Eco Brooklyn has Changed Again! We are Living Wall Installers!

Eco Brooklyn is now a Living Wall installer! We have had eight glorious years of being an all round Green Builder. We have build Passive House buildings, Earthships, a Container House, countless green roofs, salvaged floors, Natural Swimming pools,  salvaged glass decks, and a thousand other cool green building jobs. And yes, even living walls. If it involved green building then we’ve done it. It has been an amazing learning experience. A day didn’t go by when we didn’t feel like we were doing good for the environment and the world.

green wall

A living wall with a focus on ferns.

But now it is time for a change. We are going from a very broad focus to an extremely specialized focus. Living Walls. They are beautiful, healthy, and ALIVE. They are as much a joy to build as they are to view. We made this change because after many years of being a generalist we want to try out being a specialist. We want to go deep into one thing.

Many living wall installers also do green roofs. There are definitely crossovers. In both cases you are installing plants in a hostile environment with very little root depth. And to be honest if somebody asked us to install a green roof we wouldn’t turn it down. But we are putting ourselves out there as purely green wall installers. We want to be THE living wall company in NY. With service and quality beyond compare. It is easier to keep quality high when specializing because you need less experts on the team. Through repetition we will perfect the living wall to an art form.

We hope you consider installing a living wall in your home or work space. It is a magical experience to have a green wall in your space. If you want to see what one looks like, give us a call. We’d be happy to show you some of the ones we have done.

Steep Green Roofs and Living Walls

In my ongoing obsession with putting earth and plants on city walls I have found some more resources. My ongoing research is for several jobs Eco Brooklyn has in the works to put living walls on Brownstone exterior walls. There are many ways to do this and I have not decided which to go with yet.

My main consideration is maintenance, durability and embodied energy.

The wall must require zero or low maintenance. This means the plants need to take care of themselves year after year. The main consideration is water, which would be provided by the gray water produced by the brownstone. Otherwise the large amount of water a living wall requires would render it unsustainable if it used potable water.

In terms of durability the Brooklyn living wall needs to have plants that don’t die. Obvious enough but easier said than done. They need to be native plants that like hanging on cliffs. There also needs to be a mix of evergreen and perennials. The evergreens would keep the wall from looking bleak in the winter and the evergreens would keep the wall vibrant.

More importantly the structure needs to be durable. Earth and wood are key ingredient for termites so unfortunately we can’t use the abundance of salvaged wood for the frame that holds up the living wall. I don’t want to use the existing brick wall of the brownstone to support the living wall since I don’t trust that it won’t bow out over time. I have seen too many walls do this without thousands of pounds pulling on it.

The obvious choice is a metal framework.

But that needs to be balanced out by embodied energy. A living wall with a metal framework would mean a lot of embodied energy even if the metal was made from recycled content. It takes a lot of heat to melt down metal. Finding salvaged metal is still a challenge for Eco Brooklyn, both in electrical and plumbing material, since scrap collectors get it before we do. We are working on building stronger ties with scrap collectors but so far our salvaged metal sources are scarce.

Anyway, here are some items that are helpful in my growing knowledge of the perfect Brownstone living wall.

UrbanHaBitats.org offers some good articles on urban living walls. They list all their sources for further digging.

This woven plastic may be an important element in a living wall. The material would allow the plant roots to weave into it and help create the support structure. Otherwise the plants and earth will sag with gravity.

Zinco offers holding cells for sloped green roofs that could be incorporated behind a mesh in a living wall. They also have a good moisture retention mat.

Vote For Green Roof

Windsor Terrace Library is seeking city funding to install a green roof and you can help get them the money. You just need to vote for them to get the money. It’s that simple. Scroll down for details of where and when to vote.

Their hope is to use the green roof to reduce their energy use, limit stormwater run-off, improve air quality, add wildlife habitat & add beauty. As a certified green roof installer we have a vested interest in more money going to green roofs in NYC. And so should everyone else! The benefits are huge. So scroll down and find out when to vote!

Library Green Roof

Green Roof Habitat

Location
Windsor Terrace branch of BPL, Ft Hamilton Parkway at E. 5th St.

Who Benefits
Windsor Terrace Library serves a diverse community of families, professionals, and retirees from many cultures. The branch serves many students from PS130 & Brooklyn Prospect schools, both nearby.

Project Description
The 7,500 sq foot green roof at Windsor Terrace library will beautify the area while improving the building’s energy efficiency & roof’s longevity. It will also absorb stormwater from entering the sewers. The project demonstrates environmental leadership to BPL patrons.

Cost
$250,000

Vote for green roof

Library Green Roof

Natural Mosquito Control

Summer might not be just around the corner, but once gardens are in full bloom safe insect and pest control will become a necessity. As a NY green contractor that specializes in green roofs and gardens it’s part of our job to ensure that the spaces we create can be enjoyed to their fullest potential.

Mosquitoes and other bugs will exist naturally within any green space and it is important to be able to control their populations. The best option is to use safe and natural methods so as to reduce diseases spread by mosquitoes and maintain a clean and healthy setting. It’s much easier for our clients to enjoy their urban landscape when they are free from worry regarding insects and pests.

With this article we aim to provide a deeper understanding of how one of the most annoying and dangerous pests, mosquitoes, finds a host and the current scientific advancement in safe pesticide production and application.

The focus here is on the mosquito species Aedes Aegypti AKA the Asian Tiger mosquito; most well known for being a royal nuisance but also very importantly responsible for spreading yellow fever. When mosquitoes hunt for a meal they detect a number of chemicals, including carbon dioxide, lactic acid, ammonia, and octenol.

Octenol, in particular, is emitted by all mammals and is a carbon-based compound that has a molecular structure that can take on a “right-handed” or “left-handed” form. Both the right and left forms are a mirror image of the other and the “handedness” of either form determines how its molecular bonds are assembled.

A test performed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologists concluded that mosquitoes are more likely to be attracted to the right-handed form of octenol emitted by mammals. Information regarding compounds that most attract mosquitoes can be crucial in determining effective pesticide and repellent use.

Traditionally, a variety of man-made chemicals are applied to the body or a garden to repel insects. These chemicals are known to have harsh smells and negative health effects especially when applied directly to the skin. Folk and homeopathic remedies have long been used by indigenous cultures and many are coming under current scientific review.

The USDA and their chief scientific research agency the ARS along with a few collaborators have recently found that the ancient Pacific folk remedy of using breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) to repel mosquitoes actually holds scientific weight.

Three chemicals within male inflorescences of breadfruit have been identified as being more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the leading repellent known as DEET. These chemicals – Capric, undecanoic and lauric acids (or C10, C11, and C12 saturated fatty acids) – have been recorded as being entirely successful in repelling the malaria carrier.

