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

 

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Window installed

 

 

View from the street

View from the street

 

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

Salvaged Douglas Fir Deck

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

Prior to Eco Brooklyn

Williamsberg Deck Rendering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Salvaged Wood

Salvaged Wood

Prior to Sanding and Eco-Oiling

 

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

Eco Friendly Finish

Eco Friendly Finish

Post and Rendering by Anthony Rivale

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

Praise for Siga high-performance tape

As a Green Builder we are always looking at the newest developments in green design. Today the folks from Siga were kind enough to come by and show us their energy efficient air sealing products.

We recently finished a Passive House renovation of a Harlem brownstone and worked closely with the air sealing supplier 475. They sell Pro Clima tape and it worked really well.
Siga seems like a great product too and I welcome the increase in air sealing options to the NY market.
The three key benefits of Siga are its outstanding adhesive qualities (its sticks to any surface), its vapor permeability, and its rain driven protection. Not to mention all their products are VOC free and are made with green technology.
They are certainly worth checking out: http://www.sigacover.com/us/

New York Green Contractor is Childish

As I continue to grow as a green builder I become more and more childish. Adults might make it sound fancy by calling it my “inner child” but for me it just feels childish. And I love it. Part of this awakening is that I have a four year old son through whose eyes I can see things.

Often we’ll find ourselves laying on the ground lost in the minute world of a small bug, morphing the science of what an exoskeleton is with stories of the bugs heroic escapades as a knight in shining armor. As a green contractor in Brooklyn this is especially poignant.

On average New York city children don’t get exposed to nature like other children. They tend to be very intellectual with more chances of knowing how to get around on the subway than any idea of how to walk through a forest.

My son playing with a native Box turtle on our green roof

This of course is fine and very useful if you need to get uptown. But I increasingly see that they can have both worlds. They can be wonderfully cosmopolitan while also having the incredibly enriching life of the natural world.

The solution is in the design  and implementation of natural worlds existing harmoniously in our very condensed New York living space. This green design process is a large part of what I think about when doing a green renovation; Not just because I want children to enjoy the wonders of nature, but because the natural world brings out the child in all of us.

There is nothing more therapeutic than communing with nature, and there is nothing more debilitating than an absence of it. The word Biophilia is key to this – literally meaning “love of life”, and Biophillic design is the cornerstone of green building.

This psychological life centered view of Green Building may appear contrary to some who like to count carbon offsets and embodied energy. But for me Green Building isn’t about saving energy like so many technocrats like to claim; this is like saying hiking is about covering lots of miles.

Certainly energy efficiency is important because without it life is increasingly being destroyed. But the goal behind all these numbers is more life, or at the very least less killing.

Green building is about creating life – lets break the two words down to see what I mean:

The word “Green” is really just a catch-all phrase for nature and it’s harmony. That is something most people agree with. The word “Building” is a little trickier. I feel that to say the word “Building” only applies to the act of erecting ecological structures for humans is narrow minded in the extreme.

A Green Builder knows this more than anyone because you can’t be a green builder without understanding that everything is connected. A green home in Brooklyn with bamboo floors and super efficient HVAC influences everything from forests of bamboo in China to Copper mines in Columbia. And on a micro scale those HVAC units are going to give off a constant flow of water condensation creating an ecosystem on the side of the house.

So a Green Builder knows that “Builder” is much more than bricks and mortar, regardless of whether they are salvaged. It is about Building Green, literally creating ecosystems, of which humans are part of but certainly not the only ones.

So as a New York contractor I see my role as one of creating multiple ecosystems, literally building green. Part of that is the typical brownstone renovation process, for example, but there is a lot more.

Simply put, I build ecosystems, not brick boxes.

We disguised a hallway with a living wall to provide relaxation in a yoga studio.

 

The green roof, back yard, front yard, the NY waterway down the road, all these things are part of the design matrix that at first people wouldn’t think of when renovating a brownstone. But it is very connected. The interior ecosystem of people eating, sleeping, and bathing uses and creates energy. My job is to make sure this energy is acting in harmony with its surroundings but designing the systems – water, electric, etc.

Considerations involve where the water and sun come from and where they go – solar, rainwater, graywater…if I get it right then there is less garbage (due to salvage) and more life in the world once I am done with the job – life in the form of a happy bunch of humans but also life in the sense that these humans create food for plants and animals in the form of human waste. In turn the plants and animals give back to the humans…

And this is why I am getting more childish. As I surround myself with more and more alive ecosystems that I give to and I receive from I am more engaged, more playful, more carefree. It comes across as childlike. This is a good thing.

