Ellen Honigstock Architect PC launches the Toeprint Project

30 01 2009


Welcome to the Toeprint Project.

Toeprint definition: a very tiny footprint; a small part of your larger footprint.
Project definition: a temporary collective endeavor involving research and design, carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.

The Toeprint Project will be a year-long process meant to bridge the gap between the desire to make our homes and businesses more sustainable and actually having the tools and capability to do so.

Each week for 52 weeks, we will publish a different strategy aimed towards making buildings more efficient, durable, healthier for the occupants or otherwise more sustainable. We will interview experts and bring you relevant up-to-date information about pricing, the pros, cons and trade-offs inherent in various strategies and even offer discounts and giveaways whenever we can make it happen.

We chose the period of a year because while reducing energy, water and material consumption, it is very difficult to chart progress on a daily or weekly or even monthly basis. Stick with us and we will provide metrics for you to measure your progress throughout the Project.

Who are we and why are we doing this?

We are a small architectural firm based in Brooklyn in New York City. Our residential and commercial projects are generally on the small side and it seems like no matter how green we make them, the resulting improvements to the environment are barely noticeable. We know that reducing consumption of resources is not an easy process. It takes work and commitment and plenty of tools and expertise.

Over the past 18 months, we have published various findings that interest us at Brooklyn Green but our reach was limited. We want to share our knowledge in order to have a more significant impact on the environment.

We often give talks teaching people how to make their homes and lifestyles more sustainable and the one response we almost always get is an appreciative thank you for “putting all that information in one place”.

We’re firm believers in well-roundedness so the Toeprint Project will touch on areas of Energy Conservation, Water Conservation, Community, Food, Health, Indoor Air Quality, Material & Resource Consumption, Water Conservation and Zero Waste.

As you will see, the strategies will range from minor lifestyle changes to fairly complex infrastructural analyses. We hope to make all the strategies interesting and accessible to anyone without previous expertise in these areas so as to “spread the sustainability” and reduce each of our carbon footprints to a mere toeprint.

You can subscribe to the feed here. Join us!

Ellen Honigstock, RA, LEED AP
Ellen Honigstock Architect PC


This years Brooklyn Designs, 2008

13 05 2008

“Locally Grown, Internationally Known” read the headlines for this years 6th annual BKLYNDESIGNS in DUMBO, hosted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce this past weekend, Friday May 9, Saturday May 10th and Sunday May 11th. If you missed it this year, be sure to check it out next year!

Close to 70 Exhibitors displayed their work in 4 locations around DUMBO (all in very close proximity) at St. Anns Warehouse, DUMBO Arts Center (DAC), Smack Mellon, and BD+ Tobacco Warehouse. Below are just some of the images taken from each of the 4 display locations:

St. Anns Warehouse:

Written display at entry wall

Handmade furniture display by City Joinery

contemporary handblown glass

Sculptural led bug lighting designs by Site Specific Design


Some of the Images of exhibitors at the DUMBO Arts Center:

Loved the toy “you put it together” version of the real thing, Mini Bamba by EcoSystems

This mini model kit measures about 4″ assembled, and mimics the larger Bamba (seen behind) version that you can really sit in. The chair is made of bamboo with no hardware required.

From the Source, handcrafted furnishings


and at Smack Mellon

Industrial Art from reclaimed wood featured by, Eric Johnston

Lighting fixtures displayed within the record album dividers by Nicholas Furrow, featured conventional items such as a honey jar and strainer used in an unconventional way.

And if you’re looking for a skateboard made of scraps, you may find what you’re looking for at Funkinfunction Longboards


and last but not least, the Tobacco Warehouse:

At the entry

The Tobacco Warehouse building primarily featured jewelry and textiles

Our experience with ReGreen

18 04 2008

Since its being launched in January, we’ve been referring to the ReGreen Program for Residential Remodeling for own internal questions about how to build in a more environmentally friendly way. We’ve also begun to reference the guide as part of our construction drawings to point contractors to (hopefully they’ll read the small print in our specs!). We’ll soon begin construction on one of our projects where we’ve referenced the guide, so we’re hoping it will act as a great resource throughout the construction process.

[You’ll see this image on page 2 of the kitchen renovation section] –

The colorfully illustrated guideline (yes, there are even photos) delineates a best-practices construction approach for homes, whether its a simple kitchen or bathroom renovation, outdoor patio creation, exterior addition, or a major gut renovation. The guidelines give a very real, hands-on account of the before and after, lessons learned, budget constraints (when are there not?) and even comments from owners about the real issues.

[This image is found on page 56, the outdoor living chapter]:

While there are no certifications granted by following this program, it gives designers, builders and homeowners a strong reference and alternative for building green in situations where a project does not qualify for certification systems such as LEED, Energy Star and Health House.

