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CEO Justin Palmer Of Synapse Talks To The Boland Team

perch Harlem

Perch Harlem, the first market rate rental designed to Passive House standards, is currently being built in Hamilton Heights by Synapse Development Group and Taurus Investment Holdings. The Boland Team sat down with Justin Palmer, Co-Founder and CEO of Synapse, the creators of Perch Harlem, to learn more about this exciting project.

Julia Boland: We have all heard about LEED certified buildings over the past decade but the Passive House concept is new in this market. Can you tell us what the differences are?

Justin Palmer: LEED focuses on broad categories: water efficiency, sustainable materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, energy, and atmosphere.Designing to the Passive House standard takes the LEED philosophy to a higher level by focusing the actual energy usage of the building as a whole. This is accomplished by implementing very high levels of insulation with minimum thermal bridges and thorough consideration of solar gains. Passive House design also requires an air tight building envelope to help ensure stable temperatures throughout the building, and utilizes energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) to maintain healthy air quality and consistent indoor air temperatures.

In our mind, there is a strong argument that Passive House is the better standard for sustainable development, and when combined with sustainable building products for the interiors, it surpasses the LEED objectives in a very meaningful way. For an example: LEED buildings are found to use 25-30 percent less energy than non-LEED buildings, while Passive House buildings can reduce energy consumption in the range of 70 – 90 percent.

Julia Boland: How do you define low-impact living and community oriented design? What features in the building are different than traditional buildings as a result?  

Justin Palmer: We came up with the concept of low-impact living, as we felt that the word “sustainable” had been overused in the market-place. Our team and our investment partners truly feel that we are creating a much higher quality apartment experience in NYC, and wanted to make sure we differentiated PERCH Harlem from traditional rental buildings. Perch is designed to operate at energy levels that will be some of the lowest in the city for a building of our scale, and that holds true for each apartment. When combined with our design objectives, (using materials with low VOCs and low-impact appliances that are energy efficient, etc.) we have created spaces that are thoughtful and comfortable.

As for the community component, we recognized that renters are seeking more opportunities to interact with each other, especially in a building of 34 units. We want our neighbors to be able to interact without invading their personal space. We created a resident lounge that provides comfortable spaces for working, relaxing, and entertaining. In addition, we created a small indoor/outdoor roof lounge/terrace that will allow the tenants to enjoy the views from the top of the building and get outside when they are relaxing.

Relative to a traditional multi-family building, several features are unique, and I think the most relevant are:

  • 8″ insulation on front and rear reduces energy use, and sound of the outside of the building
  • High performance triple-pane windows tuned to the specific climate and solar conditions that improve comfort and sound proofing
  • ERVs and Central A/C: We are utilizing the ERVs to mechanically ventilate each unit. This system helps create and maintain a level temperature in each unit, while providing fresh clean air. While the need for a heating/cooling system is substantially reduced via the ERV, we were concerned about resident comfort with NYC’s extreme summer and winter season. Each apartment will have central heating and cooling providing our residents with complete climate control.
  • Each apartment will be compartmentalized to avoid the movement of air, sound, smell, etc. This allows the custom designed ventilation systems to work effectively and independently for each unit.

Julia Boland: Your website mentions that people living at Perch Harlem will be more comfortable. In what ways will people’s day-to-day life be affected?

Justin Palmer: The mechanical systems and the Passive House design provide consistent indoor temperatures in each unit, as well as a constant supply of fresh air. We are able provide this while reducing energy bills. Typical NYC apartments do not have an air tight façade and use PTAC units for heating and cooling, both of which allow for substantial swings in temperature in each apartment. We have essentially eliminated hot/cold spots in our apartments, so no more windows open in the winter while heat is blasting!

Ultimately, with more consistent indoor temperatures and air quality, we think our tenants will be happier, feel less fatigued, be less prone to illness, and feel that they are making a choice to live in a low-impact building that is helping reduce emissions in this city.

Julia Boland: What size will the apartments be and do you have prices yet?

Justin Palmer: One-bedrooms have an average size of 520 sf and two –bedrooms will have an average size of 795 sf. Our average pricing for each unit type is expected to range from $2,700 – $3,700 per-month, respectively.

Julia Boland: When will the units be completed and ready for move-in?

Justin Palmer: Completion is slated for late spring 2016 with move-ins expected to begin in the early summer.

Julia Boland: We noticed that Perch Living is registered as a Brand. Will you be building other Perch buildings in New York City soon?

Justin Palmer: We believe there is going to be very strong demand for Passive buildings in NYC, whether that is on the residential side or commercial. The benefits that we have talked about apply to the work-space as much as they do to your home. We are actively looking to grow the brand, and feel that we can scale it on a national level in urban markets.

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