A separate study that examined the effectiveness of a variety of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids as mosquito repellent found that participants wearing a cloth treated with these compounds were protected against mosquito bites. Dried clusters of the flowers can be burned, as is done in native pacific cultures, to release the chemicals and stave off harmful mosquitoes as well. This is the first scientific research validating the effectiveness of the folk remedy.

In the same respect, ARS scientists studied the effectiveness of the Indian and African method of burning Jatropha curcas seed oil to repel insects. Jatropha curcas is a versatile plant with all parts having homeopathic functions.

In an effort to validate the folk remedy, Natural Products Utilization Research Unit (NPURU) chemist Charles Cantrell extracted the smoke from the plant and analyzed its repellent properties concluding that the free fatty acids and triglycerides present were effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting. Fatty acids have previously been observed to have mosquito repelling properties, but this study is the first to include triglycerides in its findings.

Folk remedies are regarded as safer methods of repelling mosquitoes due to the toxicity of modern pesticides. Chemical pesticides often have a strong negative impact on humans due to the similarity in physiological systems shared by humans and pests.

In further scientific advancement, ARS scientists have tested a new form of mosquito control that they have concluded to be safe for humans, yet detrimental to insect populations. This nonchemical approach involves using a molecular pesticide technology that prevents mosquitoes from producing essential proteins necessary for their survival. The protein present in this pesticide is a nucleic acid such as DNA or RNA that interrupts specific genes within pests.

Due to the gene technology involved, this method can be designed to target a specific pest species and is even effective against species that are resistant to certain chemical pesticides. It is important to use caution with any technological advancement, however this alternative to modern pest control is reported by the USDA to negatively affect only the species towards which the method is directed. This new, nonchemical approach to preventing mosquito bites could serve as a model system for developing new, safer pesticides.

When enjoying your days and evenings in your Brooklyn green roof or garden you probably won’t be using natural pesticides like jatropha curcas seed oil or breadfruit to stave off pesky mosquitoes. But we are looking at these ingredients and many more as possible natural mosquito control. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as our research continues!

Subterranean Living

Inhabitat recently posted an article exemplifying innovative underground houses around the globe.  As a green contractor Eco Brooklyn is continually using cutting-edge ideas to improve upon Passive House designs. Underground housing can provide New York State with low energy housing at reasonable prices without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal of living above ground.

Living Passively

Living Passively

Structures built underground are protected from large temperature swings and extreme weather. At depths below 3 feet the ground maintains an average temperature of the yearly climate. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the benefit of home protection is priceless. The greatest benefit to homeowners is one that benefits their wallet. These buildings utilize the earth’s natural insulation and thus require less energy to heat and cool. Besides saving energy, subterranean buildings provide security though access limitation. They exist within nature instead of disrupting the environment. Under-grounding takes up less space and is less environmentally invasive. Unlike standard housing, driveway and backyard space are unnecessary as those amenities are provided directly above the structure.

One of the novel designers of earth-sheltered housing was Malcolm Wells. His underground designs merged iconoclastic principles with modern architecture. The New York Times stated it best:

“…his designs incorporated the land. He designed some homes (and other buildings) that seemingly burrowed into hillsides, and others whose main living space was subterranean, perhaps with above-ground lean-to roofs or atria and skylights to let in the sun. In general, his roofs were covered with layers of earth, suitable for gardens or other green growth.”

Wells Art Gallery

Much of Malcolm Wells’ design incorporated concrete and Eco Brooklyn suggests using rammed earth or tires to add structural support to underground buildings. Gennaro has also developed a design to alleviate the stress of the barrier walls by engineering a bowl-shaped structure with a one-to-one slope.

EcoBrooklyn Undergound House

Eco Brooklyn is currently working with Michael Reynolds to develop an earth-sheltered home just north of New York City, so check back for updates on our Underground Housing

-Anthony Rivale

Green roof mat

Last week we met the representative from Kawasaki Greenhouses to check out their new green roof product. It is a pregrown green roof mat that is light-weight and easy to handle. They grow the sedum on coconut jute, which is basically like a stringy organic fiber sponge. The end result is very similar to mats of grass sod, although instead of grass you have a low and thick layer of sedum plants.

The green roof mat is very light and easy to work with. It bends easily without being damaged – makes it easy to install a green roof on a brownstone.

What we liked about the product is that it allows for an easy plug and play application because once laid the roof looks like it has been there for years. Their sedum choice, although not native to the NY area, is varied and colorful and picked to be hardy and low maintenance.

Notice the coconut jute. Very cool natural green roof option.

As a green roof installer, we are always interested in new products and we feel this one looks promising. We would use it on a roof that can not handle much weight and where the client needs immediate satisfaction.

The one bit of feedback we gave them is that we prefer to use only native sedum. They said they’d look into it.

Their product is similar to Sedum Master

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

I am A Weed (part 2)

This blog post is in response to my post last week, “I Am a Weed.

NY green build-design

Since a lot of Eco Brooklyn’s work involves creating ecological plant-scapes, the issue of weeds and native species arrises a lot. As an ecological landscaper we’ve learned that the only difference between a weed and a plant lies in the definition of the beholder. For example we plant a lot of native grasses, considered your archetypal weed to the typical green lawn installer. In general we tend to plant in a much more “wild way” than your typical landscape design.

We also plant in a lot more places than considered normal in a city – on roofs, walls, stairs and any other surface. By doing this we are aware that our work spreads a lot of native plants throughout the city through wind and bird droppings.

If cities were to increase their leniency toward spontaneous urban plants, how could they do so responsibly? There are some valid points to be made in the argument against weeds. Some plants, such as ragweed, cause allergic reactions. Others have the ability to completely dominate a landscape and kill off any other competing plants, like japanese knotweed. In a few rare cases, exotic spontaneous plants have brought in diseases or funguses that affect native plants. Dutch Elm Disease, which was actually introduced by an insect, not a plant, is the most infamous of these. It’s an impressive feat for a plant to survive in the crack of a building, but if it grows so large that it jeopardizes the building’s infrastructure then that is a problem. So where should these plants be grown and how?