For the time being, this reference may be our answer to finding a green rating system for urban residential projects, where there is not yet a certification system that directly applies.

[ pg. 44]

Passive Solar Design – Interview with experts at Sealander Studio

1 04 2008


Robyn and Mike Sealander, of Sealander Studio in Brooklin, Maine are wonderful architects, builders and experts in passive solar design. They have agreed to answer some questions about what is involved in this process. See our interview below.

Ellen Honigstock (in black):

Hi Robyn,

As you know, we are designing a (very) small house in Indianapolis. We want it to be as green as possible so we are proposing that it be designed with the principles of passive solar design in mind. My personal experience with this type of work is limited given that I’m an urban architect through and through and we just don’t have those types of opportunities in our work here in good old Brooklyn (NY, not Maine!).

I know that siting is the most important aspect of the schematic design. How do you usually start the process?

Robyn Sealander (in green): For us, the first step in any design–before picking up a pen or firing up the computer–is to get inside the head of our client, to try to get a thorough understanding of their lifestyle and expectations. We will usually have several casual conversations to get a general familiarity with new clients and then follow up with a series of specific questions. For example, we need to know how they expect to spend their time while in the house:

  • Do they work during the day and are usually at home only during evenings?
  • Are they avid gardeners or crafters?
  • Do they work from a home office?
  • Do they entertain often?
  • Do they love to cook?
  • How old are their children or grandchildren?
  • What are their favorite family activities?

All of these questions can (and do) lead us to an understanding of the general activity-based requirements for the house. We feel this step is essential for several reasons.

First of all, anyone can build a house that would be suitable for anyone else–builders churn out hundreds of these every day. Hiring an architect and designing and building your own home gives clients the opportunity to get exactly what they need and want, to have a home conform to the requirements of their lifestyle, instead of the other way around. I mean, we all grew up in houses, right? We all know what goes into a house, so how hard can it be? Well, we think it is worth the extra time to really get this right, to fully understand what the essence of dwelling is for any client.

Concurrent with this effort is a thorough understanding of the site itself. We create a 3D model of the site using Revit, a BIM (Building Information Modelling) software package. We document the physical aspects of the site: topography, solar orientation, existing trees, flowering bushes, large rocks, marshy areas, ponds, whatever. We also document the experience of being at the site–is there a view, either desirable or unsightly? Do the neighbors use crabshells for garden mulch? (I would guess this is fairly unique to Maine, but try to avoid neighbors who use crabshells for garden mulch. The stench in summer is supremely foul.)

We analyze the site for its load capacity–what type of construction would be most suited to the ground? Lots of land here is solid granite ledge. Where will run-off go? Will it need to be diverted? Is part of the site currently or formerly a garden?

Once we feel comfortable that we know both the client and the site, the initial schematic design can begin. The key to effective passive solar design is a melding of the requirements and conditions explored during the pre-design phase. Depending on the client, spaces sometimes shake out into clearly defined dichotomies: day/night; public/private; front/back warm/cool.

The process we use is similar to a block-diagram method, with volumes of spaces for the client’s activities arranged (and endlessly re-arranged) until all of the design criteria are met simultaneously. For example, this might mean that a “day” space, like a home office for a telecommuter, needs to receive maximum daylight during 3 seasons, must be able to see the view, and must be adjacent to the entry, the family area and a bathroom. Each programmatic activity is analyzed to determine its adjacencies, its optimal orientation, its correct spatial volume. Obviously one major goal is to maximize solar gain during the daylight hours, but that usually doesn’t mean simply a south-facing wall of windows.

EH: I completely agree that the siting of the house is just as important as the program in generating the schematic layout. At what point in the design process do the technical aspects of passive solar design come into play?

RS: Solar design is by nature a technical activity. Think of it like structural design. While we can be seat-of-the pants for a little bit, we are really interested in knowing that sun angle, percent glazing, and other parameters are going to be satisfied. Solar design constrains the design process from the beginning, just as structural design does.

EH: I understand that in Maine, most people use passive solar for winter heating purposes but that it is also possible to achieve summer cooling in warmer climates. Could you speak to that?

Mike Sealander (in blue): Yes, you simply design to avoid solar gain. Overhangs, fenestration on the north side, thermal mass, well-insulated roof deck. In Maine, we get a lot of solar gain in the summer. As it turns out, a well-insulated roof goes a long way in cooling a house in summer as well as keeping it warm in the winter.

EH: Do you have a sense of what portion of the heating and cooling costs a passive system can cover? For example: is it crazy to expect that a passive solar house can be completely off the grid as far as heating & cooling costs go?

