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

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

And not one on Natural Pools…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smart Grid

As green building gains momentum so does the quest for new sources of power and ways to tap into that power. And as those energy sources keep increasing there becomes a need to organize them. Enter the Smart Grid.

The smart grid will bridge that gap between buildings and power sources, both the new green sources like solar and the older traditional ones like damns.

This will make it easier for a solar installer like Eco Brooklyn to install a solar array and plug the source to the grid without any fancy wiring. This reduces installation costs, worker skill set, and in turn makes solar a much more attractive option for homeowners.

Smart Grid
Smart Grid

Con Edison has already put plans into motion to build NYC’s 3rd generations’ grid – The new grid structure will include smart meters, building management systems, smart Photo Voltaic installations, and the ability to plug in hybrid vehicles.

Currently our grid only delivers power mainly in one direction and there is almost no communication between source and user. It is possible to install a Grid-Tied solar system, where a home owner’s solar array sends unused electricity back to the grid. But the process is not optimal and remains clunky to install. The new system allows for flexibility and two way communication needed to accommodate and manage growth and energy need of future generations.

The automation increases the reliability and security of our power supply too. Smart meters gather information and send it back to ConEd which allows them to see how we are using energy; enabling them to monitor the supply more efficiently.

Given the US electric infrastructure is grossly outdated and overtaxed, increased monitoring can mean the difference between a working air conditioner on a hot summer day and a complete blackout in the entire state.

The smart meters have an in home display that shows the user how they are using the energy, giving them the capability to manage power hungry devices. The term ‘out of sight out of mind’ will be something of the past as far as energy use is concerned. The in home monitors are the first step for users to first become aware of and then break their old energy using habits. Now that they know how much it costs to run the A/C at 65 degress they may get comfortable with a little more heat in their life.

Given the intelligent two way monitoring of a Smart Grid, electric powered cars can be charged easily and have the option to charge when prices are low.

All of these improvements make it easy for green builders and green contractors to incorporate new power generation sources for the consumer. In turn the new grid gives the average consumer the capacity to adjust their power usage to save themselves money and consequently reducing load on our power delivery system. For Eco Brooklyn this simplification is good news. We struggle to explain the benefits of a solar installation but the Smart Grid makes our job much easier.

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.

Natural Mosquito Repellent

Brooklyn’s beautiful summer days coax us outdoors to converse and lounge in our parks, backyards, and porches. In the heat of the summer, water features are a welcome cooling sight and draw the abundance of people looking to maximize their free time. However, these same water features are also home to pesky mosquitoes, diminishing the quality of our outdoor experiences.

At Eco Brooklyn, we are developing natural methods of mosquito control. These methods aim to diminish the mosquito’s presence while maintaining the balance of our fragile local ecosystems. We have a mosquito-repellant service with several components and options, which we make available to the community in an attempt to combat the mosquito problem on a larger scale.

Our service uses three main tools to reduce mosquitoes:

1. Landscaping Mosquito repellent plants – yards, pots and living walls.

2. Water features for mosquito predators – Fish and Dragonfly ponds.

3. Natural oils applied to the skin and garden area surfaces.

New York and Brooklyn were originally full of marshes, rivers and wetlands, which most probably had lots of mosquitoes. The difference now is that those areas are gone, and so are all the creatures and plants that kept mosquitoes at bay.

Now, with little left but clogged gutters and putrid waterways like the Gowanus Canal, there are few predators to the mosquito. Add to that the introduction of non-native mosquitoes from Asia that have even less predators here, and you have a real mosquito heaven (for the mosquito that is. Not for us humans).

Mosquitoes are a problem worldwide.  A wide variety of defenses have been put into effect to reduce the impact of the insect, some with more success than others.

Many of these methods have negative affects on the surrounding environment and may in fact be simultaneously attacking the mosquito’s natural predators. Broad-spectrum insecticides such as the organic pesticide Pyrethrum may kill mosquitoes and other insect pests, but they also kill beneficial pest-controlling insects such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Any attempt to reduce mosquito numbers must be founded in the natural lifecycle of the mosquito itself. The mosquito lays its eggs in standing water and hatches as larva before changing into pupae, then emerging and taking flight. Any standing water greater than a bottle cap’s full can serve as a mosquito-breeding site.

As such it is very important to eliminate small containers that have the potential to fill with rainfall and remain inactive. The elimination of all rainwater collection sites, however, is far from necessary. Slightly larger ponds can be effective methods of mosquito control by acting as habitats for the mosquito’s natural predators.

Some of the mosquito’s natural predators are dragonflies, damselflies, bats, and numerous fish species. While bats do consume mosquitoes, they are at most 5% of their diet. Extensive bat preservation policies, while beneficial to the bat, may not in fact greatly diminish the inhabiting mosquito population. Many fish will consume mosquitoes, but some are better adapted to the task than others.

Fish

The highly touted mosquitofish Gambusia affinis can consume 42-167% of its body weight in mosquitoes per day.  Its mouth is faced upwards towards the sky, allowing for more efficient consumption of mosquito larvae. It can tolerate various temperature changes in the water, salinity, decreased food supply, and organic pollutants and is compatible with goldfish, koi, and karp.

A nonnative species, it was first introduced to New York’s waters as a biological control for mosquitoes. However, mosquitofish were found to be ill-adapted to the cooler waters. Most importantly, it is not compatible with native species and very few instances of coexistence exist.

