DIY Indoor Vermiculture Composting

If you are a fan of living sustainably you have most likely felt the urge to reduce your waste and begin composting. But living in New York City often leaves residents without much outdoor space. A large part of Green Building in Brooklyn involves meshing innovative techniques with salvaged materials, which is why do-it-yourself composting is a fantastic solution to a massive problem. Eco Brooklyn is a big fan of “Passive House”  philosophy and indoor composting is as energy conscious as it is environmentally friendly. Composting indoors sounds, or rather “smells,” fishy right? In fact if your compost is smelly it’s probably not functioning correctly.

Black Gold

Black Gold

Composting is a simple process by which organic material, mostly complex carbon and nitrogen molecules, are broken down to produce the basic building blocks to support plant like organisms. This compost or “black gold” is essential to reducing the wasted-tons of organic material sent to landfills every time one throws away those banana peels, coffee grounds and filters, or even used paper towels.

With a little human energy and a bit of patience, one can easily turn their two-pound-per-day organic waste into nutrient rich soil for their house plants or garden. The first step is to find a suitable container with at least four cubic feet of volume; basically a trash can with a diameter of 1.5’ and a height of 2’. The container should be salvaged or recycled, must have a lid, and bigger is better if you have the space.

 

This compostee used an old paint bucket and found a solution to reducing those pesky fruit flies. Her method suggests adding felt to the inside of the aeration holes to prevent any unwanted invaders. I imagine using the activated carbon mesh found at pet stores for cat litter boxes would also do the trick while reducing any unwanted odors.

Keep the Flies Away

Felt on Aeration Holes

 

Use to Prevent Pests and Odors

Use to Prevent Pests and Odors

 

 

Next you will want to find a suitable tray to place underneath the compost bin with some newspaper in case of spillage. The bin should be place in a dark place for best results. Usually under the kitchen sink or on the floor of a pantry will do. Add some soil from anywhere, except near the Gowanus.

 

Then mix in around four pounds of red worms, depending on how much suitable waste you generally produce, as they will eat about half their weight in material every day. Aeration holes are critical as they allow oxygenation for the worms and the aerobic (need oxygen) bacteria. Foul smelling compost is usually due to “anaerobic” (do not need oxygen) bacteria, so make sure to churn your compost once a week and have at least a dozen ½” size holes in the lid or the top sides of the bucket.

 

What can you add to your compost bin? Here is a great list of 81 items suitable for composting. Keep in mind that a higher concentration of carbon rich material; “brown stuff”, newspaper, paper towels, wood clippings, will prevent ammonia smells caused by the anaerobic breakdown of nitrogen rich material; “green stuff”, fruit, veggies, coffee grounds.

DIY Composting Bin

“I’m Red, but I produce Black Gold”

Composting generally takes a few weeks, but this wait is very rewarding. It is probably best two have at least two bins as one will get full after a couple weeks and it will need time to mature, which is a great time to start your second compost bin. Also make sure to add “brown” material with your “green” stuff and sometimes a little water if it is too dry or newspaper if it is too wet. Then churn, churn, churn, because there is always a season for composting.

Too much compost? Donate your extras to a local farm or farmers market. The NYC Green Markets are also happy to take your clippings, and “green” waste for composting.

-Anthony Rivale

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

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

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

 

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

 

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

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

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

 

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

One of Cyclecides attractions

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

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

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

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

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

Recycling Salvaged Cement Reduces our Carbon Footprint

Construction is conventionally a carbon-intensive industry – especially in a place like Brooklyn where most homes, coffee shops, book stores and restaurants are built primarily with concrete, mortar, brick and stone. Some degree of greenhouse gas emission is inherent in the production of all construction materials, but none more so than the cement which makes up our foundations and holds our brownstones together. After energy generation, the cement industry is the 2nd-largest CO2 emitting industry in the United States and the world – responsible for about 5% of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

Cement manufacturing entails a chemical process known as calcination in which limestone (i.e. calcium carbonate, CaCO3) is heated with small quantities of other materials, namely clay, in a kiln to 1450° C; this process liberates a molecule of CO2from the calcium carbonate to form calcium oxide (CaO). The clinker – which is the resulting hard end product of calcium dioxide – is then ground up with gypsum into powder form to produce what is commonly known as “Portland cement”.

From start to finish, roughly 0.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide is produced for every 1 kilogram of cement that is produced – 50% from the end-products of the chemical process itself and 40% from the burning of fuel to heat the limestone to such a scorching temperature, the rest mostly in transportation and administration. More than 70% of all energy consumed by cement kilns is generated by burning coal – the worst of all fossil fuels in terms of greenhouse gas production, about 12% from petroleum coke, 9% from waste fuels, 4% from natural gas and the rest from oil and coke.

Industry leaders and environmental scientists are trying to devise ways of reducing the environmental impact of cement production. The Environmental Protection Agency, for one, is trying to prod the U.S. cement industry to substitute coal-powered kilns to kilns which run on any fuel other than coal, CO2 capture and sequestration, alternative processes of concocting calcium oxide, etc. The state of California’s recently-enacted carbon emissions standards are forcing their large cement industry to invest in cleaner, less carbon-intensive production methods. We support these regulatory efforts, but we also believe that New York’s green contractors can do much more than to sit back and wait for change to come from the top down.

