Sawkill Passive House passed the critical passive house blower door test on Friday, conducted by David White of Right Environments, working with Castrucci Architect and Blueline Construction. The house passed within just 1 CFM (Cubic Foot per Minute) of the test standards cut-off – a cliffhanger by building energy standards. Two days earlier, the reading hovered three points higher and out of reach. At that time, all the scouring for micro-leaks in the envelope of the house seemed exhausted; window gaskets were tightened, ventilation hoods tuned, electrical penetrations plugged; each step circling closer, but still short. It was unclear what to do.

But Mother Nature stepped in. Readings can vary slightly from successive tests at the same site. Within that natural range, it is also possible that varied weather conditions account for the difference. As they say, “You can’t step in the same river twice”. On Friday, with lower winds and higher temperatures, the indoor and outdoor environments were unseasonably equal, and that raised a prospect for a new and passing measure. David thought it was worth a try.

David White lives down the block from Prospect Park, and about a fifteen minute bike ride to 158 Clifton. His retro-fitted eight foot bicycle could haul the morning produce of a restaurant, but it’s more regularly strapped down with equipment from “Minneapolis Air Blower”. The bike and its cargo are easily managed by the 6’2” cyclist.

The air blower apparatus is a simple device – supported by a mountain of research. It pressurizes the entire house, but outside of a fan humming, you’d never know the blower door test was even happening. Within minutes, a computer registers dots along an axis; and then it stops for a moment, and the fan is flipped around, with air removed; and de-pressurizing, resulting in an average reading from multiple points of the  building envelope. If there are ghosts in the Victorian era row house, as an older resident on the block claimed early on, they would have certainly caught wind of the air blower test.

The computer graphic – a grid with round and square dots – often tells the story. But it was too close to call on Friday. David clicked through to the precise numerical data and paused, searching the numbers and then said “we passed.” It was just one-quarter-of-one-percent within range, and that was enough.

If it wasn’t. the alternative – which could have produced a passing number for the house months ago – was to “pressurise the neighbours”. This involved setting up similar systems that would flank the row house with pressurised volumes, and act like a headwind against microscopic air loss. Pressurizing just one adjacent house would blow the door off the standards firm threshold, lopping off 100 cfm’s, and it would be completely within the bounds of test procedure. But it was a last resort, and the neighbours of course were already a help, simply living with a party wall in a row house.

The Passive House Certification process prompted a systematic check for air and energy leakage, and a fine tuning process of actions, and it added up to real performance gains. But it was the attention to detail in the construction phase that made the difference. Going back to the bones of the 1880’s building, the old growth softwood joists; each was retained and sistered, and then subject to a thoughtful sealing sequence, with ‘no turning back’. Any energy leakage would be locked in, maybe for generations. All along the way, similar issues were encountered in a structure that was “….in as bad shape as any that I’ve encountered.” said Jim Hartin of Blueline.

Castrucci, Right Environments and Blueline have transformed an old building into one that is, 130 years later, in as good shape as any they’ve encountered. The PHI energy numbers alone may back that up.158 Clifton may also be a first wooden row house to reach certification in New York, and is part of the growing movement to retro-fit across the city.

As David was breaking down the blower door, he noticed one small part of the unit unclamped. “Hmm, that could have been another cfm or two.”

Air Blower
Huddle
Smoke
More smoke
The Ship Light

Passive House pre-test happened this week at 158 Clifton. David White, Grayson Jordan of Castrucci Architect, Jim Hartin and the crew of Blueline Construction looked to meet the Passive House Institute (PHI) tightness threshold; measured by the decisive Air Blower test. The retro-fit started over a couple of years back, with an 1887 wooden row house – “…in as bad of shape as I’ve ever seen”, related construction veteran Hartin. The project doubled down with an unlikely new building envelope –  two thousand year old Redwood windows, Worcestershire Sauce wooden tank facade cladding, and the trampled planks of the Coney Island Boardwalk as a perforated rain screen on the back.

David White, attaching a space age Air Blower to the parlor window; and utilizing a pen sized smoke sensor and European Allen wrench, proceeded with the energy test . At the outset, the house hovered 40 CFM’s over the target, with certification numbers remaining out of reach throughout the day. But the team chipped away at the high leakage reading by sealing microscopic leaks in window and door seams, ducts, electrical penetrations and consequential but previously undetected spots of energy loss. Even if a score came up short, the process was witness to the value of certification. But the final result was pass.

 

Congratulations to Dave Plunkert, who produced our lumberjack illustration, and let his work set sail this week for the New Yorker with “Blowhard”.

Father’s Day weekend started with the wheels turning at a reclaimed wood craft installation, held at the nearby Weeksville Heritage Center. Historical wood scraps from Sawkill were on hand, as participants created assemblages that included reclaimed Longleaf Pine, the Coney Island Boardwalk, Redwood Tanks, Antique White Pine, Charred Douglas Fir and other scrap woods destined for the landfill – and diverted to the refuge of Weeksville.