And because of seeing how I react to these ecosystems in a childlike manner I have learned to use children as the guide for how I build.

My son exploring our native garden designed with inspiration from the book Manahatta
My son exploring our native garden designed with inspiration from the book Manahatta

An ecosystem that is great for a child is also great for an adult. Children only magnify the experience (as well as the negative one – lead paint for example). As an example of good childish design, at my house I have a pond in the front yard that is literally a child magnet. Children insist on going by my house. It is their daily pilgrimage to see what the water, plants and animals are up to. This is why I know I got the design right.

And sure enough the adults follow. I love watching secretly from my window the childlike smiles of adults as they stop themselves in their harried life and take a moment to look at the pond. They soften and for a brief moment they relax a little. You can see them come alive a little, their curiosity increasing.

And for good reason. Not only does the pond bring back childhood feelings of calm and innocence, it literally brings back ancestral memories. Psychologists believe this is because the vast majority of our evolution was spent as hunter gatherers, closely attuned to nature, and certain things – like a gently trickling pond with clean water and non-threatening fish – offered us things that kept us alive – fresh water, food, a place to rest.

We are so caught up in the now that we forget the weight of our genetics. Roughly speaking, Modern Homo Sapien hunter gatherers (or actually scavengers) have been around for 200,000 years and it is only in the last 10,000 years we became more agricultural.

It is only in the past couple hundred years that we became completely disjointed from nature. And this doesn’t even take into account that there have been human-like beings for 4 million years.

All this is to say that nature is profoundly connected to us in ways we can’t imagine and a couple thousand years of “civilized” living isn’t going to knock that out of us.

Studies have shown that staring at a healthy fish tank produces the same rejuvenation as sleep or meditation. Analysis of recuperation times and pain killer prescriptions have shown that people recover faster and in less pain if their hospital bed has a view of nature. These small and subtle examples only confirm what everyone knows already: nature is good for us.

But I’m starting to realize that nature IS us. “Obviously”, you might say, but it isn’t. We are completely brainwashed by outdated Romantic ideals that clearly see humans and nature as separate. This Romantic view is definitely one of the key players in the Earths largest climactic and species change in history, resulting in massive levels of cognitive dissonance in the human race – some dealing with it in denial (religious groups), others in panic (environmentalists), and yet others in nihilistic acts of self destruction (capitalism).

And so, in the concrete jungle of NYC, I see the role of a green contractor to be one of historian, biologist and psychologist, looking into past ecological designs that offer a sense of safety and peace to humans – a place where our inner child can feel safe – while also offering other life forms a place to grow harmoniously.

This is a lot to fathom when all the client wants is a new kitchen for their one bedroom condo, but it also makes things easier. There is nothing more difficult than living a life without meaning, and there is nothing more meaningless than capitalism in its crudest form. Essentially a green builder is able to weave meaning into that process, explaining to the client that the kitchen is much more important that simply picking paint colors.

Once you understand that all things are connected through systems it becomes clear that in every renovation there is an opportunity to create or destroy life. With this view it is easy to put paint colors into perspective and focus on the more important and meaningful things in life.

Green Building is not a product

A reporter just interviewed me on green building. I thought I’d share it here since the reporter has a pretty common viewpoint, one I believe is not correct.

What aspects home remodeling/room design are the most popular “green” solutions?
Most clients know they want to renovate green but usually don’t know exactly what the details of that look like. In many ways they come to Eco Brooklyn for education rather than your typical contractor/client relationship. Normally people are not as involved in the materials and process as a client doing a green renovation is.
The “green solution” is not a product but a method of building that uses less energy and is less toxic. This can apply to anything from flooring to landscaping. In terms of imaginary, if your typical non-green renovation had the metaphor of boots on a concrete sidewalk, then an ecological renovation is about walking barefoot at the beach.
This imagery highlights the importance of nature and walking lightly.

What are the top 3-5 products that Eco-Brooklyn suggests to homeowners? Ex. tankless water heaters, solar panels, etc.
We don’t have any. The focus for us is not product oriented. It isn’t even about consuming anything. For that reason we encourage the client to accept as much salvaged materials as possible. The greenest product is the product that doesn’t get made. Even greener is a “product” that is taken from the garbage, thus lightening the planet’s garbage load.
There are places we do buy new, and these are the areas that require maximum energy efficiency – windows, doors, appliances, water heaters etc. Again we don’t care what brand as long as it is the most efficient on the market at the time. That changes constantly.

