Saturday, November 28, 2009

Zero-Energy Building - A World Wide Movement to ZEB

I need to develop a press release to announce this project.   My goal is drive awareness of Redhook Green in an effort to obtain technological, equipment and product support from green-minded manufacturers of appliances, electronics, and furnishings, just to name a few.  I discovered there was no concise way to describe the movement towards lower or zero energy building, so I decided that I needed to give it a try myself.  
 As the United States moves to reduce its dependency on foreign oil via renewable resources and to significantly reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, automobiles have typically been the favorite targets of the press and politicians, but in reality buildings have a huge impact on energy use and the environment. According to the Energy Information Agency, commercial and residential buildings use almost 40% of the primary energy and approximately 70% of the electricity in the United States.
 There is a perfect storm of sorts brewing in the world of new construction.  As building technology improves, architects have developed exciting passive designs to reduce energy needs in order to maintain temperature throughout the sun's daily and annual cycles while reducing the requirement for active heating and cooling systems. Next add to that the ever-improving performance of wind and solar generation while continuing to drive lower costs to implement. And finally, manufactures are engineering more energy efficient HVAC and home appliances to reduce consumption and increase efficiency. The intersection of these phenomena’s is the Zero-Energy Building.

As defined by the US Department of Energy, “a net zero-energy building (ZEB) is a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies.”  Basically the ZEB concept is the idea that buildings can meet all their energy needs from low-cost, locally available, nonpolluting, renewable sources such as solar or wind power. That building can generate enough renewable energy on site to equal or exceed its annual energy use. A zero energy building typically uses traditional energy sources such as the electric and natural gas utilities when on-site generation does not meet the need. When the on-site generation is greater than the building’s loads, excess electricity is sold to the local utility via the power grid. By using the grid to account for the energy balance, excess production can offset later energy use.
 There is a growing trend to for governments around the world to embrace the concepts of zero-energy buildings; a few examples include California and the European Union.
 Every two years, the California Energy Commission (CEC) releases an Integrated Energy Policy Report, in which it makes recommendations for energy policy in the state, including changes to the energy efficiency portion of the building codes. In its 2007 report, CEC recommends adjusting the code to require net-zero-energy performance in residential buildings by 2020 and in commercial buildings by 2030.   There are only a few examples of ZEB building in the U.S. according to the Department of Energy's Zero Energy Buildings Database that features profiles of commercial buildings.
 The European Union has taken a huge step toward zero-energy building.  Earlier this month an agreement was reached by representatives of the European Parliament and the Council, aiming to extend the scope and strengthening the current directive to upgrade the national building codes and by launching an ambitious policy of nearly zero energy buildings, so that all new buildings will be nearly zero energy as of 2020.
 In the EU buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions. It is estimated that, by strengthening the provisions of the directive on energy performance, they could achieve a reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 70% of the current EU Kyoto target. In addition to this, these improvements could save citizens around 300€ per annum per household in their energy bills, while boosting the construction and building renovation industry in Europe.  Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: "Energy performance of buildings is key to achieving our EU Climate & Energy objectives for 2020, namely the reduction of Greenhouse gas emissions and the achievement of a 20% of energy savings. By this agreement, the EU is sending a strong message to the forthcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Improving the energy performance of buildings is a cost effective way of fighting against climate change and improving energy security, while also boosting the building sector and the EU economy as a whole."
 So what do you think?  Let me know, any edits, upgrades or thoughts would be greatly appreciated!  BTW, if you know of any companies that might like to participate in this exciting project, please forward them this blog or my email at

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Option Two - Plus

It certainly is exciting being part of a team designing and building New York City's first zero-energy office/studio/home.  Yes that's right, I have researched quite a bit and I am fairly certain that we are blazing a trail less (or never) traveled.  There are many great examples all over the country, but the Big Apple does seem to be lagging a bit on adopting new building technologies.  If you can find any examples please pass them along, I'd love to post them.

Thanks to all of you, who posted comments and sent emails with your thoughts and opinions on your favorite design for the building. Option two was the overwhelming winner amongst the readers as well as mine.

This first 3D rendering of the project, represents the second option as it was originally envisioned. This design, as presented to me by Jim Garrison and his team, makes an attempt to integrate key neighborhood themes.

While the brick ground floor provides the structural support for the modular buildings, the walls for the garage and the green space, it also works to blend with the historical nature of the many neighboring Civil War era warehouses. The very container-like metal and glass factory-built modular sections (aka "boxes") pay tribute to the rich stevedoring history of Redhook.  This floor plan provided for 3,031 square feet, including about 800 for the garages/workshop/studio, but not including outdoor space and balconies.

As the design evolved, the rooms began to grow to accommodate live/work needs and code requirements.  Actually it grew quite a bit, all the way to 3,964 square feet.  At that point the "boxes" shifted from a perpendicular orientation with Dikeman Street, to a parallel one in order to accommodate the larger rooms.   The design below, illustrates those changes in addition to balconies on top floor (the den/office) and third (living suite).  The roof of the top floor will be home to an array of solar PV panels to provide electric generation to help us reach our zero-energy objective!
We are making great progress.  I will continue to share with you the details on the floor-plans, some thoughts on material, HVAC and energy generation.  The design team is busy preparing the schematic drawings for submission to the building department.   I will keep you posted.  YAJWN5BGP54G

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Time for Design

Finally, it's time for fun.  After months of bouncing around ideas of what my building might look like, the day had come to review various designs that leveraged the space and light of the lot I purchased and the functionality I have defined.