A passive answer to this question are brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned or underused patches of land that once facilitated industrial or commercial activity. These unattended sites can quickly become inhabited by spontaneous plants and given free reign, soon grow into little forests, discreetly nestled within a city block. In these scenarios, an unsightly vacant lot morphs into a green field with zero human effort or money put into it.

 brooklyn contractor

A more proactive way of including spontaneous plants in our urban environments is via brown roofs. Brown roofs are very similar to green roofs. They share many of the same construction methods and benefits. The difference is that the dominant aim of a brown roof is to increase biodiversity, whereas green roofs tend to focus more on aesthetics. A green roof requires a certain amount of tending whereas a brown roof is purposely left undisturbed so that local wildlife can colonize it. In this unmanaged state, brown roofs offer hospitable land for the airborne seeds of spontaneous urban plants.

urban landscaping

A brown roof can be seeded when it is first created or it can be designed to set up the proper conditions (i.e. a plantable substrate) for plant life to grow and then left to the forces of nature. In the latter scenario, it takes about two years for the brown roof to fully grow in. Although somewhat popular in Europe, because of the slow rate of return and lack of control over the roof garden’s aesthetic, brown roofs are very rare in the US. I think it is understandable to prefer a green roof on one’s home or in a public area, but I propose that large buildings like factories looking to cut down on energy costs consider building brown roofs as they will help insulate the building while requiring very little maintenance.

ny green roof builder

Sometimes piles of logs or stones are added to brown roofs to further promote biodiversity

To clarify, although brown roofs can largely be left to themselves, they don’t and shouldn’t be left entirely untouched. Undesirable plants, such as those that cause allergies or are aesthetically unappealing, can be removed. Invasive plants should be pruned or taken out. What it comes down to is reconsidering “gardening” altogether, not just the plants being used. Recall land artist, Michael Heizer’s, work Double Negative (see “The Earth Art Movement”). Heizer makes us question whether something is art if it is created purely by subtraction. With a green roof or any other garden, we choose the plants and place them where we like– addition. However, a brown roof that is left to colonize itself can be developed simply by taking away plants– subtraction. Subtraction, in this case, is the less energy intensive option. It is working within nature instead of outside it.

In the book Eaarth, Bill McKibben suggests that global climate change has reached the point where it is no longer preventable. It is happening and there are going to be dramatic changes to our world. McKibben says we can either keep wasting our time trying to stop the unstoppable or we can accept the reality of our situation and prepare for a new way of life. To a lesser extreme, I believe the debate about spontaneous urban plants is a similar one. Perhaps it is time to realize that eradication is impossible and to start working with them instead of against them.

Ecological builder brooklyn

 

By: Malone Matson

We Love Motherplants

MotherPlants is a nursery in Ithaca, NY that specializes in growing plants for green roofs. MotherPlants is a women-owned company, committed to environmental sustainability. They use renewable energy, healthy growing practices, and dedicate a large portion of their land for wildlife.

living roof

These woman do green roofs right. They focus on plants that are drought resistant, have shallow roots, and are hearty enough to survive Northeastern winters. MotherPlants offers a variety of plant options such as “plug plants” (already grown plants with developed root systems that will grow immediately), unrooted cuttings (cuttings take less time to install and are cheaper but take more time to get established and should be planted in the spring), pre-grown mats and modules, and they will even grow custom plants by request. Many of these plants are sedums and grasses– check out their catalogue here. They also sell green roof media and can help you design your green roof.

ny green contractor

As an NY green roof installer, Eco Brooklyn is very attracted to MotherPlants because of their expertise, commitment to sustainable practices and native species, variety, and proximity (so as to reduce our environmental footprint.) Many of the plants we use in the green roofs we design are sourced from MotherPlants. When possible, we like to use clippings from the roof garden at the Eco Brooklyn Show House when propagating new roofs to avoid unnecessary use of fossil fuels through transportation… and just because we like to share.

ny green design build

Above is a photo of Eco Brooklyn’s green roof at the Show House. MotherPlants highly recommends on their website that people avoid the do-it-yourself method of installing a green roof. We agree; building a green roof should be done by an expert who can assess a roof’s ability to support the weight of a green roof, can install a well-insulated and well-sealed garden that will not leak, and can choose plants that will thrive in the conditions created specifically by your roof’s location and design.

As an NY green contractor, Eco Brooklyn can help you design and build your green roof in keeping with the most sustainable practices and products. Contact us to learn more about living roofs in NYC.

Riverside Park: Flushing Away the Porter Potties, Adding Composting Toilets

In 1875, Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Riverside Park, in 1935 Robert Moses built a highway right thought, but somehow the park has prevailed and it now going to be home to one of the greenest structures in the city – a composting toilet.

Riverside Park is home to the cities only clay tennis courts, this of course results in waits up to two and three hours. Waiting on a grassy knoll with perfect views of the Hudson doesn’t sound to shabby, but as nature calls, there is an inevitable need for a bathroom. That is why the Riverside Clay Tennis Association has decided to build a facility that will accommodate the needs of the parks visitors while being ecological, something public toilets rarely are.

The Riverside Tennis Association has commissioned Rick Cook of Cook & Fox to design a facility equipped with composting toilets and solar panels. Cook & Fox are also responsible for the LEED certified Bank of America tower across from Bryant Park.

Cook & Fox are taking this incredible concept one step further by designing this center to the Living Building Challenge standard, which is one of the toughest green standards out there. We recently wrote a blog about Bucky Fuller and the Living Building Challenge -a standard that we at Eco Brooklyn aspire to.

Living Building Challenge is difficult to achieve for multiple reasons, but the most challenging aspect of the standard is the water limitations. Buildings have a hard time qualifying for the LBC because bathrooms use such a large amount of water. The standard is so tough that in most places it is illegal, as most building codes demand a connection to water and sewer – the LBC standards call for net zero water (capturing rain water and discharging it onsite).

The design proposed a small building; the majority of it located underground, equipped with composting toilets, the compost generated by the toilets will be used to fertilize the greenery. Which is the one of the main reasons that we, at Eco Brooklyn ae so excited about this project. As green builders, we have installed numerous composting toilets. The design also incorporates photovoltaic panels which will be scattered in tree-like formations to power the building. Solar panels are another element that makes this project to actractive to NY Green Contractors like ourselves. We currently have plans to install solar panels on the rook and siding our the Ecpo Brooklyn Showhouse.

Composting toilettes typically use about three ounces of water compared to the 1.6 to 0.8 gallons per flush that typical high efficiency toilets use.

The design incorporates other green aspects besides composting toilets and solar panels. The architects plan to use recycled building materials, a green roof planted with native species and blast furnace slag in the concrete to circumvent the carbon heavy manufacturing process of cement.  For the past two weeks, we have been researching and planting native plants in the Show house. Last week we were weeding and plantings native species on a green roof in Brooklyn. We are excited to see that Cook + Fox have taken native species into account to create this NY design.

The Green design came out of necessity. The high water table and proximity to the Hudson makes it impossible to install a septic tank and leach field, in addition to those obstacles there is no connection to the city sewage system (sewage lines stop on the other side of the Henry Hudson Highway). Essentially their only option was to go green. Once again green building pushes past limitations that we humans have created for ourselves.

The bathrooms replace two portable toilets, a small brick shack and a repurposed shipping container that is used for storage; it will be built on the southeast corner of the courts.

The facility’s estimated cost is around $5.5 million and is scheduled to open this summer.

International Center of Photography Pics

Last week students from the International Center of Photography came by to photograph the show house green roof and back garden. Here is what they came up with.

Our Favorite:

RobertSJohnson_EcoGarden

As green roof installers we are particularly in love with the green roof on the show house. It is where we do a lot of experimentation to see what works on NY green roof installations.