Many eco-friendly options today are much pricier than its “normal” comparables. What do you say to a homeowner who is looking to justify the price?
That is only true if you live in complete isolation unconnected from anything else in the world. If you look at the big picture building green is much cheaper. The analogy I use is green building is paid for in cash. Normal construction is put on a credit card. Saying normal construction is cheaper than green is like saying things you buy on a credit card are free. Normal construction may be cheaper at the point of purchase, but who is really paying for your consumption? Is it that person dying of cancer? The child labor? The polluted river? The dying wildlife? Unless you have your head in the sand you don’t have to look very far to see how expensive building is. Green building looks a hell of a lot cheaper in comparison.

How to become a green builder (aka aware human)

As a New York green builder I get a lot of interns eager to learn about building a better world. They are young, eager and often impatient. After six months on a job site they think they should become manager. This is a big mistake.

It is not that they are not capable of moving up. They are bright and talented and would make a pretty good manager. But by moving up you move away from the base, the foundation, the little daily tasks. And without a broad knowledge base you will not have the depth to keep moving up.

But that isn’t even the point. The point in life is not to be forever going bigger and better. The point is to explore and learn – to become more aware. And you can’t do that as easily if you are all grown up.

A volunteer building with straw bale at the Czech building center Permalot

A volunteer building with straw bale at the Czech building center Permalot

When you are jobless, homeless, without children, a mortgage and a career you are perfectly poised to loose yourself in the flow of experience, letting it carry you where it may.

Here is part of a letter from an intern who wants to join Eco Brooklyn. For the past six years they have drifted from one cool experience to another, creating a great base. This is what I did. It is what I suggest anyone does.

my boss worked out an arrangement with me that allowed me to take time off each year to explore my growing interest. I chose to be involved with the following projects:

– Found out that Paolo Soleri (of Arcosanti fame) is still alive, and signed up for the 5-week construction internship helping to build an arcology in the Arizona desert.
– Volunteered for Yoga Cusco (offshoot of  Yoga Inbound) in Peru for a month, helping to build their yoga studio in the Sacred Valley.
– 3-month natural building internship & PDC (the only one to “graduate”!) at Permalot in Czech Republic, including over a week with a client in Germany, and additional time in Czech helping my former roommate build his cob home on an empty field.
– Volunteered 1 month at  Totoco in Nicaragua, helping to build the farm/animal husbandry part of their project.
– Random volunteer gigs with Habitat-NYC, Cool Roofs, and the local neighborhood garden.
– Visited Gaviotas in Colombia and The Venus Project in Florida.
– Just started (literally, on Friday, after months of bugging them) helping Oko Farms build their aquaponics project in East Williamsburg.

This is a smart path. It is something I can’t do as easily now. Sure I am a green builder doing cool things and maybe Eco Brooklyn will be lucky enough to be listed on this person’s resume with all these other visionary projects. But although definitely possible it is harder for me to take off and sleep on a floor somewhere donating my time carrying mud all day, no matter how great the project is.

But when you know and have very little – like everyone who is fresh out of the nest, you can be the sponge. Just my two cents on this Monday morning as I got this intern’s resume. Now I must go back to bidding jobs, negotiating contracts and all the other things a “cool and alternative” New York green builder has to deal with.

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).

DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens or living walls are a beautiful and efficient way to maximize green space within an urban context. Aesthetically, vertical gardens can be used to improve the façade of buildings while providing other ecosystem services such as enhanced air quality.

Perhaps first employed by the Mesopotamians to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the principles of design have expanded past cascading plants to include plants rooted at different heights of a wall. Living walls vary in size, design, and complexity.

Two of the best-known living walls are on the Marché des Halles in Avignon and the Museé du Quai Branly, both designed by Patrick Blanc. However, man-made living walls are not constrained to grand public buildings.

Marche des Halles en Avignon, designed by Patrick Blanc

It is very feasible to create you own, and in fact personal vertical gardens beautifully complement the exterior of Brooklyn brownstones, although it is recommended a professional be consulted for walls higher than 7 feet.

The character of your vertical garden is determined by the framing material and plant selection. While plant selection may vary by individual taste, native species are generally hardier and better suited to the local climate and pest and disease conditions.

Green landscaping with native species is also a proactive way to support the area’s native ecosystems. You may decide to choose a theme to guide your plant selections, such as a foliage wall, mosquito-repellant wall, epicurean wall (pick your salad ingredients!), aromatic herb wall, or a perfumed wall.

