Reduce your environmental footprint one strategy at a time.

Green is what you DO in buildings that matters!

Posted on | May 7, 2010 | No Comments

Sustainable Flatbush has posted a rehash of the Neighborhood Energy Forum held in March.  You can see the highlights and download the presentations here.

Use Bio-Heat as a substitute for #2 Heating Oil

Posted on | April 20, 2010 | 5 Comments

New York City has over 960,000 buildings.

Only 9,000 of them (less than 1%) use the dirtiest heating oil (grades #4 and #6). But those 9,000 buildings are responsible for over 86% of the soot and ozone pollution in the air.

These particulates contribute to the failure of New York City’s air to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and the failing grade received from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report not to mention all the unnecessary cases of childhood asthma in New York City’s kids.

What is this dirty heating oil?

Generally speaking, when crude oil comes off the boat into the refinery, the sludgier oil (called residual oil) sinks to the bottom while more refined products, which are less viscous such as propane, gasoline, kerosene etc… (called distillates) rise to the top.

#6 oil is barely refined sludge.  It’s the least expensive of the heating oils and has the highest fuel content which starts to explain why people continue to use it.

It is solid at room temperature.  This means that the entire oil tank must be kept to at least 90 degrees at all times in order for the oil to burn properly.  #2 oil, while more expensive per gallon, burns much cleaner, doesn’t require any additional energy to make the combustion process work properly and typically requires less maintenance than boilers burning #6.

Environmental Defense Fund, with support form the Urban Green Council issued a very informative report called “The Bottom of the Barrel:  How the Dirtiest Heating Oil pollutes our Air and harms our Heath” including a great interactive map showing all the buildings currently using #6 and #4 oil.

Another benefit to #2 oil is that you can burn bio-diesel and your boiler won’t know the difference.

Before you start yelling at me, let me just say that bio-diesel heating oil substitute is not made from corn.  The ethanol that you are thinking of is a gasoline substitute. The bio-diesel fuel I’m talking about is made from used restaurant grease that would have been otherwise dumped into the waste stream.

The major supplier of bio-diesel for heating fuel is Tri-State Biodiesel.  If you visit their homepage you can buy fuel or sign up for cooking oil collection – they already collect from over 2,000 NYC restaurants.

Biodiesel can be used alone or mixed in any amount with petroleum diesel fuel. A typical blend of  20% biodiesel with diesel fuel is called “B20,” a 5% blend is called “B5″ and so on.

To incentivize bio-heat, New York State currently offers heating oil customers an income tax credit of 1 cent per gallon of biodiesel used for Bioheat (i.e. 20 cents credit per gallon of B20 Bioheat; 5 cents per gallon of B5 Bioheat).  This incentive brings the cost of bio-heat down slightly below the cost of #2 oil.  (For a 1-2 family home, the tax credit could be around $300, for a 50,000 SF multi-family building, the tax credit might be in the range of $6,500 depending on the efficiency of the building and the heating system).

Catherine Mohr’s TED talk: How to Really Green Your Home, Deep Down

Posted on | April 19, 2010 | No Comments

Catherine Mohr in her TED talk explains how to get down to brass tacks in deciding how to build your house.  The basis of her decisions is how much energy is embodied in the extraction, manufacture, transportation and installation of all the elements that go into a new building.

She’s right but I wish she talked more about reducing energy waste in existing buildings. There are so many strategies that could save so much energy.  If we can just eliminate the waste over the next 10 years, then all the cool new renewable technologies that are coming out now can fill in the remaining capacity and then we can finally be on the way to recovery.

Toeprint to Launch Green Brooklyn Energy Audit Campaign on April 24th

Posted on | April 19, 2010 | 1 Comment

At this year’s Friends of Greenwood Playground Spring Flea Market, the Toeprint Project will kick off our Green Brooklyn Energy Audit Campaign to make the buildings in our neighboring communities of Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Flatbush, Ditmas Park Sunset Park and Park Slope more energy efficient!  Come see us at our vendor table.

If you own a 1-4 family home or a commercial building or live in a Co-Op or Condo apartment building, we can make your building healthier and save you money by reducing your energy and water use.

We will examine your utility use, perform a thorough energy audit and discuss our findings outlining the various measures you can take to make your building healthier, safer and more environmentally responsible.

We are BPI Accredited and authorized by NYSERDA’s Home Performance with Energy Star Program to make you eligible to receive a 10% discount on qualified measures.  We can also review with you any other incentives you may be eligible for.

After the audit, we will work with you to carry out the retrofit measures in a timely fashion so you can start reaping the benefits of energy efficiency before next winter rolls around!

Call us or email us today for pricing or if you have any questions: or (212) 228-1585.

How to Recycle Anything

Posted on | April 18, 2010 | No Comments


Thanks to 3Rblog for this.

If you are like me and can’t remember which plastics go where, Real Simple published an easy-to- read guide about how to recycle everything.  

Many of these links are national and concern specific products.

If you live in NYC, check the Don’t Throw It Away page from the Department of Sanitation.