The day celebrated the opening of the exhibit, “Fashioning the Women of Weeksville,” which brought together clothing and historic images from the 1860s to the 1940 – and weaving together the story of the community through its garments. Founded by James Weeks in the 1830s, Weeksville was the first free black community.

The exhibit runs through September 30. For more information about Weeksville, the open hours and the exhibit, click here.

The Sawkill Lumber warehouse will be the site of a special Father’s Day event in Brookly on Sunday, June 18. Featured activities include a few perennial favourites – with a scrap wood spin – urban corn hole, barnyard mini-hoops and a test run of the Scrap Wood Derby! Music and more will be on hand from 10-5pm.

For some, it’s the ultimate Brooklyn dad’s experience – a chance to work side-by-side with your daughter or son on a reclaimed wood project. The event will feature a Build-a-Box workshop. Kids can then wax or paint their boxes. it’s no toss-a-way toy – but a 400 yr old tree.

This reclaimed Hard Maple flooring served an Edison Factory in NJ since the mid-1890’s. It was the early start of recorded music as the Edison Phonograph , with it’s signature megaphone attachment and hand crank operation was being released, crooning American parlors into the 20th c. This UK based record label pays tribute to the origins of their industry in the reception area at the Tribeca NYC space. The pattern of hard knock industrial wear is also a vibrant welcoming look, hitting the perfect design note. Maple is second only to Hickory in hardness among American woods.

Douglas Fir flooring, with it’s tree origins in the Pacific Northwest, can be an uncommon wood floor in the East. But in this new construction install, the owners salvaged the Douglas Fir joists of the former mid-century auto shop at the site. The bownish-orange tone of softwood species often call for some element at the opposite end of the color spectrum. Here, the design also layers the contrast of organic wood figure and color, with cast iron in a traditional radiator, painted blue black. The concise and elegant balance unfolds in the surrounding hallway with natural light and a wicker bulls head on the wall.

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The reclaimed Redwood paneling within the entryway to 951 Pacific St. in Brooklyn welcomes visitors to the city’s first condo built to Passive House energy standards. The accent wall provides rich natural wood tones in a small but prominent entry vestibule, reflecting the quality and sustainability of the development project. R-951 is a project by Paul A. Castrucci Architects.

shousughiban_charredcedar_brooklynShou Sughi Ban on reclaimed Douglas Fir at 158 Clifton, a Passive House project. The old growth woods were recovered from Worcestershire Sauce tanks in NJ, and milled into 5” & 7” clapboard. Oslo exterior finish of  natural oils was applied as a top coat. The ebonized facade is characteristic of the Japanese fire treatment technique that dates to the 1700’s and serves as a modern application, furthering the exterior performance of a sustainable material, and producing a subtle and dramatic silhouette of the underlying virgin Douglas Fir figure. The darkened boards amplify a sublime quality of the Egyptian revival inspired dormers, bound to the Mansard slate roof and seeming to take flight. Less expected –  an oiled and darkened reflection of climate change denial now taking root in the Capital.

Reclaimed boardwalk African Ironwood, salvage from the South St., Seaport restoration, is among the hardest woods on earth. It’s more common in European Maritime  Applications, but it’s also found in the depths of the Paris metro. It’s cellular structure makes it notoriously on stable at narrow thicknesses. here, it’s a striking detail  and environmental statement at the threshold of a Brooklyn Brownstone.

mailchimp_citypoint_001If there was a reclaimed wood as emblematic of both the new and old Brooklyn, as the rusted steel that wraps the Barclays Center, it may be the salvaged brownboard that zig zags in a herringbone form through the corridor of the new nearby City Point development. Made from a range of different antique softwoods, reclaimed primarily in the NYC area – from a Western Beef in the Bronx to a Kosher dairy facility in Bushwick – it unfolds along the five hundred foot space in broad planks – 5/8” thick x 7” wide and 8’ long. Vaulted over thirty feet in the air, the woods express some of the same rustic elegance as a brownstone facade. Though unlike a  tree lined row house block, the installation is in tension with the florescent lit space of commercial tiles and engineered panels.

An equal allure of reclaimed wood that defines the space uses a mix of salvaged and remanufactured woods from Sawkill Lumber for paneling – a patterned variation of widths and lengths made from potato farm grey board, cypress vinegar tank stock and the tropical hardwood of city boardwalks. The wash finish helps to further unify the woods as they parade across long wall stretches. Conceived by Gensler Architects, the new CityPoint is home to large and small retailers that include an Alamo theatre and Katz’s Deli.
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This Lower East Side gallery installed an original surface reclaimed barn wood floor in the office space, keeping it natural- unfinished and without removing open knots or color variations. Designed by Labo architects. Installation by Bernard Gallagher.

