DIY Rocket Mass Heater

The recent polar vortex has hit us all with some really harsh conditions and as a green contractor based in New York it has made work on our ecological construction sites difficult. Spending cold, winter days inside of an upcycled shipping container can leave you freezing for hours. Space heaters require electricity that you may not have access to.

We’ve figured out a way to heat our workspaces in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way that uses zero electricity and burns zero fossil fuels.  A rocket mass heater is an efficient wood burning stove and space-heating system. Two key things differentiate them as ecologically sound space heaters.

The first is that the design involved creates a small, efficient, high temperature combustion chamber capable of burning significantly more carbon than simply burning wood in a metal can or bonfire. Due to the high carbon-burning capabilities less ash is created and the smoke emitted is much cleaner.

The second is that the cob or clay acts as a thermal mass that physically stores the heat created during combustion for hours and releases it into the space through convection thereby decreasing the amount of electrical energy or fossil fuels used.

A traditional rocket mass heater involves a 55 Gallon drum built into a clay wall and extending into a room so as to transfer the most heat possible. This form is too large and too permanent for use on multiple construction sites.  The technical design of a larger scale heater is more complex, but we needed a relatively small heater that can be transported between sites.

The method of building a rocket mass heater outlined below enables environmentally conscious contractors and individuals to use materials that are more readily available or perhaps lying around the house or job site.

Here we’ve provided the simple DIY steps to creating a rocket stove or rocket mass heater:

Materials:

5-gallon plastic bucket

2 2-liter plastic soda bottles

Dirt, grass (or hay), and water

Marker

Duct tape

Utility knife

A piece of metal lath or mesh

 

Step 1: Use the marker to trace a circle 3-4 inches from the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket and cut out the circle with your knife.

Step 2: Use the duct tape to tape the ends of the soda bottles together in an L shape. The soda bottles should be filled with liquid or remain unopened.

Step 3: Use the dirt, grass (or hay), and water to make the cob in a different bucket.

Step 4: Put some of the cob in the bottom of the bucket to the height of the bottom of the hole you’ve cut. Place the bottles you’ve taped together inside the bucket with the end of one bottle sticking out of the hole that you’ve previously cut.

Step 5: Continue to fill the bucket with the cob mixture and be sure to smooth all edges. The clay will need a few days to dry out.

Step 6: When the cob feels dry pour the liquid out of the soda bottles and cut off the tops of the bottles. Remove the bottles and tape by reaching into the bottles and pulling them out.

Step 7: If your cob mixture is not fully dry let it set for a few more days. Then place paper and small twigs inside and light a small fire to dry the cob entirely.

Step 8: Place the piece of metal lath or mesh, small enough to fit inside of the hole, in the side of the bucket. This will hold the fuel being used to heat your space. It should be long enough that it sticks out of the bucket to hold longer sticks/kindling.

Step 9: Add your fuel (paper, sticks, any natural carbon-based material will do) and ignite!

This rocket mass heater is safe, environmentally friendly, and portable. For use indoors this structure would need to be ducted to allow exhaust or fumes to be safely expelled outside. Additionally, use of this type of heater in a home remodel is not recommended however for work on an industrial space it is a perfect fit.

Click HERE for a link to a smaller, even more portable version.  We don’t recommend this exact method due to the high levels of BPA inside of soup cans so we suggest purchasing heater duct pipe (un-galvanized) to use instead.

 

Click HERE to see different designs for large scale and conventional rocket mass heater. These designs are meant to heat a home and emit smoke  and any potentially dangerous fumes outdoors through a duct system.

 

 

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

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

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

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

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

 

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

 

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

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

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

 

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

One of Cyclecides attractions

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

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

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

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

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

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

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

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

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

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

Natural Pools

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

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

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

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

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

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

-No chemical fertilizers/ pesticides used adjacent to the site

-Natural filtration system

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

The beauty of natural pools

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

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

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

there’s no competition really

 

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

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

beautiful design

wide range of options

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

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

http://www.ibnature.com/

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

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

 

-Michael DiCarlo

Bus Roots on Bus Routes

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

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

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

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

More information about Bus Roots is available at their website.

 

Green Building Sales – Art of Bid Pricing

I love the psychology of sales. It is what distinguishes humans from numbers.

The sale item that a shop keeper takes a loss on to get people in the door so they buy other things. Half price drinks at the bar with the hope people will stay and buy full price drinks. Pricing something at $99 instead of $100.

These psychological sales techniques work.

I have found one important sales technique in green building that also works. It is the reverse of value engineering.

Value engineering is the bane of all green builders. The client comes in with big idealistic goals but as soon as the numbers get crunched the green things are usually the first thing to go. The reason for this in my opinion is a lack of education in the client that makes them prioritize one thing over another.

Here is your typical example:

The client wants a green roof, new plumbing, new walls and a jacuzzi. Like most jobs it is a mix of green idealism (roof), practical needs (plumbing and walls), and personal indulgence (jacuzzi).

The normal contractor bids the job accordingly:

Green roof $10,000

Plumbing $11,500

Walls $11,500

Jacuzzi $7,000

Total: $40,000

But the client only has $30,000. So they need to cut $10,000 somewhere. Out goes the green roof. A perfect $10,000 to balance the budget. The client’s priories do not lie with the green roof.

