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A Zero Net Energy Apartment Building in Brooklyn

‘Bright n’ Green’ Produces all the Energy it Uses

By George Harvey

We introduced Robert Scarano in the June issue with the article, “Green Epiphany.” He is an architect in New York, who had once designed what he calls “energy hogs.” After studying the specifications for the DOE’s Challenge Home (now Zero Energy Ready Home) and passive house design, he went through an epiphany and started working on green building. Thus Bright n’ Green, an apartment building he designed and constructed in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, became a reality.

A zero-energy-ready home is precisely that – ready to be lived in with no energy use. Nor is this a meager standard, as the standard for living requires a high level of comfort. Scarano says, “It is a clearly achievable goal, without the huge cost some people might imagine.”

“The most important thing,” he says, “is air infiltration. It is more important to put attention on ventilation and air exchange than on insulation.” To that end, Bright n’ Green is equipped with impressive controls for dealing with both air temperature and impurities that might be in it.

Air purity is a basic, absolute requirement. With that in mind, the entire apartment building was constructed and finished with non-toxic materials. But since it is necessary to bring in fresh air, an entire system was designed and built to be certain the air is pure, even if the outside air is not.

The incoming air goes through a set of underground pipes that bring the temperature closer to what is wanted for indoors. It passes through a heat exchanger, so incoming air is warmed with the residual heat of outgoing air.

The air is constantly tested and monitored, automatically. It is dehumidified, scrubbed and ionized. Fresh air is delivered constantly to all apartments, with each having its on filters. These are so effective that Scarano says there should normally be no need for tenants to dust their apartments. There is also no need for humidity control.

Each unit is supplied with temperature and humidity controls. The heat is electric and comes from resistance heaters, which are warming floor mats in the bathrooms. The reason resistance heaters are used is partly because there is so little heat lost that the cost of a heat pump would be hard to recover.

The flooring is acoustically insulated with a membrane made from recycled rubber tires. The hardwood floors include a mix of white and red oak, which is all recycled; it was taken from blocks used for shipping pipes. Since it was never chipped or shredded, it could be planed and polished to have a beautiful grain (though Scarano admits to occasional small nail holes). It is finished with non-toxic tung oil to be as beautiful as a person might want.

Even the elevators were specified for their green characteristics. Hydraulic equipment was not allowed because of the possibility of leaks. Instead, smart elevators based on gearless technology were installed.

All of this is powered on site. The building has a 38-kilowatt solar array to provide for its six apartments. In this way, Bright n’ Green produces all the energy it uses – a zero net energy apartment building.

The icing on the cake, perhaps, is the image Scarano produced to beautify and enrich the neighborhood. The small grounds are planted with native flowers and vines. The walkway to the building has a small orchard and rose garden. So even passers-by can find Bright n’ Green a thoroughly satisfying experience.

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