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Sawkill Lumber joined with Menck Windows at the North American Passive House Conference 2016. The intersection of reclaimed woods – a certifiable ‘passive’ forest product – and energy efficient windows, was a triple-pane window made with reclaimed Redwood (salvaged from dismantled vinegar tanks), supplied by Sawkill Lumber and manufactured at the Menck Windows facility in the U.S.; just three hrs north of NYC in Chicopee, MA. Thanks to Menck for their leap into the process and putting the salvaged wood through their state-of-the-art milling equipment. Their acceptance of what’s otherwise a clear ‘defect’ in the wood was certainly stretched on this one. A remarkably technical, beautiful and uber-sustainable window emerged. The first one was installed at a Brooklyn passive house on the opening day of the conference.

Sawkill sponsored “Rocking PacMan” by Louis Lim was awarded Best of Show at Bklyn Designs 2016. A backwards see-saw made from 400 pcs of reclaimed distillery Oak; it will now roll into the ICFF. It was nominated for an NYC X Design award, announced this evening at MOMA.

“Rocking PacMan is a bench about trust, balance and opposition,” says Lim. “It’s best described as a ‘love seat see-saw”; it requires at least two people to activate it; sitting on opposing ends, rocking each other back and forth as on a rocking chair, while stopping one’s partner with their feet.” “Through Lim’s backwards see-saw”, says Alan Solomon of Sawkill Lumber, “the salvaged material culture of a lost structure is renewed by contemporary design. “He stretches the limits of reclaimed wood,” says Klaas Armster, “It’s reclaimed, not rustic.”

It’s set against a backdrop of salvaged and re-manufactured woods from the Sawkill collection; each from a specific site: Potato farms and 19th c. industrial buildings, sunken river logs and pickle tanks, Bowling alleys and Japanese cargo crates, the Domino Sugar Factory and Coney Island Boardwalk.

 

imageSome beautiful new CNC signage work by Brooklyn Woods – over reclaimed wood flooring from submerged and recovered Pine logs.

1 - Metal detection
The same goal as airport security - find and remove hazardous metal. Old nails break during removal, with tips of iron remaining lodged within these 1" x 4" boards.
2 - Hammer and Chisel
Here, Kalimba chisels out the surrounding wood to expose the lodged nail.
3 - The Nail Puller
Removing the exposed sub-surface nails with the Crescent nail puller, a long standing tool of the trade. The boards hope to be re-used as part of the 158 Clifton Pl. Passive House project.

A short un-edited interview with Paul A. Castrucci, Architect at 158 Clifton Pl. Brooklyn. In September 2015, Castrucci was awarded the AIA NY COTE award in the townhouse category for R-951, the the first Net Zero and Passive House building in the city, Videographer: Sandra Beltrao.

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Reclaimed wood ages brown – at least when it’s not daily exposed to light. Outside of time, other factors result in a wide range of brown – wood species, age of boards, original saw blade orientation, use and it’s exposure to a mix of man made influences – from tobacco smoke, pickle juice and other food grade fluids. All of the browns in their ‘found’ condition evoke a warm natural quality, but with individual personality. The woods below are a collection of antique grade Spruce/Fir, Hemlock, White Pine and potentially other species – sourced from barns, residential buildings, mushroom drying boards and Worcestershire Sauce tanks. The design possibilities within the family of natural browns are limitless.

softwoodflooring_001Bob Villa recently commented on the virtues of softwood flooring that is even more relevant to the realm of reclaimed; “If you think that installing hardwood flooring is a budget buster, think again. Although hardwoods such as Oak, Ash and Beech (or reclaimed Chestnut, Cherry and Ipe) is pricey, softwood flooring such as Spruce, Pine and Hemlock is less. There’s a trade off though, softwood floors are just that, soft, and more susceptible to scratches and dents. But most people feel that just adds to the rustic charm. One other plus is that they’re more environmentally friendly than hardwoods. If that sounds appealing and you won’t mind a little of the existing wear and tear, then softwood flooring may be a good choice.”

 

imageOne defining feature of reclaimed wood floors is their wide widths – up to 12″. But less often mentioned is their longer average length – much longer. In a world where floors arrive cut and bundled into 1-5′ lengths, longer spans of individual boards can be an overlooked factor. But if the floor is fully covered, what is the difference? The frequent x-cuts on new wood floors act like road stops as the eye travels across a floor, giving it a less unified look and feel. It’s also an apt symbol for the long passage of time, as the woods have traveled hundreds of years from a small forest sapling to salvaged and re-manufactured modern floor.

 

Cushioning the blow of a demolished boardwalk
African Ironwoods from the SS Seaport on the Exterior
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