I hear this story again and again. Architects and contractors are always moaning to me how they would like to build more green in Brooklyn but their green elements often get cut at the first sign of fiscal tightness. But I don’t have this problem. Partly it is because Eco Brooklyn has a reputation for being a leading edge Brooklyn green builder so we attract those clients. None of our clients come to us asking for Jacuzzis. For us value engineering usually revolves around choosing between two green elements, say a living wall or a composting toilet.

But our success in keeping green as the central theme of the project is also very much how I present the bid. The bid is structured to balance out any priorities the client may have.

Here is how I would bid the exact same job above. Firstly I identify the categories: the green elements, the essentials and the non green non essentials. The green roof is a green element. I want that to stay in the job. The plumbing and walls are essentials and the client can’t cut them. The jacuzzi is a non green non essential and I want it out. I know the client wants to stay around $30,000 but they also have a long list of things they want. So they expect to cut some things.

Here is how I bid the job:

Green roof $5,000

Plumbing $12,500

Walls $12,500

Jacuzzi $10,000

Total: $40,000

I halved the green roof price, added a little to the plumbing and walls and added a lot to the jacuzzi. The total comes out to the same.

Guess what gets value engineered to reach the $30,000 budget? Not the green roof. At half price it is too much of a great deal. And besides it would only cut $5,000.  You can’t cut the plumbing or walls because they are code requirements. The next least important thing that also balances the budget is the jacuzzi.

A jacuzzi is something you can do without. Especially at that expensive price! And hey! it is an even $10,000 so it balances the budget perfectly! How convenient!

So instead of the client renovating their brownstone and getting an energy guzzling jacuzzi they get an ecological green roof. At the same price! On my job the client makes derisions that are better for the environment and ultimately themselves. At least in my opinion, which is based on many things including global ecology and idealism.

Notice I make just as much money as the first job that had the green roof nixed. And what contractor feels better about themselves? I do of course. I’ve not only done a good job but I feel I have made the world a healthier place.

I honestly believe the client and the world are better served by a green roof over a jacuzzi. So I price my bid accordingly. I set up the budget so that I may not make money on the green roof but I make it up elsewhere. I add a little more profit to the absolute essentials that I know they won’t cut (plumbing, structural, electric etc), I offer the green elements at rock bottom prices, and I price the non essential non green things high so they look wasteful and price them strategically so that if they are cut they balance the budget perfectly.

Manipulation? Definitely! Dishonest? No. I’m just putting my money where my mouth is. I don’t care if they cut the jacuzzi. I fact I’d refuse to do it anyway. So I make it costly and conveniently priced to be cut. I do care very much if they cut the green roof. So I price the green roof too good to turn down. And I carefully balance the rest of the bid so I still make a profit.

It really works well. The client is happy. I am happy. And the world is a green place. This strategy is part of the triple bottom line of People, Planet, Profit.

I see it a little like affirmative action. Because of the prejudice they face, green building techniques need a little financial help.

Park Slope Green Roof and Deck Design

Here is a green roof and deck we are designing for a job in Park Slope Brooklyn. The deck area ranges from 900-1100 square feet. It would be made out of salvaged fir or possibly Black Locust if budget permits.

The pergolas are intentionally without many beams. The vegetation will be the main source of shade. The green roof would be a shallow growing medium of 2-3 inches.

The client is a condo board so we are building the deck and green roof across their four buildings.

Our architect Nic Liberis did a great job at making the area look attractive. There are several design considerations to choose from.


Option 1

Long board walk along the length of the buildings with pergolas covering part of it. This has the benefit of keeping people away from the doors where there could be sound issues. The drawback is that there is not that much privacy, which could be resolved with planters.

1

2

3

Option 2

This has the hang out areas in between the bulk heads, providing more privacy and possibly protection from the elements. The one drawback is the possible sound issues of people on the roof bothering residents below through the stairway.

d1 copy
d2 copy
d3 copy

d4 copy

This is the same option without the plant renditions:

Walkway wout Trellis 2

Walkway wout Trellis

Walkway wout Trellis 3

Option 3

This option is the same as option 2 except a trellis has been added. For more protection from wind and more shade.

Layout Overview w Walkway Trellis

Walkway w Trellis 2

Walkway w Trellis

Walkway w Trellis 3

Stair Design

I needed some help designing some stairs in the Brooklyn Green Show House. I knew what I wanted but I didn’t want the headache of calculating all the dimensions. It is basically a double turn and the space was tight so you had to be really careful with the measurements. So I posted an add on craigslist.org. I got lots of qualified Architects and decided to go with Nicholas Liberis.

He turned out to be really great. He delivered high quality work on time. Here are the drawings I sent him to work from.

I first of all didn’t know if it could be done while still keeping to code. But it turns out it can be done. Here is what he sent back.

And just for fun he drew some 3D images for it. Here are three views of the same stairs. Here you can see the stairs in the background. In the foreground you can see the balcony of the floor above.

Here is a close up from the back. I like the way the risers alternate between spaces. He made a cool extention of one of the treads that could be used as an alcove to put LED lighting. He put a concrete pond below the stairs. What is actually there is a very large boulder that we unearthed while digging down the cellar. Everyone wanted me to dig a hole and bury it but since I’m that way I gave it a name and a little home under the stairs.

Here is a close up from the front. He picked metal hardware for the railing and support. My hardware very much depends on what I salvage. Right now I have some metal from the fire escape we took down and I have some nice beams so we’ll see what we end up using.