Succulents are easy plants for beginners since they do not need substantial irrigation. For vertical gardens created sans soil, epiphytes and lithophytes are necessary plant selections. Epiphytes attach to other objects solely for physical support and are not parasitic. They obtain nutrients from rain, air, and debris. Common epiphytes in temperate zones such as New York are lichens and mosses.

We will list and describe framing methods with increasing complexity.

The Woolly Packet Garden Company offers a series of “woolly packets”, pouches made from recycled water bottles with an impermeable moisture barrier and felt to wick the water. These packets are easy to install and arrange as you please. Although the design is not constrained to vertical garden use, the pouches lend themselves well to such installations. Watch this video for further description:

Flora Grubb Gardens is featuring an example vertical garden installation in their store.

Wooly Pocket installation

For a more complex system, pre-made frames are available for sale from several manufacturers. Gro-Wall offers easy to stack frames.

VGM also offer green wall modules. Drip irrigation coupled with the effects of gravity water the plants in both systems, although this can also be adapted.

Our favorite option at Eco Brooklyn for small walls is using salvaged pallets as a frame for a living wall. We are currently creating a wooden pallet living wall installation in the Green Showroom. Simple and effective, this method limits the amount of new material needed for the project and decreases life cycle emissions and cost.

Pallet living wall

 

Pallets can often be found for free at local gardening stores. Pallets without significant back support may need to be augmented with scrap wood on the back. You can then staple landscaping paper to the back, bottom, and sides to create a secure void for the soil. Soil is poured through the slats and the selected plants are then planted in place and watered. Once planted, the pallet needs to remain horizontal for one to two weeks until the roots can take and stabilize the soil.

There are two easy ways to create your own frame.

The second method does not require the additions of any soil!

Succulent frames

Method 1: Cut 4 pieces of lumber to the desired length and nail them together at the corners to create a box frame. Staple or nail wire mash to the front face of the frame and a piece of plywood to the back face. Fill the void with soil and then poke the stems from plant cuttings through the mesh. Allow the installation to remain horizontal until the plants are securely rooted. Water lightly or use a drip irrigation system. For smaller frames, it may be easiest to lay it flat when watering and allow the soil to drain before hanging it back up.

Note that the above method works best for small frames, as it does not require a complex irrigation or fertilizer system.

 

Method 2: This last method is the most involved in terms of infrastructure but very rewarding. It isn’t that green either since it requires a pump. It is however the most popular system and many massive walls have been created this way.

Noémie Vialard’s book Gardening Vertically offers a more in-depth description of the process, which was initially developed by Patrick Blanc. While it is possible to make a portable system, it is most effective as a permanent display.

Wooden battens are first fixed to the selected wall space, and then a PVC panel and two layers of irrigation matting are added over the battens. The irrigation system consists of a perforated pipe connected to a pump, which activates a couple times a day for a few minutes.

Nutrients can be diluted into the water tank to fertilize the ecosystem. The plant roots are inserted through holes in the second layer of felt (such that the plant is secured between layers of irrigation matting).

Because the system has no soil substrate, there is no water retention. To mitigate the high water usage, you may want to plant perennials at the foot of the wall to consume surplus water or create a fish pond at the base. Use gray water to irrigate if possible.

Apart from the electric load, this system is not sustainable in another way: if you stop the pump the plants die quickly since there is no humid soil to keep them. In that sense it is a very artificial environment. The closest natural habitat is a rock wall in a tropical jungle.

For this reason we prefer the soil based living walls. We build our own structure instead of buying pre-made products because it allows us to save costs and customize to the space.

A vertical garden installation can beautifully augment the aesthetic value of your home. Living walls do not need to be grandiose or complex and the concept can easily be adapted to personal usage. Outdoor walls are easier because you don’t have to worry about flooring issues in the house. But indoor walls, provided they get sunlight, don’t get blasted by weather extremes. Indoor walls need special attention to avoid mold issues, but if that is under control they add a freshness to the air that is wonderful.

Eco Brooklyn is a living wall installer because we really love what a living wall does to a space. It fits perfectly with our mission to turn NY green!

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

Reverse Environmental Building Footprint Via Salvage

Here are some interesting numbers from the Binational Softwood Lumber Council (BSLC) on the environmental footprint of building three similar homes from three three different materials – wood, metal and concrete. I’m sure you can guess what their numbers show: that wood is the greenest option.

