Brownstones Go Green in Brooklyn

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn, NY, a green building revolution is happening.  I was fortunate to visit the site of a green brownstone renovation recently.  Amidst doom and gloom reports of insane global-warming-induced weather patterns, Gennaro Brooks-Church of the green building company Eco Brooklyn gave me one big dose of hope.  Here’s an interview with him and photos of the site:

What’s your name and what do you do?

My name is Gennaro Brooks-Church. I’m a green builder. Eco Brooklyn started out of necessity. The company is 3 and ˝ years old. I have 25 employees. The history is basically we started exploring radical building techniques and it started being desired by homeowners. What are “radical building techniques?” It’s what I call a “zero brownstone.” Zero waste, zero new materials. We build a brownstone that uses zero off-site energy.

What’s the hardest project you’ve done?

It was a retrofit where we were trying to keep the existing detail work and moldings. We were trying to air seal it and get behind it.

The brownstone's backyard in process will have native species plants.

[Pictured here: The backyard-in-progress of Gennaro's current brownstone renovation project.  The native species garden will be irrigated by a greywater system.]

How many beers would it take to get you to build a McMansion?

I’d probably go unconscious before they’d get me to build it.

What’s an underappreciated building material that you like to use?

Clay. Aesthetically, it’s really nice. It’s a very natural material. We use it for walls. It has the cool effect of breathing. It absorbs and releases humidity. We use it instead of paint or plaster. It regulates humidity in the room.

[Pictured here: Gennaro with $20,000 worth of salvaged glass decking that cost him next to nothing.  Gennaro says that it's important to build the deck out of glass so that light will reach the garden below.]

Say an average homeowner wants to retrofit his house to make it more green. What should he know before he starts?

His money is going to be allotted differently. A lot of the money goes to the air sealing and ventilation, and less goes to the frilly stuff like fancy moldings and Jacuzzis. What pays off in the long run? Pragmatically, what pays off is focus on energy efficiency. From a more global view, is triple bottom line. Everybody involved is focused on benefiting the people involved, the planet, and making sure that the interaction is a win-win for everyone. With triple bottom line, everybody profits – the neighbors, future generations, and all the workers.

How are workers in a green building company different?

The workers in a green building company are there for more idealistic reasons. I have really great people who could get good jobs elsewhere, but they’re working in construction because they could make a difference to the world.

Learn more about Eco Brooklyn here.

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Larry B.
Larry B.4 years ago

The work Eco Brooklyn does is visionary. I looked for a long time for somebody who could do something special to my garden and it wasn't until I found Eco Brooklyn that I knew I had found the right fit. They salvage everything and I admit they sometimes push the envelope to the point where I had to say, "Well, I'm not sure I want to go that far." But I did! And I am glad I did. The results are a natural garden that is full of life and water. I really can't say it is my garden any more since it is an ecosystem and not a bland human garden. But it is beautiful and, well, just right. Just thought I'd say something :)

Hester Goedhart
Eternal G6 years ago

Ooohh, I love this!!! Bookmarked the eco-Brooklyn site! He is soo cool! Thanks so much for posting this!

Anne Callahan
Anne C7 years ago


jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Love them! My cousin has one on the upper east side-- BEAUTIFUL!!!!

Nancy Sasko
Nancy Sasko7 years ago

Nice Article

Steve F.
steve F7 years ago

A good example of acting locally

Carol Cowbrough
Carol C7 years ago

Noted. Thanks.

Eva Orta
Eva O7 years ago

Really nice to read this - thank you for sharing!

ilse D.
.7 years ago

This is a perfect example of how it could be :) thanks!

NOMLPLZ Ramona Thompson
Ramona Thompson7 years ago

It is refreshing to see there are people who want to make the planet a better home for all.