Docent's Notes

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Docent’s Notes for Green Garage Tours


History Talk

  • You’re standing in a Model T showroom built in 1920.
  • Building housed various automotive-related businesses for about 15 years, then became a shoe supply business under the name of Kanners and Patrize for about the next 60 years.
  • Front windows bricked up in 1968, after the riots, on request of the insurance company.
  • We bought the building on December 31, 2007, and at the time it was a warehouse that stored neighborhood items.

Our Background Talk

  • The idea for this project dates back to 2005, when we started a group called ‘Great Lakes Green Initiative,’ which comprised about a dozen individuals who met weekly at the Brennans’ kitchen table to share the journey of how to live more sustainably. In each meeting we took a deep dive into one area of sustainability. For example, we spent 9 months on water alone.
  • Out of ‘Great Lakes Green Initiative’ came the idea for some sort of demonstration center for green ideas. We initially thought this project belonged in Ann Arbor, close to the university population we wanted to work with, but many people suggested we consider Detroit. We thought it made sense, and hired a realtor. We chose Midtown because we were still looking for that university population, and it encompassed Wayne State. This is the first building we saw.

Process Talk

  • When we bought the building, we weren’t exactly sure what we were doing with it, so we held 2 years worth of meetings that involved over 100 volunteers. The meetings were semester-long sessions that dealt with such topics as: net-zero energy, Alexander design (based on ‘A Pattern Language’ by Christopher Alexander), business, gardens, water, materials, food, transportation, etc.
  • We did the design for the building ourselves and hired an architect to draw up our ideas. The engineering plans – 25 pages long – were approved by the city in 7 business days.
  • The design and construction process took about 4 years. Green Garage opened with businesses-in-residence in fall of 2011.

Net-Zero Energy Talk (Net-Zero Energy: producing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site.)

  • Net-zero energy group met for about 6 months and came up with a design that incorporated:
    • Passive design elements, based on our study of the Passive Haus Institute in Germany. Passive design elements include thick insulation (18” in roof – 120 R value) and natural light with abundant windows and Solatubes. (Studies have shown that people are happier, healthier, and more productive when provided with ample natural light.) Windows are Cardinal Glass 366, and they let in 66% of visible light while keeping 73% of heat out, and blocking 95% of UV so no fading of interior materials. Windows were designed by Kelly Windows of Detroit. Alley side and annex windows are tall and narrow imitating windows in workshops at Greenfield Village. This allows light to reach far into the office and work space - areas where light from the windows cannot reach are lit by Solatubes and compact florescent lights. The minimum electrical lighting necessary for times when natural light is not sufficient is provided by a few pendant mount fixtures using two 42 watt CFL bulbs, which can be used together or separately. There is an uplight feature that sends 15% of the light upwards. These fixtures are suspended by aircraft cable and the leftover cable was used in the kitchen. This provided additional support for the shelving and is an attractive design feature.
    • Heating system that uses solar-thermal panels heating up 2 tanks of water (totaling 5000 gal) in the annex. The heated water is cycled through a heat exchanger which heats the water in the pex tubing running under our floors providing radiant heat. To provide cooling in the summer, the water will circulate through the panels at night, thus cooling the water. Water only runs through the solar thermal panels when the pump is running; when it is not running, the water from the panels drains back into the tanks. Two conditions must be met for the pump to turn on: first, the air inside the solar thermal panels must be at a minimum of 90 degrees F. Second, the temperature in the panels must be a minimum of 30 degrees warmer than the water in the tank. Once these two conditions exist, the pump will automatically turn on and begin cycling the tank water through the panels. The pump runs continuously when the system is enabled, and it has a 10-minute time delay to shut off in case of clouds passing by. The target temperature for the water in the tanks is a maximum of 160 degrees F, and we blend the water to be 90 degrees F in our radiant floors to protect the wood.
    • Back-up system: Altherma Heat Pump. During a month or so in the winter when the days are shorter (less sunlight) and the demands for heat greater, the Altherma Heat Pump will provide the extra heating capacity that cannot be supplied by the solar thermal panels. Using an "outside" condenser located in the basement, a refrigerant is heated and cycled through the "inside" Altherma Heat Pump (exchanger) located in the janitor closet in the annex. This heats water that is also cycled through the Altherma Heat Pump up to the heat exchanger connected to the tanks, heating the water in the tanks. The Altherma Heat Pump is set to run only during off-peak hours (7pm - 10am).
  • Energy modeling shows that our current estimate to heat the building will be $300 per year.

