Renewable Energy Plan for New York

Let’s convert New York State’s energy infrastructure into something more sustainable. It’s a simple concept, with a multitude of benefits.  Converting to renewable energy will stabilize costs of energy and  produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage and overall improving the quality of life.

A recent study by Mark Z. Jacobson et al. finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert the fossil fuel energy infrastructure in New York State to one that is supplied entirely by wind, water, and solar power. The use of natural gas is argued against due to the dangerous hydraulic fracturing process and the air pollution produced.  The proposed plan provides the largest possible reductions in air and water pollution, and global warming impacts.

Jacobson and scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis have proposed the first fully developed plan to fulfill all sectors (transportation, electric power, industry, and district heating and cooling) of New York State’s energy demands with renewable energy. Additionally, they calculated the number of new jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for an infrastructure change of this magnitude. It also provides calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.

While a wind, water, and solar conversion will result in high initial capital costs, they will be made up over time due to the elimination of fuel costs. Overall, New York State’s end-use power demand will decrease by roughly 37% and create 58,000 permanent jobs with job exchange predicted. It is estimated that 4.5 million temporary jobs would be created during construction phase.

The researchers propose that New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors could be met by:

4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines

387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants

828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants

5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems

500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems

36 100-megawatt geothermal plants

1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices

2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines

7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist

To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of WWS resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply, and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand. The plan also includes a solution to the current protocol of shutting down facilities during times of overproduction that includes the sale of surplus.

Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal, and gas. This new plan looks to supply 40 percent of NY’s energy from wind power, 38 percent from solar, and 22 percent from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal and wave energy. All of these sources will be located in, or offshore of, New York State.

All vehicles will be replaced with battery-electric vehicles (BEV), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV) and BEV-HFCV hybrids. Electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, heat exchangers and backup electric resistance heaters would replace natural gas and oil for home heating and air-conditioning. Air- and ground-source heat pump water heaters powered by electricity and solar hot water preheaters would provide hot water for homes. High temperatures for industrial processes would be obtained with electricity and hydrogen combustion.

Jacobsen et al. have provided a comprehensive and all inclusive energy alternative for New York State that boasts a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that will creates local jobs and save the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.

As a small ny green contractor most of these projects are currently too large for us to handle. But the large projects are not the only place to make an impact. Our focus on energy efficient building reduces the need for energy in the first place. Also, micro sustainable energy production such as a photovoltaic installation on a warehouse or home is certainly something we could do. Such decentralized energy sources reduce the load on the grid and in turn create back up options should the central grid go down.

 

DIY Rocket Mass Heater

The recent polar vortex has hit us all with some really harsh conditions and as a green contractor based in New York it has made work on our ecological construction sites difficult. Spending cold, winter days inside of an upcycled shipping container can leave you freezing for hours. Space heaters require electricity that you may not have access to.

We’ve figured out a way to heat our workspaces in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way that uses zero electricity and burns zero fossil fuels.  A rocket mass heater is an efficient wood burning stove and space-heating system. Two key things differentiate them as ecologically sound space heaters.

The first is that the design involved creates a small, efficient, high temperature combustion chamber capable of burning significantly more carbon than simply burning wood in a metal can or bonfire. Due to the high carbon-burning capabilities less ash is created and the smoke emitted is much cleaner.

The second is that the cob or clay acts as a thermal mass that physically stores the heat created during combustion for hours and releases it into the space through convection thereby decreasing the amount of electrical energy or fossil fuels used.

A traditional rocket mass heater involves a 55 Gallon drum built into a clay wall and extending into a room so as to transfer the most heat possible. This form is too large and too permanent for use on multiple construction sites.  The technical design of a larger scale heater is more complex, but we needed a relatively small heater that can be transported between sites.

The method of building a rocket mass heater outlined below enables environmentally conscious contractors and individuals to use materials that are more readily available or perhaps lying around the house or job site.