 

As New York green roof installers we are particularly interested in creating roof top sanctuaries not only for humans but for native animals. This birds nest is part of that process of turning a bleak roof into a home.

New York Natural Swimming Pool

From the green roof you can see the back garden which is under construction. It has all native plants arranged in a native hardscape. It also has a natural swimming pool that will be cleaned by plants and stones.

 Eco Brooklyn NY green roof service is doing well and we are now expanding to provide natural swimming pool construction services for New York residents with small back yards. We feel this is a great thing that adds to the ecosystem and quality of life. Our first one is being built in the Eco Brooklyn green show house. We are making all the mistakes we can to perfect the process.

The natural pool is common in Europe but Americans are still stuck on keeping nature and humans apart, and this applies to chlorinated pools as much as it does to other things. But as we learn that nature (bugs, microbes, dirt) actually can help keep us healthy it makes a lot of sense to swim in a natural swimming pool.

With time we hope more and more people will see that chlorinated pools are actually lass sanitary that natural swimming pools due to the connections between chlorine and health issues like cancer, rashes and breathing disorders.

 

Green Source Magazine Products

Reading through the March-April 2012 issue of Green Source Magazine I came across their products section, which featured some very interesting new green roof and living wall items and exciting companies.

By now most people are aware of and understand the benefits of living/ green walls and roofs;

-Health and wellness

-Urban wildlife

-Aesthetics

-Building protection

-Energy savings

-Acoustic dampening

-Property value

-Sustainability

-Improved air quality

-LEED credits

The first product listed designed by Green Over Grey was an improvement on the typical modular living wall system.  Their living walls use a soilless grow medium in a stainless steel frame which allows for a greater range of plants grown per module including anything from ground cover to small trees.

The company was commissioned recently to design/ build the largest green wall in North America in the Edmonton international airport using this system.  While the design is nice and the system is effective it is still run on a hydroponic irrigation system that requires a pump running 24hours to the keep the plants watered, which in our opinion makes for a very nice wall but isn’t ecological.

We don’t use this system for that reason.

edmonton international airport green wall

edmonton international airport green wall

The next company is Colbond Inc. they are global manufacturer of high-performance construction products and textiles.  On their website is a section geared specifically to green roofs and roof gardens.  Their products are a small range of drainage/ water retaining mats and liners for various roof gardening applications.

Their featured item is the “Enkamat” which anchors roots, drains water and grips growing medium, making it useful in sloped roof or high –wind conditions.  Their “Enkadrain” is a water proofing membrane made from 40% pre-consumer recycled polypropylene.  The company itself is not quite a “green company” having a very limited selection of green products compared to the rest of their catalogue.

We have used the Enkamat is our New York green roof installations with good results. Because it offers drainage and water retention in one it makes for an easier installation.

enkamat
enka drain green roof system

enka drain green roof system enkamat

Tournesol Siteworks is another company specializing in module green wall systems; this one like the Green Over Grey system is capable of supporting a variety of plants making it an improvement on typical systems.  This VertiGreen trellis and Tournesol VGM exterior green walls use soil, between 4 and 8 inches and are designed for easy maintenance with modules that can be independently replaced/ removed. The framework for the wall garden is comprised of recycled polypropylene boxes and stainless steel mounting brackets.

A couple drawbacks are; this system does not come with a built in irrigation system, they recommend a water saving drip system but you are left to figure that out with your green contractor/ builder. This is an important part that could make or break its success. Also the system comes disassembled, your green builder has to assemble the pieces, do the planting and wait 1-3 months before they are ready to hang.

At first you may think this is not the most efficient system or company model.  But it increases work for local labor, decreases shipping load, and moves you away from the “instant product” that people have become obsessed with at great cost to the environment.

Letting the plants grow in place has many benefits. You haven’t invested a lot of money in plants if they don’t survive, the plants that are happy will grow, you get to see them go from zero to full, and the cost is lower since you aren’t paying somebody else to grow your plants.

We like this product because it uses soil and not hydroponics. We also like the fact that it does not cater to people who are willing to spend lots of money for the instant fix. Assembly and growing in place is much more ecological.

The main issue I have with this system is that the square boxes are very visible even when the wall is fully grown. There is no way you can make the wall appear natural. If you highlight the squares like some installers have done then it looks great.

But Eco Brooklyn is more of a naturalist green wall installer in that we like it to look like it just grew there. For that reason we haven’t used this system despite all the great things we like about it.

tournesol greenwall
tournesol module

tournesol module

The GAF materials corp is one of the largest roofing manufacturers in North America and have made an exciting and sincere commitment to sustainability within their company.  Their greenroofing product listed is a way to simplify the installation and implementation of roof gardens by modulation.

Their Product DuraGrow does the work of four separate items by retaining the plants water, provides adequate drainage, protects its membrane and prevents clogging.  The company also provides extensive warranties on all their products.  The website www.gaf.com also has a section for green builders to put together a type of “scorecard” for each of their products to gain a better idea of their level of sustainability.

GAFs commitment to sustainability is exemplified by two of their manufacturing plants that have reached a level of zero waste to landfill, this means virtually nothing from the facility enters directly to the waste stream.

Gsky based in Vancouver, BC, Canada is probably leader in green wall panel systems with so many patents on their products and flexibility in the design.  The panels are independent and customizable, they use nonsoil structural growth medium, and they pre-grow the plants into the panels before shipping, the irrigation is a very sophisticated automatic drip system that monitors the moisture levels throughout the day and the system itself is mountable to virtually any surface.

westelm L.A. greenwall

westelm L.A. greenwall

Carlisle-SynTec, Inc is a company focused on modular green roof systems but with the ability to work with intensive or extensive systems and produce region specific sedum tiles for the extra conscious green builder.  Their Hydropak is a module system built with 100% recycled HDPE trays pre-grown plants in a varied growing medium.

carlisle-syntec brochure

carlisle-syntec brochure

There is the “greenscreen” system by Greenscreen in Los Angeles, CA.  This is the least exciting item of the bunch in my opinion.  The greenscreen is essentially a glorified trellis in that it is only a simple welded wire mesh grid in 3D.

The system only provides a climbing/ hanging support for plants, though can be mounted to an exterior wall or left free standing it is a not a product an east coast or NY green contractor would want to invest in as the shipping cost economically and ecologically would greatly outweigh the limited benefits provided.  Not a bad product and relatively inexpensive compared to more integrated systems, just not quite worth shipping out of state.

 

Dallas international center Greenscreen trellis
greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

Overall we at EcoBrooklyn avoid greenwall systems that require a 24hr hydroponic irrigation system – those pumps are very energy intensive and not green. The Tournesol system is a bit more desirable due to its use of soil as a grow medium, this allows you to stay away from high energy irrigation systems that are constantly run, however to support the added loads of the soil, the fully grown plants, and the water weight you need additional support mechanisms which means more material, an added resource we feel is better than the energy wasted in hydroponic systems.

