Northeast Pool and Spa Show: Where’s the ECO?

The 2015 Northeast Pool and Spa Show is coming up this January. It is a big deal. All the players are there. It is the BIG event for pool people on the East Coast. They have hundreds of classes, seminars and presentations.

And not one on Natural Pools…

Just in case you forgot how beautiful a natural swimming pool is.
Just in case you forgot how beautiful a natural swimming pool is.

As a natural pool builder I just shake my head in amazement. Do we even share the same planet?

A natural pool uses no chemicals, has a tiny pump if any, and is the most wonderful magical swimming experience you can imagine.

Toxic pools use massive amounts of chemicals that take a lot of energy to make, they have energy guzzling pumps and lots of PVC materials, and is like swimming in a giant cup of noxious chemicals.

How in the world is it possible the pool pros aren’t pushing natural pools as the best swimming experience? Apart from the swimming experience, the two paragraphs above explain very clearly why the pool industry is not pushing Natural Pools. With Natural Pools there isn’t anything to sell! You build it and walk away. With a toxic pool you build it and guarantee a lifetime of product sales in chemicals, pumps, filters etc.

This image shows how much energy toxic pools consume, and this does not include all the energy it takes to make the chemicals. A natural pool consumes nothing.
This image shows how much energy toxic pools consume, and this does not include all the energy it takes to make the chemicals. A natural pool consumes nothing, or at the very most it uses a small pump (about 100W).

Natural Pools have to come through customer demand, not industry supply. The pool industry is just fine with what they are selling and don’t want to stop selling it. But if customers stop buying things change.

Demand a natural pool. If you have a toxic pool, convert it to a natural one. Lets get right of toxic pools and increase natural aquatic ecosystems that are good for humans, plants, and the planet.

Converting a toxic pool to a natural pool is even more ecological. Not only do you create a natural swimming pool using less energy but you also remove a toxic one.

What is the best wall construction for Passive House?

A recent article in the Home Energy Magazine analyzes the embodied energy of different wall structures for Passive House construction in cold climates. Basically, it’s great to have super insulated homes, but home much extra energy does it take to build them? Said another way, how many years will it take before the embodied energy it took to build the walls becomes less than the energy those walls saved.

They compared the following wall structures

  •  TJI frame with blown-in fiberglass insulation, built in Urbana, Illinois.
  • Insulating concrete form (ICF) with exterior expanded polystyrene (EPS), built in southern Wisconsin.
  • Structural insulated panel (SIP) filled with urethane foam with an interior 2 x 4 wall filled with blown-in cellulose, built in Belfast, Maine.
  • Advanced 2 x 12 stud framing filled with open-cell spray foam and insulated on the exterior with either EPS or vacuum insulated panels (VIPs), built in Bemidji, Minnesota.
  • Double 2 x 4 stud wall insulated with blown-in cellulose, built in Duluth, Minnesota.

The energy payback time for the wall assemblies ranged from immediately for the double-stud wall to 4.4 years for the mass wall—not a big chunk of a building’s expected lifetime. Because of the HFC blowing agent, the advanced frame with spray foam envelope has a carbon payback of 23 years.

Although the double-stud wall comes out smelling of roses in these comparisons, as long as you avoid specifying insulation made with an HFC blowing agent and minimize the use of energy-intensive materials, such as concrete and OSB, all of these envelopes would have a good energy and carbon payback.

Here is the double studd wall with cellulose:

The double studd walls stop thermal bridging while the cellulose insulation has very low embodied energy.
The double studd walls stop thermal bridging while the cellulose insulation has very low embodied energy.

As a New York Passive House builder the big question for me is how does this affect Passive Houses built in existing Brownstone buildings. The double stud and cellulose can easily be applied on the inside of the Brownstone brick walls. But there are two problems with this.

One problem is space. Brownstones cost a lot of money and to loose an extra several inches of floor space is a big deal.

The second problem is deterioration of the brick walls. Those brick walls have survived wonderfully for the past 100 years thanks to the nice warm heat from the building. Once you install the double stud walls you isolate the brick on the outside of the thermal envelope and the bricks are susceptible to freezing.

When the mortar in a brick wall freezes it expands. When it thaws it contracts. Over the years this wears away all the mortar and the wall falls apart. How long this takes is still a bit in the air since all Passive Houses in NYC and Brooklyn are only a couple years old.

One solution to both these issues is to build a less thick wall. You gain space and a little heat is lost to the outside, stopping the bricks from freezing. Clearly this is not ideal given the lost energy.

If anyone has solutions to these issues I am very interested to hear them.