The design team and I agreed on some basics early on.  First, that the ground floor would be a large masonry rectangle a little over nine feet tall, to serve as the basis of the garage/shop facility on the north end, garden walls in the middle and as the platform for the modular construction on the south end of the facility.   It provides a strong, secure and low cost base for the entire project, with  a virtual Lego set of possibilities on top.  Pictured below you can see just a few of the ideas presented to me.
Design ONE is a three floor version where the living/office space is spread across both ends of the compound, requiring a breezeway of sorts to connect.  It also creates a very cool 1950's "motor lodge"look, with terraces on both sides looking down into the court yard.  On the positive side, it created private living on both ends, but it might 'seclude' my seven year old son, and seems to close in the outdoor space/courtyard.

Design TWO is a four floor version that moves all of the living/office space to the south side, it is exactly the same layout and square feet but shifts two of the 'modules' to allow for a taller structure. The top floor, which will be used as an office/den should have a good view of the harbor and if I am really lucky the Statue of Liberty.   In addition it provides expansion space over the garage/shop for a future apartment or additional office space.  The thought behind this design is that with roll-up doors on both sides of the courtyard, it would create a great 100 feet long living space comprised of indoor and outdoor space.  Very open and flowing.

Design THREE is a five floor version that split the workshop/studio from the garages and shifted the galley, dinning/meeting, living area up to the second floor.  This layout while clearly raising the the office/den to a higher altitude and creating slightly more outdoor space, it did disrupt the concept of that floor through living experience, that I have really gotten to like.
So which one of these do you prefer?  Any one in particular?  Or some combination of all?  Love to hear what you have to say.  Next time I will tell you about what I decided and show you a 3D rendering.  Stay tuned for more details and drawings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's a Deal!

Pop the corks!  A major milestone has been reached.  We have completed the deal to acquire a great piece of land on the corner of  Conover and Dikeman Streets.  It measures 25ft wide and 100ft long, it is currently zoned an M2-1 with an F.A.R. of 2.0, that will allow us to build a maximum of 5,000 square feet, perfect for the garages, shop/studio, offices and living space that I am planning for.

The lot faces south/south west providing us with great sunlight for living and powering those solar panels to provide the electricity and heat needed to power this facility.   We are looking at a combination of PV (Photovoltaic Cells) and the more traditional type for heating. Only about 10 to 12 square meters of solar panels are needed in order to provide both the heating and the hot water required in a family home.

The lot is currently being leased out for heavy equipment storage and will be delivered vacant when we close early next year.  The last structure on this land was a two family home with a garage on the ground floor, completed in February of 1939.   It was demolished over 20 years ago and the lot has remained empty ever since.

To the right of the lot there are a few single and multi-family residential homes.  Directly behind me is a brand new build that serves as headquarters for a local HVAC company.

As part of this project we will be replacing all 125 linear feet of sidewalks with at least five trees planned along the way.  Under recent NYC law, any sidewalk replacement calls for the installation of tree pits with one of a few approved trees.

In addition to securing the property, we have complete Site Survey, Borings and Phase One Environmental Study in hand.

Looking forward to sharing some of the preliminary drawings in future posts.

Thanks for your interest. I have added the ability to subscribe via email, it's easy and convenient and does not require an RSS reader, just click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror at 90MPH

