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.


-Michael DiCarlo

The Maple Floor Fiasco

We found about 500sq.ft. of 5 inch wide maple plank flooring in a dumpster. It had a very slight warp to it due to it not being installed correctly. But with a little sanding we could get rid of that.

So we happily installed the flooring.



This pic shows the layers. First Pex tubes in sand/structolite mix with stringers 16" on center. Then some paper. Then the wood nailed into the stringers.

Despite our good intentions there were complications….
1. Maple is not a good choice for radiant floor heating since maple bows, warps, expands and contracts more than other woods when there are humidity swings.

2. Wide plank flooring is not good when there are humidity swings because it expands and contracts more than narrow planks.

We had wide planks. We had maple. We had radiant floor heating.

Then we had just laid the sand/structolite mix around the tubes. And my ex-carpenter didn’t give the mix enough time to dry before putting the wood down.

And my ex-carpenter nailed the planks in as if they were narrow plank oak over a normal floor, that is to say he nailed the floor down WAY too tightly. Wide plank, maple, radiant, these are all reasons to lay the wood down with some space between them so they can move.

And sure enough the wood warped immediately. I fired my carpenter.

With my new carpenter we have taken the wood up….yes these free planks of wood, valued at around $3500 for that many square feet, are no longer free. But no worries. We are still way ahead of the game.

The new plan is.

1. dry the wood out.


2. Let the floor dry out.

3. Seal the wood on all sides so that it doesn’t absorb water as well.

4. Before laying the wood we will put a real vapor barrier on the floor.

5. Then if all goes well we will just have to sand out the original bow and have a great, salvaged, affordable floor!

Sound Proofing and Heat Transfer Subfloor

We have a floor with a high ceiling which means we can lay the pex tubing on top of the subfloor instead of hanging the tubing beneath. The pex tubing takes up valuable space and you can only lay it on top of the subfloor if you have the ceiling height.

Having the tubing on top is better because the heat does not have to pass through the sub floor.

We laid stringers of wood 16 inches on center over the sub floor. They were about one inch high.

We put a look of pex tubing between the stringers.

Then we covered the tubing with a mix of sand and structolite. This dense mass was added around the tubes for two reasons.

One it creates a good sound barrier between the two floors. And two it pulls the heat out of the tubes and into the room.

Structolite is a mix of plaster and perlite. Perlite makes it very light which is important since it is a wood joist floor. Perlite is also a good heat insulator, which is bad since we want the mass to pull as much heat out as possible. So we mixed it with sand which is a good conductor but heavier. It was basically a balance we had to find between weight and conductivity.

We dry packed the mixture, meaning we used barely any water at all and packed it in manually instead of pouring it. Wood flooring is going over it so we didn’t want a wet mix that would take a long time to dry.

The end result is a nice warm floor that stops sound between the two apartments. Price was also a consideration. Sand and structolite are very cheap yet very effective in their uses here. The labour was a consideration since it took time to pack the mix in. But it still was much cheaper than any other combination that I can think of.

One important point is that we did not put any tubes or mass near the walls. Instead we put insulation. This is to keep the heat inside the house and create a dense insulation barrier between the heat and the cold. This keeps the house warmer and with a lower heating cost since less heat is lost to the outside.

Adding Solar gain and recyclables to Facade

Above: Facade with planter and recycled joists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we tore the facade off:

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

Installing the concrete slab

We have a cellar half of the ceiling on the south side being open so that large amounts of light stream in and make a very nice living area.

First we dug out the cellar 3 1/2 feet:

While digging we found a giant stone which I decided to keep and put under the stairs, much to head shaking of everyone else. They wanted to dig a hole and bury it. I want to give it a name and designate it the protector of the house. I’m different that way I guess:

Then we underpinned the walls:

Then 3 inches of insulation including around the border.

Salvaged steel from fencing. From this:

To this:

Pex hot water tubing (the black foam is to insulate some water pipes in the ceiling):

4-5 inches of concrete. We used cement and sand without rocks to not damage the tubes.
We decided to not use Fly Ash in any of the cement because even though fly ash makes a better mix and is also recycling material I had doubts about the heavy metal content of fly ash.

Passing the concrete into the cellar along a chute we made out of plywood:

Coloring. We scattered a cement/sand/color mixture and troweled it in. I’m not sure I like the coloring. I wanted something warm and sunny for the cellar but it turned out a little too dramatic. I might sand it down a bit to remove some of the intensity. We might also cut grout lines and put some lighter grout to also cut down on the intensity.

Laying the foundation for the concrete slab

We have completely dug down the cellar by 3 and 1/2 feet. Then we put a vapour barrier and 3 inch insulation which we taped at the seams. Then we put down the salvaged fencing from the back yard to act as strengthener for the cement. On the fence we tied the pex tubing for the radiant head.

Meanwhile on the ceiling we are insulating the pipes. Fanatical insulation is the trick to green building.

The next step is to pour the cement.

