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Sustainable Duplex Design

After more than five years of research and prototype development, SYMBI completed its first demonstration project, “SYMBI Duplex One,” in March 2021. The Mt. Rainier, Md., project – which is Green Builder’s 2022 Home of the Year winner in the Most Sustainable Multifamily Residence category—was built as a side-by-side duplex of five bedrooms and four full bathrooms, as well as a one-bedroom basement apartment with separate entrance.

By: Alan Naditz

Photo of duplex home in the blue hour

What good is a sustainable home if there’s no way for people to enjoy it? That’s the question that construction specialists Nicole Tysvaer, Matt Kulp, and John Linam asked themselves a few years into collaborating on custom new homes and remodels around the Washington, D.C. area.

In 2018, they decided it was time to handle matters themselves when it came to sustainable housing. “We are all passionate about sustainability but found few opportunities to build green in the custom market,” says Tysvaer. “Therefore, after completing three energy-efficient prototypes and creating a model that could be replicated on a larger scale, we launched SYMBI as our real estate development company.”

After more than five years of research and prototype development, SYMBI completed its first demonstration project, “SYMBI Duplex One,” in March 2021. The Mt. Rainier, Md., project – which is Green Builder’s 2022 Home of the Year winner in the Most Sustainable Multifamily Residence category—was built as a side-by-side duplex of five bedrooms and four full bathrooms, as well as a one-bedroom basement apartment with separate entrance.

Key features of a SYMBI home include air and water filtration, biophilic designs that connect home to nature, a highly insulated pre­fabricated shell, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) certification, and ongoing home performance monitoring.

Other sustainability features include an energy-efficient five-zone Mitsubishi heat pump HVAC system, advanced thermal moisture protection with an exterior Benjamin Obdyke Slicker MAX rainscreen, WaterSense plumbing fixtures and LED lighting throughout, eco-friendly Amorim WISE Cork flooring, Sherwin-Williams Harmony zero VOC paint, age-in-place first-floor design, and advanced air and water filtration. The home also features beyond code-level insulation (R-22 walls and R-47 roof).

According to Tysvaer, who is now SYMBI’s CEO (Kulp and Linam serve as the company’s vice president of production and vice president of design, respectively), Duplex One was designed with replication in mind. Built on a single-family lot, the units boast higher ceilings and more glass to create spaciousness and maximize storage.

“We started this company with a theory that we could build to a smaller footprint, load up our homes with a host of sustainable features, sell for a price point similar to conventional construction, and appeal to a whole new generation of buyers,” she says. “We exceeded our expectations!”

As a result of the lack of net-zero new construction around the D.C. area, SYMBI Duplex One sold out halfway through the construction process. Both units were purchased by millennial couples with a deep appreciation for SYMBl’s environmental consciousness, Tysvaer notes.

In addition, the project spawned a waitlist of interested buyers. “SYMBl’s enlightened approach to home building has achieved a very desirable sweet spot in green residential construction, filling the gulf between mass-produced prefab affordable housing projects and the super high-end custom net-zero homes unattainable to most,” Tysvaer says. “Duplex One incorporated a holistic pathway to sustainability, while also reflecting a superior level of craftmanship, quality, and beauty.”

Key Components

Following are key components and systems used in SYMBI Duplex One.

Appliances: Frigidaire 10.1 cubic foot top freezer apartment size refrigerator; Frigidaire built-in dishwasher with BladeSpray wash arm; Samsung 19.1 cubic foot freestanding 4-door counter depth refrigerator; Samsung 6.3 cubic foot slide-in electric convection range oven; Frigidaire 1.8 cubic foot over-the-range microwave oven; Samsung 1.9 cubic foot 950 watt built-in countertop microwave; Maytag 4.8 cubic foot front load washer; Maytag 37.3 cubic foot electric front load dryer.

Bath Fixtures: Rachal 49-inch wall-mounted single bathroom vanity set; TOTO Drake 0.8/1.28 gallons per flush (GPF) dual-flush two piece elongated toilet; Delta Linden Monitor 17 Series Dual Function Pressure Balanced Shower Only with In2ition Shower Head and Integrated Volume Control. Delta Monitor 17 Series Dual Function Pressure Balanced Shower System with Integrated Volume Control; Vigo Noma 1.2 gallons per minute (GPM) single-hole bathroom faucet.

Countertops: Recycled Paperstone; Caeserstone

Envelope: Benjamin Obdyke FlatWrap HP house wrap, Slicker MAX 2SQ, HydroFlash LA liquid flashing material, HydroFlash UV+ flashing tape, Invisiwrap UV, and Batten UV; Allura housewrap and rainscreen; Lignia open joint rainscreen.

Exterior Finishes: Allura lap siding; Allura board-and-batten; Lignia open joint thermal wood accents; Sherwin-Williams exterior paint.

Flooring: Amorim Wise Cork flooring; porcelain tile; LIGNIA flatsawn thermal wood.

Home Controls: Brilliant Smart Home System; Resideo’s WiFi Water Leak & Freeze detector.

HVAC: Mitsubishi heat pump HVAC system

Interior Finishes: Sherwin Williams Harmony zero VOC interior acrylic latex paint.

Kitchen: Pyramid solid surface countertop basin sink; Delta Essa single handle pull down touch activated kitchen faucet; Signature Hardware Sitka stainless steel single bowl undermount kitchen sink with sound dampening; Signature Hardware Ravenel single handle pull-down kitchen faucet.

Lighting: LED

Plumbing/Plumbing Fixtures: WaterSense plumbing fixtures

Windows, Skylights, Doors: Marvin Signature Essential (windows) and Marvin Elevate (doors); Kwikset Milan Passage Door Lever Set.

Images courtesy of James Loren Payne, J. Loren Photography.

This article originally appeared on Green Builder Media and is reprinted with permission.

Alan Naditz
managing editor, Green Builder magazine

Alan Naditz is the managing editor of Green Builder magazine. He has covered numerous industries in his extensive career, including residential and commercial construction, small and corporate business, real estate, and sustainability.

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