Here we’ve provided the simple DIY steps to creating a rocket stove or rocket mass heater:

Materials:

5-gallon plastic bucket

2 2-liter plastic soda bottles

Dirt, grass (or hay), and water

Marker

Duct tape

Utility knife

A piece of metal lath or mesh

 

Step 1: Use the marker to trace a circle 3-4 inches from the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket and cut out the circle with your knife.

Step 2: Use the duct tape to tape the ends of the soda bottles together in an L shape. The soda bottles should be filled with liquid or remain unopened.

Step 3: Use the dirt, grass (or hay), and water to make the cob in a different bucket.

Step 4: Put some of the cob in the bottom of the bucket to the height of the bottom of the hole you’ve cut. Place the bottles you’ve taped together inside the bucket with the end of one bottle sticking out of the hole that you’ve previously cut.

Step 5: Continue to fill the bucket with the cob mixture and be sure to smooth all edges. The clay will need a few days to dry out.

Step 6: When the cob feels dry pour the liquid out of the soda bottles and cut off the tops of the bottles. Remove the bottles and tape by reaching into the bottles and pulling them out.

Step 7: If your cob mixture is not fully dry let it set for a few more days. Then place paper and small twigs inside and light a small fire to dry the cob entirely.

Step 8: Place the piece of metal lath or mesh, small enough to fit inside of the hole, in the side of the bucket. This will hold the fuel being used to heat your space. It should be long enough that it sticks out of the bucket to hold longer sticks/kindling.

Step 9: Add your fuel (paper, sticks, any natural carbon-based material will do) and ignite!

This rocket mass heater is safe, environmentally friendly, and portable. For use indoors this structure would need to be ducted to allow exhaust or fumes to be safely expelled outside. Additionally, use of this type of heater in a home remodel is not recommended however for work on an industrial space it is a perfect fit.

Click HERE for a link to a smaller, even more portable version.  We don’t recommend this exact method due to the high levels of BPA inside of soup cans so we suggest purchasing heater duct pipe (un-galvanized) to use instead.

 

Click HERE to see different designs for large scale and conventional rocket mass heater. These designs are meant to heat a home and emit smoke  and any potentially dangerous fumes outdoors through a duct system.

 

 

Best Urban Space Remodels: Our Instagram Claim to Fame

In the spirit of awards season, we’re pleased to announce that our green building Instagram account has been awarded an Instagrammy! Improvement Center evaluated the top ten home contractors to follow and we’ve been recognized for having the best urban space remodels.

Our feed features images from our Manhattan and Brooklyn ecological construction projects including gardens, green roofs, renovated shipping containers, passive brownstones, and more. In addition to project updates we include tips on green construction and sustainable design, a behind-the-scenes look at our salvaging techniques, and ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.

Big thanks to Improvement Center and be sure to take a peek at our Instagram account under the handle @ecobrooklyn.

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden

Exterior Shades – The Anti-Heat Wave of the Future

Temperature has assuredly become a hot topic in offices throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the recent heat wave. Eco Brooklyn’s office is no exception to the heat. However, we have a unique approach to the problem.

Passive housing has been a cornerstone of environmental design since the ancient Greeks and Romans (check out this article on the history of passive housing: http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/energy-efficient-building-passive-heating-and-cooling). While technology and techniques have become more advanced, many of the principles used by the ancients have stood the test of time. Most notably, this includes the use of exterior shades to protect from heat in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter.

Exterior shades differ from internal shades in a few major ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is that when using internal shades, the sunlight is allowed to enter the room through the window. The heat will be trapped inside of the shades. As it dissipates on the interior, the home is heated much faster.

The second major difference between interior and exterior shades is the dynamic ways one can utilize external shades and shutters. For example, the use of an overhang is an effective way of using angles to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower in the winter, the sun can enter the room under the overhang.