Wood Flooring courtesy of Corcoran

Only in USA are dumpsters so full of wonderful stuff. And you can’t get fancier than a Corcoran dumpster. There is one in front of the Corcoran condos on President St in Carroll Gardens. I had the good luck to check them out today and found 1000 sq.ft. of once used wide plank maple flooring!

The builder was there and he said they were installed six months ago in the summer. Probably because they weren’t acclimatized correctly they warped a little. But my carpenter says it’s nothing the correct nails and some sanding can’t fix.

So it looks like the green show house will have 100% salvaged flooring. We salvaged some oak from another reno a couple months ago.

Soundproofing between floors

After some research we noticed that one of the most effective ways to reduce impact noise between floors was to put a recycled tyre product between the floor and sub floor. It creates a vibrating cushion that absorbs the impact, thus deadening the sound.

The only problem is that this product is costly. And costly is not green in the slightest.

So we went to the mechanic down the road. He was more than happy to give us some used tires. He has to pay to dispose of them into the landfill. We took the tires and cut them into little strips.

The strips were placed wherever a stud or support beam made contact with the floor above, creating a sound impact barrier between the two floors. Kids jumping, heavy boots and games of basketball should all become less audible from the neighbors above thanks to our technique.

Cutting the tires into strips.

Placing the tire under the joists.

The same tire pictured above but now we have put the support beam beneath it. The tire now acts as a sound barrier between the joists and the beam, breaking the vibration that would normally pass from the joist to the beam and the floor below.

Here is an example of the tire placed between the stud and the footer. It is better to place the tire between the stud and the header to stop sound coming from above. But in this case the stud was supporting the stairs so it didn’t matter.

Fiberglass Windows

I paid a lot of money for fiberglass windows for the Brooklyn Green Show House.

Despite the cost, the fiberglass frame part I LOVE. I think this is the way to go. I really love them and once they are nicely painted and repaired I will be very happy with them. When it is cold outside you touch the frame and it is almost warm, meaning it is not letting much of the cold in or heat out.

The above photo shows us installing the windows. On the right you can see one installed.

Unfortunately fiberglass windows are expensive. And there are no local fiberglass window manufacturers in Brooklyn. As a Brooklyn green contractor local materials is important to me.

For the past two jobs we have actually suggested the client go with locally made vinyl windows. They are very affordable, locally made and as of late I have disliked vinyl less.

Lowering the Cellar Three Feet

In order to maximize the living space we decided to turn the cellar into a useable space. To do this we cut a 10×10 foot hole into the floor of the basement, which is only technically called the basement since it is a foot below grade. Practically it is the garden level. Once a hole was in the south side of the garden level it allowed plenty of sunshine to pass into the cellar.

The only problem is that the cellar was only six foot high. So we have dug it out another three feet. We had to dig under the existing foundation, which can be risky if not done correctly. First we built a second inner wall out of cinder blocks in the entire cellar. The existing brick wall was so deteriorated you could pull the bricks out by hand and it was actually amazing the four floors above kept standing.

The cinder block wall only took up four inches but added all the strength we needed to support the house, which we were in the process of banging and shaking to no end. We then dug down three feet in small areas at a time and underpinned the wall with concrete and the rocks we found in the soil.

Before putting the concrete we put plastic vapor barrier and two inches of waterproof insulation to guarantee a warm and dry environment.

Above you see the sections being dug out.

Above is the vapor barrier, called Stego wrap. It is one of the few plastics that actually do stop moisture and is priced accordingly. Most cheaper brands don’t actually stop moisture.

Here we are putting the plastic, insulation and making the form to pour the concrete and stones.

We used XEPS or extruded polystyrene, which is a dense and waterproof insulation. It is also not friendly to termites, which is important in this area.

Here you can see the rogh finished product where the floor had been dug out and the underpinning poured. We will then pour the concrete floor and then build the cinder blocks up to the other cinder block wall that is currently hanging three feet above ground.

Here you can see the opening in the floor above. We have also knocked out the south wall for a wall of windows so the sun can really shine down into the space. On the front and back walls we did not put cinder blocks because those walls had good solid stone as you can see in the picture. You can see the concrete underpinning under the stone walls where we dug down. A worker is finishing off some underpinning but using cinder blocks instead of concrete since that little alcove is not holding up the building and does not to be as strong.

This photo shows the cellar before dug down. As you can see there was little headroom.

Here you see the same cellar almost all dug out.

Inserting the Insulation Into the Roof Ceiling

We are inserting the salvaged poly iso insulation board into the top floor ceiling of the house between the joists. All the joists have been sistered with “new” salvaged joists. You can see the bolts holding them together. We are packing four layers of poly iso board, making it an air tight R 36. The roof insulation is obviously the most important in terms of insulation so we are making it very well insulated.

Below the insulation will be a radiant barrier of aluminum foil that will reflect back the heat into the building. On top of the roof will be two inches of waterproof extruded polystyrene insulation board and then the earth for the green roof.

