May 29, 2016
by Kimberly Stempien
Until recently, little attention was given to toxic chemicals that lurk in construction products. Few building manufacturers disclose a full list of what is in their products because US law does not require it. But as scientific studies continue to link these chemicals to such health issues as cancer, reproductive issues, fetal toxins, autism, and asthma, the issue is gaining much needed attention.
Construction is an important sector to analyze when thinking about trying to reduce environmental toxins. The reason is simple; people are exposed daily, and over many years, to the chemicals that went into the materials that were used to build their own homes. That’s why it’s becoming much more prevalent for builders, architects, and designers to consider an approach that mitigates potential effects on human health and the environment, and they are increasingly turning to certifications and declarations, such as Health Product Declaration
, LEED, Cradle to Cradle,
and Green Seal,
which employ a risk-based approach to consider use of and exposure to harmful chemicals.
April 6, 2016
Most of us spend nearly the entire day in buildings: working, sleeping, eating, and of course breathing. However, when thinking about air quality and pollution we tend to first consider the outdoors and keep the indoors as our safe refuge from smog, allergens, particulates and other contaminants. Since we spend so much time inside, most of our exposure to environmental pollutants actually happens inside our homes, workplaces, and everywhere else we stop in between.
Poor indoor air quality resulting from the presence of chemicals, mold, pests, particulates, combustion gases and lack of ventilation may at times only produce bothersome yet less severe disturbances such as headaches, fatigue, irritation and allergies. But in more vulnerable populations such as children with asthma the long term effect may be recurring visits to the emergency room due to continued exposure to asthma triggers.
In a city with so much old deteriorating building stock, and sometimes questionably constructed new buildings, what can we do as individuals to become aware of these contaminants, demand better, and reduce their ill effects?
Join us at the April Forum where a medical doctor, a building consultant, and a public advocate share their wisdom about how better buildings, materials, and daily habits can help us improve the air we breathe.
Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Place: Steven Winter Associates
307 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001
Click here to get your ticket!
March 28, 2016
By Pamela Berns
Imagine waking totally refreshed from a good night’s sleep to a morning light that invigorates you enough to skip your daily caffeine jolt, walking the kids to a school where the air and light quality actually enhance their learning and health, and then heading to a workplace that inspires creativity and collaboration, and helps keeps you fit while you work at your desk. Picture your family living, learning, working in, and traveling to indoor spaces that encourage good nutrition and regular hydration with pure, clean water. Sound impossible?
Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes
As the WELL Building Standard
™ (WELL) continues to spread around the world, and the impacts of well building practices on human health continue to be validated, this lifestyle is becoming reality. And given that human beings spend 90 percent of their time indoors, it’s a most welcome advancement.
January 24, 2016
by Thomas Storck
Last year was a big one for the climate. Not only was 2015 the warmest year on record, we also witnessed the first universal agreement on climate change, negotiated at COP21, the global climate change talks held in Paris last December. The agreement includes a global warming limit of “well below 2°C”, with “efforts” to limit it to 1.5°C. Chinese President Xi Jinping said of the conference, “It is not a finish line, but a new starting point.” While his tone was optimistic, the language is tough to swallow and leaves many of us wondering why it took 21 years to arrive at the beginning. Meanwhile, our “safe threshold” for global warming has proven to be lower than predicted and our goals and policies remain so disconnected that it’s hard to discern what options remain at our disposal. So it begs the question: how much time do we have left to make the changes necessary to avoid catastrophe and what should be prioritized?
April 8, 2015
There’s something fishy going on in Brooklyn, but in the best way possible!
Despite predictions of snow, several intrepid GreenHomeNYC members made their way to Bushwick last month for a very informative tour of a local aquaponics farm. Oko Farms was founded by budding entrepreneurs Yemi Amu and Jonathan Boe, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation. It’s currently the largest outdoor aquaponics farm in New York City.
What is aquaponics? In simplest terms, it’s a method of growing fresh water fish and plants within a closed loop system that generates little or no waste. In the course of the tour conducted by co-founder Amu, it became apparent that this highly sustainable farming method can play a vital role in healthy, nutritious food production.
