Synapse: The Developer Who Wants To Be The Tesla Of Housing

Justin Palmer, the CEO and founder of Synapse, a development group focused on innovative construction methods, he wants to do for the housing market what Tesla did for electric cars.

“We really look to a design company like Tesla for a lot of inspiration, because everyone was a naysayer,” Palmer said in Co.Design. ” The traditional car manufacturers told them, nobody will ever buy it, you don’t have enough range, it can’t be done. Well, we heard it all, too.”

Synapse and investment partners built Perch, a seven-story building in Harlem Heights to meet Passivhaus a rigorous German energy efficiency standard. It is the first market-rate rental building in the city to do so. In order to accomplish this, it had to perform to specific energy metrics across four criteria. Features of the Perch include triple insulation, strategically placed windows, and high-tech heat exchangers that heat and cool the interior while recycling air. The Perch is designed to cut up to 90% of energy and gas usage of a traditional building.

“We’re trying to provide a solution to the high carbon footprint that most cities have from the built environment, as well as solve the ongoing affordability issue through intelligent design,” Palmer said in CD, saying reliable energy metrics offer “better risk-adjusted returns to our investment partners.”

“We started getting into building science, trying to understand: What’s the most efficient way to rehab a building? What’s the most efficient way to design a building?” Palmer said. His plans for Perch began in 2013, with visits to labs at 3M and DuPont to research the newest systems of engineering. “We took the opportunity to build a higher-end, fully passive structure, thinking, okay, if we’re going to build this from scratch, let’s build it the right way and still include all of the things other developers focus on.”

In the future, Palmer hopes to see Perch help make buildings with passive energy saving techniques secure a foothold among the younger, more eco-conscious generation of renters.

He worked with architect Chris Benedict, a Brooklyn-based architect with a strong track record of meeting passive building standards without including extra costs.

Palmer explained that these passive-certified structures come rich with data metrics that demonstrate a 90% energy usage savings over time, which is an appealing point for potential investors and helps overcome the common challenges of securing an investment for a green concept. 

“Just like any other product, you have to prove your concept, and we were fortunate that we had investment partners to let us do that,” he said.