For books, you can trade them through neighborhood book swaps or sell them for (paypal) cash at Powells.  If shipping your books across the country doesn’t sit well and you live in Brooklyn, drop them off for (real) cash at PS Bookshop in DUMBO.

Healthy Indoor Air – You Need It!: Top 10 strategies!

Posted on | April 13, 2010 | 2 Comments

Healthy indoor air is arguably the most important benefit from green building.

I lived in an apartment for 4 years that had mold hiding somewhere.  Turns out I’m allergic to mold. I coughed basically the entire time I lived there.  It was miserable but I know from where I speak!

When I give a talk about the benefits of good clean indoor air quality, I start by asking the audience who spends an hour a day outside – most of the hands go up.  At the question of who spends about 1 to 2 hours outside a day on average, many hands go down and at 3 hours or more, there are rarely more than 1 or 2 hands still raised.

Given that we spend as much time indoors as prisoners typically do, focusing efforts on keeping our indoor environment as clean and healthy as possible is of paramount importance.

#1 Good Ventilation: The most important component of good indoor air is proper ventilation.  With all the talk about reducing air infiltration to increase energy efficiency, you don’t always hear the other side of the equation which is to make sure you have adequate fresh air both for healthy breathing and for safe combustion at your boiler.   If cooking smells hang around for a while or the rooms smell musty, you might want to check your ventilation rates.  Here’s a great explanation of how ventilation rates are calculated.  In summer, a vented skylight can take advantage of natural ventilation to flush the house of hot humid air and bring in cool fresh air. Bathroom fans should be run at least 25 mins after showers to reduce interior moisture. 

#2 Reduce the Number of Contaminants in the Air that get tracked in on your shoes: 80% of indoor air contaminants can be traced to shoes carrying contaminants from the outdoor world including dog poop, heavy metals from truck exhaust, road kill, garbage truck juice etc….See this post we did about cute mop shoes to wear around the house and 37 reasons to remove your shoes.

#3:  Clean the air. Air purifiers work fairly well to remove allergens and contaminants but they create ozone (which is an allergen), and use electricity to do so.  A less expensive and more aesthetically appealing way to clean the air is via plant life. This book will show you  how to grow your own clean indoor air and this is one of our projects where plants were used to improve the quality of the indoor air. Here’s Treehugger on healing and air-purifying plants in hospitals and the best air-filtering plants according to NASA.  If you’re still not convinced, here’s a TED talk with stats and everything about the air purifying powers of plants.

#4:  Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Change the batteries annually.  By code in NYC, there should be one within 15 feet of each bedroom door (and inside bedrooms in NJ).

#5:  Make sure your carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are working. They should be replaced every 5 years or so.  CO is lighter than air and is basically undetectable.  CO at high concentrations can kill you quickly and at low concentrations can make you feel sick and sluggish.  CO is not a naturally occurring compound – it is created from incomplete combustion and should NOT exist at all in your living space.  The commercially sold CO alarms typically have a lower sensitivity than a personal CO detector.  There should be at least one CO detector within 15 feet of bedroom doors,  one near the Boiler Room and anywhere there is a combustion appliance, including in the kitchen.  You are allowed to use a combination smoke/CO detectors but we recommend a stand-alone CO detector for the Kitchen because smoke alarms are very sensitive and will drive you crazy if there’s any amount of cooking smoke.

#6:  If you smell gas, call the a plumber or the utility immediately.

#7:  Open a window (or windows) for at least part of every day.

#8:  If you have a leak, correct it immediately!  This is a great post describing the importance of managing moisture in buildings.  Uncontrolled moisture will destroy your building.  And quick!

#9:  Use green cleaning products or make your own.  Cleaning products with few or no toxic chemicals make your indoor air easier to breathe and keep our waterways healthier.  Happy Spring Cleaning!

#10:  Remove mold: Mold requires moisture, and a non-ventilated cool area. Repair any active leaks first. Remove mold with (1:5 water:bleach or ammonia/dish detergent). Provide ventilation and heat. Sheetrock is the perfect medium for mold growth, if it comes back after cleaning, you need to replace the material the mold has grown on. Plaster fares much better than sheetrock. Other materials such a densglas can replace sheetrock. Ventilate for fresh air.

3R Living is Back in Business!

Posted on | April 9, 2010 | No Comments

I was sad when my favorite eco-friendly store 3R Living closed in Park Slope due to the recent economic downturn (downturn? it feels more like a relentless chokehold…but I digress).
The Owners, husband and wife team Samantha Delman-Caserta and Mark Caserta and Samantha’s sister Tracy Ferdinand set up a lovely little shop in Montclair, NJ.
I guess Brooklyn’s loss is New Jersey’s gain (it’s clear where their hearts lie though – the Brooklyn Bridge is still  emblazoned on their website).
3R does mail order and offers carbon offsets to compensate for the CO2 generated by the shipping ($0.50/order).  It’s not a solution for online shopping but it’s a start!
3R is not a huge store and it’s not a franchise but they offer something rare in the retail world:  an in-store recycling program for select items including:
  • Ink cartridges
  • CDs/DVD’s
  • VHS/Cassettes and their cases
  • Hand-held electronics (byte-sized devices)
  • Cell phones
  • Crayons
These are some of my favorite items.