August 12, 2013
Countdown to BE NYC!
With onlydays until October 16th, GreenHomeNYC is shining the spotlight on the experts who will be making BE NYC conference an exceptional industry event!
One of the professionals participating in the conference is Erica Brabon
Erica Brabon is a Senior Multifamily consultant at Steven Winter Associates
. She is a frequent speaker at NESEA’s Building Energy conference and GreenHomeNYC events. Erica will serve as co-chair of the Multifamily Buildings track for the upcoming BuildingEnergy NYC conference. She will also be speaking at the workshop, “What Local Law 84 & 87 Mean and How to Get the Most Out of it”, at BE NYC.
What sparked your interest in sustainable building?
Environmental activism is something I’ve been involved in since middle school. When I realized what an impact I could make working to make buildings more efficient in their use of energy and water, but also providing healthier living environments, I jumped at the opportunity.
Please reflect upon your experiences in speaking at GreenHomeNYC forums and Building Energy conferences? What are your thoughts on the programs?
NESEA BE is my favorite conference because I not only learn from the pros but have a chance to meet them and talk shop in a unique environment. I’m a lifetime member and look forward to any NESEA events as well as GreenHomeNYC events. The connections made from both organizations have been integral in my professional development. The programs from both are great avenues for new ideas to not only reach the industry but the public. (more…)
February 21, 2010
Already in February 2010 there has been three major policy announcements to further integrate smart building strategies into the city’s built environment. This news in the short term particularly impacts clean energy business owners and those doing business with the city – in the long term the City has begun the process to overhaul its entire regulatory framework. Below is a brief overview of the Speaker’s State of the City Address, the release of the NYC Green Code Task Force’s 111 recommendations, and a link to the DDC’s new Active Design Guidelines – all after the jump. (more…)
November 16, 2005
Healthy and Breathable Buildings
Wednesday, November 16th, 6:30-8pm
Where: Hafele Showroom
Wendy Meguro, MIT and Wayne Tusa, USGBC-NY
Thanks very much to Ms. Meguro and Mr. Tusa for their presentations at our November forum. Wendy Meguro of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discussed how recent technological developments and concern for the environment have propelled the design of large-scale naturally-ventilated buildings and will provide three case studies: the San Francisco Federal building, London’s Swiss Re building, and the Genzyme building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wayne Tusa, founder and President of Environmental Risk and Loss Control, Inc. and a Board Member and Liaison/Communications Committee Chair of the NY Chapter of the USGBC, talked about indoor air quality and health. As an environmental consultant with over thirty years of uniquely broad based environmental expertise, Mr. Tusa provided an in depth presentation on the health impacts of suspected environmental building hazards as well as strategies for mitigation and avoidance.
June 30, 2004
For this very special forum, we held a screening of Judith Helfand’s award-winning documentary on PVC, Blue Vinyl
. Judith led a discussion about the film and talked about some of her other projects. Please visit the film’s website
to learn more.
February 20, 2004
Toxics, toxics, toxics. They are all around us, especially in our homes and offices, according to speakers Cameron Lory and Paul Novak at GreenHome NYC?s monthly forum, Non-toxic Building Materials. To a crowd of nearly 40 people at the Herman Miller Showroom, the speakers identified toxics in everyday materials and suggested ways to mitigate exposure to them.
Cameron Lory is a green building specialist at Inform, an organization that partners with government agencies and private organizations to promote cost effective, innovative and environmentally responsible practices. Her specialty is chemical hazards prevention. During her presentation, she focused on lead, mercury, polychlorinated biophenyls (PCB) and arsenic, chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic, which means they cause harm to humans and the ecosystem. Ninety-two percent of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals leave manufacturing facilities through products shipped to consumers, not through emissions out of smokestacks. These include building products, such as HVAC components, lighting systems, textiles and furnishings, roofing, pipes, and interior finishes. Therefore, awareness of these chemicals and knowledge of alternatives is critical during the designing, construction, and maintenance phases and is emerging as an important component of green building standards.