Materials Talk

  • Materials group designed a system with a goal to use 90% of material that was taken down in the building, and at least 50% of incoming material to be from the U.S. waste stream. We met that goal. In fact, we were able to obtain about 75% of incoming material from the US waste stream.
  • Examples in building:
    • Staircase made from old steam pipes. Wood on steps made from leftover wood from the purlins. Wall made from scrap wood, designed by Kevin Gardner of the College for Creative Studies.
    • Greenhouse made from old window frame, metal framing from Ottawa Power Plant in Lansing, glass from either our old windows or Dalgeish Cadillac, wood in ceiling from our scraps. Lights from St Charles School in Detroit.
    • Flooring from fallen oak and ash trees in southeast Michigan, dried in a solar kiln in Troy, laid in various lengths and widths to lessen waste.
    • Wood railing made from old walkway between 2 mezzanines.
    • Bricks that used to cover the windows now line the bottom half of the walls in the annex, helping to serve as a heat sink for the radiant flooring.
    • Wooden bench, Welcome Desk, and Library Desk legs were made from wooden beans taken from a Popcorn store in Royal Oak that was remodeling. The upper flat portions of the desks and bench came from fallen urban walnut.
    • Once-used rigid insulation used in walls and on roof came from a broker in used materials.
    • Some interior lights from St. Charles School, Detroit and the Antique Warehouse.
    • Office desks and tables from Detroit Public Schools - available at auction throughout the year. Some chairs came from Used Office Equipment store in Detroit.
    • Interior doors from various sources; door to annex from a church.
  • Materials covering some walls called Homasote. 98% recycled newspaper, it's demountable (especially because it's screwed in instead of glued on), can be used like a bulletin board, and it's recyclable. 17% of drywall ends up in landfills because it has been glued in place and is destroyed when it is taken down.
  • We used 1 ½ dumpsters for the entire time we were under construction.

Kitchen Talk

  • Chest freezer has an adapter that keeps it at refrigerator temperatures. Because it opens from the top, less of the cold air can escape when the refrigerator is opened - saves lots of energy. Estimated cost of running for one year: $4.
  • 1950's era cabinets were found locally on Craigslist and we painted them.
  • Butcher block counters came from the shop class at Cody High School
  • The aircraft cable was leftover from the interior lighting and was put to use in the kitchen to support the shelving.
  • The two-drawer dishwasher is more efficient since you can run smaller loads and use less energy.
  • Compost pail on counter is used to collect food scraps.
  • Dishes and flatware were extras brought in by the Brennans.
  • We use organic, fair trade coffee. Coffee grounds and tea are composted.
  • Recycling center is located near the kitchen.

Business Talk

  • Coworking community and green business incubator where businesses work to support each other. We rent office and workshop space at various price levels to the Green Garage, depending on space requirements.
  • Businesses encouraged to pursue a triple bottom-line: demonstrate environmental integrity, community well-being and economic justice and viability. We are also looking for businesses that love what they do, like to work with others, and share what they know.
  • Our approach focuses on viewing business development as a biological versus a mechanistic process. We take businesses all the way through play, and serious play into final stages of business expansion.
  • We will provide support services to businesses, such as research done by Urban Sustainability Library and business help from our Business Design Studio.

Green Alley Talk

  • A beautiful pathway open to pedestrians and bicyclists to travel to and from businesses and residences in the neighborhood.
  • A model for sustainable alleys of the future for our city and region to bring new life to our alleys and make them a source of vitality and renewal to our community. The long term vision would be to connect this green alley and others with the Midtown Greenway Loop. These would be "green fingers" reaching out into the neighborhoods connecting everyone to one another in a sustainable way.
  • It encourages citizens to use zero-carbon forms of transportation. It makes our neighborhoods and communities more walkable and rideable by providing safe and attractive thoroughfares for people to visit businesses and residences. At the same time, it helps to promote business expansion and community building by taking one of our most underutilized assets, our alleys, and transforming them into a place people want to be. In fact, Motor City Brewing Works created an entrance off the alley and has had a more profitable business since its completion.
  • Collapsible locked bollards are at both ends of the greenway restricting vehicular traffic, but unlock for emergency vehicles. This creates a safe place to walk and ride your bike.
  • Gardens along the pathway are Michigan native plants (over 25 varieties) that are at home in our local climate and soils, will grow in the alley environment (i.e. sun, soil and water)...it's called "the right plant in the right place", and require very little or no maintenance. The plants also provide the habitat that creatures above the ground (e.g. bird, bees, and butterflies) and below the ground (e.g. worm, and microbes) need to be healthy. They bloom at different times of the year so there will be year round interest.
  • There are permeable pavers on about 33% of the surface. This allows service vehicles to occasionally travel the alley. Another 33% of the surface unpaved with plants. Together they allow 100% of the water to return to the ground to be cleaned and stored the way nature intended.
  • About 1,000 reclaimed historic brick pavers to create the pathway that the pedestrian and bicyclist will travel on.
  • The lighting in the alley is from high-efficiency full-spectrum induction technology that requires a third of the energy and carbon emissions than regular street lights and even half as much as LED street lighting! It does this while providing a natural spectrum of light to create a safe, secure environment for pedestrians and bicyclists. By the way, they also last 100 times longer than your normal incandescent bulb, 10 times longer than a compact florescent and even 2 times longer than LED bulbs.

Community Level Recycling and Waste Disposal

  • Located at the end of the Green Alley is a single stream community Recycling and Waste Disposal Center. The purpose is to divert waste from our landfills, reduce the need to extract more natural resources from the earth and reduce the energy needed to make new products. Maybe more importantly in teaching us how to care for all our resources from cradle-to-cradle...seeing them reborn again and again. Just like nature does. Our community-level recycling and trash also reduces the transportation energy demand by allowing just one trip for collection versus multiple trips for each business and/or residence.