I don’t know whether their numbers are based in reality or simply green-washing by the timber industry (I suspect the later), but either way for a small New York green contractor like Eco Brooklyn these numbers mean very little.

The BSLC is calculating numbers based on new raw materials to build new homes – the most wasteful kind of construction. Arguing whether new wood is better than new metal or new concrete is like arguing whether it is greener to fly via private jet or private helicopter.

They are stuck in an era that no longer exists:

Ah yes the good old days of abundant resources and stupidity. Now we are left with only stupidity.

True green building does not use new materials or build new buildings in the first place. If you are Eco Brooklyn you build with reused old materials to renovate existing homes – the most ecological kind of reconstruction.

The environmental footprint of using new materials to build new houses is like buying with your credit card. You are using up natural resources to create something that won’t last. But if you take a piece of wood out of the dump and use it to make an existing house last longer you are doing something different: you clean up the world on both ends of the production chain – both at the dump and in the home.

With this green building you actually create a negative environmental footprint in that you help reverse the impact of building on the planet. Instead of spending with credit you put cash into the bank as future savings.

Nonetheless here is their justification of using soft wood over metal or concrete with their sources below. Maybe somebody wants to look into it and see how valid the numbers are.

Environmental Footprint

The chart below illustrates how each of the designs performed against five key indicators of environmental impact. With two exceptions, the wood-framed homes performed substantially better than their non-wood counterparts. The steel design produced slightly less solid waste and there was no significant difference in emissions to water in Atlanta.

MINNEAPOLIS DESIGN Wood Steel Difference (% Change)
Embodied Energy (GJ) 651 764 113 17%
Global Warming Potential (CO2 kg) 37,047 46,826 9,779 26%
Air Emission Index (index scale) 8,566 9,729 1,163 14%
Water Emission Index (index scale) 17 70 53 312%
Solid Waste (total kg) 13,766 13,641 -125 -0.9%

 

ATLANTA DESIGN Wood Concrete Difference (% Change)
Embodied Energy (GJ) 398 461 63 16%
Global Warming Potential (CO2 kg) 21,367 28,004 6,637 31%
Air Emission Index (index scale) 4,893 6,006 1,114 23%
Water Emission Index (index scale) 7 7 0 0%
Solid Waste (total kg) 7,442 11,269 3,827 51%

Another study conducted by the Canadian Wood Council compared the life cycle impacts of three 2,400 square foot homes designed primarily in wood, steel and concrete over the first 20 years of their lives. Relative to wood, the steel and concrete homes were predicted to:

  • Release 24 percent and 47 percent more air pollution
  • Produce 8 percent and 23 percent more solid waste
  • Use 11 percent and 81 percent more resources
  • Require 26 percent and 57 percent more energy (from extraction through maintenance)
  • Emit 34 percent and 81 percent more greenhouse gases
  • Discharge 4 and 3.5 times more water pollution

These differences may seem small until one realizes that only a small portion of the materials in a house (by weight) are involved in framing. One can expect the impacts to be many times greater when components made from different materials are compared directly.

Sources
More Information

A Photo Update of the Eco Brooklyn Roof Garden

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

NY Green Roof installers

Native Plant Green Roof Installation

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

Eco Brooklyn Green Roof Garden Installers

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

Green Roof Landscaping

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

True Green Building

Unable to sleep at 4am in New York I came accross this video of an abandoned town renovated by a small group of utopians. It is one of the most inspirational green building stories I have seen in a long time. So often green building is housed withing the capitalistic context where it is just another product to be consumed by and profited from financially.

But here we see a story of true green building. For me green building is almost not about the building but rather about the framework of the people involved. If the people have simply shifted to consuming green building just like you might shift from one brand to another then you really haven’t accomplished much.

But as you see in this video the people have shifted their whole context. Green building is no longer a consumer product. Green building is a lifestyle that required a complete change in consumptive habits, a complete change in how people interact with each other and a complete change in how they interact with their surroundings.

I think this change is good. Do we all need to move to an abandoned village on a mountainside to be truly green? Obviously that might help but no. Your baggage always catches up to you no mater where you go.

It is the mentality of these people that is most important, not their place. Very simply put, they have found that a simple, wholesome lifestyle is better than any consumer product. That is the key to true green building. Waki Sabi, man.

I see the irony of consuming this on my computer in the middle of the night in the city that never sleeps. That is the nature of today’s constantly ON planet. It is not sustainable. Time to go to sleep, or at least try to. Some cycles happen by themselves, others you have to help along.