Furthermore, this concept of exterior shading offers an opportunity for synergy – a mark of sustainability in the green building community. Currently, Eco Brooklyn’s offices employ the use of internal honeycomb shades, which are highly effective at absorbing heat. However, we have plans of making an even more effective and synergistic approach. Namely, we would like to install an exterior overhang to accomplish the above-stated goals; with one catch: We will install solar panels on the overhang to absorb the heat and reroute it to power the house. This is a great example of an integrated solar power system.

As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise across the world (especially in NYC: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/new-york-city-flooding-by-2050_n_3417348.html), New Yorkers will be expected to assume a heavy burden of increasing energy bills. One way to combat these growing expenses is by building green. Passive housing is a great way to not only take advantage of the Earth’s natural energy, but prevent it from escaping your house as well.

Another approach to natural cooling is to use a green facade, or living wall. This concept involves the use of growing vines and other vegetation in a vertical direction to cover a wall or other surface of a building that is in direct sunlight. Green walls can vary in design and allow room for creativity. For further information on green walls check out this link: http://www.greenscreen.com/direct/GS_AdvancedGreenFacadeDesign.pdf

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

Christopher Jeffrey

Crown Heights Project – 100% Salvaged Material Fence

Eco Brooklyn has been working on an interesting sustainable project in the Crown Heights area. The challenge is to build a fence using only salvaged material.

How does this project work?

Our green building team collects extraneous wood from the local company, U.S. Fencing Systems, Inc. The staff there are extremely gracious and are happy to see the wood go to good use rather than having to see it lugged off by dump trucks every week. The wood is then transported to the work cite where interns and construction workers de-nail the wooden planks, cut them for sizing, and mount the planks onto the salvaged metal poles extracted from a dumpster near Prospect Park.

This job is a captivating snapshot of what we do as green builders. By reaching out to local businesses and the community, people get excited about sustainability and are more likely to build it forward.

Christopher Jeffrey

Crown Heights Fence

Adverse Effects on Children’s Health From Soil Lead Contamination

An article about the adverse effects of soil lead contamination on children’s health was recently published on WNYC. As a green builder involved in garden soil lead remediation this was very interesting to us.

Perhaps it is the spring weather driving children outdoors in droves, but Eco Brooklyn has been receiving a number of inquiries from local families regarding soil remediation. Back when we first tested the Eco Brooklyn Show House soil in 2010 and got lead results far above what is remotely safe, we realized this is a real problem and became by default a Soil Remediation Contractor for NY and Brooklyn brownstones.

Living in Carroll Gardens, one of the more family-friendly neighborhoods in New York City, Eco Brooklyn cannot emphasize enough the importance of lead remediation for the sake of our children’s health. Our recent posts reviews some of the key components.

-Liza Chiu

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

Toxic Paint in Brooklyn

Brooklyn is full of beautiful and historic houses, and Eco Brooklyn is doing their part to preserve these wonders through sustainable lead-based paint removal.

Historical Housing

Historical Housing at Ditmas Park

People have been fascinated with lead since the Roman Empire, when tonnes of lead were produced for plumbing, construction pins, makeup, spermicides,  and even lead based tonics and seasoning. Yum!

Even during the reign of the Romans lead was known to have been toxic, but it was not until the 1970’s that it began to be banned among household products. Lead paint was fervently preferred among master painters for its brilliant white luster and its hydrophobic properties.

Research has shown that even mild lead intoxication can have harmful effects, especially among children, and unborn fetuses.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission banned lead in 1977 from toys, paint, and furniture manufacturing. If your home is older than 1978 you may have lead based paint, and if it was painted earlier than the 1970’s you almost certainly do.

As a Green Contractor, Eco Brooklyn utilizes a safe and non-toxic method of lead paint removal. The first step is to assess the paint with a lead test kit, which can usually be found at your local hardware store.

Sustainable Paint Removal

Lead Paint Remediation Project

We use our own citrus oil based paint stripper (biodegradable), which we cover for a up to 24 hours. The paint can then be easily extracted without dust particulates or hazards within your home. The only intoxication will be from the euphoric citrus scent doing its job, sustainably.  (more…)

Heavy Metals in Brooklyn, Not as Safe as Rock & Roll.