MS: You can be completely off the grid by using supplemental heat from a wood stove, for instance. The nice thing about being on the grid is not heat; it’s electricity for lights, computers, dishwasher, washing machine, that sort of thing. It takes a big lifestyle commitment to be off the electrical grid. It’s a lot easier to live without direct use of carbon fuels, except for cooking. I hate electric ovens. However, domestic hot water from solar panels is common in Maine, so most of the domestic carbon fuel use up here is by choice, not by necessity.

EH: Are there materials that you prefer that work better with passive solar design. Conversely, are there materials (besides crabshell mulch of course) that you would avoid?

MS: We try to work with the best glazing systems we can find. We also use a lot of caulks, sealants, insulation, house-wrap, that sort of thing. In terms of finish material, there is not much of a difference between one flooring product over the other. For hydronic floors, we may avoid carpet, but we don’t feel we have to use tile, for instance.

EH: Is a passive solar house more or less expensive to construct than a conventionally-built house?

MS: No.

EH: How much do passive solar design principles overlap with other “green” or
“sustainable” practices?

MS: I don’t think you can be green without considering passive solar, especially with single family dwellings. In a high-rise, you may not have much choice in the matter.

EH: Do you have photos of projects you have done?


RS: Above (and at the top of the post) are 2 photos of a project we call Meadow Lane. On this house, 40 out of the 47 openings (doors and windows) face south for maximum solar gain. The design of the deep overhang on the south end of the family room was tuned to the window heights on that wall to take full advantage of the solar orientation. In the summer, the overhang protects the openings from the rays of the sun. In the winter, it is desirable for the sun to enter the house and the tall openings allow daylight to penetrate the entire length of the house, south to north.

EH: Thanks!

Re-Green Guidelines are here!

16 03 2008


I just received this from the USGBC:

We are excited to announce that Re-GREEN is finally here! The new best practices guidelines, created by the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society for Interior Designers, is available for free download at http://www.thegreenhomeguide.org

These guidelines are not a rating system and there are no certifications available.

It is, however, a very well-written set of guidelines organized on a room-by-room basis.

I noticed that this webpage also includes much of the LEED for Homes info that was previously hard to find such as: Info about Providers, copy of the Checklist, copy of the Rating system etc…

Hey, it’s free and it’s chock full of good info.  Click away!


Wind Power – Totally cool tool.

11 03 2008

I came across this tool from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) to calculate the average wind velocity wherever you live.  Once you enter your address, you can see a color coded map which shows which wind speed zone you live in.

The site also gives you accurate-ish calculations about the installed cost of solar and wind power after tax rebates and credits.

I just started researching residential wind energy for a client.  It’s so interesting.

Stay tuned.

Indy House Schematic Design: Function

26 02 2008

Now that we’ve found the best location for the house on the site, lets look at the design first in terms of function, before getting too far into the aesthetics.

We’re proposing a passive solar design for the Indy house, using the sun as a natural resource to heat and cool the house. Aside from the Owners being able to best utilize the space functionally for their working and living needs, this design of indoor comfort through a natural heating and cooling means is an essential piece to the success of this project. A passive solar design functions by using the building envelope as a thermal mass to gather, store & distribute heat. The goal is to allow for a comfortable indoor temperature year-round, even on the coldest winter night, and the hottest summer day. This will also drastically reduce the need for electricity for heating and cooling purposes.
Programmatically, there are certain requirements we need to incorporate, including a tiny bathroom (we’re proposing a composting toilet), a small eating area and a combination sleeping space/art studio space.

Looking at the house in plan, we’ve placed the toilet at the northwest corner of the house, opening up the rest of the house to direct sunlight. The kitchen area is situated directly south of the bathroom so as to share a plumbing wall and keep the entire eastern 2/3 of the space open for art hanging and working space. It is essential to the Owner to have as much open wall space as possible to display finished art, as well as works in progress.

Houses designed with passive solar intent try to minimize the number of windows on the facades that don’t face south. If we didn’t need so much available wall space and wanted to maximize other views, we would probably suggest windows on the other facades but in this case, we’re going to just maximize our insulation value and leave the walls opaque. Additional natural daylighting can be gained within the space by incorporating transom windows, which we’ll look at later in the next steps of the schematic design phase.

Structurally, the framing of this house should allow for an open plan to allow as much flexibility within the space as possible – whether it be through a prefab modular system, movable partition walls or completely open – we’ll explore those options more during the next stages of the schematic design phase.

Below, is the schematic plan, as well as an exploded axonometric drawing which diagrammatically illustrates our design intent functionally for the building envelope.

Schematic Plan:

plan 11

Exploded Functional Axometric View:

axon 10