower cost. You don’t get NYCERTA or state funding but quite possibly your up front costs are much lower and so are your overall costs.

The drawback is that you are getting second hand panels which are hard to find, come with no guarantee and aren’t as powerful as the new ones. Since they aren’t as powerful you need to buy more of them, which take up space and more money.

So it is a balancing act.

BUT there is more to the equation. Solar panels are green. Recycling is green. Recycling solar panels is so green it’s not even funny! And for me this is very attractive. And by green I don’t mean “I’m cool” I mean, saving energy, saving air, saving materials, and ultimately saving the planet. And this ain’t morality, this is common sense.

Here are some second hand panels I am considering. Once I find out how powerful they are I will get them. :

Adding Solar gain and recyclables to Facade

Above: Facade with planter and recycled joists.

Originally the top facade of the building had a lot of rotted wood. And there was a great view. So in the heat of the summer I tore down the wall and planned on adding a wall of glass. It would have been magnificent.

But then as the cooler weather came I came to my senses and realized the large window was on the north side. To have it would be a huge heat drain on the house. I basically made a colossal mistake. This is green building 101.

So I took the windows I had already bought for the space and put them on the south side of the house. This creates a very powerful passive heating element as the sun pours into the house and heats it. Solar gain to the max.

Then I was faced with doing something with the gaping hole on the north side. Some of the old slate had been broken when we took down the wall so we had a problem. We didn’t have enough slate to built it back nor could we buy similar stuff. Do we take down the rest of the remaining slate and replace it or what? Taking it down is so not green.

So I decided to get a little artsy and use the slate we have for the lower part of the facade. For the upper part we are going to create siding out of salvaged wood joists. We are going to shape it in a “V” shape and at the base of the V we will put a large planter that will collect the water from the siding above it.

The planter will be made of two triangular sides attached to the facade to create a harmony of triangular shapes with the larger triangle formed by the siding.

Even though the planter box will be very well insulated and one of its three sides will be against a heated house we will use plants that don’t need sun or warmth since the cold winds can be harsh up there. Water probably won’t be an issue since we’ll use water retaining materials in the earth.

The planter will help insulate the north wall, provide greenery, allow us to recycle old joists and keep the existing slate. This is a great example of green building.

Pre Construction:
The truly green thing would have been to repair the damaged wood and leave the windows as they are in this picture. But in the heat of renovation we got these grand ideas to make a wall of glass. Being in an environment you love is green to but not at the expense of wasted energy when you can have just as nice windows but on the south side….

And so we tore the facade off:

But then we realized our mistake and tore the south wall down to put the already ordered windows there. The sun shines in wonderfully making a fantastic space and heating us up. In the summer this heat can be a problem so we plan on having good passive ventilation, blinds, and solar panels above the windows that will also act as awnings when the sun’s angle is high in the sky during the summer months. During the winter months the sun’s angle will be low enough to pass under the panels.
The south opening:

Solar Tax Credits Extended

After a disastrous few weeks on Wall Street, the renewable energy industry has come out a winner. It seems there’s always a silver lining in even the worst developments.

The long-awaited extension of the Production (PTC) and Investment Tax Credits (ITC) were finally passed as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424) and have now been signed into law by President Bush. The tax credit package, which is the same that passed the Senate on September 24, will extend the PTC for one year and the ITC for eight years. The extensions would be at least partially paid for by a change in the tax code for the oil and gas industry. The bill also contains removal of the US $2,000 cap for residential solar installations.