If you live near or pass through Montclair, please stop in and support this great local business!

A lovely profile in New York House Magazine

Posted on | April 5, 2010 | No Comments

Energy Audit = Money in Your Pocket

Posted on | March 30, 2010 | No Comments

PAYBACKWe weatherized our house last year.  You can read all about it here.

So far, in the 11 months since we completed the work, we have saved approximately $900 on our annual heating bill.  Assuming energy prices remain constant (which they won’t – all projections indicate rising energy prices), we will payback the insulation and air sealing portion of the work in about 5 1/2 years giving us about an 18% return on investment.  Sure beats our savings account (and our IRA’s for that matter).

I like Suze Orman’s approach in this month’s O Magazine:  The sub-heading is “act green before you buy green”

Suze’s top 10 tips (all paraphrasing mine):

  1. Reduce your energy consumption first before embarking on any energy-saving technology.  Start with the small, easy-to-accomplish measures like changing lightbulbs and properly programming your thermostat (if you don’t have a programmable thermostat – get one – it will pay you back in a week!).
  2. Set an energy-saving goal.  Enlist the kids.  Offer to give them half of the energy savings if the family meets its goal.
  3. Pick projects that will increase your property value.
  4. If using a home equity line of credit for energy-saving upgrades, aim to have it repaid within three years because interest rates are expected to rise (I’d say five years if you can finance high-payback strategies).
  5. Get a home energy audit from an Energy Star partner (call us!)
  6. Check DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) for all available upgrades.  The database is updated monthly.  A retrofit project can take some time so make sure you check back at reasonable intervals.
  7. Talk to your accountant about all eligible tax credits and rebates.
  8. If you are purchasing new appliances, buy  Energy Star.

OK, the next two are mine:

  1. If you are doing a major retrofit to your house, incorporate an energy audit and energy-saving strategies as part of the construction (we’ll help!)
  2. Whether you live in a single-family home, co-op or condominium, analyze your energy consumption data at least once a year to see how you are doing.

Teaming Up To Do More Comprehensive Energy Audits

Posted on | March 11, 2010 | No Comments

We have some exciting news!

Ellen Honigstock Architect has teamed up with The Chartier Group to provide energy audits for existing buildings large and small!

Is your building overheated in the winter?  Does the air feel too dry?  Is there a lot of dust on the surfaces of your living space?  These could be signs that your heating system is not operating optimally and your building enclosure is leaky.

An energy audit will identify the causes of these problems and root out wasteful energy use.  Once we identify these and other signs of inefficiency, we can then help you implement corrective measures that will make your building more comfortable and efficient and improve your bottom line.

Small measures add up!

Please don’t hesitate to call us to discuss the particular aspects of your building. We will review your building holistically to capture both the easy fixes and long-term intensive measures.  Click here to see more information about the services we offer.

We look forward to working with you to make your building as energy efficient and environmentally responsible as it can be!


About us:

Tom Chartier, a Principal at the Chartier Group, is a licensed Professional Engineer and LEED Accredited Professional with a background in mechanical engineering, most specifically HVAC design.  Tom brings over 11 years of experience in the design, construction and start-up of energy efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings.

Ellen Honigstock. As you may already know, I am an architect who has worked on existing buildings for over 25 years.  I am also a LEED-AP and have achieved BPI (Building Performance Institute) Certification as a Building Analyst, Envelope Professional, Energy Efficient Building Operator and Multi-Family Building Analyst.

Our shared background as instructors at the 1,000 Green Supers Program at the SEIU Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund make us strong advocates of focusing on Building Operations and Maintenance Procedures as a critical method of increasing energy efficiency.

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Established in 1999, Ellen Honigstock Architect PC is a full-service architecture and energy auditing firm based in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Our solutions are environmentally conscious and the criteria we use are based on national standards developed to bring long-term saving, efficiency and well-being to our clients. Over 35 years combined experience building in New York City gives us an edge in meeting tough schedules and navigating the city's complicated requirements.

About Ellen:

As the Residential Green Building Advocate for the Urban Green Council since 2007, Ellen has been promoting sustainability in the residential marketplace in NYC.

In the position of Chair of the Homes Subcommittee the NYC Greening the Codes Task Force, Ellen has been heavily involved in recommending new green policy in NYC as related to updating building codes, rules and regulations.

Ellen teaches Building Science, Building Envelope, Water Conservation, Indoor Air Quality, Quantifying Energy and Green Building Plans at the 1,000 Green Supers program for The SEIU Local 32 BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund.

Registered Architect, NY, NJ, CT
LEED Accredited Professional
BPI Certifications:
Building Analyst
Energy Efficient Building Operator
Multi-Family Building Analyst

Ellen Honigstock, LEED AP
Ellen Honigstock Architect PC
45 Main Street #806
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(212) 228-1585


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