Mercury, for instance, can be found in thermostats, switches, gas and water flow meters, boilers, standing pilot lights, and other equipment. Ms. Lory suggests specifying mercury free systems when possible. Where unavailable, she stressed the importance of requiring mercury disclosure and ensuring proper disposal of the product at the end of its life. Mercury is also found in fluorescent, compact fluorescent and high intensity discharge lamps. However, use of these systems is essential for energy efficiency, and there are products with lower mercury content, such as Philips Alto lamps. For lighting, Ms. Lory recommends retrofitting old lighting systems with energy efficient technology, purchasing ?energy star? products, purchasing lamps with the lowest mercury content, and recycling spent lamps.
Brominated flame-retardants also affect indoor air environments. Due to building codes and other fire standards, concentrations of brominated flame-retardants, which have a similar structure as PCBs, are rapidly increasing. The retardants are used on furniture, upholstery, drapes, and electronic products. To date, the best solution is to request disclosure and, when possible, alternatives. Audience members suggested some emerging alternatives, which are more popular in Europe. Hopefully legislation to outlaw certain types of brominated flame-retardants will lead to more sustainable technologies for fire prevention.
Ms. Lory concluded her presentation with a passionate description of the hazards of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Throughout the PVC life cycle, from manufacturing, product use, and disposal or destruction by fire, it releases some of the most toxic substances including dioxins, hexachlorobenzene, metal stabilizers, and phathalates. Products containing PVC are ubiquitous including resilient flooring, carpet backing, scrubbable floor coverings, shower curtains, acoustical ceiling tiles, roofing membranes, window and door frames, gutters, pipes, and, of course, siding. Luckily alternatives for some of these products are easy to find and can be found on the Inform website (www.informinc.org).
Paul Novak, founder of Environmental Construction Outfitters (E.C.O.), offered more solutions for healthier buildings. E.C.O.?s mission is to provide people with building/interior design materials and home products that are environmentally friendly, safe, natural, recycled and sustainable. The company also strives to offer the means of attaining good indoor air quality in home and office, and especially, to assist chemically-sensitive people. E.C.O. makes available the highest quality sustainable products for developers, contractors, architects, and homeowners in four product categories: natural, sustainable, recycled, and healthy. Mr. Novak caries water-based, formaldahyde free, and ones that use non-solvent glues.
After over 13 years in the environmental construction materials business, Mr. Novak has seen a significant increase in demand for these products. This is largely due to education through the internet and product and health warnings on the news. The majority of his customers are young families that are educated on the topic. When working with contractors, he stressed the importance of ensuring they use the materials correctly. One wrong decision, whether the glue or finishing, can eliminate the health benefits of the other material decisions. E.C.O. offers free phone consultation to discuss the concept of healthy buildings. Listing sustainable products in not sufficient since different people have different needs and sensitivities. However, E.C.O.?s product categories are listed on the website, http://www.EnvironProducts.com.
Mr. Novak concluded his speech by presenting some of his favorite building materials. These include the following:
Wall insulation made out of old jeans. The denim out performs fiberglass in R-rating and acoustics.
Natural wools and fibers for carpeting.
Natural cleaning agents
Pre-consumer recycled rubber
Bamboo, which is especially good for chemically sensitive people.
Cork. However, due to the popularity of cork, which grows back on oak trees in seven to nine years, the supply has not been able to keep up with demand and, “the trees are taking a beating.”
Sustainably harvested wood from Maine or felled lumber.
During a question and answer period, the speakers spoke of Green Seal, costs, and legislation. Green Seal, similar to LEED, is a good start, according to Paul Novak, but it needs to be more discerning. As for the costs of non-toxic building materials, he estimates today that prices on average are three to five percent greater, however, a decade ago it was around 30 percent. The prices for the glues, paints, and wood are competitive, but his choice for insulation is twice as expensive due to the cost of shipping.
Cameron Lory mentioned the importance of building standards, not just legislation to promote the use of healthier building materials. Both speakers did speak of emerging regulations in the region. Currently Westchester County (and soon in New Jersey), tax breaks are available for the use of products that are listed as sustainable alternatives. It is important to be careful when following these lists as they may contain materials that while more sustainable than the standard choice, are still toxic products.
Please join us next month at the Hafele Showroom for the March forum on Energy Efficiency.