Eco Brooklyn is gearing up for it Spring Soil Remediation Projects. A potential client has sent us their Soil Testing Report and it was time to refresh our knowledge on key components of soil contamination and remediation.

Heavy Metal Contaminated Soil

Backyard Soil Contamination

Backyard Contamination Sample

Soil Sample Report

The level of contamination in their report will require root barriers and the addition of six inches of topsoil.

According to the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College It is not uncommon for many New York City gardens to have contamination.  The dense urban environment has contributed to an overabundance of metals including: Lead, Chromium, Nickel, Arsenic, and Cadmium.

Prior to the 1980’s heavy metals were used primarily in manufacturing processes. Lead is one of the most abundant toxins that contributes to soil contamination, and was commonly found in paint, print making ink, fertilizers and gasoline.

Chromium is another substantial toxin found commonly in Brooklyn soil. The element was widespread in the production of paint, tanning salts, car parts, and plumbing fixtures.

Heavy metal poisoning often results in birth defects, autism, allergies, weight loss, and even paralysis.

Safe Levels of Toxic Metals

Soil Contamination and Remediation

The chart above, from California’s Environmental Protection Agency,  displays the safe levels of the most common heavy metals found in soil. The second column displays the levels for which the California Office for Environmental Health deems safe for soil use, such as gardening, while the EPA suggests a significantly higher threshold in the third column.

The State of New York does not currently have specific guidelines or regulations for garden soil. If you own a brownstone or home in Brooklyn you can bet your soil has toxic levels of heavy metals.

Testing for contamination is a simple and inexpensive process at Brooklyn College. Just visit their Soil Testing Website, and follow the five easy steps to receive a Soil Test Analysis and/or a Tissue Analysis of your fruits and vegetables.

Eco Brooklyn recommends following the European ECO Label threshold for heavy metals. Soil containing lead above 100 parts per million should be mediated and it is crucial to apply these standards when children are involved. Green building starts with designing a good foundation whether it involves sustainably sourced wood studs or a contamination free lot to build upon.

-Anthony Rivale

Makin’ Tracks in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Over the  past few years biking has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation in New York City. More than 200,000 people bike everyday in New York City. There was a 26% increase in the number of cyclers between 2008 and 2009. Here at Eco Brooklyn, a number of our employees ride to work and it is common to see our front fence covered with bikes.

Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s strong push for more bike lanes, which is great, New York isn’t always the most bike friendly city; we have yet to create an urban plan that makes biking a priority, like the plans of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. In NY, bikers are still very much lone riders in a dangerous sea of motor vehicles.

One NY resident – Joshua P. Rechnitz , is attempting to increase the biking culture dramatically, not on the streets but in the form of a huge cycling track.

This peaked our interest. As a New York green builder there are two things we are interested in: buildings that increase healthy habits for humans and making those buildings out of sustainable products.

Joshua P. Rechnitz is a Manhattan resident, and partner of the Hudson Urban Bicycles and a competitive cyclist.

He also happens to be a philanthropist and recently gave the NYC Parks Brooklyn Bridge Park 42 million dollars to build a velodome- an indoor cycling center. In addition to the cycling track, the 115,000 square-foot facility will include indoor space for basketball, tennis, volleyball and gymnastics. It will also include seating for almost 2,500 spectators.

The 42 million dollar donation to the NYC parks department is the largest in the history of  New York. Previously, the donation from Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenburg for the High Line has been the largest donation to the Parks Department. Rechnitz’s donation includes a promise to underwrite the first ten years of the new field house.

New York City was once considered the world capital of cycling.  Indoor velodome races captivated large audiences in Madison Square Garden, circa 1879-1920. In 1922, a giant velodome was built near the Harlem River on 225th and could seat 16,000 people (it burned down in 1930). Enthusiasts now believe this is the time to bring a long tradition of competitive cycling back to the city.

