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Sustainable Building Techniques for Your Home: An Interview with Gita Nandan of Thread Collective

By Gita Nandan

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Thread collective is an award winning architecture firm; we explore the seams between building, city, and the environment, stitching together these diverse elements through innovative design and research. Our projects range from ground up architecture to urban planning and landscape design, working from an extensive and deep knowledge base with over 15 years of practice. We seek to understand the complexity of the site and the needs of the client to weave a unique and sustainable environment.

Our most recent projects include a net-zero Brooklyn brownstone, the NYC headquarters for a national media company, and a 6,000sf lakefront family compound. Since Superstorm Sandy hit our region, over the past two years we have focused on incorporating resiliency into each project to ensure our clients are protected from future climate change events. We work within the Tri-state region, licensed in New York and New Jersey.

Can you briefly explain what a certified LEED building is?

A LEED building is one that has met the certification criteria set by the United States Green Building Council. thread collective works closely with the Urban Green Council, the NYC local chapter. LEED buildings are categorized according to how many points they achieve, and are awarded Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum status. We have now worked on half a dozen LEED buildings both residential and commercial.

The LEED rating system is a good method for providing a third party verification that attests the sustainable achievements of a project. LEED-Homes is helpful in that it provides homeowners with a platform for the design and construction team, including the General Contractor, to follow the same sustainable goals, and actually attain them. LEED is different than Passive House in that LEED looks holistically at sustainable systems, while Passive House is focused on energy efficiency. Both are important certifications in sustainable development.

What are some key questions for a future "green" homeowner to ask before the design process begins?

The first question we ask our clients is "what is your goal". This sets the direction of the project and what to focus on. With every decision in the design and construction of a home or building there are multiple options, so understanding what the owner's goals are help to drive those decisions. For instance, if an owner wants to be both energy efficient and create a non-toxic interior environment we would choose one type of insulation over another.

Other questions a homeowner might look at are: What size home do I really need, and are there rooms that can be multi-functioning? How involved do I want to be in the operation of the home? What are my current energy bills?

How popular are sustainable and energy-efficient homes? What are some of the top benefits for homeowners?

Sustainable homes are becoming more and more mainstream for several reasons and provide great benefit to the homeowner: First and typically the most important benefit is low-energy costs. Energy prices are escalating and as our resources are becoming scarcer, energy efficiency is now a focus. We tell our clients that while this may seem un-important now, in the future you will be quite happy that you had the forethought to build in a way that allows you comfort without the expense.

A second benefit is that technology has become standardized and easily available so building an energy efficient home does not need to be strange or hard to maintain. Triple pane windows are now available through most major brands; typical mechanical heating and cooling systems are produced to achieve high efficiency modes. A third benefit, especially to those living along the coastal edge of Long Island, is resiliency. Resiliency is a direct part of how we think about sustainability and the two are interconnected. A homeowner that choses to build a resilient sustainable home will, in the end have shelter, power, and water when emergencies arise.

What are the most commonly used sustainable features in Long Island homes?

There are many--most features that are common to sustainable homes can be found in Long Island. But Long Island is very suitable to solar and geo-thermal. Solar because homes there are spread out and have access to the sun without being shaded by their neighbors. Geo-thermal is a ground source heat exchange system that when connected to solar powered pumps can be a nearly net-zero energy heating source. Since Long Island has a high water table in many areas, a geo-thermal loop system can be cost-effective to install. Thread Collective now has incorporated solar and geo-thermal successfully in many homes.

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing and building environmentally conscious homes?

The design of the home is typically not the challenge, as the technology has become so advanced and the materials to create incredibly energy efficient homes more mainstreamed. The challenge is most often in the construction--finding a knowledgeable and experienced General Contractor who understands the details of how these buildings should be built is important. There are simple techniques and principles that if known can be easily identified and managed on site. thread collective is deeply involved in the construction process, and at the construction site often, more often than most architects, but the construction process still requires a team effort.

The individual building the final product is a key component to the success of the project. We have also worked with builders that are smart and eager to learn these types of techniques and that can be a good working relationship as well.

How do the costs of building and maintaining an eco-friendly home compare with those of a typical home?

This is hard to determine since it depends on what you are comparing. While a sustainable building may be a bit more in the up-front costs, it saves the home-owner over time, in annual utilities bills (which are ever-increasing), health expenses, and maintenance costs. In addition these homes are more durable than other homes because of the attention to building detail. Such cost-benefits are not factored into a typical home. Studies have shown that the 5%-20% cost increase can have a payback between 5 and 10 years.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with your company?

They can email at gita@threadcollective.com or call our office 718.666.1964 to discuss the details of your project. Please visit our website www.threadcollective.com to see our portfolio.

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About The Author

Gita Nandan is the Lead Architect at Thread Collective.

Phone: 718-666-1964

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