After all this, the roof will be very well insulated, probably close to R 50. Since the Poly ISO is salvaged from another job it is very cheap so we are using as much as we can possibly fit into the space. It is the same Poly ISO we are selling on the main page.

inserting polyiso insulation into the ceiling

Above: inserting polyiso insulation into the ceiling

Below: you can see the poly iso has all been inserted. You can also see the joists. On some we have added two more, making three sistered joists in some places. These joists are each 3x8 inches thick. We did this to make the roof as strong as possible to carry the green roof. It should last another 100 years.

Insulation Has Arrived!

Insulation from Eco Brooklyn Inc with Gennaro Brooks-Church

Insulation from Eco Brooklyn Inc with Gennaro Brooks-Church

Green Building is like life: it is all about energy. How you control it, who has it, where it is flowing, and where it isn’t flowing. You control the energy and you have a great house (possibly a great life too).

So obviously insulation plays a huge part ini green building. Green building typically insulates a lot more than normal building. We’d rather spend more up front and less later in utility bills. Utility bills are wasteful and in imperfection. Ideally we will get to the point that houses are built so well that you don’t have any utility bills.

In terms of insulation there are many choices. Of course fiberglass batts are out. They have a lot of embodied energy, most off gas formaldehyde and they don’t even insulate well.

Icenyne spray foam is touted as green and although it seals well it is so not green. That is the biggest scam in the green building industry. All spray foam is made from petro chemicals, even the so called soy based foam that has at most 30% soy and 70% petrolium. The main ingredient for all of them is isocyanate, which is only made by four multy billion dollar companies and it is basically oil.

The greenest insulation is cellulose. Recycled paper. Recycled is always the greenest way to go.

BUT all insulation, foam, fiberglass and cellulose only gets around an R4 per inch and in space starved Brooklyn I wanted more. I found a company that sells once used (READ RECYCLED) foam board called POLYISO. Read this to see how great it is. At only 1.5 inches thick it packs at least an R9 and is by far the best R value out there.

And because it is once used it has already off gassed any small amounts of VOC’s it might have had.

I need about 2000 square feet of it. I’m going to put 4 layers in the roof plus a radiant barrier to make a whopping R36 and this does not include the green roof on top. Insulating the roof is so important.

Then I’m going to put one layer in the external walls. With the one foot of brick that will be an R21.

I also have to put it around the border of the building on every floor between the joists to keep the radiant heat in my house.

I also need 1600 square feet of Extruded Polystyrine, which is waterproof, to put under the green roof and under the radiant heated concrete slab in the cellar.

So I need about 3600 square feet. I bought 12,500 square feet of insulation!!!! I couldn’t help it! I got a good deal and I really feel the greenest thing is for me to pay one big truck to bring the stuff to Brooklyn and redistribute it to others instead of everyone getting small trucks (which as it turns out isn’t cost effective anyway).

So bottom line: I have insulation for sale. Lots of it. CHEAP, at least half price. Be green and get some! Contact me for details.

unloading the insulation from the 53 foot 18 wheeler

unloading the insulation from the 53 foot 18 wheeler

making space

making space

starting to pack the insulation

starting to pack the insulation

getting full

getting full

taking over the yard

taking over the yard

DOB Retards – the sidewalk fiasco

The Department of Buildings wants me to show the state of the sidewalk before and after the job so that they can determine if I have to redo it. To do this I had to get an architect’s survey which costs $3000. To redo the sidewalk would cost me $1000.

So I’m forced to spend $3000 for them to decide whether I need to do something that costs $1000. They are such idiots. What a total waste of money and energy.

Pre construction:

Salvaged Wood

At the beginning of this job I had to buy my salvaged wood from Fine Lumber in Williamsburg. But now that the local job sites know about my project I get most of my wood from them.

Here you see a nice selection of old cut prime wood. That’s my daughter.

Fly Ash isn’t flying

On the 2nd street project we are doing a lot of underpinning and laying a concrete slab in the cellar. This requires a lot of concrete. Cement uses up a lot of energy to produce and creates a lot of CO2 Substituting up to 50% of the cement with fly ash is considered a more ecological idea.

Fly ash is an industrial byproduct from burning coal so to use it is to recycle and keep it from the landfill. You are substituting something that is costly to create (cement) with something that is there in abundance anyway. Very green.

Fly ash does have a lot of chemicals in it. But when mixed with cement they are held in the concrete and do not leach. In fact concrete with fly ash is much more waterproof than normal concrete mixed with only cement. i.e. the concrete does not mix with water well.

Concrete mixed with fly ash takes longer to cure. Because of this it is important to use a lot less water. But once cured it is considerably stronger than normal concrete.

The only problem is that I have not been able to buy fly ash in the NY area. Cement companies buy it in bulk and won’t sell a mere 1000 pounds of it. And because the underpinning has to be done in little parcels at a time it isn’t possible to bring out a truck to pour concrete. We have to mix the concrete by hand in little batches.

So alas the concrete slab and underpinning of 22 2nd street will not have fly ash in the concrete….

We are working again!

Because my architect and I did not see eye to eye we had to part ways, which meant he had to pull his application with the DOB. That would have been fine if my new architect kept to his schedule. But he didn’t and I didn’t get new plans submitted to the DOB before the old architect withdrew his.

