Feature: Crown Heights Ice House is Reborn

October 31, 2003

GreenHomeNYC Feature Article Among the warehouses and auto-shops of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Benton Brown and Susan Boyle are working to convert the former Nassau Brewery Ice House into six residential loft spaces. They recently completed a roof-integrated photovoltaic installation, installed in-floor radiant heat, and are almost ready to plant the 2000 square foot green roof. The adjacent former-brewery building has allowed them to store salvaged wood, which they plan to use for kitchen cabinets, stairs and on the exterior of the building. Here’s our recent Q&A session with Susan: GreenHomeNYC: How did you settle upon the brewery for this project? Susan: We rode our bicycles around neighborhoods in Brooklyn that we were interested in – looking for vacant buildings that were close to the subway. We came upon the ice house and were attracted to it because of its large arched windows, its brick construction, the fact that it had a little side yard area – plus it was close to the subway and Prospect Park. GreenHomeNYC: When in the design stage did you decide to add the green features? Susan: We planned to use green building practices from the very beginning. I had been working in the sustainable transportation field so there was a was a natural inclination toward sustainable buildings. And then the more we started learning about it the more we wanted to make it work. GreenHomeNYC: What was your motivation for going Green? Susan: We were excited about setting an example of a urban gut rehab of a vacant building done affordably and with sustainability in mind. And, because we want to settle here in the City we have an interest in making it more livable- cleaner air and cleaner water… We also know that, financially, in the long term it makes sense to create a more energy efficient home. GreenHomeNYC: Where did you get your information and ideas? Susan: The LEED resource book was very helpful in educating us about aspects of the design that we would not otherwise have thought about. Environmental Building News newsletter is a good source of info for us. We also went to seminars and talks to learn more about solar energy and green roofs. GreenHomeNYC: You’re trying out quite a few different green building approaches in the building, from the vegetated roof to the in-floor radiant heating. How did you select the approaches? Susan: The approaches were selected based on the buildings needs. For example, the decision to install radiant heating came about because we had high ceilings with large windows so we need the most efficient way to heat the space, plus we needed to install all new floors- so we had the opportunity to run the tubes before we poured the concrete for the floor. The green roof is an idea that we are super excited about because it does so many good things from a sustainability perspective and, on top of all that, it is nice to look at. GreenHomeNYC: What’s been your biggest technical challenge? Susan: The first radiant tube layout of over 3000 linear feet, which was done in January, was a huge challenge in that we had never done it before and there were many unknowns. Also, selecting the membranes for waterproofing underneath the green roofs was a major challenge. There are many choices of materials, many of them very expensive, and we found it challenging to differentiate the different materials- it was hard to get an unbiased evaluation beyond the individual suppliers’ advice. We did meet with a consultant on that aspect of the project, who was very helpful. GreenHomeNYC: Was it hard to find contractors or service providers who would partner with you on such a cutting-edge project? Susan: Most of the people we have worked with have not had any experience with green buildings- but we have found that most everyone -from the guys pouring the concrete over the radiant tubes to the roofers to the structural engineer- want to learn more about it. GreenHomeNYC: Where did you find all the wonderful salvaged items — the sinks, the bathtubs and cabinets? Susan: All of the old pipes in the building and old I-beams from the floors were given to local scrap metal collectors to be recycled. One scrap metal guy in particular came to pick up scrap metal and he had an old pedestal sink in the back of his truck so we inquired about it and he started looking out for sinks and tubs that had been thrown away that we could buy from him. It was a great recycling system and, on top of that, all the items were delivered right to our door. GreenHomeNYC: Why spend the time and money to pursue the LEED rating? Do you feel like it is a brand that your tenants will want to buy? Susan: Good question- we are pursuing the LEED certification because we want to be a part of the movement to quantify and give credit to people who are building better buildings. We also hope that in the near future there will be strong tax incentive programs for green buildings that will essentially pay for our time and money investment in the LEED process. The green aspect of the building will surely be appealing to tenants, but we’re not expecting the LEED name per se to be a major factor in their decision to live in the building. GreenHomeNYC: What’s been your most rewarding moment thus far? Susan: Seeing the design take shape has been amazing. But more practically- getting the building roofed- or “in the dry”- was super rewarding. Also, the response we get from people who are excited about the project has been very rewarding- we periodically get emails and calls from people who are very supportive and excited about what we are doing. GreenHomeNYC: How do you expect the building to perform in terms of energy consumption and operating cost savings compared to a standard building? Susan: We expect the heating system to perform at least 20% better then a conventionally heated building – based on the increased efficiency of the radiant heating system. Overall about 50% of the building’s energy will be produced by roof integrated photovoltaics. But we do not have specific numbers yet and have found that without hiring specialists it is hard for a project like ours to make these calculations accurately. GreenHomeNYC: What other benefits do you expect to see aside from strict cost payback? Susan: We expect the quality of life to be much higher than a typical residential building. For example, the radiant heat should be a more comfortable heat that is not as dry and does not put as much dust in the air as forced hot air typically do. Also, the green roofs should keep the building cooler in the summertime and be something really beautiful to look at. GreenHomeNYC: Would you do it again? Which elements would you keep, which would you toss, and which would you add, if you could do it again? Susan: We would do it again- if we could. We would definitely do the green roof and radiant heat, and we might try to include solar hot water heating and maybe wind energy. Read more about this building in Metropolis magazine.