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

 

Video Tour of the EcoBrooklyn Show House

By now you’ve probably heard extensive details about the EcoBrooklyn show house including our rooftop garden, bee colony, and the natural pool. Visitors are always welcome to come and check it out, but if you can’t make it to the neighborhood, check out this mini-documentary we made about the house. It has information and clips of our most recent exterior features. Please enjoy!

 

 

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

Apartment Complex in Flood-Prone Toxic Site

An Eco Brooklyn blog reader recently brought up the June 1st deadline for comments on the Brownfield Cleanup Program application submitted by Lightstone Group for their proposed 12-story, 700-unit development at 363-365 Bond Street, right on the edge of the Gowanus Canal. This reader shared with us that they are very much against building such a project in that area. We agree. It makes no sense.

Photo courtesy of Pardonmeforasking

 As most of you know, the Gowanus Canal was once used as an industrial waterway, served as a dumping ground for industrial waste, and continues to collect raw sewage especially when the local sewer system is overwhelmed by storm runoff. It is so toxic that the EPA declared it a Superfund site in March 2010, one of two in the New York City metropolitan area.

Did we mention that it is extremely flood-prone? Here is a picture of the water on Carroll St & Bond St after Hurricane Sandy, which brought on many contamination concerns for the neighborhoods’ residents.

Photo courtesy of the Observer

In short, Eco Brooklyn does not believe that building a massive apartment complex in a flood zone next to a toxic site is the best idea. It is one of the worst we can think of actually. It seems to be driven by many things, profit being a huge factor, but common sense and community interest are not in the equation.

As a green builder with experience in flood management construction Eco Brooklyn is involved in several projects where rising flood waters and nearby contamination are considerations. These are for smaller residences where moving is currently not an option.

But we would never encourage a new building be built in such an area. The only exception is if it were designed as a type of house boat so it could rise with the surge. A 700 unit house boat isn’t really going to work. Maybe we can just park an ocean cruiser on the Gowanus and be done with it.

–Liza Chiu

Toxic Paint in Brooklyn

Biodegradable Paint Stripper

Brooklyn is full of beautiful and historic houses, and Eco Brooklyn is doing their part to preserve these wonders through sustainable lead-based paint removal.

Historical Housing
Historical Housing at Ditmas Park

People have been fascinated with lead since the Roman Empire, when tonnes of lead were produced for plumbing, construction pins, makeup, spermicides,  and even lead based tonics and seasoning. Yum!

Even during the reign of the Romans lead was known to have been toxic, but it was not until the 1970’s that it began to be banned among household products. Lead paint was fervently preferred among master painters for its brilliant white luster and its hydrophobic properties.

Research has shown that even mild lead intoxication can have harmful effects, especially among children, and unborn fetuses.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission banned lead in 1977 from toys, paint, and furniture manufacturing. If your home is older than 1978 you may have lead based paint, and if it was painted earlier than the 1970’s you almost certainly do.

As a Green Contractor, Eco Brooklyn utilizes a safe and non-toxic method of lead paint removal. The first step is to assess the paint with a lead test kit, which can usually be found at your local hardware store.

Sustainable Paint Removal
Lead Paint Remediation Project

We use our own citrus oil based paint stripper (biodegradable), which we cover for a up to 24 hours. The paint can then be easily extracted without dust particulates or hazards within your home. The only intoxication will be from the euphoric citrus scent doing its job, sustainably.  Continue reading “Toxic Paint in Brooklyn”

Das Haus: First NYC Passive House in BK

For those of us who live in historic homes we know that our period dwellings bring us both joy and frustration. The frustration is largely attributed to the endless repairs that classic Brooklyn Brownstones require and their not so efficient envelope.

Eco Brooklyn has renovated many brownstones and knows first hand how challenging it can be to air seal and insulate an building while still keeping it’s traditional character.

With the advent of new energy efficient building techniques Eco Brooklyn is part of a new trend in Brownstone renovation: instead of following traditional guidelines to fixing up a house, some Brooklyn homeowners are transforming their townhouse into a Passive House – a German technique that can reduce a homes energy consumption up to 90%.

This past week, the Eco Brooklyn interns took the metro North train up to White Plains for the Das Haus Symposium. There were a number of speakers, some coming all the way from Germany to talk about projects, ideas and products that have either already migrated to the US or are on their way. The Passive House concept was a topic of interest.