Let’s look backwards from today on this post.   I have been asked many times, how long I have been working on this Redhook Green Project, so I thought it might be helpful to review the process to date.  With not quite four months from the idea's inception, I feel as if I am making great progress in building a team.  I will be posting more detail on many of these milestones, in the next week or so.
  • July 20 – I have been noodling the idea of how to live a more "green-ish" lifestyle for a while, this project 'hatched' while visiting my cousin Armand’s country home in Roxbury, NY.  The concept was to construct a factory-built country home in a place like Reinbeck, NY.
  • July 24 – Met with friend/restaurateur/real estate developer Andrew Glassberg to discuss Brooklyn real estate and development projects.  After thinking through the country home idea, I thought it a better idea to build a 'country home' in Brooklyn.
  • July 24 – Ran into a friend, Marc Koch the resident manager of my former loft building.  We chatted about my new passion and he offered to introduce me to Redhook “land baron” Greg O’Connell to assist in my search for land.
  • August 5 – Letter to Modular ‘friendly’ Architects in NY area requesting a meeting to discuss my ideas and to understand their experience.
  • August 10 – First meeting with ‘modular focused’ architect in SoHo
  • August 10-27 Phone calls with various Tri-State ‘modular focused’ architects
  • August 27 – Greg O’Connell meeting yields little tangible results, but conversation does confirm find the right site at the right price will not be easy.
  • September 9 – First meeting with Jim Garrison Principal; Garrsion Architects.  Felt confident we would work together on this project.
  • September 10 – First meeting with Hank Widmaier; Helmsley Spear Real Estate to assist in the search and represent me in a transaction
  • September 13 – First discussion with Brooklyn landowner/builder to discuss his lots near the Fairway in Redhook.
  • September 16 – During one of many scooter recon missions, I found a corner lot on the corner of Conover and Dikeman in Redhook.  Meets basic requirements, but Van Brundt lots wider.
  • September 18 – Meeting with seller to discuss two Van Brundt lots, deal not possible based high cost of acquisition by seller.
  • October 13 – Executed agreement for home design with Garrison Architects
  • October 13 – Made Offer on Conover Street lot & Offer accepted pending contract
  • October 22 – Long time friend and blogger Ellis Posner recommends I chronicle this project on a blog.  
  • October 26 – My first blog launched
  • October 20 – First Schematic Designs reviewed for  – 3 different options presented with Jim Garrison and Mathanki Kalapathy.
  • October 27 – Basic Design Agreed upon with additional square footage; a hybrid of earlier versions
  • November 6 – Site Survey, Test Boring, Environmental Testing and title reports all in hand with satisfactory results.
  • November 09 – Conover Street lot purchase contract completed and executed.
  • November 13 – Modular homebuilder selected.
Thanks for your interest, look forward to your thoughts, questions and comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How To Become a Land Owner

A long time ago Shakespeare said, "I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground." Luckily he never had to buy land in the City of New York in the 21st century. Vacant lots are a rare commodity, especially following the recent building boom.  So my search began.  If I was desinted to be a landowner, I would have to fight hard to find the right place.  Would it would be like the land race in the 1992 movie "Far and Away"?  I love an adventure!

I have always loved Redhook and it was to be on the top my list, but I wanted to open up my search to include a few of my favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn; Vinegar Hill, Dumbo and the Columbia Water Front.

This interactive map outlines the four key search areas.

View Redhook Green Land Search in a larger map

Searching for development sites is nothing like looking for an apartment or house, many lots are not actually listed for sale, and in fact are not actually on the market at all.   It requires a bit of detective work to get a better sense of true availability. In emerging areas like Redhook, it seems like most of the available land is owned by a few significant developers or families who have owned the land for years and are fighting over what to do with it. Either way, it's not easy.

So at this point you might ask, exactly what was I looking for.  Good Question!  I was looking for an empty lot, no less than 20' wide by 90' long, preferably a corner on a quiet street.  In NYC as is the case with many municipalities there are zoning guidelines that govern what you can build, how big and how high.  There are three general groups of zoning here in NYC C=Commercial M=Manufacturing and R=Residential .  I am planning on devoting some large amount of space to garages, workshop and office and could justify the M status.  BTW, M tends to be cheaper than R too ;-)

I started with a street by street search of each of these areas, visually looking for lots wedged in out of the way places, some with for sale signs, others just empty, gathering addresses and other data to begin to ascertain ownership, value and whether they were for sale. I must applaud the City of NY for having amazing web tools to help with this research. ACRIS (Automated City Register Information System) is an award-winning property document online search and registration system with decades of digitized data including deeds, liens, mortgages, assignments, etc. In addition I utilized a subscription based real estate website which helped track down opportunities not easily found on other sites.

Round and round I went, along the way I picked up a real estate agent, a few interesting meetings a good working knowledge of zoning and a few sites that might fit the bill.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ready, Set, Go!

So what do you think I woke up one morning and decided I want to buy a green-ish house?  Well, kind of, but it was slightly more deliberate than that. 

What exactly did I want? What did I hope to accomplish?  I thought about the various types of places I’ve lived and extracted what I loved, liked and hated about each of them. I reviewed past floor plans (yes, I have them all) and I then visualized the various attributes that would be important in making this new structure a long-term place to work and live.
  • Energy/Water Efficient 
  • Sustainable Materials
  • High-Quality 
  • Factory-Built Modern Structure 
  • American Made Materials 
  • Simple But Exciting Design 
  • Design Augments Surrounding Neighborhood 
  • Kid And Dog Friendly 
  • Easy To Clean & Maintain 
  • Open & Light Filled Spaces 
  • Interesting 
  • Fun & Comfortable 
  • Private & Secure 
From that list I started to think about specific "must have" appointments were necessary to meet the above objectives.
  • Flexible Commercial Space For Vehicle Storage, Restoration, Stone Carving, and Workshop 
  • Open Office Space
  • 3 Bedrooms, 2+ Baths
  • Outdoor Green Space
  • Leverage Water view to see Harbor and Statue of Liberty
  • Connection for Electric Car (coming soon I hope)
  • Flagpole and US Flag
  • Leverage Government Energy Programs
As you will see, this list will change and as what was and was not possible, became more clearly delimited by land availability, design, time, and budget options.  I will cover most of them in detail in coming weeks.  Did I miss anything?  Any thoughts on my attributes and appointments?  Please jump in real-time as we work through the project by commenting below.