The cycle of finding a greener way of life on this planet will not happen without us helping it. Like the people in this video who worked very hard to achieve what they have.

Bringing Passivhaus to Harlem

Check out this great article about our Eco Brooklyn’s Passive House in Harlem.  GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, a great online source for building, designing, and remolding green homes, sent Richard Defendorf to our Harlem site to check out our work. Read his write-up of all the techniques we used to seal our passive house!

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-news/bringing-passivhaus-harlem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eco Brooklyn Mid Year Report 2011

We are over half a year through 2011 and I thought I’d give a short report on our company’s progress. Things are great!

We started the year in rough times. 2010 was a year where we took on too many projects and didn’t have the management skills to handle them. Getting clients is not Eco Brookly’s problem. We get plenty of people wanting our services. Dealing with the fast growth of an eco contractor in NY, basically the only genuine one, is our biggest challenge.

So in 2011 we said “No. Sorry we are too busy to honestly be able to give you the service you deserve.” And despite having considerably less jobs in 2011 than in 2010 we are making considerably more money and doing considerably better work.

All of which achieves our Mantra of Turning New York Green.

The reason for our success improved management and efficiency. Our biggest lesson in 2010 was the embarrassing realization that we, a company obsessed with energy efficiency, wasted huge amounts of energy in bad management. It was a real slap on the forehead: energy efficiency starts with our own lives as humans! (this was pointed out by one of our Green Builders, David Concha).

Once we got that important message we focused on increasing the human energy efficiency. And it worked wonders. This year we are on time, in budget and, well, happy!

The second part of 2011 will be focused on perfecting our management process as well as closing out the amazing Passive House job in Manhattan and our other smaller jobs, the main one being the Green Show House.

Unfortunately we are not entirely out of the woods from our 2010 mistakes. A couple jobs still haunt us: failed inspections and call backs. But thank God we are almost completely done with those jobs and ready to move forward with smooth jobs and happy clients.

2011 was a major turning point for Eco Brooklyn. We transitioned from a baby company overwhelmed by easy success to a more mature company in control of our direction.

We have become very focused in our efforts. Every decision we make is considered from our Mantra: “Does this choice turn New York Green?.

We also clarified our Mission Statement: Quality Green Building on Time and Within Budget.

It is such a powerful and honest Mission Statement. It satisfies our Triple Bottom Line business model of People, Planet and Profit.

In closing I would like to thank Eco Brooklyn’s workers and clients. I started this company almost five years ago because I wanted to help turn the world green and construction was something I loved, was good at and it was clearly a low hanging fruit.

When I started it was just me. I would dumpster dive and people laughed at me. I was a lone freak. But I believed in my cause passionately. And I loved it. Our planet is badly damaged. We need to do something about it! And now Eco Brooklyn has a large and equally passionate team of green builders. Each day I am surrounded by really talented and amazing builders who are devoted to the cause of making this world a better, greener place. It is so exciting and I am really honored.

Together we create quality green building on time and within budget that turns New York green. It is amazing to watch. We are powerful and empowered green builders who are defining a green building career and movement.

Eco Brooklyn’s clients are equally amazing. Anyone who calls me I first ask them to read our web site. If they call back excited then we consider them. This has led us to really cool people committed to turning the world green. Getting a new kitchen is one thing, but renovating to better the world is completely another thing.

It is so wonderful working with our clients because our conversations are so not so much about paint colors but about which paint colors are non-toxic, have the least embodied energy, and are locally sourced. Our clients call us up saying they found a salvaged sink on craigs list and if we can use it in their kitchen.

They understand that they are part of the wealthy world and their comparatively vast amounts of money can make a real difference. The renovation is about removing waster from the landfill by creatively using it in the home. It is about strengthening ecological companies. It is about supporting local business. The fact that a beautiful and special home is created at the end is almost secondary. THE PROCESS MY FRIEND IS WHERE YOU FIND SALVATION.

These people are kindred souls aware of the tremendous power they have and eager to use it for good.

Eco Brooklyn has become a movement of devoted people. It is an honor to be part of it. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you to the Eco Brooklyn team: Ian, Dan, David, John, James, Charlie, Lucas, Martin, Paul, Santos, Ron, Joe, Stephen, Floris.

Thank you to Eco Brooklyn’s current clients: Mary Anne, Bill, Jennifer, Christine, Ron, Flona, Loretta, Ken.

BUILD IT FORWARD!