The Passive House standard focuses on 5 main strategies:

  1. Insulate strategically
  2. Stop Thermal Bridging
  3. Achieve air tightness
  4. Install high-performing windows for thermal comfort
  5. Reduce mechanical systems with heat recovery ventilation

Jordan Goldman, the engineering principal at Zero Energy Design was a speaker at last week’s symposium. He is a Passive house consultant who recently finished a passive house restoration at 23 Park Place in Park Slope. The completion of this project marked the first certified Passive House in New York City!

The original structure at 23 Park Place was built in 1899 and had been owned by a few artists until it was abandoned a few years ago. After the new owners purchased the dilapidated property they decided to do a Passive House retrofit on the existing structure. Julie Torres Moskovitz from Fabrica718 was the lead architect on the project. She enlisted Jordan Goldman as the engineering consultant on the design.

Since this property was not land marked the retrofit became a complete makeover for the structure. For instance, all the fireplaces and chimneys were replaced to increase the overall air tightness of the space.

As noted before, air tightness and a system of interior and exterior air exchange are the key stone elements to creating  a cohesive thermal envelope ensuring maximum energy reduction.

23 Park Place met the air tightness requirements of a passive house, and far surpassed the requirements of NYC. 23 Park Place is not only 15 times tighter than a current building norm is achieved the highest air tightness level in all of New York City-  .38!

In addition to the insulation, comprised on 23 inch thick walls and three pane windows

Passive House calls for all the joists and meeting points to be sealed to create a continuous thermal envelope.

Although after so much emphasis on the insulation, you must be wondering how could anyone possible endure such stuffy conditions. The answer to this seemingly uncomfortable air is the energy recovery ventilator or E.R.V.

Essentially, the inside air is pulled through the ventilator, the heat is then transferred to a membrane, the air is cooled and then exits as exhaust. The fresh air outside is simultaneously being pulled in and warmed by the membrane. This system, which is referred to as “counterflow” maintains a constant temperate within the thermal envelop.

The Passive House energy use standards are far more stringent then those used by the US Green Building council, which issue certifications for LEED and the Energy Star program. It is considered excellent if a LEED certified structure can reduce energy consumption by 30% and Energy Star homes typically save about 15 to 20%.  With a Passive House there can be up to a 90% reduction in heating and cooling.

Now that’s a paradigm!

Fortunately there are a number of Passive House projects underway in New York City, many of which are located right in Brooklyn. As a New York Passive House builder we hope to see an increase in the demand for Passive House design in the upcoming years. It costs within the range of normal construction yet greatly decreases a building’s impact on the environment.

(In Historic Districts) All Signs Lead to the Landmark Preservation Commission

We are renovating a Yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, one of New York’s many historic and wonderfully preserved landmark neighborhoods. This beauty is preserved thanks to the diligent work of the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC).

Eco Brooklyn, Inc., a green contractor, renovating a new yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

You could almost say the LPC is a green building organization since it encourages us to reuse the housing stock we have and doesn’t easily let us replace it. As a green building contractor we appreciate this.

Anyone who has tried to do construction in a land marked area knows that the LPC is a mixed blessing.  It is great that we have such an organization looking out for us, but boy can they be a pain in the butt.

Any work affecting land marked property requires approval from the (LPC) and woe to the person who ignores this. The general rule of thumb is, if the work affects the exterior of the building and you can see it from the street then Landmarks needs to be involved.

Work in the back of the building is generally, but not always, less of a Landmarks issue.

The trick to reducing the pain of dealing with Landmarks is to be diligent and play their game even when at times it can be time consuming and tedious. If you do this then you won’t have major problems.

Guidelines and Materials Checklists for Performing Work on Landmarked Buildings provides a comprehensive list of modifications that will obligate you to obtain authorization from LPC.  Our experience is the application and hearing process takes 20-30 days, although it can take months if Landmarks has objections or if the application was prepared with anything less than anal fervor. There is a program designed to expedite the process for certain projects within ten days.  So, if your renovation is plumbing, electrical work, construction on non-load bearing partitions or even HVAC work, you should start the application process here.

Photo taken by Ed Costello
Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY

For the Brooklyn Heights yoga studio job we needed to put up store signage, and being a good green contractor we called Landmarks to apply for approval.  Here’s what we need to support our application:

  1. Color photo(s) of the entire building with proposed location of signage indicated.
  2. Close-up photo of proposed location of signage.
  3. Photomontage showing proposed sign location in relation to building and neighboring buildings and other storefronts in the building if the building has multiple storefronts.
  4. Detail drawings showing dimensions of the sign and how it will be attached to the building.
  5. Drawing of the sign with dimensions and sign lettering indicated.
  6. Material and color sample(s).

As you see the list underscores the importance of being detailed. Play nice, follow their rules and you will be fine. We expect to have approval in a week or two.