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


Teen Green: Ice Skating Efficiently

8 12 2008

Winter’s coming, which means that uncountable New Yorkers will be putting on their skates and skating around in endless circles on the city’s many rinks. But when skating, people tend to forget one important factor about the rink: it takes a ridiculous amount of energy to keep them frozen. In fact, it is estimated that a typical small rink requires about $30,000 worth of electricity a month to operate. Not only is this expensive, but it readily contributes to Global Warming as well. The constant energy that is required to keep the rink frozen makes ice skating one of the most energy intensive forms of recreation there is out there.

The Natural History Museum is doing something about this. Opened to the public until February 28th, the “Polar Rink” is open for business. This is not any ordinary skating rink, though. It is made out of a recyclable synthetic surface (100% recyclable and non-toxic materials), still giving skaters the impression of skating on ice. This rink is more efficient because it requires no maintenance or refrigeration, the risk of melting is eliminated.

If you’re worried that this surface won’t give you the full ice skating experience, trust me, it really does feel like skating on ice; it’s almost surreal how realistic it is.

To get details on ticket pricing and business hours, go to the Polar Rink Website.

Carbon-free cooling

21 07 2008

The dreaded triple-H’s are upon us (hazy, hot & humid for those not from here).

There was a brown-out this weekend in Brooklyn that stopped half a block from where we live so we decided to try and NOT use our air conditioning to see if we could remain somewhat comfortable.

What even allowed this possibility is that we finally rigged up the vented skylight (pictured above). It was installed 2 1/2 years ago but we finally hooked up the electric rain sensor cable which supposedly closes the skylight if it starts to rain. We have yet to confirm that it works. The idea is that as hot air rises, it exits the house at the top which pulls in cooler air from the windows on the floors below.

We opened all the windows and turned on all the ceiling fans (we have one in each room) and it wasn’t too bad. In the mornings, it was downright delightful to hear the birds out the open windows and feel a cool morning breeze.

However, on those beastly days that are so hot that your bed is warmer than you are when you get in, no amount of moving air around will keep you cool without air conditioning.

Here is a site full of good ideas to keep cool. I don’t know about showing up for work in a wet shirt though….

Best Playspace in NYC! – AGAIN!

4 03 2008


The current issue of New York Magazine’s Best of New York lists Appleseeds as the Best Playspace in New York. You can see the article here.

You can see photos of Appleseeds from our previous posting here.

We designed Appleseeds to be a clean and green environment for kids – mostly with the goal of clean indoor environment and air quality. No shoes are allowed in the playspace to reduce the amount of indoor contaminants, only natural organic cleaning supplies are used (and they use a LOT of them), the paint and finishes are low VOC and all the surfaces are easily cleanable.

Yay Appleseeds and yay us!

Using plants for clean air – a residential project

9 01 2008

This is a project we completed last year where we incorporated live plants for visual serenity as well as the benefits of cleaner indoor air. We installed planters at the perimeter of the center stairwell which was brightly lit by a huge skylight above. Since it would be pretty difficult to reach those plants from the stair, we designed sliding glass panels at the millwork for access, watering and cross ventilation.




The Plan of the Master Bedroom/Stairwell and the Bedroom Elevation is shown below.



Greening the NYC Building Code – A regular citizen gets an update

8 01 2008

OK, I’m not a regular citizen. I’m a Registered Architect in the state of New York whose entire career has been spent doing work in the 5 boroughs. So I have a vested interest in the recent changes in the NYC Building Code but I’m finding it difficult to get this information in any kind of efficient way.

I went to an event a couple of weeks ago at the New School called Greening NYC’s Building Code, sponsored by the NY Chapter of the USGBC.

The NYC Department of Buildings has been busy lately. They recently adopted a new Building Code, a modified version of the International Building Code which will require updates every 3 years (it’s been 40 years since the last update). One happy byproduct of the new code is that it will more easily allow new sustainable practices to to be incorporated into the code. Some of the examples Commissioner Patricia Lancaster mentioned are:

  1. Streamlined approvals for microturbines. Microturbines are highly efficient turbine generators that recover and reuse the wasted heat of their own combustion process, after producing electricity and heat for a building, to provide energy for other building operations.
  2. Allowing products approved by nationally recognized testing laboratories (such as UL) to be used in NYC instead of requiring MEA approvals (hallelujah).
  3. Requiring projects located in NYC to comply with NYS energy code (previously the DOB never asked for compliance).

These are impressive measures but I understand that this is just the beginning. If I can find a more comprehensive resource, I’ll post it here.

Stay tuned.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

31 12 2007


To all our readers,

We wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008 for you and your loved ones.

(If you’re wondering, that’s a photo of the new LED-lighted ball which will drop in Times Square tonight, twice as bright and much more energy efficient than before. For more information, click here.)