Rivera has served as president of the 1347 Bristow Street Co-op in the Morrisania section. She’s lived in the building for over 35 years and has seen it transform recently from a nearly vacant tenement into a green retrofitted building that features sustainably-sourced bamboo floors, a green roof, and high-efficiency condensing gas-fired boilers as well as a pending LEED Silver rating. Call it “urban green renewal.”
“Living here has changed my life,” Rivera says matter-of-factly as she gives a tour of the building, noting the Fiberglas-framed windows, Energy Star appliances, energy saving fixtures, and ventilation system that allows for a hermetically sealed home. The latter made her think hard about indoor air quality and her health. “So after 30 years, I quit smoking,” she says. “I feel great, and I lost 60 pounds. I truly feel blessed.”
The transformation of 1347 Bristow can be traced back to 1984 when New York City took the building over from a tax delinquent owner. From the late 1980s until 2005, the number of residents dwindled to 11, Rivera says. So they banded together and met with officials from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The plan was for the residents to take over ownership of the building, essentially becoming co-op shareholders, as the structure was set for a complete, green refurbishment.
“We took charge and were committed to the idea,” Rivera says. “And they saw that we were serious, which is why [HPD] supported us.”
The building was completely gutted, and the co-op shareholders had their furniture moved into storage while they stayed in temporary housing during the construction work. When the work was done, the shareholders moved back into the building—into sparkling new homes that featured modern energy efficient appliances and fixtures.
There are 23 units in the five-story building; 10 of the units are occupied and 13 are available. The co-op is currently accepting applications for its 1- and 2-bedroom homes priced between $90,000 and $120,000. Monthly maintenance fees run about $450.
Larsen Plano, LEED Accredited Professional (AP) at the Long Island City-based Community Environmental Center, which consulted on the retrofit, says 1347 Bristow represents a unique green trend in urban areas. Plano says greening an existing building rather than constructing a new one “is more environmentally friendly because you’re cutting down on the impacts associated with siting a new building—whether that’s demolishing an old building or developing a greenfield site—and you’re vastly decreasing the amount of new materials that you need.”
Plano says that even so, “real world” situations can complicate considerations of green retrofitting, but adds that from a climate perspective, “it is imperative that we improve existing buildings.”
“Estimates vary as to how many buildings that are standing today will still be standing 50 years from now, but everybody agrees that we need to deal with existing buildings,” Plano explains. “I have seen analyses showing that if we could design every new building, beginning today, so that it used no energy, in 50 years the annual emissions from the buildings which were built prior to today alone would be greater than where we hope our total annual emissions would be at that point. That’s a complicated way of saying that there is no way to achieve the goals for emissions reductions that scientists propose without improving existing buildings.”
Plano is hopeful that more existing multifamily buildings will “go green.” Plano says at CEC “we have recently seen an increased level of interest, but there are still many challenges in the implementation, many of which simply have to do with access to good information. In New York City there are a number of really exciting laws and policies in the making, which would have a dramatic impact on the environmental performance of existing buildings of all types, so I am hopeful.”
In regard to 1347 Bristow, Plano says the enthusiasm and commitment of the residents pushed the project forward. Plano says the residents approached the work “with open minds and open hearts, and they have changed some of my assumptions about how people can (and do) live in a green building. They’ve actually become an invaluable local resource for other buildings that want to go green: they’re dual-flush toilet evangelists, green-roof advocates, and more. It’s not a perfect building, but they’re incredibly proud to live there, which is really great to see.”
Indeed, 1347 Bristow Street garnered an honorable mention award in the 2008 New York City Green Building Competition, given by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the City of New York.
The building is well suited to the neighborhood. A high level of pride is revealed from the clean streets. At one end of Bristow Street there’s P.S. 134, an elementary school teeming with energetic children. At the other end of the street, there are two community gardens that have water harvesting systems. Elderly gardeners wave hello and offer a sample of summer squash.
Inside the building, Rivera continues the tour. “These lights in the lobby are motion-sensitive,” she says. “That saves energy. Listen to me…I’m a real green advocate!”
Resource List Architect
Jerzy Lesniak, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Tom Cavallo, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Larsen Plano, LEED AP Community Environmental Center cecenter.org Features:
Hotpoint 30-inch Gas Stoves (Energy Star certified) hotpoint.com
Waterpik EcoFlow Low-Flow Shower Heads waterpikecoflow.com
GE Profile Top Freezer Refrigerator (Energy Star certified) geappliances.com/energy-star-appliances/refrigerator.htm
Caroma Dual-flush Toilets caromausa.com/toilets
Gasmaster Industries Condensing Gas Boiler gasmaster-ind.com/home.html
Weil-Mclain Water Heaters weil-mclain.com/consumers/index.html
Speed Queen Ultra High Efficiency Dryers and
Washers (Energy Star certified) speedqueen.com/route/products/frontload-washers