Although this facility has the potential to create a new community of cycles, many community member are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Leaders of community groups in the abutting neighborhoods of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights are tentative about the plan because of its shear size, which is significantly larger than a football field. The stadium also has the potential to pull a lot of traffic onto the 19th century cobble stone streets of Brooklyn Heights.

But an important question arises: what is more important: green space with trees and grass or development, albeit development for cycling? Some community members claim that over the past few years Brooklyn Bridge Park has been nibbled away by new structures, and this new velodome would be a continuation of that trend in a big way.

Although it seems that the velodome would replace an old warehouse that currently sits at Pier 5. The proposal does not seem to suggest that developers will retrofit the already existing warehouse, but rather just tear the existing structure down and build a new one.

Currently there is only one velodome left in New York City, at Kissena Park in Queens, but the 400-meter city owned track is not enclosed. One idea is to take the Rechnitz gift and build the proposed velodome on the existing velodome site in Queens, which sits just of the Van Wyck and Long Island Expressway. In addition to not crowding a park, there would be opportunity to retrofit an existing building and also ample room for parking.

This proposal and gift has potential to really expand the cycling culture in New York, a movement that is already strong but could use more support from the city. An increase in cycling culture could drastically reduce the city’s carbon emissions through reducing car traffic and also make the city a bit healthier and happier.

Our main question is whether the velodome can be built so as not to decrease green space but actually increase it. This would mean not building on land that should be park space as well as creating a structure that increases green through living walls, ponds and green roofs.

After that we would want to know that the structure was built to the highest energy efficiency standards possible and with the greenest building materials. This usually means retrofitting an existing structure over building a new one.

If the building increases green space (for more than just humans), doesn’t create a huge environmental impact during construction and during ongoing running of the facility, then the fact that it contributes to New Yorker’s healthy lifestyle as a cycling park means it is a win-win situation for everyone. These are the standards by which we build and it really makes sense.

 

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).

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Natural Pools

We at EcoBrooklyn engage in a number of exciting green building projects and experiments throughout the year, but with the hot months ahead at the top of our list is the natural pool for the show house and with its completion so close we can almost feel the cool, energetic, life infused water on our toes.

A “Natural pool” is more about incorporating nature into the design and functions of the pool, harnessing natural processes to maintain quality, swimable water and blurring the line between built and naturally occurring.

A healthy body of fresh water has a number of checks and balances that keep it in balance. A Natural Pool simply recreates these elements. Nature does the rest.

A Natural Pool has the swimming area and then another area called the regeneration zone. This zone contains plants and, most importantly, surface area usually in the form of gravel that microbes can live on.

The plants and microbes compete with algae for food and since you pack it with surface area the microbes beat out the algae. In essence you create an environment where food (leaves, soil, bugs, and other organic matter) is scarce, so what food there is becomes eaten by plants and microbes instead of algae.

The process is fairly flexible and can be as simple or complex as you like as long as you have a few basic elements:

-No chemical fertilizers/ pesticides used adjacent to the site

-Natural filtration system

-A variety of different plants, surface area and microbes to promote a balanced ecosystem

The beauty of natural pools

The primary appeal of a natural pool is the absence of the typical cocktail of harsh chemicals designed to kill pretty much everything in the water, except the swimmer more or less.

The second attraction is the positive ecological effect; this is something you can build with salvaged and recycled materials while helping to reinstate local/native ecosystems.

As with most things green there is a degree of time and thought investment not usually associated with the typical energy sapping, chlorinated eyesore.

there’s no competition really

 

Maintenance is still simpler and less expensive, but one needs to learn and follow a set of steps and rules, which as one grows with the pool these steps become second nature, or perhaps first nature…

Thankfully there are always pioneers braving new frontiers and providing the general populace with valuable resources and tools to implement in their own projects.  The Europeans especially have been at the forefront of the natural pools race for over a decade now. They have built massive public natural swimming pools that cater to thousands of people with great success.

beautiful design

wide range of options

Below is a list of websites and organizations specifically geared towards natural pool construction; they provide excellent technical suggestions for all types of designs and constraints as well as helpful trouble shooting for any problems that may arise.  Also they can provide you with competent local green contractors and builders in your area familiar with this sort of construction.