Because I didn’t have an active application at the DOB I got a big fat STOP WORK ORDER, which apart from grinding everything to a halt is annoying because everyone presumes it is because of something wrong I did on the job site.

But after much name calling, threats and extra money gauging, my architect finally got the new plans submitted and approved and I finally got a new work permit.

Things are up and swinging again. I have a great crew of about 8 guys banging, digging and hauling.

This week we jackhammered the concrete in the back yard and carted it to the dumpster in the street. We also made good progress in the cellar where we are digging down three feet to make a nice spacious nine foot living space. Lots of fancy underpinning going on down there.

Meanwhile we are sistering all the joists on the top floor with beams I reclaimed from the construction site across the street (me and the carpenters on that job have an agreement that they take the joists out carefully instead of cutting them in half and throwing them in the dumpster like normal).

The roof needs to be nice and strong to hold the green roof.

On the insulation front I just ordered 12,000 square feet of recycled insulation from the I don’t need anywhere near that but a truck costs the same no matter how much you fill it so I filled it. What I don’t use I’ll sell to other like minded green builders in Brooklyn.

Times are tough right now: I get unemployed workers coming to the site each day with sad stories of being hungry and with kids etc. It is a great time to be an employer, if you can make any money yourself that is.

Department of Building Nightmare

If you ever want to get that nice chaotic third world feeling then go hang out at the Department of Buildings. The Brooklyn one is good but the Manhattan one is even more insane.

It goes a little like this.
Lets say you want a tracking number to pull a work permit. Simple enough.

Go to the Brooklyn office.
They will tell you you have to go to the Manhattan office, 3rd floor.
The 3rd floor will tell you to go to the 4th floor.
The 4th floor will tell you to go to the 5th floor.
Thee 5th floor will send you to the 6th floor.
They in turn will send you to different office on the 3rd floor.
They will then tell you to go and get it in the Brooklyn office.

And the cycle starts again.

I kid you not. Go ahead try it. I did.

Choosing Green Insulation – consider recycled foam board.

In the constant quest for a greener insulation I have considered many options.
– Cellulose is good but messy and dusty.
– Isonyne spray foam or Demilec spray foam is good but not that cheap and quite honestly not as green as they say. It takes huge amounts of energy and petroleum to create the main ingredient isocyanate.
– Formaldehyde free fiberglass is ok but still fiberglass (scratch, scratch).
– Solid foam is good and in my opinion under valued by the green community.

THEN you have RECYCLED SOLID FOAM, which I am starting to think is the way to go.
It comes out at the same price as normal fiberglass batts but is way better R value when you air seal the boards correctly. And it is RECYCLED.

In my opinion normal (non-green) recycled materials is better than new green material. Why make more when it has already been made.

ALSO, foam board does off gas a little BUT almost all of that happens in the first few months or year. And since it is recycled it has already off gassed! Now that is a fantastic side benefit of recycling!

Further info I found on the web

Whether it takes the form of batt, loose fill, sprayed-in foam, or rigid foam, insulation is an essential part of any housing. Insulation slows the transfer of heat (energy) from warmer areas to colder areas. It can also serve to reduce noise. Insulation effectiveness is typically measured in R-value. A higher R-value for insulation is better. A well-constructed insulation system will help reduce air infiltration and heat transfer and help control moisture. All of these factors need to come together to produce a comfortable and healthy living environment. The following analysis examines the relative economic, energy, and environmental impacts of the following insulation types: fiberglass batt, blown and loose fill cellulose, blown fiberglass, foamed-in-place polyisocyanurate or polyicynene, extruded polystyrene, expanded polystyrene, and rigid polyisocyanurate.

Loose fill, blown and batt insulation is more cost effective in walls and attics than rigid board insulation. Foamed-in-place insulation should be used when budget permits, its high R-value combined with excellent air sealing increase the overall performance of the assembly. Look for insulation materials that have stable R-values over time.
Extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation with CFC or HCFC’s as blowing agents should not be used. Rigid insulation alternatives include: wood fiberboard, (some made entirely from recycled cellulose), expanded polystyrene (EPS), fiberglass board, or cellular glass board.

Insulation Fact Sheet:


cost/sq. ft./R (materials & labor)

energy (R- value per inch)


expected product life (years)

life cycle thinking


fiberglass batt







cellulose blown and loose fill







fiberglass blown







foamed-in-place polyisocyanurate
or polyicynene

not available





requires trained installer

rigid perimeter: extruded







rigid perimeter: expanded







rigid perimeter: polyisocyanurate







Criteria Summaries
Cost: Loose fill, blown and batt insulation materials have a low cost per R-value and rigid board materials. Higher first costs associated with increased insulation thickness of any type may be recouped over the life cycle of the building through reduced heating and cooling costs. Premium costs associated with insulation with higher R-values per inch not only reduce operating costs but also use less material.
Energy: Rigid insulations typically have a higher R-value per inch than batt or blown insulations.
IAQ: If left undisturbed in wall cavities and attic spaces insulation poses no threat to human health. Respiratory masks should be worn when handling fiberglass and mineral wool batts, since they may potentially release fibers into the air during handling.
Expected Product Life: The R-value of most insulation materials decreases with aging. Polyisocyanurate and polyicynene have the longest expected life with the greatest R-value stability. Loss of R-value can be attributed to several different factors. Batt insulation can slump in cavities, or become damaged by moisture. These effects can be limited by proper construction and detailing. Rigid insulation can shrink and or dry over time, while loose fill insulation can settle, decreasing its effectiveness.

