Green Grows In Brooklyn: Part X

In construction, as in life, things don't always go as planned. But crews working on the Natural Home Show House in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, are making progress.

| July/August 2008

  • Construction crews went to great lengths to seamlessly blend new sections with the original facade.
    Elizabeth Kuster
  • Carefully chosen new bricks will match the originals perfectly.
    Elizabeth Kuster
  • The construction supervisor checks that the new tinted mortar duplicates the building's original smoke-darkened mortar.
    Elizabeth Kuster
  • Artistic rendering of the completed natural Home Show House in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
    Elizabeth Kuster

After spending most of the winter preparing for snow, sleet or rain, then cleaning up after it, construction crews at the Natural Home Show House in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, finally began to make some headway. Suddenly everything seemed to happen at once. Inside the structure, builders installed windows, plumbing, HVAC ducts and metal framing posts; outside, they prepped the building’s original shell to receive its limestone veneer. But as construction moved forward, some surprises surfaced.

ONE SUCH SURPRISE: The structure’s outer shell—the very feature that inspired developers Rolf Grimsted and Emily Fisher to want to save the building in the first place—proved to be in worse condition than anyone had realized. The steel scaffolding was causing some of the walls to lean inward, proving the shell wasn’t structurally sound. (Construction supervisor David Moreno believes a fire that gutted the building in 1980 dried out the bricks and mortar, causing them to weaken and crumble.)

This setback added an unexpected—and pretty big—step to the construction schedule: Crews had to photograph the outer shell in minute detail (to ensure they could recreate the pattern), then test the walls, brick by brick, removing those that were unsafe. Moreno estimates that about 43 percent of the original bricks were saved; the rest are being replaced by new bricks that match the missing ones in color, size and texture. 

Because the goal is to make the rebuilt sections indistinguishable from the old, bricklayers are tinting the new mortar with a nontoxic tint so it precisely matches the original age- and smoke-darkened mortar. At press time, work on the parapet wall had just been completed. It had been demolished, rebuilt, flashed and sealed tight—and it looked just like it did before demolition.

STEP BY STEP: Plumbing and ventilation ducts are being installed simultaneously. On the roof, insulation has been laid over the concrete. Metal joists have been installed on the second floor above the garage to provide support for the thick subfloor that will be laid on top for sound attenuation. Two-thirds of the low-emissivity, energy-efficient Andersen windows have been installed; the rest are being custom-made because they’re unusually large or thick. (For security reasons, windows on the building’s exterior will be shatterproof.)

UP NEXT: As soon as the building passes the plumbing inspection, crews will lay concrete in the garage, install drains and the hot-and-cold water system, and lay tubing in the radiant floor. Walls will be put up over the interior framing, so rooms will at last be recognizable. Finally, workers will complete the restoration of the outer shell: The supports will be removed, the facade will be finished, the limestone veneer will be applied, and the exterior will be power-washed.



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