The soil based systems also have much better tolerance to extremes in weather since the soil acts as a humidity and temperature buffer. As a New York living wall and green roof installer you have to pay special attention to those extremes since a New York winter can be freezing while the summer can be blistering.

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!

New York Green Roof Installer Costs

I was bidding on a green roof in lower Manhattan the other day and the architect threw out a price of $25-$35 per square foot as a typical price to install a green roof.

He is correct that a green roof can cost $25-35/sq.ft. I have even seen really large jobs cost less. There are always exceptions.

But that green roof usually has certain qualities:

It is a shallow green roof of 3-4″
It is a large green roof with economy of scale
It does not contain construction elements like a box frame
It contains plugs or cuttings that take a year or two to spread
Roof access is easy (elevator or for large roofs, crane)
Street Access is easy (easy parking, lots of unloading space and time)

However, that square foot price jumps when the following are added:
Soil depth (more soil to ship and get to the roof and the plants tend to be larger and thus costlier)
Smaller roofs – base costs remain the same regardless of roof size
Construction elements like boxes, seats …
Pregrown mats or trays (you are paying somebody else to grow them plus the proprietary trays come at a premium)
Difficult access (like a recently finished and clean private home, narrow streets, no parking)

Essentially a green roof price starts at $25 if you have the most basic large size green roof, easy access and find somebody willing to cut prices.

But I have seen green roofs as expensive as $500 a square foot. If you have a 100 square foot green roof in a fancy apartment building in Manhattan your life is going to be really difficult. Parking tickets are the least of it. Difficult doormen, building rules, and unwelcoming neighbors are all part of the mix that drive prices up.

Throw in a fancy pregrown tray system, some custom made edging and a top of the line irrigation system because they want it to appear lush year round, and you have a green roof that costs more than a a farm in Indiana. But boy is the green roof beautiful! There is something about a green roof on the new York concrete jungle that really can’t be beat.

New York as envisioned by a NY Green Roof Installer

Green Roof Layers Mimic Natural Soil

Here is a great graphic showing how green roof construction mimics in a few inches what normal soil does in a couple feet. Plants want water, but not too much. They want something to dig their roots into that also provides nourishment.

Green Roof Diagram

Showing how the design of successful green-roof systems mimics earth’s natural soil layers

Green roofs have to provide this but because it is a roof you can’t have tonnes of soil up there. So much soil would be very expensive to install and support.

Normal soil is deep so it holds lots of humidity for the plant to drink from. But because it is deep the excess water drains down. This way the plants get water but their roots don’t rot in standing water.

The green roof accomplishes the balance with the help of several layers. The growing medium, filter sheet and protection layer act as sponges to hold water. The drainage layer has little cups that fill up with water. This provides a lot of water in relatively little space and with very little weight.

At the same time when the drainage mat cups fill up the excess water overflows and easily passes underneath it away and down the roof drain. This means the roots don’t sit in water and rot.

The green roof medium is usually an aggregate for the roots to dig into so the plants don’t fly away, mixed with something very nutritious to feed the plants. This mix also has to be very light. The aggregate ideally holds water as well.

Some examples of aggregate are crushed brick, lava rock, shale, and shredded Styrofoam. Sometimes clay is mixed is as an added water retainer as well as binder. As nutrition compost or peat is added.

The growing medium duplicates in very little space and with little weight what normal soil does.

The end result may not be as perfect as  natural soil, and this has to be remediated by using hardy plants that are ok with severe rooftop weather conditions and poor soil. Sedum is happy hanging on the sides of a cliff in the wild, as are many grasses and other small plants, so the options for a green roof are large.

As a New York green roof installer we use a mix of North American native sedum with some grasses and even small bushes. Even though the green roofs we install are typically less the 4″ deep, they look very lush and require minimal maintenance because the green roof replicate so well the natural soil conditions of the plants.

The trick with all green building, and this includes natural landscaping, is to replicate natural phenomena so that they work with little energy input from us. A green roof is a perfect example of this.

Image © 2011 by Erich Nagler

The Craft: Up On the (Living) Roof

Chrongram Magazine mentioned Eco Brooklyn in a recent article on green roofs. It is below:

A close-up of the green roof installed at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor’s Center in Gardiner by Aurora Landscape Design.

A close-up of the green roof installed at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor’s Center in Gardiner by Aurora Landscape Design.

by Gregory Schoenfeld, April 27, 2012

When Shawn McCloskey returned home to his native Kingston in 2000, things were pretty much the way he had left them. After years in the Pacific Northwest, honing his craft of landscaping design, McCloskey began to build his Aurora Landscape firm in a Hudson Valley design scene that was comfortably reminiscent of the one he had grown up with.

It was a bit too comfortable for McCloskey’s taste.

“I looked around and realized that things weren’t happening around here,” recalls McCloskey. “We needed to see change, and we needed to diversify.” Seeking to incorporate the kind of sustainable advancements that are, unfortunately, often more prevalent abroad than in the United States, McCloskey found his inspiration in green roof installation. A longstanding practice in regions like Scandinavia, and for decades an increasingly popular environmental trend in many European countries, a “green roof” is exactly what it sounds like: living vegetation thriving on top of building structure, just where common sense would dictate. Continual developments in technology and application have transformed the sod-and-grass roofs of old Norwegian villages into a spectacular—and sustainable—array of choices.

Joining forces with trend-setting manufacturer LiveRoof, which offers an environmentally sound, pre-vegetated modular system, McCloskey’s work has hit the ground—or the roof—blooming. Examples of striking blends of multicolored Sedum plants, and the reduced carbon footprint they provide, can be found at places like Rhinebeck’s Omega Institute and atop the Mohonk Preserve Visitors’ Center—providing precious visibility for a movement with a seemingly unending list of benefits. Besides the obvious aesthetic improvements (when was the last time you stopped and gazed at a field of well-laid roof shingle?), green roofing begins with long-term savings, both residentially and commercially. “The best part is, the sustainability is a result of practicality,” says McCloskey. The UV protection provided by a properly installed system can triple the life expectancy of the roof itself, and the improved insulation can save 25 percent or more of heating and cooling energy usage. Living roof coverage also comprehensively helps with stormwater drainage issues, and it’s myriad associated costs. The secondary effects are equally as significant, as the process helps reduce pollution as well as damaging overheating effects, particularly in urban areas.

Slowly but surely, the United States is catching up with the global awareness of how beneficial green roofing can be, with recent legislation providing tax incentives for implementing the green technology. Practitioners like Gennaro Brooks-Church—whose Eco Brooklyn design firm does groundbreaking work in New York City, where any living space is at a premium—believes that the holistic environmental and lifestyle improvements of green building suggest a mandate for a sustainable future. “People are increasingly seeing the necessity of green roofs, especially in cities where stormwater runoff, heat island effect, pollution mitigation, local food sources and diminishing wildlife habitats are all concerns,” explains Brooks-Church. “A green roof helps solve all these issues.”

