In the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, the lot at 67 Brighton First Lane sat vacant. But not as vacant as it first appeared. What is now the location of Bright ‘N Green, a six-unit condo project that aims to achieve Passive House, Living Building Challenge, and LEED Platinum standards, was empty when architect Robert Scarano Jr. first saw the property in 2005. But previously, a structure on-site had been severely damaged in a fire and, in an attempt to mitigate the subsequent eyesore, compacted into the cellar.
The property was not listed as a brownfield, but once the team at Scarano Architect had the soil tested, it determined that the land was, in fact, contaminated, and environmental remediation was necessary. Scott Yanuck of Laurel Environmental Associates was tasked with remediating the site. “What at first glance seemed like a site with a demolished home was a site with hazardous levels of lead from historical fill material, whether derived from ash from coal burning or imported fill,” Yanuck says.
Location Brooklyn, NY
Size 6,500 ft2
Completed 2014 (expected)
Program Six condo units, ground-floor commercial space
Architect Scarano Architect
M Square Builders
Structural Engineer Marin Consulting Engineer
Mechanical Engineer TSF Engineering Services
Civil Engineer Carubba Engineering
Environmental Consultant Laurel Environmental Associates
LEED Consultant AKF Group
Certification PHIUS, LEED Platinum, Living Building Challenge (all expected)
Site Soil extraction and an under-slab ventilation system eliminate toxic gases and contaminants
Water 5,000-gallon stormwater storage tank supplies water for toilets, showers, and irrigation
Energy Solar panels, wind turbines, tight envelope
With the help of the NYC Brownfield Incentive Grant (BIGs) program, the team removed the top seven feet of soil from the site—by hand. “There was no vehicular access leading to the home, and we literally had to do everything by hand, with shovels and buckets,” says Yuriy Menzak, the architectural project manager. The remediation took a total of two months to complete.
It was during that period that Scarano discovered Cupellex, an under-slab ventilation system used heavily in New Jersey where toxic underground gases can seep into homes. “Coal ash used during the industrial era was dumped underground because it was thought to be good for farming, but it contains plenty of things that are harmful, so you have to create a gap between the ground and the lowest floor to ventilate it,” says Menzak, who along with Yanuck created a two-foot air gap and under-slab ventilation system, the first of its kind used in New York City. “We continually move air underneath the building.”
That extra two feet proved far more fortuitous than anyone could have imagined. During construction, Superstorm Sandy hit the city, and the development withstood 90-mile-per-hour winds and cresting ocean waters without suffering any major breakage or flood damage.
Achieving Passive House certification required more than durability. Scarano and Menzak focused heavily on energy efficiency and sought to achieve the Passive Building requirement that the building is constructed to eliminate 90 percent of heating and cooling expenditures. “It requires a high level of design and supervision to take into account the particulars of the environment, with the biggest challenge ensuring that you don’t lose energy already spent for heating or cooling through air leaks and thermal bridging,” Menzak says.
A highly insulated envelope helped the building achieve a thermal resistance level of R70, far exceeding the current R30 industry baseline. Geothermal wells were added despite the tight space, and 150 feet of 10-inch Geotube precools the air in the summer and preheats it in the winter. The building doesn’t use natural gas resources; it’s all electric with power supplied from solar panels and wind turbines on the roof. “We started out using 10 percent of the energy that a typical house would and took it down to zero,” Menzak says. He insists that there is no such thing as a net-zero building, only net-zero tenants who are trying to save electricity, limit water use, and recycle.
Already, Bright ‘N Green has received the prestigious Green Site Award from the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation. Once completed, it should qualify for all its certifications, along with numerous other awards. And it’s not the first of its kind—Bright ‘N Greens two through six are already on the drawing board.