Good Cheap House Book

The book Good House Cheap House: Adventures in Creating an Extraordinary Home at an Everyday Price doesn’t set out to be about green building. It aims to show nicely designed and affordable homes.

But it ends up showing good green building as well.

The many case studies in the book show a pattern. Firstly all the homes are small and maximize the space so that they don’t feel small. If you want to build affordable, build less and more intelligently. Obvious enough. This is also a green building must. All things being equal, a smaller house will always be greener than a larger one.

A smaller house creates less of a footprint on the earth in all ways – physically, in materials, and in energy consumption.

All the homes were built with lots of salvaged material. Something salvaged is usually cheaper than something new. But something salvaged is always greener than something new in terms of environmental impact (of course you don’t want to salvage asbestos or lead pipes).

All the homes were renovations of old buildings. No new construction. It is cheaper to renovate than build new if you are willing to work with what you have. It is also a lot greener.

Two works in the book struck out to me as great guideposts for building: Creativity and constraint. To build affordable you need to be creative. There are lots of examples in the book where the owners used materials creatively. One owner put some lights in a salvaged beam and hung it from the ceiling, turning it into a beautiful chandelier. It cost maybe $20 and would hold its own in the fanciest penthouse apartment.

There are also countless examples of restraint. Knowing when enough is enough is the epitome of good design and good financial management. None of the homes feel constrained but they all have excellent constraint.

Creativity and constraint are key to any good green building too, for the same reasons. We are aiming to reduce our impact on the environment, reduce the materials used, and maximize what we have on hand. To do this you need to be careful how you build and use constraint. You also need to be really creative so that you can find new ways to use the materials you have on hand.

I like seeing the relationship between affordable building and green building. We have everything to gain by making the two synonymous. When green building is affordable it is done more often. And that is good for the owners because they save money, good for the contractor because they get more business and good for the environment because more homes are built in harmony with it.

Eco Brooklyn really forged the way in this connection between affordable and green. As of this post we are the only green building contractor in Brooklyn and NY building high quality green homes for middle class people. We have it down at this point. We can renovate several brownstones at a time and have the sourcing set up to provide all the salvaged materials and green building techniques needed to make real green renovations.

It is really a satisfying stage in Eco Brooklyn’s development. We struggled finding the line between affordable and underbidding. There is nothing more disgusting than paying out of pocket to get a job done that you underbid on. But we have it down now. We have streamlined our salvage process to a point where we have very little material costs yet our materials are of very high quality.

Combine that with high quality artisans who understand old school crafts and you get great building for an affordable price. It took us a while to perfect the process but we have a couple big jobs under our belt where we paid our dues and have now really found a pattern that works.

We can renovate a Brooklyn brownstone to the highest green standards – Passive House, all salvaged etc – coming very close to our Zero Brownstone goal. Hooray!

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.

Green Building time and cost

Building along green standards does not significantly increase the construction time or cost. There is no reason why not to build green since it may save money in the short term and is guaranteed to save money on a monthly basis once the building is done.

I wouldn’t say this is the case with most “green” building out there because they are still building along traditional methods and “adding green elements.” Of course in that model building green is an added expense above the “normal” building. And of course the green elements are the first to go when money gets tight because they are so clearly add-ons.

As true green builders we don’t do it that way. Our building can’t be segmented into normal building and green building. There is no either or.

Our style offers significant savings in some areas that we transfer into other areas. For example we save in wood costs since we don’t buy wood, period. We salvage it for free. Those savings are transfered to buying more (already cheap) salvaged insulation. The end result is a house with four times the insulation without any extra cost or compromise.

The same cost as normal building but four times the normal insulation! This then reduces monthly utility costs by four! It is powerful and simple. And we’ve not even mentioned that no trees were cut or insulation manufactured!

That is what normal builders don’t get because they are still stuck in the old way of building. The truth is that green building is smarter on all levels.

But it can only be done by completely redoing the building process. When we build we need to allot time for wood and insulation “harvesting”, we need to have carpenters who can work with odd shaped wood, we need to have non-traditional material sources etc.

To get four times the insulation at the same cost we have to completely rework the process from start to end. It can’t be simply tacked on to the job. It needs to BE the job.

P1010182.JPG

The Eco Brooklyn veggie oil truck after a successful salvaged insulation harvest

Green Building is Old Building

As a green contractor in Brooklyn, NY. I can post an add on Craigslist.org and get a hundred responses in an hour of highly qualified people asking very little for their work. Such is the nature of the economy, a highly skilled region and immediate technology.