Brooklyn Green Roof

Here are some spring photos from the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House roof. It is two years old now. We don’t water it. We just let it do its own thing. The soil has thinned out and is only about 2.5″ thick. But we have bushes and plants along with a thick canopy of sedum. It is very pretty.

The bee hive is also buzzing. It is so productive that last season we left them the honey. We still have lots of honey from the year before!

Native Plant Green Roof Installer

Most New York green roof installers look towards Europe for green roof plant varieties. Europe has the largest green roof industry and has spent many years testing different plants.

Typically a New York green roof installer will specify a selection of  sedum native to the high mountains and wild places across Europe, including the Balkan Mountains and the Carpathians.

Sedum are a mostly succulent low laying plant that  like the bright sun and dry conditions of green roofs. Sedum can be found all over the world where rugged, well drained conditions exist.

They are often called stonecrop because they like to grow in the cracks of stones.

As a New York green contractor I too looked towards Europe for information on how to build the perfect Gotham green roof.

Eco Brooklyn is an ecological landscape designer and as such only designs and plants New York gardens with native species. The green roof has been our one exception, the original presumption being that there are not enough native plants to make an interesting green roof landscape. Or at least we didn’t know enough to try.

But as my experience and confidence expanded I started to research native species of sedum. I did a lot of testing on the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House roof. Some plants survived, others didn’t. What I learned is that the typical sedum suggestions for a shallow (extensive) New York green roof is extremely limited.

This is when we realized the opportunity to become a Green Roof Installer specializing in native plant green roofs.

For example we currently have three thriving Butterfly plants on the Eco Brooklyn Show House roof. In three inches of soil! Without watering them!

Butterfly plants on Eco Brooklyn's Show House green roof

Or how about our lambs ear, which is also a NY native. It is very happy on the Show House green roof.

Native Plant Lambs Ear is a good choice for New York green roofs

Another cool New York native is the Eastern Prickly Pear cactus, the only native cactus in northeast North America. It loves being on our roof, although you may not love it once it’s spines get into your skin. They are painful! I hear their fruit is good, although I have not braved the spines.

The Eastern Prickly Pear loves sandy dry soil, so a green roof is great for them.

And for those who don’t know, there are actually over 50 sedum native to North America. The only places in North America that do NOT have a native sedum are the far North of Canada and North Dakota! Not sure why. Even Greenland and Alaska have sedum.

Those 50 or so sedum fall into 18 genera. Here is the full North America genera list from the USDA web site:

Symbol
Scientific Name
Common Name
AEONI Aeonium Webb & Bethel. aeonium
COTYL Cotyledon L. pig’s ear
CRASS Crassula L. pygmyweed
DIAMO Diamorpha Nutt. diamorpha
DUDLE Dudleya Britton & Rose dudleya
ECHEV Echeveria DC. echeveria
GRAPT Graptopetalum Rose leatherpetal
HYLOT Hylotelephium H. Ohba stonecrop
JOVIB Jovibarba Opiz jovibarba
KALAN Kalanchoe Adans. widow’s-thrill
LENOP Lenophyllum Rose lenophyllum
PENTH Penthorum L. penthorum
PHEDI Phedimus Raf.
RHODI Rhodiola L. stonecrop
SEDEL Sedella Britton & Rose mock stonecrop
SEDUM Sedum L. stonecrop
SEMPE Sempervivum L. houseleek
VILLA Villadia Rose villadia

Check out this cool map showing all sedum in the USA.

We have a nice little Sedum Glaucophyllum (aka Cliff Stonecrop) in the Show House back yard. It is very happy perched amoung some stones.

Although actually native to Maryland and Virginia we deemed it acceptable to use it in our Brooklyn native garden.

Based on our experimentation and research we feel confident enough to plant green roofs in New York with only native plants. This is groundbreaking and merges two very important ecological traditions – green roof installations and native habitat creation.

A native habitat at the top of the concrete jungle offers protection and rest for animals in a very special way distinct from the more crowded lower gardens. Native plant green roof installations are crucial in building a city that offers homes for more than rats, pigeons and people.

If you have a roof you would like to turn green or know of somebody who does please give us a call! We are New York green roof installers specializing in native plant wildlife habitats and feel the more we are able to build the better the world will be!

General Guidance for NY Green Roof Installation

As a New York green roof installer we get asked the same questions by clients considering installing a green roof on their condo building or brownstone. So we decided to answer them here.

1. What does a green roof entail? Pricing? Plant types?

Go here for a great overview of general green roof installation facts, although their pricing is a little out of touch with current NY prices.

2. Do you need a permit to install a green roof in New York?

You don’t need a permit for green roof installations if the depth of the growth medium and containment does not exceed 4 inches in depth. However, it is recommended that you retain the services of an architect or professional engineer to evaluate the particular conditions and capacity of your existing roof.

3. What tax credits are there?

You can receive a one year tax credit of up to $100,000 ($4.50 per sq/ft) for green roof installations that encompass at least 50% of available roof space. This law is effective until March 15, 2013, at which point we hope to reinstate it and make it easier to process (the current law requires a lot of paperwork and is a pain in the butt). To get the rebate you need to file for a permit to the Department of Buildings, which means you need an Engineer or Architect. If the architect and expediting fees exceed the tax credit then it may not be worth applying for the credit. Go here for more info about tax credit.

The Eco Brooklyn Green Show House has a green roof. It is a good example of a brownstone green roof installation.

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.

 

Gardening, Done Vertically

The folks from GardenUp just stopped by the EcoBrooklyn Green Show House to tell us more about their great new products for gardening.  They’ve created a simple vertical system based on hydroponic technology that is great for small spaces, easy-to-use and highly efficient – perfect for city living.


An example of one of GardenUp’s towers in Philadelphia

Basically, the vertical garden towers GardenUp has created can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, whatever you like, in a small self-contained space.  The towers can be used indoors or out and could be a wonderful addition to a green roof or backyard.  They even have different sizes for home or commercial use.  We think it’s a great step forward in the realm of sustainable, locally grown food!

Check them out here

Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of EcoBrooklyn meeting with Scott Seger, CEO and Boris Alergant, VP of Strategic Business Development and Planning for GardenUp

As a New York green contractor they contacted us to see if we could incorporate their product into the eco gardens we build and design. The GardenUp planter could be a great addition to any edible garden design.

Sub-Irrigation Planting – the most sustainable urban gardening method?

Being a New York green contractor we consider urban farming to be an important consideration for every project. Given every building has walls and a roof it is always worth asking wither they are well suited for vertical or roof farming.