Life Cycle Thinking:
• Energy consumption (non-renewable, fossil fuel energy): The manufacturing process for fiberglass and mineral wool batts is energy intensive although less than for rigid products. Where recycled content is higher, energy impacts related to manufacture are further reduced. Rigid insulations have high embodied energy from extraction through production, though they offer higher R-value per inch thickness, and require less material overall.
• Pollutants generated in production: Extruded polystyrenes still use HCFC’s, while expanded and some polyisocyanurates use alternative agents.
• Potential for off-gassing: Not an issue when insulation is not exposed to the interior.
• Durability of the product: Prolonged contact with moisture can cause the paper backing on batt insulation to deteriorate, and also mat down batt and blown insulation, reducing the effective R-value of the material.
• Potential for future recycling: Blown insulation suffers from settlement, but can be recovered easily for reuse. Certain expanded polystyrene rigid insulation products use recycled content in their products (or at least reused waste products).
Practice: With the exception of sprayed-in-place insulations, which require training and professional installers, all insulation types are considered common practice.

Environmental Context
Reducing the amount of fuel to heat and cool also reduces environmental damage and costs. Insulation effectiveness is usually measured in R-value (thermal resistance) – the higher the R-value, the better the insulation value. Other considerations include the amount of recycled content, the ability to reuse or recycle the insulation, the ability to meet code requirements (in Minnesota amendments to the Uniform Building Code and the residential building code), and off-gassing of the products in place. Batt and blown insulation materials will generally have lower embodied energy than rigid insulation materials.

Here is some more info on Rigid Foam Board Insulation from my research

Rigid foam board insulation is a popular mass insulation product used to insulate all parts of homes, metal buildings and commercial buildings against the movement of conductive and convective heat transfer. A high insulating value for relatively little thickness makes rigid foam ideal for insulating roofs and exterior walls. Rigid insulation also substitutes well for other forms of insulation like fiberglass blankets and loose-fill cellulose in attics and floors. The water resistant nature of foam makes it well suited for use under slabs and in the ground around foundation walls.

Types of Foam Board
Rigid insulation is made of air-entrained plastic that is either extruded or pressed into sheets. There are three types of rigid foam insulation: expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS) and polyisocyanurate (polyiso), each varying in cost and R-value. Boards are available with a reflective foil facing that reduces radiant heat flow when installed next to an air space for total insulation against the three types of heat transfer, conduction, convection and radiation. If properly sealed, foil faced boards can also be used to form a vapor barrier in areas where moisture and condensation are an issue. Alternately, rigid foam can be installed in combination with reflective insulation to add a radiant or vapor barrier.

Insulation is rated by its ability to resist convective heat flow in units called R-value. R-value gives the insulation resistance per inch of material. Construction materials with higher R-value ratings are more effective insulators than materials with lower ratings for the same thickness. The R-value is a function of the material type, thickness and density. The R-value of an insulation system is calculated by adding the R-values of the individual components together to achieve the recommended insulation protection based on climate.

R-value is helpful in comparing different types of insulation as well as different brands of the same type of insulation. Rigid foam insulation has insulation values that are almost double the R-value per inch of fiberglass or cellulose insulation. R-values for rigid foam range from 3.6 – 8 per inch. Note that R-value is not used to rate a material`s ability to resist radiant heat.

Rigid Insulation Type R-value per inch
Expanded polystyrene board 3.6 to 4
Extruded polystyrene board 4.5 to 5
Polyisocyanurate board, unfaced 5.6 to 6.3
Polyisocyanurate board, foil-faced 7-8
(Source: US Department of Energy Insulation Fact Sheet)

State and federal agencies recommend insulation R-values for different areas inside of a building based on local climate conditions with the attic requiring the most insulation. Divide the recommended R-value by the R-value per inch of the type of insulation you want to use to determine the necessary insulation thickness. If you use reflective insulation in combination, you can add in up to an additional 14.5 R depending on whether the reflective insulation has foam, plastic bubbles or fiberglass for its central layer. Foam core reflective insulation (like foam board insulation) has the highest R-value. If you use foil faced rigid insulation facing an air space, you can add an additional R-value of 2.8 without increasing the insulation thickness.