But here is the kicker: I get people asking to work for free on my jobs because they love green building. There is a hunger for it. It allows them to fulfill something normal building does not. It is principle driven instead of money driven.

Anyway, all this lends itself to the availability of a lot of highly skilled cheap workers. So for me it makes a lot of sense to get old school and return to a more old fashioned way of building. This is where you use more basic materials that are cheaper instead of paying for the convenience of pre assembled materials.

It has nothing to do with loss of speed since you simply put more workers on the job. You can afford to do this because you aren’t spending extra money for the more convenient products. Instead of buying pre cut stair stringers you buy the wood and cut it yourself. Instead of buying pre made counters you buy the glass and concrete and mold them yourself.

The workers are no longer robots tightening the pre made widgets into place. They are artisans who get a lot more satisfaction from their creations.

Building Green Notes

I discovered a great web site today called Radiant Heat Institute.com
It is a godsend for a builder like me who likes to build cheap and green. He has loads of practical info. Very good site.

Here is from his site on how to build green:

1. Locate house with south orientation, +5 or – 5 degrees of due south is best. House to be elongated along the east-west axis for optimum exposure.

2. 8% to 12 % of floor area to be south facing glazing. South glazing must be vertical to prevent overheating in the summer. In general avoid the use of skylights but if used, they should be designed with much caution and thought as to thermal gain and loss.

3. Passive design houses can be direct gain, Trombe walls, mass walls, water walls or isolated gain (sunspaces or greenhouses). For the majority of designs, direct gain or isolated gain are used. Direct gain design relies on the interior mass of the house to store the solar heat.

4. Optimally insulating the house envelope is the most important issue – R20 (3.52 rsi) walls, R30 (5.29 rsi) roof, R10 (1.76 rsi) footer. Make the envelope like a thermos bottle. There is no compromise on this issue. Insulate on the exterior of mass walls. The mass walls will act as a thermal flywheel keeping the temperature of the space consistent through the day and night. Insulation must block any thermal path to the exterior. Keeping surface temperatures up (mean radiant temperature) and interior internal mass are the keys to a successful thermal environment and the proper placement of insulation is the tool for achieving this.

5. Use fixed or adjustable overhangs to block out sun completely from May 1 to July 30. Full sun should be allowed on Dec. 21. This rule will vary according to the local latitude and climate conditions.

6. Locate living areas and high activity areas on south side of house.

7. Locate closets, storage, garage and less active rooms on north side of house.

8. Locate baths, kitchen and laundry facilities near the water heater’s location to minimize pipe runs and energy loss.

9. Keep exterior entries away from wind. Air lock entries are always a good idea.

10. Keep infiltration to a minimum. Eliminate unwanted air entry. In very tight houses, an air to air heat exchange for ventilation is a good idea.

11. Free ventilation (operable windows) should be 6% to 7.5% of floor area. Half on the leeward side and half on the windward side.

12. It is best to use mass floors (stone, marble, tile) only where sun strikes floor. Floors in other areas should be of a light density, such as wood or carpet.

13. In less than favorable passive solar orientation or design, use hydronic radiant floors. If optimum passive design is utilized, there is no need for a radiant floor. If radiant floors are used, solar heating of the water is ideal because of the lower temperatures required for floor heating. Insulation under the radiant floor is required.

14. Double pain windows on south exposure, on other exposures use triple pane or low-E glass especially north glass which should be kept to a minimum.

15. Keep west facing glass to a minimum to reduce summer overheating. If required for a view, use high shading coefficient glass or low-E glass (or reflective blinds).

16. To optimize passive gain, use night window insulation such as shutters or insulative curtains.

17. South exposure sunspaces (greenhouses) are solar rooms attached to the south side of the house. In Italy south facing terraces would be ideal to close in with glazing that could be opened in summer. The terrace can be closed off from the main house and opened and closed as needed. South glazing should be a maximum of 6″ above the mass floor to allow optimum sun exposure to the mass floors. The floor perimeter or floor itself must be insulated as do all the columns and walls.

18. Use active solar panels for water heating. Insulate pipe and storage.

19. Without a doubt for maximum thermal comfort and cost effectiveness, the best use of the construction funds is to put it into the envelope rather than the heating system. If the envelope is designed with optimal passive solar features, the size and sophistication of the heating system can be designed to be much more economical plus the utility bills will be much less.

20. Use natural landscape to help both in controlling winds and shade for natural cooling