Here at Eco Brooklyn we have devised an even more effective and remarkably simple means of reducing the carbon footprint of our construction and renovation projects: conservation. Such a large amount of the cement produced in U.S. factories for some reason or another is never actually used to mix the mortar or cement it was intended for. Either contractors estimated too high when they made their bulk purchases and are left with excess cement that they don’t need, or somewhere in transit from the factory to the individual vendor cement bags are ripped or broken and cannot be sold. This surplus is considered trash on the free market – very few contractors make the effort to buy second-hand cement, so every year they take untold tons of perfectly good cement and just throw it in the landfill. From our perspective, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

If there is any way that NY green builders can cut down on the carbon footprint of construction/renovation jobs, it is by reducing this wholly unnecessary waste of cement; for every 1,000 kg of cement that is thrown out, our air and our oceans are polluted with 900 kg of CO2 for no reason at all!

As a green contractor, Eco Brooklyn salvages this otherwise landfill-bound cement from conventional contractors who have overstock and merchants who are stuck with unsellable bags – not only are we reducing the volume of waste sent to our already-overcrowded landfills, but we are using it to make the homes and businesses of the 21st century.

We do procure some of our cement by conventional means, but we salvage as much as possible via conservation. By recycling salvaged cement, Eco Brooklyn is busy conducting construction projects without there needing to be any additional cement produced, energy consumed and greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. By adhering to our environmentalist mission by this and other practical methods, this green contractor is committed to limiting our carbon footprint to an absolute minimum. And that is not the only benefit of salvaging cement and material conservation; Eco Brooklyn’s procurement methods are also crafted to reduce unnecessary costs from our overall production process, to reduce the burden on our city’s public sanitation infrastructure, to curb the volume of waste sent to our landfills, to do a favor to other businesses in the neighborhood and to invest in the health of our community.

Moreover, this NY green contractor is also developing new methods of building and renovation which can cut cement out of the production process as much as possible. Instead of basic concrete which is usually used for foundations, basement walls and floors, Eco Brooklyn is perfecting a rammed earth technology which simply uses the earth and stones dug up from the ground mixed with the most durable and sustainable ratio of cement and water. And instead of pouring plain old concrete for the front walkway and steps, we are using natural stones, scrap bluestone and tile. We don’t need to invest in the costliest and most exotic foreign technologies – in order to turn every brownstone into a greenstone all we can procure most of our materials straight from our own backyards – literally!

LED drivers

An LED driver is a self-contained power supply that has outputs matched to the electrical characteristics of your LED or array of LEDs. There are currently no industry standards, so understanding the electrical characteristics of your LED or array is critical in selecting or designing a driver circuit. Drivers should be current-regulated (deliver a consistent current over a range of load voltages). Drivers may also offer dimming by means of pulse width modulation (PWM) circuits. Drivers may have more than one channel for separate control of different LEDs or arrays.
definition from led center

Mean Well's  Cost Effective PLP-60 PCB Type LED Power Supply.
Mean Well’s Cost Effective PLP-60 PCB Type LED Power Supply. A nice built-in design for low cost applications.

LED Drivers should not be looked at as inefficient devices. Here is an example of a press release for a 96% efficiency device.

LEDs without drivers?!?! YES! Acriche™ 4W AC LED from Seoul Semiconductor can be directly plugged into the AC line voltage without a converter or separate power supply. (Watch your fingers!)

So as you can see an LED driver is the type of device that comes in many flavors. It depends on your system wattage needs, for the associated cost increase. In an attempt to recycle reuse and repurpose we, here at EcoBrooklyn, decided in a ‘build it forward’ , commonly associated with a ‘green builder’, attitude, to find some drivers of our own. With some ingenuity and help from our friends (our thanks to you) I undertook the idea of using computer ATX power supplies as a regulated Voltage source. Since an LED is a current driven device any fluctuation in voltage even down to a tenth of a volt can cause a large increase in current flow. This can damage or destroy the LED at worst or cause flickering at best, which can have quite a discomforting effect. So with this in mind and the knowledge that computer electronics are very sensitive to voltage fluctuations on a small but reasonably similar level, I had a great match up. Other standard functions include short circuit, over load, over voltage protections and over temperature shutoff. As well as more than one voltage source in the original package. This we can use to allow more than one type of LED being powered by such VCCS (Voltage controlled current source) supplies.

ATX Power Supply

Bricks, Bricks Everywhere

One thing brownstones have in abundance are bricks. And I keep seeing dumpsters full of them. It is heartbreaking for me. These are beautiful bricks, a hundred years old, with character and texture.

Here is one job site where they knocked down the whole building.

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There were thousands of perfect bricks. The next day they were brimming in a dumpster. And the next day when I came with a truck to get some they were gone, off to a landfill.

We got some of their left overs.

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We use them everywhere. It is quicker to use cinder blocks, but bricks are my preference. It may be weird but there is something very comforting for me to put these bricks back into the house so they can sleep maybe another 100 years. To send them to the landfill seems so absolutely wrong.

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Degradation of Recycling

This is more a technical point but something worth considering when
using materials. For example the “problem” with recycled cellulose is that it is
degraded. There is a green term for this but I forgot it. Basically
you are taking a higher purpose material – newspaper that is used to
transport knowledge – and degrading it to ripped up pulp to stuff in
walls. It’s like using a cell phone as a paper weight. Sure you are
recycling but there is degradation in the use.

The ideal recycling process is where the material is used for the same
level or even higher. An example of this would be to re-use the paper
as future newspapers. An example of higher use might be to take old
wall studs and turn them into cabinets. There is room for
interpretation as to what is “higher” or “lower”.

Not that I’m bashing cellulose since it’s one of my favorite for
soundproofing (PolyISO is my favorite for heat insulation). But before
I use a “new” recycled insulation I try to find old recycled
insulation from other houses first (as long as it still has life in it).
That is an example of same level recycling.

What you are doing here is taking the concept of recycling a step further. Recycling is good. Same level or higher level recycling is great.