Moisture Considerations
Preventing condensation in building cavities is a major consideration for an insulation system. Rigid foam board insulation resists absorption of moisture from the atmosphere in the form of humidity and also has a low water vapor transmission rate. However, rigid foam alone cannot be used as a vapor barrier. A vapor barrier should have a permeance rating of less than 1. The permeance of 1 inch of expanded polystyrene is 2 and the permeance of 1 inch of extruded polystyrene board is 1.2. In contrast, the permeance of aluminum foil is .001. Reflective insulation or foil facing is commonly used in combination with rigid insulation to create the vapor barrier necessary to keep moisture out of the walls and ceilings where it can cause rot, mold, mildew, odors, condensation and dripping. To create the vapor barrier, all seams are tightly sealed with aluminum tape.

Moisture also creates a heat transfer problem of decreasing efficiency when insulation gets wet as water is a good conductor of heat. Rigid foam board has been shown to retain its structural integrity through freeze-and-thaw cycles. It retains very little moisture in comparison with other types of insulation like fiberglass or cellulose. The Energy Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Service found that Expanded polystyrene used in exterior foundation insulation showed moisture levels of only 0.13% after 7 years of use. They concluded that the damp insulation board still maintained between 95 and 97 percent of its original thermal efficiency and compressive strength.

Benefits of using Rigid Foam Board Insulation

* Density – Density provides hi R-value with minimum thickness making rigid insulation more resistant to air and water vapor movement than fiberglass batts or cellulose.
* High compressive strength – rigid insulation provides a solid structure under the roof deck that can withstand the weight of both equipment and light foot traffic.
* Low weight makes rigid insulation boards easy to install and less expensive to ship.
* Resists outside air infiltration when joints are sealed with tape or caulk.
* New products are made without ozone depleting chemicals for virtually no global warming impact.
* Can be installed with full coverage over studs instead of just between them to eliminate the heat loss path through framing members.
* Non-hazardous to install – no fibers or fumes to inhale, non-irritating to skin.
* No deterioration of R-value over time – rigid insulation does not lose R-Value over its service life.
* Green – A manufacturing study showed that the energy required producing polystyrene foam insulation is 24 percent less than the energy required to make the equivalent R-value of fiberglass insulation.
* Rigid insulation “breathes” instead of trapping moisture like fiberglass or cellulose and therefore does not require the venting methods used for other insulation materials to prevent trapped moisture within walls, ceilings and roofs.
* Highly resistant to mold
* Not a food for insects
* Good acoustical insulation properties
* Can be used in structural insulated panels or for insulating concrete forms.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) or beadboard, has been used as common household insulation since the 1950s. EPS is environmentally friendly as it is not manufactured using CFCs or HCFCs- both ozone-depleting chemicals. In addition to insulation, EPS is commonly used to make coffee cups and packing peanuts for shipping.

EPS is closed-cell foam made from polystyrene (a type of plastic) beads mixed with pentane and steam, used as a blowing agent, to expand the beads under pressure into foam, which forms thousands of tiny air pockets in the finished board. As air is a poor conductor of heat, these tiny air pockets will block the transfer of heat through the foam and trap expanding warm air.

EPS is molded into large sheets with R-values ranging from 3.8 to 4.4 per inch, depending on the density of the material. However, air spaces in EPS can accumulate and retain water. Because water is a good conductor of heat, some form of moisture barrier may be required to prevent this problem in high humidity areas, especially when EPS is used around foundations. To make the insulation more waterproof, EPS boards are available with optional thin foil or plastic facings.

Extruded polystyrene (XPS) or blueboard, is also a closed-cell foam insulation made from polystyrene plastic beads mixed with chemicals to turn them into a liquid before using a blowing agent to turn it into foam. The foam is forced through a shaping die, cooled and cut into panels.

XPS is more consistent in density and has a higher compressive strength than EPS making it better suited for use in roof assemblies and structural insulation panels. Higher density makes it more resistant to moisture than EPS, and XPS has a slightly higher R-value of R-5 per inch. Because of its superior properties, XPS is more expensive than EPS.

Polyisocyanurate or Polyiso, has the highest R-value per inch of thickness of the different rigid foam insulation types with an average R-value between 5.6 and 8 depending on the facing material. Facings such as plastic or aluminum foil increase its resistance to both moisture and radiant heat transfer. Polyiso is commonly used in roofs and cavity walls because of its thinness.

Polyiso is touted for being an economical choice. Its higher R-values per inch allow for savings on other building materials like thinner walls and roofs and their associated shorter fasteners.

According to the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, polyiso is a completely green building product as it no longer is made with either of the ozone depleting chemicals – CFC and HCFC. In addition, construction site waste can be recycled. Other beneficial characteristics of polyiso include its resistance to solvents in common construction adhesives and high fire test ratings.

Foil faced polyiso insulation has the highest R-value per inch of any type of mass insulation currently produced. When installed facing an air space of at least 1″, the R-value will increase by 2.89. ASHRAE assigns a 1″ air space R- 2.77. The Masonry Advisory Council adds an additional R-2.89 to polyiso insulation for a foil facing.

