Forest House Apartments

The Vision...Sustainable Green Affordable Housing in the South Bronx
Forest House apartments in New York takes affordable urban living to new sustainable green heights. The eight-story, 124-unit apartment project is located in the low-income area of South Bronx and will include a rooftop “urban farm.” This 10,000 sq.ft. rooftop greenhouse will be commercially operated, providing fresh, hydroponically grown produce to tenants and neighbors in the community through local distribution points.

Blue Sea Development, working with ABS Architects and Danois Architects, developed the project with precaster Oldcastle Building Systems. According to David Wan, P.E., LEED AP at Oldcastle, this is the “first affordable housing project with a rooftop greenhouse.” The greenhouse includes a water retention system that will manage 491,000 gallons of storm water per year. This water would have flowed into the East River, but will now be diverted to the greenhouse and to an additional 11,000 sq.ft. of landscaped green space. The storm water recapture system provided by Oldcastle was instrumental in winning a grant from New York’s Department of Environmental Protection. Storm water is a huge problem for New York and projects like this provide shining examples of viable solutions.

Precast Erected In Four Months
The precast concrete erection started in August 2011 and was completed by November 2011. Oldcastle manufactured 134,000 of 8- and 12-inch thick hollowcore planks, 190 8-in. thick exterior thin brick exterior bearing wall panels and 180 8-in. thick interior bearing walls, along with precast concrete parapets, lintel beams, stairs, and landings. Precast concrete not only minimizes job site activity and debris, but the quick erection time of four months for 124 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments allows plenty of time for interior trades to meet the occupation deadline of fall 2012.

Precast Concrete Green Features
There are numerous green reasons for choosing precast concrete, starting with the actual production of the concrete, made in part with coal ash, a by-product from coal furnaces. This ash is recycled into the cement mix and adds to the strength of the concrete. Using local precast concrete suppliers like Oldcastle means less transportation of heavy precast pieces, lowering carbon emissions. The brick exterior uses precast wall panels that have thin brick pieces set into the panel forms before the concrete is poured. This process uses 15% less material than a normal brick and mortar wall and provides a brick façade with a longer life expectancy and very little, if any, maintenance.

“Precast concrete in conjunction with a continuous in. thick layer of XPS insulation provided a 100% thermal separation of the building interior from the outside environment,” according to Wan. This translates to energy savings that will keep tenants warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer while costing less.

Precast’s Additional Benefits
This total precast concrete project goes beyond green and into a better quality of living. Precast concrete is fireproof and keeps fire from spreading, allowing time for residents evacuate safely should the need arise. Noise reduction is another benefit of precast concrete. The reduction of sound from floor to floor is diminished, as is outside street noise. Mold resilience is also a reason to build with precast concrete, since mold naturally doesn’t like concrete as a food source and generally doesn’t grow there.

Rounding out the green attributes of the project, Oldcastle Allied Building Products is supplying 3,000 sq.ft. of solar panels. With energy efficient lighting, appliances, a specialized ventilation system and environmentally safe interior materials, this project is not only environmentally green, it is also fiscally responsible.

The architectural design of the project and the use of precast concrete will help the project achieve LEED Gold and Energy Star Certification. It will serve as a higher standard for affordable living. A healthier living environment that is energy efficient will be an example for other developers to follow and proves that affordable green housing is possible.

The Vision Becomes a Reality
The Arbor (formerly the Forest) House apartments is now complete and it's developer Blue Sea Development went above and beyond providing affordable housing for residents. They are offering a ore important healthier lifestyle. “If you took this building and moved it 10 miles south to the heart of Manhattan, it would be a luxury building,” according to Les Bluestone, principal of Blue Sea Development. “It’s a nice feeling that you’re giving this to a population that can afford it least and maybe needs it most.”

Other Priorities in the Building Design
Indoor air quality was another priority in the building design. The developer used formaldehyde-free insulation; low- and zero-VOC paints, sealants, adhesives, and finishes; low-VOC vinyl wall covering; and continuous background direct exhaust ventilation using Energy Star fans, constant air regulators, and trickle vents in each apartment. In addition to its airtight building envelope, usual energy-efficiency features such as Energy Star appliances and lighting, high-efficiency boilers, and energy-monitoring systems that are included in every unit to provide real-time energy usage feedback to the tenant. Each room also features a Nest learning self-programmable thermostat with occupancy sensors, as well as USB outlets for charging electronics that turn the power off when not connected.

Many Achievements Earned
The building has earned LEED-Platinum, Energy Star, and National Green Building Gold ratings. As well as being designed to meet New York City’s Active Design Guidelines to promote physical fitness and reduce obesity of the residents. It includes a fully equipped gym, a physical trainer available to come in to offer classes and teach the residents how to use the equipment. Another method to to promote physical fitness and reduce obesity was the placement of the stairs before the elevators, thus encouraging stair usage. The property is smoke-free and thus earned recognition from the American Cancer Society as a “Healthy High-Rise.”

According to Les Bluestone, principal of Blue Sea Development, “if you took this building and moved it 10 miles south to the heart of Manhattan, it would be a luxury’s a nice feeling that you’re giving this to a population that can afford it least and maybe needs it most.”

Project Details








abs Architects & Danois Architects


TY LIN International


Blues Sea Development Company

Precast Consultant:

Equus Design


8 floors

Structural Precast Elements:

• Approx. 110,000 sf of 8-inch Elematic hollowcore plank (building)
• Approx. 24,500 sf of 12-inch hollowcore plank (at rear courtyard and roof)
• 190 pieces of 8-inch thick exterior bearing walls with thin brick
• 180 pieces of 8-inch thick interior bearing walls
• 34 pieces of precast concrete parapets
• 49 precast concrete lintel beams
• Precast concrete stairs and landings

Erection Timeline:

Started — August 2011
Completed — November 2011


• Thin Brick

Green Details:

Arbor House is loaded with high-performance products and technologies including:
• A precast concrete panelized wall system with brick inlay, for an enhanced airtight envelope and long term durability.
• A rooftop vegetable garden.
• A rainwater-harvesting system for greenhouse and irrigation uses.
• A living green wall in lobby that helps to remove carbon dioxide and provide oxygen.
• High-efficiency 90-98% AFUE sealed combustion condensing boilers that provide hydronic heat with individual zone controls in every room.
• Low-E fiberglass windows.
• Occupancy-sensor light switching and bi-level lighting in stairs, public, utility/mechanical rooms, and garage areas.
• Rigid R-10 thermal break insulation and a vapor barrier installed at the exterior wall.
• R-15 fiberglass insulation in the wall framing.
• R-35 roof insulation with high-albedo white coatings to reduce heat gain and cooling loads.
• Elevators use a fraction of the horsepower of conventional elevators.
• Energy Star fluorescent and LED fixtures throughout the building.
• Energy Star kitchen appliances and laundry equipment.
• Energy-monitoring systems in each apartment to provide real-time electric cost feedback to residents.
• Low- and zero-VOC paints, adhesives, finishes, and sealants for improved indoor air quality.
• Low-VOC, Cradle to Cradle-certified carpet tile.
• Dual-flush 0.8- or 1.28-gpf toilets, 1-gpm showerheads, and 0.5- and 1-gpm sink faucets.


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