Eco Brooklyn hopes to become a leading natural pool installer in the New York area. We feel this is an excellent option since it adds so much to a garden, both for humans but for native wildlife.
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2002-08-01/Natural-Swimming-Pool.aspx
http://www.biotop-gmbh.at/

http://www.ibnature.com/

http://www.totalhabitat.com/p&p.html

http://www.clear-water-revival.com/

 

-Michael DiCarlo

How Our Soul Connects to the Earth

I spent the day in the Eco Brooklyn garden with seven interns today hauling salvaged blue stone around and working on the natural swimming pool. Typically we are working around the pool so they have their shoes off.

Adding the final touches to the natural swimming pool

But today I had them wear shoes to protect them from the heavy stones they were hauling.

I know the garden very well and can navigate the many native plants and stones with my eyes closed. For the most part the interns have been pretty good at where they put their bare feet as well, even if it is more to protect their virgin feet than to protect the garden.

But today they were like a herd of elephants. Carried away with their work, they forgot what was beneath their shoes. And asking them to be more aware didn’t lessen the damage.

Considering they were so intelligent in other areas I expected a much higher level of awareness from them and I found myself getting frustrated. And it wasn’t like they didn’t care or had physical disabilities. These college level athletes were mortified when I pointed out the damage their feet were doing.

It made me think about intelligence in general and how different societies value different things. In mainstream North America intelligence is measured in college test exams. In the Jungles of the Amazon intelligence is measured in whether you step on a snake or not.

But more importantly I had this profound realization that these seven intelligent college grads had spent the vast majority of their lives walking on dead materials – concrete, tile, car carpet, varnished wood – with shoes. They were completely illiterate when it comes to talking to the alive earth with their feet.

99% of the time they don’t need to be aware of where they are stepping. They have to navigate dead objects like getting out of a car, running on a track or walking up stairs but these things are all standardized – hard, flat, lifeless – so the process requires minimal awareness. The worst that can happen is they step in dog crap and never do they worry about killing anything.

The Eco Brooklyn back yard, however, is full of life and far from standard. There are little piles of stones to be toppled, plants of all sizes to be trampled, snails and bugs to be crushed, and all sorts of other life forms like mushrooms, moss, lichen, and berries that a Nike shoe easily kills.

Bees from the roof drinking water from moss in the Eco Brooklyn show house pond.

This lack of connection between our feet and the soil is powerful. I saw these kids with great intentions slowly trampling their surroundings and it brought up in me much more emotions than what was at hand. It reminded me of the many times I see environmental destruction due to a lack of awareness of and connection with the earth.

People are good. But disconnect them from their surroundings and they become killer monkeys.

This was a real learning experience for me as I work with them as a mentor. I have extra wide feet because I spent most of my summers as a boy barefoot. I remember crying from the pain of trying to put my feet into shoes at the end of summer for school. Maybe this gives me good connection between my feet and the soil. It isn’t much compared with so many people on this planet who live closely with nature but in NYC’s concrete jungle I’m an exception.

It drove home in me that more important than understanding the ecology of a natural pool or eco garden is having the awareness of where we step, both physically and metaphorically. An awareness of ourselves as we move on this planet and impact other life forms is the height of environmentalism. This has been a valuable lessen for me both in my own life and in my teaching.

Urban Decay of the Past, A Model for Future Design? A Look into Kowloon’s Walled City

The now extinct Kowloon Walled City, also known as the City of Darkness may be a perverse prototype for green, sustainable living. Eco Brooklyn is constantly searching for green building alternatives applicable to New York City living, so when we came across Kowloon we almost fell off our seats.

It was Gotham City on cheap crack right out of a Blade Runner movie.

The Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong that was once regarded as one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

It began as a Chinese Military fort and became its own enclave after the New Territories were released to Britain in 1898. Following the Japanese occupation during World War II the population increased dramatically and eventually contained 50,000 residents within 6.5 acres.

That averages 7,692 people per acre. The five boroughs of New York City, the most populous city in the USA, averages 41 people per acre. Manhattan, famous for being crowded, averages a mere 104 people per acre.

Another way of looking at it is how many square feet each

person gets on average:

* New York City five boroughs – 1062 sq.ft./person

* Manhattan – 419 sq.ft./person

* Kowloon – 5 ½ sq.ft./person!!

The city was largely under its own contained “government” as neither the Chinese nor the British wanted to assume responsibility for the development.

Controlled by the infamous Triad gang, Kowloon had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug use.

In terms of air and light in the narrow “streets”, residents were barely able to view the sky through the thick web of criss-crossing clotheslines and make shift electrical wires. Windows were a luxury.

As the city quickly grew, housing and factory blocks were added organically on top of each other using a mix of salvaged materials – cages, sheet metal and tarp – mixed in with cheap cinderblock construction.  By the end, the Walled City had became a tall and near-solid cube of construction materials – over 300 interconnected 10 story buildings without any contribution from an architect, city planner or department of buildings!

Completely “off the grid”, the residents illegally taped into municipal electricity for juice and drilled 70 plus make shift wells within the city walls for water.

Another “sustainable” aspect of the Walled City is the transformability of the interior space. For example, bakery by day would change into a living room come night. Sixty percent of living spaces where smaller than 230 square feet (about 20’x20’), and as the numbers above show, an average of five people would share that space.

Kowloon is an example of anarchist building that, despite what it lacked in basic necessity, easy access to running water and waste disposal management, was a community that existed; it supported of about 50,000 for over forty years, from the 1950’s until 1992.

That is sustainable in it’s own weird way.

And it would have lasted longer if it hadn’t been forcibly demolished in 1992 and replaced with a park.

The Kowloon Walled City was obviously a dismal place full of prostitution, murder, corruption and drug use. You could argue the citizens of the Walled City only submitted themselves to these conditions out of desperation. Although this city emerged organically, it could be more a cancerous tumor than a blissfully natural city, sucking in every resource in its vicinity and essentially capturing its inhabitants.

But New York Green contractors can learn from it.

Despite the terrible conditions of human life, certain aspects are worth looking at from a green building perspective. This is cluster housing at the most extreme, reducing the amount of space a person needs to the bare bone minimum. The small, multi-use spaces is a key element of good green design.

As a whole, as the opposite of a sprawling suburbia, the city drastically reduced it’s physical footprint on the planet, giving an example of extreme cluster housing.

The fact that so much of the building materials were salvaged reduced the materials consumed to build. Poor people’s use of salvaged materials are acts of necessity but nonetheless are crucial components of green building.

Of course, the Walled City, as an un-planned, un-designed structure, could have gone very wrong but for the most part it stayed standing, a testament that logical simple building, using basic low cost materials does work.

I don’t have the numbers but I know the embodied energy to build this city was drastically less than a comparable city today.

Is it possible that if there was designed applied to these same ideas of small, transformable spaces that a livable, functioning community could exist? Perhaps with the addition of good design and planning The Walled City would be used as interesting model for future urban development. It has provided some very interesting examples of what is possible. Maybe not safe or even desirable, but we can now definitely say that such a city is possible and extract from that experiment elements that worked (or didn’t).

 

 

Squibb Park, Brooklyn: Prototype for a New Generation of Sustainable Bridge Design:

After receiving a generous amount of funding, Brooklyn has commissioned a pedestrian walkway to connect Squibb Park and the Brooklyn  Bridge Park. The 4.9 million dollar bridge will be designed by Ted Zoli, a MacArther Genius Award-winning structural engineer, he is not only one of the nation’s “it” engineers but also among the nation’s foremost experts on “terror-proofing.”

As a New York green builder we were interested in this project based on their choice of material. Metal? Nope.

