Summer might not be just around the corner, but once gardens are in full bloom safe insect and pest control will become a necessity. As a NY green contractor that specializes in green roofs and gardens it’s part of our job to ensure that the spaces we create can be enjoyed to their fullest potential.
Mosquitoes and other bugs will exist naturally within any green space and it is important to be able to control their populations. The best option is to use safe and natural methods so as to reduce diseases spread by mosquitoes and maintain a clean and healthy setting. It’s much easier for our clients to enjoy their urban landscape when they are free from worry regarding insects and pests.
With this article we aim to provide a deeper understanding of how one of the most annoying and dangerous pests, mosquitoes, finds a host and the current scientific advancement in safe pesticide production and application.
The focus here is on the mosquito species Aedes Aegypti AKA the Asian Tiger mosquito; most well known for being a royal nuisance but also very importantly responsible for spreading yellow fever. When mosquitoes hunt for a meal they detect a number of chemicals, including carbon dioxide, lactic acid, ammonia, and octenol.
Octenol, in particular, is emitted by all mammals and is a carbon-based compound that has a molecular structure that can take on a “right-handed” or “left-handed” form. Both the right and left forms are a mirror image of the other and the “handedness” of either form determines how its molecular bonds are assembled.
A test performed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologists concluded that mosquitoes are more likely to be attracted to the right-handed form of octenol emitted by mammals. Information regarding compounds that most attract mosquitoes can be crucial in determining effective pesticide and repellent use.
Traditionally, a variety of man-made chemicals are applied to the body or a garden to repel insects. These chemicals are known to have harsh smells and negative health effects especially when applied directly to the skin. Folk and homeopathic remedies have long been used by indigenous cultures and many are coming under current scientific review.
The USDA and their chief scientific research agency the ARS along with a few collaborators have recently found that the ancient Pacific folk remedy of using breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) to repel mosquitoes actually holds scientific weight.
Three chemicals within male inflorescences of breadfruit have been identified as being more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the leading repellent known as DEET. These chemicals – Capric, undecanoic and lauric acids (or C10, C11, and C12 saturated fatty acids) – have been recorded as being entirely successful in repelling the malaria carrier.
A separate study that examined the effectiveness of a variety of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids as mosquito repellent found that participants wearing a cloth treated with these compounds were protected against mosquito bites. Dried clusters of the flowers can be burned, as is done in native pacific cultures, to release the chemicals and stave off harmful mosquitoes as well. This is the first scientific research validating the effectiveness of the folk remedy.
In the same respect, ARS scientists studied the effectiveness of the Indian and African method of burning Jatropha curcas seed oil to repel insects. Jatropha curcas is a versatile plant with all parts having homeopathic functions.
In an effort to validate the folk remedy, Natural Products Utilization Research Unit (NPURU) chemist Charles Cantrell extracted the smoke from the plant and analyzed its repellent properties concluding that the free fatty acids and triglycerides present were effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting. Fatty acids have previously been observed to have mosquito repelling properties, but this study is the first to include triglycerides in its findings.
Folk remedies are regarded as safer methods of repelling mosquitoes due to the toxicity of modern pesticides. Chemical pesticides often have a strong negative impact on humans due to the similarity in physiological systems shared by humans and pests.
In further scientific advancement, ARS scientists have tested a new form of mosquito control that they have concluded to be safe for humans, yet detrimental to insect populations. This nonchemical approach involves using a molecular pesticide technology that prevents mosquitoes from producing essential proteins necessary for their survival. The protein present in this pesticide is a nucleic acid such as DNA or RNA that interrupts specific genes within pests.
Due to the gene technology involved, this method can be designed to target a specific pest species and is even effective against species that are resistant to certain chemical pesticides. It is important to use caution with any technological advancement, however this alternative to modern pest control is reported by the USDA to negatively affect only the species towards which the method is directed. This new, nonchemical approach to preventing mosquito bites could serve as a model system for developing new, safer pesticides.
When enjoying your days and evenings in your Brooklyn green roof or garden you probably won’t be using natural pesticides like jatropha curcas seed oil or breadfruit to stave off pesky mosquitoes. But we are looking at these ingredients and many more as possible natural mosquito control. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as our research continues!
We are earthship enthusiasts here at Eco Brooklyn, and are currently speaking with a client who wants to build an earthship in New York State. Here are some ideas being thrown around between Michael Reynolds, Eco Brooklyn, and the client, that we may be able to help turn into reality. The schematic of this global model earthship shows an additional greenhouse that will provide greater temperature stabilization, which would be better suited to New York’s climate, and will provide additional grow space as well. The earthship will of course be capable of functioning independently from the grid. As a Brooklyn Green Contractor, this is a great project that we are excited to be involved with.
– Liza Chiu
For those of us who live in historic homes we know that our period dwellings bring us both joy and frustration. The frustration is largely attributed to the endless repairs that classic Brooklyn Brownstones require and their not so efficient envelope.
Eco Brooklyn has renovated many brownstones and knows first hand how challenging it can be to air seal and insulate an building while still keeping it’s traditional character.
With the advent of new energy efficient building techniques Eco Brooklyn is part of a new trend in Brownstone renovation: instead of following traditional guidelines to fixing up a house, some Brooklyn homeowners are transforming their townhouse into a Passive House – a German technique that can reduce a homes energy consumption up to 90%.