Rigid foam insulation boards used to insulate the interior of masonry walls do not require an additional vapor barrier. Wood strapping is attached to the wall and the insulation is installed over the strapping. If a foil-faced board or reflective insulation is used also, the foil side should face the room and an additional layer of wood strapping is needed under the drywall to create an air space. Fire safety codes require that at least ½-inch thick gypsum board (dry-wall) be placed over rigid foam insulation. The drywall is then attached to the wood strapping or underlying masonry with nails or screws. For insulating an unventilated crawlspace, rigid insulation boards can be glued directly to the wall.

I got the stupid bricks

I love old bricks. They have great character. I got these from a job site. The contractor couldn’t believe I wanted to take them. He was actually insulted and called the whole thing “stupid”.

It took me ten minutes to do. The bricks will cover a 100 square foot patio at 22 2nd street. No landfil. No cost. No making new bricks. And the contractor didn’t have to pay to ship them off to the dump (bricks cost almost as much to throw out as to buy since the main cost is hauling the heavy bastards). Think about it! People are actually paying to throw things out! And others are paying to buy the very same thing! It is out of a comedy of errors. Mother Earth isn’t laughing.

The Hammer Test

I had a big argument with my architect because I wanted to use salvaged wood for part of the house and his mantra was:
“If it is fixing something old you can use it but if you are building something new you need to use new wood.”

Fixing some broken joists in a floor is ok to use old wood. Make a new floor and you have to use new wood.

This drives me crazy. Here is why.

Below are three types of wood. Two are salvaged and more than 100 years old. One is brand new fresh off the mountain. The department of buildings will let me use the new wood but not the old wood, presumably because the old wood is inferior.

I hit the back of the hammer into all three types of wood.

The first one I hit is real 8″x8″ old yellow pine beams. The hammer bounced off without leaving even a dent. It hurt my wrist and felt like I was hitting concrete. This beam costs less than the equivalent sized new wood. I bought it from the wood salvage place Fine Lumber. It is over 100 years old and has several hundred to go.

old yellow pine

old yellow pine

The second type of wood is salvaged real size 3″ x 8″ fir. It is also about 100 years old. The hammer made a dent but didn’t stick in. This wood was free but you can buy it at Fine lumber for about the same as the equivalent size new wood.

douglass fir

douglass fir

The third wood is a 2″ x 10″ new pine beam. This is what I ended up using because I didn’t want any issues with the DOB. My project is strange enough with all the green stuff I’m doing. I need to make sure it is all code. The hammer stuck in the wood completely. Compared to the other two woods it was like hitting sponge cake. Here it is. I pulled the hammer out to show the hole.

The moral of the story? When used ethically old wood is the way to go. It saves landfill, saves trees, is stronger, costs the same or less, obviously lasts a lot longer and doesn’t feel like spongecake.

Salvaged Wood Floors

I got some wood floors from a contractor friend. He is working for a customer who wants to get rid of perfectly good oak floors and replace them with cherry. God what a total waste! Waste of money, resources, forest etc. Waste helps keep the economy going…in a bad way.

Unfortunately I only got in touch with him after he had gutted two of the three floors. Two floors of perfectly good oak sits in a landfil somewhere.

I got one floor. Why this is good:

I help remove them – saves them money.
They don’t have to pay to put them in a dumpster.
I get $1200 of oak flooring for about $100.
The world is saved from cutting more trees.
Less landfill waste.

It is a total no brainer! And yet when I proposed it to them they were skeptical. Once it was done they couldn’t be happier. The only difference is a shift in the head. No other change is needed to make this happen.

salvaged oak flooring

salvaged oak flooring

Got some steel joists

I found a building company that was throwing out some perfectly good steel studs. The studs were just sitting behind a building so I asked if I could take them.

They were like, “Why?”
I was like, “Uh, to reuse them.”
The were like, “But they are used.”
“So? Are they damaged?”
“No but they are trash.”

And so on. Nice guys but they didn’t get what I was doing. They humored me a let me take them. There are so many good reasons to re-use good material but if you aren’t thinking in those terms it is a completely alien concept. If you don’t think about it you can even come up with a lot of good reasons not to reuse material. But with a little thought all the reasons come up short.

The best reason I like to poke holes in is the concept that reusing materials takes away jobs. Think about it. If everyone recycled all the millions of tonnes of good material that gets trashed each year that would be millions of tonnes that wouldn’t have to made next year. That would put people out of work.

And in a society where work is the main goal of living, to do something that puts people out of work is akin to being unpatriotic. Its all about “job stimulus”, increasing spending to revitalize the economy, keeping unemployment low, creating a brisk economy etc….

BUT! What about creating an economy where you needed less to live on, where you needed to work less for the same amount of buying power. Less work would mean more time watching the clouds with your children…

Here is how from my limited knowledge of macroeconomics:

If society reuses materials we spend less on new materials. This means more money in the consumers’ pockets. But, they say, if everyone does this then less will need to be produced which means less jobs (currently interpreted as bad). But, I say, the consumer does not need to work as much anymore anyway because now that they are reusing materials they aren’t spending as much.