Sub-Irrigation Planting Systems (SIPs) are a perfectly sustainable answer to urban farming, according to Frieda Lim, creator of Slippery Slope Farm, a rooftop micro-garden in Brooklyn that utilizes this technology.  This is not your typical urban garden – the beds are portable for one, the plants are also healthier, they produce far more veggies per square foot and require up to 90% less water.  Pretty impressive for a garden that can be created in just about any outdoor space available, requiring very little green thumb and using virtually whatever containers you have available (salvaged wooden boxes, storage tubs, re-purposed soda bottles)
These benefits are all basically achieved by watering from below (hence sub-irrigation).  A water and air reservoir is contained at the bottom of each plant container, with the soil and actual plants suspended above.  The plants get their water through their roots, and the owner waters them through a “fill tube” which eliminates the waste of traditional top soil watering.

Want to get started on your own SIPs garden this spring?  Check out the website, http://www.slipperyslopefarm.us/index.html, where Frieda offers services for those who need help designing and constructing all types of sub-irrigation systems.  She also explains the methodology in more detail here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1tn0FpiVE

Happy Gardening!

Shingle Roof Repair

Here is an example of a roof repair we just did. New York City has mostly flat roofs but once in a while we come across shingle slanted roofs. It is important to do shingles right because otherwise the slightest wind will blow them off again. In this case the roof was only a couple years old so it really shouldn’t be damaged already.

Eco Brooklyn doesn’t focus on specifically on shingle or tar roofs but as a green roof installer we often get involved in the roofing aspect as well. We’ve learned how important it is to do it right because once the green roof is on it is really hard to find a leak should the roof layer be installed incorrectly.

We were brought on to this job because the client is considering installing a green roof. But before we could do that we had to address the immediate issue of leaking

In this case there were two areas of concern. One was the incorectly applied shingles. The other was the area where to roof joined with the side wall. A crack had developed due to expansion and contraction of the roof. This is something that needs to be checked every couple of years and tar reapplied as needed.

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The shingles were not properly applied and blew away, causing a leak down the back wall.

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Where the roof met the wall a crack had developed.

We repaired the shingles by first laying tar paper under the top shingles and over the bottom shingles. We used rust proof roofing nails. We then laid new shingles starting at the bottom and working upwards. The top shingles we placed under the existing shingles. There were one or two small holes that were better served with some tar patching instead of ripping up more roof.

What the client is paying for here is that the job isn’t material and labor cost but more technical knowledge. Anybody can go up and throw materials around but the trick is to install it precisely so it that it lasts. The layering of materials is very important, all the while not damaging the exiting roof.

Another consideration for Eco Brooklyn is not to use toxic or new materials. In this case there is no question that tar shingles and tar flashing is a petro chemical product, which is far from ecological given our destructive addiction to oil. But because it is a repair of an existing roof we wanted to keep the look the same.

We did however use dunage materials. Dunage is when a package is damaged and the store either throws it out or sells it cheap. We buy dunage because it reduces the amount of materials being thrown out by stores, thus reducing the burden on the landfill.

In this case the dunage was a damaged pack of shingles and a dented can of flashing. tings that don’t effect the quality of the materials so it is perfectly acceptable to us.

Here is the repaired roof:

The new shingles were placed strategically over and under the existing shingles. The nails were placed so they are not exposed. Over time the weathering will blend the new color with the old color.

The crack along the border was sealed with flashing.

 

Green Roofs and Rooftop Farming

 

EcoBrooklyn's Green Roof

EcoBrooklyn, as a green builder is not only involved with green construction, but also with other ways of incorporating environmental issues into our work. As food awareness increases, green contracting has the potential to provide us with produce that is organic and as local as you can get. Green roofs currently serve all kinds of functions; including reducing runoff, and cooling a house in summer, among others. But why not use green roofs to grow some of our food? EcoBrooklyn’s green roof currently has some strawberries, but what other kinds of produce would work for a green roof?

EcoBrooklyn’s Strawberries

Plants growing in green roofs need to have shallow roots and be relatively drought resistant. Green roof beds are typically only 4 inches deep, so this is important to consider when planting. Many vegetables have much deeper roots than 4 inches. However, many herbs may be good alternatives. Herbs like thyme, oregano, lavender, creeping rosemary, and mint are all good choices. Be careful of mint and oregano, because both are known to spread uncontrollably if under the proper conditions.

EcoBrooklyn's Mint

Growing herbs, fruits, or vegetables can provide all kinds of benefits. Even if you are growing less edible herbs like lavender, they can still make your whole rooftop garden smell amazing. Growing herbs can save you a ton of money, and fresh herbs are always better than what you buy in the store. You also have the option of growing fruits and vegetables in pots on your roof. Some good choices might be tomatoes, peppers, chives, beans, onions, or lettuce.

If you want to know more about the potential of rooftop farming, there is plenty going on in Brooklyn. Both Brooklyn Grange and Eagle Street Rooftop Farm produce a variety of vegetables. However, it is important to remember that these green roofs are much deeper than many buildings can support. For more information go to http://www.brooklyngrangefarm.com/, and http://rooftopfarms.org/

Picture Courtesy of http://rooftopfarms.org/

The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm

Green Roof Tour

This week we had CUNY students come by to the green show house.  One of Eco Brooklyn’s interns Michele Fonzi, who has a degree in Landscape Architecture, showed the model of our green roof she built.

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Above you see the side view of the green roof installation. First there is the roof structure made out of beams with plywood over them. Then you have a high R value insulation that keeps the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This kind of insulation does not work well if it gets wet.

Then you have the EPDM rubber water barrier over the insulation. It keeps the PolyISO dry while in turn the polyiso provides a cushion for the EPDM so it does not puncture. The EPDM also provides a back up root barrier.

Above the EPDM is another layer of insulation, this time XEPS which can get wet. This insulation provides further protection for the EPDM. The insulation also provides a warm base for the soil so that the plant roots stay warmer in the winter.

Over the XEPS insulation goes the water retention mat so that the plants have access to more water. This particular mat is a combination of water retention and drainage. You want the plants to get water but you don’t want the roots to sit in water. This drainage and retention replicates what normally happens in deep soil.

Above the retention mat is a root barrier so the roots don’t go down and create leaks in the roof. And above the root barrier are the soil and plants.

A good green roof installer knows how to replicate normal growing conditions in a very shallow environment. In this case you have only three inches of soil but because of the insulation, water retention and drainage we provide an environment that feels like much deeper soil to the plants. This allows them to grow better in an environment that normally is very harsh – a New York Brownstone roof.

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Brooklyn Green Roof Blooming

As a New York green roof installer I have a special affection for my own green roof. Check it out after all these summer rains. It is bursting with life. I threw a couple handfuls of Native North East wildflower seeds a couple years ago and now the roof overflows with sunflowers both big and small.

This green roof installation really shows a different green roof from your typical low laying sedum roof that resembles more a desertscape. It looks more tropical than anything. But if you pick the right native plants for the mini ecoregion of your particular roof then you can expand the kinds of flora you have on a green roof.

