The greening of Joe’s Garage

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There’s been a lot of talk about the “greening of America.” There’s also been a lot of talk about fuel prices. You might be interested to know that one local businessman has been trying to do something about both.

If North Sea Road is on your route, you’re probably familiar with Joe’s Garage, standing at the corner of North Sea and Mary’s Lane. It used to be a falling-down shack, but last year the old building was razed and a new 5,800-square-foot service center was erected.

The owner, Joe Frizell, is one of those guys for whom the rather ungrammatical slogan “Think global, act local” might have been invented. When he decided to renovate, he teamed up with architect Bill Sclight and builder Victor Canseco to make the new building as green and energy efficient as possible.

“I’ve always been concerned about the environment,” Joe said, “so when it came time to build a new garage, I wanted people who understood my concerns.” Mr. Sclight introduced him to Mr. Canseco, whose company, Sandpebble Builders, seemed to meet that demand.

“We began with the problem of heat,” Joe explained. Traditionally, the waste oil that comes out of cars in auto repair shops is drained into tubs, then hauled away in tank trucks. It’s taken to a refinery, where it’s changed into No. 2 heating oil, then sold to homeowners.

What Joe didn’t like about that system was having to pay a hauling company to take away the product he could use to heat his garage.

Mr. Canseco was aware of a similar dilemma that was faced by the Strebel Laundry in Quiogue. Mr. Canseco says that when the price of oil rose some years back, the laundry’s owner, Bob Strebel, found himself squeezed between the high price of fuel and the long-term contracts he had with commercial customers. His remedy was to go around and collect the used oil from auto garages and use it to heat his laundry.

This struck a chord with Joe Frizell. “Here I was,” Joe said, “paying somebody to collect my oil and haul it away, and I was also contributing to carbon emissions by having these big tanker trucks come in every few weeks. In addition, I was creating a safety hazard because those trucks carry dangerous fuel.”

Putting their heads together, Joe, Bill Sclight and Victor Canseco came up with a system that would take the used crankcase oil from customers’ cars and deposit it into a holding tank under the garage. There, it would be fed into a special, highly efficient furnace with a boiler, pre-heat chamber, heater and computerized nozzles to strain the oil’s viscosity. The end product is No. 2 heating oil.

The way it works now, the furnace burns the oil and pumps the heat into hot-water tubes buried in the concrete under the garage’s floor. This creates radiant heat and results in an atmosphere where mechanics can work comfortably.

“Actually, it’s better than hot air,” Joe explained. “It keeps your feet and ankles warm, but your upper body stays cool.”

They didn’t stop there. Instead of bare concrete, they covered the floor with an epoxy-quartz coating such as is used in fire houses and hospitals. This would make it easier to clean up and prevent seepage in the event of spills.

Next, Joe went to LIPA. “I told them I wanted the most energy-efficient lighting available,” he said, “and they recommended a very low-energy fluorescent system that has significantly reduced my electric bills.” (Mr. Canseco points out that proper lighting also has an enormous impact on productivity and morale.)

Although so far he hasn’t been able to afford it, Joe is looking at solar material for his roof. One of his customers is Alan Alda, and Mr. Alda has put him onto the work of a man named Stanford Ovshinsky. Mr. Ovshinsky is a pioneer in semiconductors and solar energy.

One of Mr. Ovshinsky’s companies, Uni-Solar, has invented a new kind of solar material that’s made of film and can be laid on a roof like tinfoil. Joe said: “I’ve got a big metal roof up there, and it’s not doing anything. If I could use it to produce energy, I could reduce my electric costs still further.”

How many Joe Frizells are there out here? According to Victor Canseco, not many. “It’s appalling how far behind Long Island is compared with places like California and Florida,” he told me. But at least there’s one guy who’s trying to do something. Let’s hope there will soon be more.

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