Sunday, September 23, 2012

Best Green Building Materials: Free Stuff That Was Someone Else's Waste

Upcycling in the Hudson Valley: Eco Loft Barn Project In Barryville, New York Nears Completion

by Paul E McGinniss
I've posted a few other times about the inspiring building project we have been project managing.  You can check out Building Blocks of Successful Green Buildings and Small Footprint Building Project in Upstate, New York Exemplifies Green Affordability.

Today, I made the beautiful drive from Accord, New York in Ulster County south to the Delaware River and met with our client and proud new construction home owner, Jorge Rodriguez.   The magnificence of the scenery and delightful end of summer weather inspired me to update everyone on the project.

Before our clever collaborator, Jorge, showed me all the cool "green" building materials he's been collecting for the finishing work, we met with Todd Pascarella from Energy Experts to go over details of the frame sealing and the blown cellulose insulation work.  Todd is  BPI certified and an Energy Star expert so the structure is going to be very well sealed and energy efficient.  (We made a point of hiring a well trained, experienced insulation professional since the building envelope is of paramount importance to sustainable building i.e. resilient living.)

 Todd  and Jorge reviewing the insulation plan.

Before today's on-site rendezvous, Todd had already spoken with our framer and building partner, the spectacular Wizard of Geobarns, George Abetti.    They conferred on how to install the venting baffles and deal with the roof venting for George's one-of-a-kind, diagonal framing method.  So, as soon as we have the final electrical inspection accomplished, Energy Experts can begin to seal the frame.

There will be R38, dense-pack cellulose below the roof and R21, dense-pack insulation in the wall cavity.  I realize that this R value isn't exactly Passive House standards.  However, the structure is very compact and almost 1/3 underground.  So, the tightness of the structure and insulation levels will make for efficient heating and cooling.  (Look for a future post which will discuss details of the super-energy-efficient HVAC Mini Split air to air heat pumps we will be installing.)

About one third of the structure is built into the earth providing for excellent energy efficiency.  In addition, below grade, rigid  foam insulation was added to the foundation exterior.

OK, so now to the upcycling.   Like any savvy Gothamite, Jorge understands that someone else's trash is another's treasure.  For interior work, he discovered an amazing pile of discarded, weathered "wood with attitude" in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick.  Cost: free.  There is enough material to panel roughly 50% of the interior walls. Jorge trucked his find upstate in a small rental along with some wood beams and other free and almost free fixtures he conjured up in the Big Apple.  This tranquilly-sited loft barn, perched high above the Delaware River, is an organic merging of urban sensibility, street-smart sustainability and quintessential country ambiance.  It perfectly demonstrates the economic and environmental benefits of DIY upcycling in a green home design plan.   

Just part of the pile of salvaged wood from Bushwick, Brooklyn. The wood will be used for paneling part of the interior walls.

 Jorge's "solution" to the plumbing fixtures was fantastic.  He found a vintage bathroom sink for $20 at Build It Green in Queens.   (As a bonus, that shopping expedition also netted several free doors.)  The search for a toilet resulted in cajoling a local retailer in Brooklyn to take a very cool fifty ($50.00!) bucks for a brand new throne!  And, he purchased a classic claw foot bathtub in good condition for $300.   In support of his upstate local community, Jorge bought this gem right down the street from his new home at an antique shop in Barryville.

A peak at the salvaged (free) door and ($20) sink from Build It Green in NYC 

Some of the best "free" material Jorge gathered was literally at his doorstep!  A simple two step stoop for the front door entrance was fashioned from stones unearthed in the excavation process for the foundation.  It almost looks like it has been there all along!

 Talk about natural building materials:  Stones from the yard are a real locavore find!   
We'll be doing a few more posts about this project after the insulation work is completed and the interior space is finished.  I can't wait to see how all the "green", i.e. reclaimed, recycled, free, material is woven together in the final phase of construction.  But, one thing I have no doubt about, despite its incredible affordability and true sustainability, this structure, inside and out, will look like something that deserves to end up in the likes of Dwell magazine.

Jorge and Todd look out at the majestic Delaware River. This area of New York is a hot bed of controversy over fracking  for natural gas.  As part of this project, we made a conscious decision not to use propane in the energy mix so to avoid any use of fossil fuels. The minimal electricity used to power, heat and cool the house can be offset with solar PV.

Master Builder George (Abetti) is returning once more to assist Jorge and his family with some of the interior finishing work, including placing wood board on the interior cathedral ceiling and cupola.  (This will be an elegant natural cover over the soon-to-be-blown-in cellulose insulation.)  

In anticipation of seeing George at the project site again for his last part of the work, I asked him how it felt to finish a project.   George eloquently expressed his deep feelings: "The emotions are bittersweetly mixed...but much of the loss is coming down from the intensity of a build...pouring my heart into something that now, in a sense, is gone....when I return to a site for a visit and realize that the structure--via the client--has moved on past being built and metamorphosed into its intended use.  This is often a humbling encounter..."

And, please remember.  If you are planning to buy an existing house or purchase land and undertake building a house in the Hudson Valley or Catskills, please email:

We have had the pleasure of successful collaboration with creative and excellent clients in the past.   We look forward to working with new clients and sharing their journey to a new Home. 

Happy End of Summer, 2012.  Workers of the World Unite!

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012 

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