Zoli’s vision of this sustainable design is grounded in an old-fashioned material: wood. And not just any wood: Black Locust. Zoli attempts to create a prototype for modern sustainable design techniques. Long-lasting, rot resistance materials are a pivotal element for the future of sustainable and green bridge designs.

The Black locust grows fast and strong, making it a great green builders material

Eco Brooklyn loves black locusts because they are native to the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Black locust is known for its rot-resistance, durability and its sustainable nature. The rough-sawn decking and wooden structural elements will be coated with a natural finish that changes color and often warps slightly when exposed to natural elements.

In many places the tree is actually considered a pest and they regularly cut them down along roadways. Using something that normally is considered garbage is the ultimate green green builders goal. New York green contractors constantly reuse discarded brick and old joists. By using black locust Zoli is continuing that tradition.

Zoli did not only choose the Block locust building material because it is native to the  Northeast but also because is a prominent feature in the Brooklyn Bridge Park landscape. Zoli is attempting to expand upon the language of the Brooklyn Bridge Park by incorporating some of the materials like Black Locust and wire into his own design.

The combination of natural, durable materials and smart design seem to be the foundation and future for this new generation of bridge designs that center around sustainability. The Squibb design is just one stepping stone for the use of rot-resistant natural building materials in vernacular bridges.

The 396-foot-long bridge, with two main spans of 120 feet will connect a small-paved park at the north end of the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park, originally designed by Michael Ban Valkenburgh.

This bridge, which will hover above Furman Street will zig zag through the existing tall oaks and between two buildings while descending 30 ft in elevation from its starting point to its endpoint in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The bridge will be supported by poured concrete pillars and suspended by steel cables; the primary construction material will be 6- and 10-inch diameter pieces of Robinia pseudoacacia or black locust.

Despite the detachment from the typical urban bridge, which is usually metal and gritty, Zoli’s design is a seamless combination of the rural and the industrial.

This bridge is an incredible addition to the Brooklyn community for multiple reasons. It functions to reconnect pedestrians to the Brooklyn Bridge Park which is currently isolated by roads but will also serve as a prototype for urban design using natural material rather than metals and synthetics.

Bridge connecting Squibb Park to Brooklyn Bridge ParkOne major component of sustainable design is finding long lasting materials. If we are able to learn about and utilize some of trees in our own regions then green builders will be able to save energy through shorter transportation distances and become less wasteful in the creation of new manmade materials.

 

Benefit Corporations law signed and active in New York State!

Finally, a way to pursue the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits) with legal backing! It is called the Benefit Corporation (as opposed to a normal C or S Corporation for example). Signed into NY legislation by Governor Cuomo the new law allows businesses to be recognized and filed a for more than their financial goals.

Benefit Corporations have a legal responsibility to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders like a traditional C or S Corps.  This means they are obligated to take into account the effects of their decisions on the community, the environment, employees, etc.  Benefit Corporations can also voluntarily undergo certification by the nonprofit organization B Lab that makes them “Certified B Corporations” and ensures they have a social purpose and benefits for stakeholders.  More on that here .

With the new law, New York is joining states that have already passed similar legislation, including Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, California.

The key distinctions of Benefit Corporations from traditional corporations are these three things:

1)    Purpose: They must have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2)     Accountability: They must expand the directors’ and employees’ fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment and all stakeholder

3)     Transparency: They must publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard

Other than these three additions, the Benefit Corporations is set up and taxed as a traditional corporation would be.  However, for social entrepreneurs like EcoBrooklyn, this changes everything. It protects the mission and purpose of the business and holds up the triple bottom line as a priority.  In other words, it legally never puts profits for shareholders above the stakeholders – something that social businesses have been trying to do for decades.

B Lab is a nonprofit that helped create the Benefit Corporation and now works to establish the option of a Benefit Corporation in all states through legislation.  Much of the above information came from their website.  More information on the requirements and specific details of a Benefit Corporation here.

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

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

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

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

Happy Gardening!