Reusing materials creates a slower economy. Not slow in today’s definition, but slow in the pre-industrial definition where we produced and wasted less. The life cycle of a product lasted longer. In a slower economy the consumer gains because they still get stuff but just don’t have to work as hard to get it.

Who loses in a slower economy? The people who benefit from extreme consumption and waste: the Walmarts of the world, The McDonalds, inefficient car makers, weapons makers, legal drug makers, mass entertainment. All the companies whose business model is based on people consuming their product feverishly for the sake of consumption only.

These are people who buy a certain car for a million idiotic reasons, none the reasons being to fulfill the need to move from place A to place B efficiently.

Anyway. Here are the studs I got. The reasons for getting them are many but here are some:
I needed studs for my 22 2nd Street house.
They were free (saving me about $75).
They are spared from taking up landfill space.
Less pollution due to less production.
I can work $75 less in my life.

salvaged steel studs

salvaged steel studs

New Shipment of Salvaged wood

I have become friends with a contractor who is remodeling a house down the block. The owner is totally gutting the place. Unfortunately I didn’t hook up with them until they were half way done so didn’t get to salvage everything.

But we did salvage some good beams. They came out black but after some heavy rains they look nice and clean. They are a real 3″x8″ by 20′ and in great condition. There is enough for a floor measuring 20′ by 20′.

recycled lumber

recycled lumber

EcoBrooklyn is Listed on the most popular RE blog in the world.

I am happy that my 22 2nd street building is the 1st highlighted green project on!
As far as I know is the most popular real estate blog in the world, but my non-NY friend quickly pointed out, “You New Yorkers always think you are the center of the universe.”

Either way it is the most important RE blog in MY world, and by simple logic since the world revolves around me then IS the most important blog in the world. Obviously.

Anyway, it is an honor to not only be featured are a green project on but to be the !st green project featured. I can say that for the rest of my life!

Fiberglass Windows

Fiberglass as a building product has been around for years but there were some hindrances to using it in window frames. I don’t know the specifics of why but the hurdle has been overcome and more companies are making fiberglass windows.

I’ve called around and it is still very new. A lot of the sales reps haven’t even gotten company training or even seen samples.

But there is no doubt in my mind that fiberglass windows will become the norm.

Fiberglass is made from sand basically. It is glass after all. Fiber glass. So it has all the great qualities of glass:
Does not expand/contract
Lasts for years
Great insulator
Relatively ecological to produce (as opposed to vinyl windows for example which is plastic)

Here is the laydown:
good: ecological, not expand/contract, no maintenance, lasts
bad: doesn’t insulate

good: looks nice, insulates, ecological
bad: high maintenance

good: insulates, low maintenance, lasts, affordable
bad: not ecological

good: insulates, low maintenance, lasts, ecological, not expand/contract
bad: ?
So fiberglass carries all the good qualities of aluminum, wood and vinyl without the drawbacks.

The only thing it lacks is the nice feeling of wood. But in my opinion that nice feeling fades over the years when your wood windows start warping, cracking and peeling. Unless of course you maintain them every year, which costs money, time and energy. Nothing comes without a price, except for happiness which is priceless and comes from within in abundance if you let it…..

But I loose focus….

Right now fiberglass windows are more expensive than the standard vinyl window but this is more a volume issue and not a material issue. To make fiberglass is very cheap. What is expensive is making the molds for the frames. Once the demand increase I suspect the price will also drop.

In terms of pricing they hover around the price of a good wood window. For example I am pricing out windows for 22 2nd street and got the following prices:

Home Depot has Jeld Wen which I would take over the better known Anderson or Pella. Jeld Wen is a VERY old company with solid quality. And priced much better. But NOT fiberglass. They priced me at around $9,000 for high quality aluminum clad windows with wood interior. Good stuff and good price. But not fiberglass….

Home depot could probably get me the chepest vinyl for about $7000 so it pays to go a little higher for aluminium/wood. Vinyl is bad for many reasons unless of course it is what you can afford and then it is very, very good. Everything and everyone has a purpose.

Fibertec priced me $12,000 for fiberglass white inside and standard color outside. Sam at Fibertec is really good with quick response. The windows however will take 7-8 weeks since they custom make every one.

Modern Way Lumber in Brooklyn priced me $18,000 for Bonneville windows which are great quality. But pricey and not fiberglass.

Marvin and Comfortline do Fiberglass. I am waiting, and waiting, for Allied Building Products to get back to me with a price on that. Still waiting….as luck would have it they just called as I write this and promise pricing tomorrow.

So the range so far is $9,000 to $18,000 for good quality Low E argon etc windows with Fibertec being in the middle at $12,000. Not the cheapest but they are fiberglass. I do think that fiberglass pays off in the long term. The windows will last longer, not cost anything for upkeep and save money on heating. In the long run they are the cheapest. Really the greenest choice.

Fibertec Fiberglass Windows in a living room

22 2nd Street

I am currently working on 22 2nd street. It is a gut job. It is also being featured on as a Green Project of note, although I have not had a chance to check it out.

Feel free to come by and see what we are doing, which is pretty much everything green.