This past week, the Eco Brooklyn interns took the metro North train up to White Plains for the Das Haus Symposium. There were a number of speakers, some coming all the way from Germany to talk about projects, ideas and products that have either already migrated to the US or are on their way. The Passive House concept was a topic of interest.
The Passive House standard focuses on 5 main strategies:
- Insulate strategically
- Stop Thermal Bridging
- Achieve air tightness
- Install high-performing windows for thermal comfort
- Reduce mechanical systems with heat recovery ventilation
Jordan Goldman, the engineering principal at Zero Energy Design was a speaker at last week’s symposium. He is a Passive house consultant who recently finished a passive house restoration at 23 Park Place in Park Slope. The completion of this project marked the first certified Passive House in New York City!
The original structure at 23 Park Place was built in 1899 and had been owned by a few artists until it was abandoned a few years ago. After the new owners purchased the dilapidated property they decided to do a Passive House retrofit on the existing structure. Julie Torres Moskovitz from Fabrica718 was the lead architect on the project. She enlisted Jordan Goldman as the engineering consultant on the design.
Since this property was not land marked the retrofit became a complete makeover for the structure. For instance, all the fireplaces and chimneys were replaced to increase the overall air tightness of the space.
As noted before, air tightness and a system of interior and exterior air exchange are the key stone elements to creating a cohesive thermal envelope ensuring maximum energy reduction.
23 Park Place met the air tightness requirements of a passive house, and far surpassed the requirements of NYC. 23 Park Place is not only 15 times tighter than a current building norm is achieved the highest air tightness level in all of New York City- .38!
In addition to the insulation, comprised on 23 inch thick walls and three pane windows
Passive House calls for all the joists and meeting points to be sealed to create a continuous thermal envelope.
Although after so much emphasis on the insulation, you must be wondering how could anyone possible endure such stuffy conditions. The answer to this seemingly uncomfortable air is the energy recovery ventilator or E.R.V.
Essentially, the inside air is pulled through the ventilator, the heat is then transferred to a membrane, the air is cooled and then exits as exhaust. The fresh air outside is simultaneously being pulled in and warmed by the membrane. This system, which is referred to as “counterflow” maintains a constant temperate within the thermal envelop.
The Passive House energy use standards are far more stringent then those used by the US Green Building council, which issue certifications for LEED and the Energy Star program. It is considered excellent if a LEED certified structure can reduce energy consumption by 30% and Energy Star homes typically save about 15 to 20%. With a Passive House there can be up to a 90% reduction in heating and cooling.
Now that’s a paradigm!
Fortunately there are a number of Passive House projects underway in New York City, many of which are located right in Brooklyn. As a New York Passive House builder we hope to see an increase in the demand for Passive House design in the upcoming years. It costs within the range of normal construction yet greatly decreases a building’s impact on the environment.
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:
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.
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.
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!”
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).
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://bfi.org/ -Buckminster-fuller institute website
Here is a poignant 17 minute film about an old man on an isolated farm in Iceland. His wife dies and he buries himself with her instead of going to an old people’s home in the city. He cannot bear to live without his two loves: his wife and the nature around him. It is a story of love and nature.
Check out this great article about our Eco Brooklyn’s Passive House in Harlem. GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, a great online source for building, designing, and remolding green homes, sent Richard Defendorf to our Harlem site to check out our work. Read his write-up of all the techniques we used to seal our passive house!
As a New York Green Contractor, here at EcoBrooklyn we focus mainly on one aspect of reaching sustainability, and that is by green building. But of course, this is just one way to approach sustainability. Colleges for instance, are trending towards setting up sustainability initiatives. They generally include some specific measures that will make them more “green”, such as pledging to use biodiesel in all campus buses, or promising to spit out 30 research papers that are related to sustainability.
We looked at local Brooklyn College and the University of Michigan. These two schools were chosen based on their differing sizes, settings, and regions. Michigan is a very large school in a small city in the Midwest. Michigan recently started the Graham Institute, which pays students and professors to work on sustainability projects. They also have Planet Blue, which is more of a University wide program that includes promises like reducing carbon emissions 25% by 2025 (25 is a nice number).
Brooklyn College does not have the huge programs and institutions that Michigan does, but they do have a 10-year plan, which includes a pledge to reduce carbon emissions 30% by 2017. Brooklyn College is collaborating with PlaNYC as well as many other organizations across the city. BC also has a sustainability roundtable for students and faculty to engage in.
Although these approaches are very different, there is not an obvious winner. If you would like more information on either school, here are some links: http://www.graham.umich.edu/, http://sustainability.umich.edu/, http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/spotlite/sustainability/index.html. Or if you would like to start a debate, go ahead!
Eco Brooklyn is a member of Co-op America. They are a great ordanization full of resources. Their tag line is: Economic Action for a Just Planet.
From their web site:
Co-op America is a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1982.
Our mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
We work for a world where all people have enough, where all communities are healthy and safe, and where the bounty of the Earth is preserved for all the generations to come.
What Makes Co-op America Unique
* We focus on economic strategies—economic action to solve social and environmental problems.
* We mobilize people in their economic roles—as consumers, investors, workers, business leaders.
* We empower people to take personal and collective action
* We work on issues of social justice and environmental responsibility. We see these issues as completely linked in the quest for a sustainable world. It’s what we mean when we say “green.”
* We work to stop abusive practices and to create healthy, just and sustainable practices.