Gennaro from Eco Brooklyn on Zero Waste Remodeling

Gennaro in front of clay wall panels on a jobsite in Carroll Gardens, 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 the interview 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 3and ½ 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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