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Green Roof Installation with two bee hives

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The back of the green roof has more cactus type plants

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There are over thirty verities of sunflowers native to the region

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The green roof has a lot of herbs. You name it, they are there.

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Mint is a very happy plant on a green roof, mostly because mint grows pretty much anywhere

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I always forget about the surrounding neighborhood. It is a nice view.

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Do You Need a Permit to Install a Green Roof in New York?

The answer is no.

Here is what the Green Roof and Solar Department at the NYC DOB told me:

The building code does not explicitly provide a threshold for when a green roof installation would require a permit.  The department is currently developing rules to provide guidance.  In the meantime, a green roof installation is regulated in a similar manner to a roof replacement.

Under current department rules, a replacement in kind of roofing membrane does not require a permit; however, any roof replacement must still abide by the code.  For example, the added thickness of a membrane cannot reduce the height of the parapet wall below that required by the code.

Furthermore, any roof replacement that increases the load on the roof structure beyond its bearing capacity, then additional work must be performed to increase the bearing capacity of the roof which also requires a permit.  If the scope of the roof replacement alters the roof deck, then a permit must be obtained.

With respect to green roofs, many green roof systems add significant loads to the roof structure by way of the plant materials, growth medium, containment, and water.  I highly recommend that you retain the services of a New York State registered architect or professional engineer to evaluate your roof prior to any green roof installation in order to verify the load bearing capacity of the roof.

If the green roof installation will require alteration to the roof deck or roof structure, then you must obtain a permit. Many green roof systems do not require deep growth media and as such do not pose a significant addition to the dead load of a roof.

As a general guideline, the department will not require a permit for green roof installations where the depth of the growth medium and containment does not exceed 4 inches in depth.  However, again we would stress that you retain the services of an architect or professional engineer to evaluate the particular conditions of your roof, and any roof installation must still abide by the building code.

Furthermore, the New York City Fire Code requires Fire Department access to flat roofs of buildings that are 100 feet or less in height.  Please refer to the Fire Code section 504.4 for more details.

If you fail to provide the Fire Department access, you may be found in violation and subject to penalties by FDNY.

Eco Brooklyn is a New York and Brooklyn green roof installer so this information is very important to us. If a client wants to take advantage of the $4.50/sq.ft. tax rebate then they do need to file for a permit. Sometimes if there is also a deck on the roof that is taking up space then given the small size of brownstone roofs it does not pay to go through the added work and expense of filing.

If you only have a 200 sq.ft green roof it is not worth paying $2,000 to file the job when you only get $900 in tax rebates. And yes filing a green roof job is expensive compared to other jobs of the same size because the paperwork is so tedious and the DOB is so reluctant to file it (though not understanding it and fear they are doing something wrong).

New York Green Roof Installation

We just wrapped up a green roof job in East New York. Here is a photo essay from start to finish. We planted late in the year and the nights were already freezing. But we trusted the hardiness of sedum and so far they have shown to be very happy on the new roof.

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The roof was your typical lifeless petrochemical slab with about six layers of tar.

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The first thing we had to do was remove the tar roof. It was at the end of its life and starting to become too heavy for the house. We then built a little one foot wall around the perimer to hold the future green roof.

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We had our share of nightmare weather and leaks.

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We then put five layers of salvaged polyiso for a R60 roof. The materials we use is very important. We salvage as much as possible. We also didn’t want to use the conventional method of gluing the boards, which is really toxic. Below you can see a great alternative we did where we tied the insulation down with string – a very low embodied energy low toxic solution that is strong enough against the powerful winds in that area.

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We then put a layer of rubber epdm, which isn’t exactly a green product but it lasts about four times longer than tar so it is pretty amazing.

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The key to a green roof is that you recreate the qualities of the ground but with much less depth and much lighter.  You accentuate the drainage and water retention qualities by using drainage layers and retention layers. You keep it light by using high nutrient growing medium with a lot of light filler.

Next we put a water drainage layer. It has a mesh that makes a space for the water to drain.

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We salvaged the drainage layer from Build It Green but didn’t have enough so we bought another kind from the store. This one instead of a plastic mesh it has little dimples that create space for the water to drain.

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Next we put the water retention layer. We got that from our friend Atom who had some left over from her jobs. The water retention layers are like big soft blankets.

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Next we laid the soil all over at 3″ depth. We used Gaia Soil. It is cool because it uses recycled Styrofoam. I have my reservations about surrounding ourselves with yet more plastic….but it is salvaging huge amounts of garbage from the dump.

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Here is the staging area.

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Gaia soil is so light that it easily blows away so once the soil was down we covered it with jute. Over time the jute decomposes but by then the roots are holding the soil down.

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Over the jute we put an inch of organic locally made compost. This holds the jute down as well as keeps the plants healthy.

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On top of all this we put mulch. The mulch holds the layers down as well as gives some protection for the plants from the harsh climate up there on the roof. It also looks very dramatic! We salvaged our mulch from a garden center that was throwing it away. A rat had made its home in the pallet of mulch and they couldn’t sell it. I saw the rat as I was carting the bags away. I apologized for taking his home. Notice the gnaw holes in the bags.

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Finally we bring the plants. We got our plants from two places. The first is a garden center that was throwing plants away because they had become too ugly for customers to buy. We don’t mind ugly. We love all plants even the ugly ones. We let the plants sit over the summer in a very hot and dry environment because we had no other place to put them. Because they were not your typical green roof sedum it was a great test to see which ones can handle a hot and dry green roof. Here they are when we got them.

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The other plants are your typical sedum. We buy them from a local psychiatric center whose patients grow plants as part of their therapy. An employee approached Eco Brooklyn asking if we would be willing to buy the plants. Management is trying to cut funding for the gardening program but if it makes money they agreed not to cut it. It is very warped. These poor mental patients have to prove their therapy is making a profit in order to get funding. We gladly buy the plants.

We lay the plants out on the roof and then insert the plugs into the growing medium. Around the border of the roof we put stones we salvaged from a cellar excavation. They hold the roof layers down against strong winds.

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We placed some salvaged tiles as stepping stones.

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And here is the finished product one day after planting.

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Some of the green roof plants we installed. They are just little plugs now but will eventually cover the whole roof with a lush green cover:

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Here is the green roof drain, again all salvaged materials:

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As New York green roof installers with a passion for pushing green building to higher level the ingredients of a green roof are just as important to us as the end result. It is great that it is a green roof. It is also great that the soil, the mats, the plants and various other things are salvaged and recycled content, thus reversing the landfill waste and reducing consumption of new resources.

It is great that the workers were there for more than a paycheck. They loved and enjoyed the process and were proud of their accomplishment. Also great is that it is for a very modest income client. It is important to us that green building be accessible to middle income people. That is how we will make the most significant positive impact.

This is the magic of holistic building. All the parts are equally important and supportive of the whole.