As such EcoBrooklyn does not recommend the introduction of mosquitofish into existing garden ponds. If your brownstone garden already includes a fish pond, we recommend finding a hardy native fish species that can reproduce in the local climate, such as the fathead minnow.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Fish are not the only mosquito predator reliant on a pond source. Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in foliage above or below the waterline of a pond. They then hatch as aquatic predators, consuming mosquito larva to feed and grow.

Depending on the species, this stage of life takes 1-2 months to 5 years. The larva then climb out of the pond via a plant stalk or rock and seek protection in nearby foliage before taking flight and attacking mosquito adults.

The life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies therefore shadows that of the mosquito, but the predator-prey relationship remains the same effectively controlling mosquito populations. Adult dragonflies and damselflies return to water features to feed and sun themselves, and eventually lay eggs in the pond.

Eco Brooklyn offers a dragonfly pond building service as a component of its mosquito solutions. Dragonfly ponds are a beautiful addition to a brownstone garden, and the insects provide welcome entertainment on a summer’s eve.

15% of North America’s 307 dragonfly species are in danger of extinction, and a new dragonfly habitat can help the graceful insects to reestablish themselves while also providing a welcome solution to the mosquito problem!

A dragonfly pond by Carole A. Brown

A dragonfly pond should vary in depth, with a segment around 2 ft in depth and flat rocks such as slate on the shallow side. Water plants should be included in the deeper parts of the pond to serve as nurseries, with perching sedges and rushes on the side for adults. It is also recommended that a small wildflower grassland be planted on the side of the pond.

The pond should include erect and submerged plants to allow for dragonflies and damselflies at all stages of the life cycle. A small pump can be included to keep the water clean and oxygenated, although this is not necessary for larger ponds. While the best dragonfly ponds are 20 feet wide, this width is not practical for a NY lot nor is it necessary to maintaining a healthy population.

In fact, adapted whiskey barrels, fountain basins, and earthen or plastic lined ponds can all provide welcome habitats as long as there are sloped sides and varying depths. The dragonfly larvae like to hide in the depths of the water to escape predation, but sufficient plant cover may substitute for that in the case of shallower ponds.

A simple stake in the pond can substitute for erect perching plants. It is very important that the pond be 70% in the sun and that no fish are added to the water.

Fish consume dragonfly larva as well as mosquito larva and are therefore incompatible, unless we design the pond to have two sections so there are safe places for the larvae to escape.

Once the pond is built we jumpstart it with a few spadefulls of soil from a nearby pond with a known dragonfly population.

The following plants work well in a dragonfly pond:

Deepwater -submerged plants

Curly pondweed – Potomogeton crispus

Water Starwort – Callitriche spp

Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum

Spiked Water Milfoil – Myrophyllum spicatum

Deeper water Floating Plants

Stiff-leaved Water Crowfoot – Rannunculus circinatus

Frogbit – Hydrocharis morus-ranae

Broad-leaved pondweed – Potomegetum natans

Amphibious Bistort – Polygonum amphibium

Yellow Waterlily – Nurphar lutea

Fringed Waterlily – Nymphoides pelatata

Shallow water emergent plants

Flowering Rush – Butomus umbellatus

Water Horsetail – Equisetum fluviatile

Bur-reed – Sparganium erectum

Water Plantain – Alisma plantago-aquatica

Common Spike Rush – Eleocharis palustris

Bog Bean  – Menyanthes trifoliate

Plants

EcoBrooklyn also installs plants as  a direct means of mosquito control. We offer several plant-based services:

-vertical frames planted with mosquito repellant plants, to be hung on the walls of porches, balconies, and other outdoor activity areas. The frames are made of cedar or pine as both of these woods repel mosquitoes.

-plant troughs filled with mosquito repellant plants, placed near outdoor activity areas

-herbal oil concoctions designed to specifically repel mosquitoes; these can be applied directly to the skin or sprayed on the surfaces of an outdoor activity area

-dried mosquito-repellant plants placed into sachets to be hung in desired locations

Below we have organized known mosquito repellant plants into two categories: native and nonnative species. Edible plants are subcategorized. We work with clients to offer aesthetically pleasing plant combinations.




Once planted, it is advised that plants be brushed before engaging in outdoor activities in order to release some of the scent. The compounds citronellal, geraniol, geranial, and pulegone are all known to repel mosquitoes. Plants containing these compounds are the most effective.

It is important to note that the plants themselves will not repel mosquitoes, it is the oil within their leaves that acts as a repellent. This is why brushing the leaves (resulting in small breaks) helps to repel mosquitoes. Our plant troughs and vertical installations  are meant to be a reliable supplier of leaves for your own herbal concoctions while also aesthetically ameliorating your home.

We highly recommend troughs consisting of edible mosquito repellent plants, which provide the additional ecosystem service of providing food.

Herbal solutions

While there are many variations of mosquito repellant liquids, they are made similarly.

The first method uses actual plant leaves from mosquito repellant plants. These are steeped in water, strained, and then the liquid is added to isopropyl alcohol.  Any combination of plants works well as well as using a single plant per batch.

The second method involves mixing 2 ½ teaspoons of any combination of essential oils (basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, juniper, lemon, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary) with 1 cup of 190-proof grain alcohol. These concoctions can be applied directly to the skin or used in a spray bottle. If applied to the skin, it may take some experimentation to determine what combination of oils works best with one’s body chemistry.

As described by the above overview, there are many natural means of combating the mosquito problem in Brooklyn. EcoBrooklyn is constantly improving its services through experimentation in the Green Show House and offers its solutions to the community.

These solutions aim to repel mosquitoes, add to the aesthetic value of Brooklyn brownstones, and support native species and the local ecosystem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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