In 2018 Syracuse, NY-based architect Tom King was excited to be an early solutions provider in NYSERDA’s RetrofitNY program, exploring approaches to scale up retrofits in New York State. The pilot project he became involved with was a housing complex in Phoenix, New York that was typical of the state’s low-rise multifamily housing and, thus, a good candidate for developing replicable approaches. The Christopher Court is a 40-unit, two-story, wood-framed complex of five buildings. As enthused as King was about adapting an Energiesprong-style approach to retrofits, the project stalled partly because King ran into a solid wall of retrofit product gaps. No all-in-one mechanical system existed that would be appropriate for the retrofit of this complex.
King, who has degrees in both engineering and architecture, responded to this frustrating gap by taking a leap of faith and starting TKFabricate (TKF). In the intervening four years TKF has received funding from NYSERDA’s Advanced Buildings NexGen HVAC Innovation Challenge and DOE’s Advanced Building Construction Initiative to prototype an all-in-one HVAC pod, unofficially dubbed HydroPod for now. “Think of it as a pre-assembled mechanical room in-a-box, delivered to a site,” says King. The pod includes heating, cooling, DHW, ERV, dehumidification, controls, and monitoring capabilities. A single air source heat pump manages the heating and cooling loads, while the ERV maintains indoor air quality. King has another central system pod also in the works, which is designed to integrate with buildings that have existing fossil fuel-based central heating and DHW plants and are being switched over to heat pump-based central plants.
The HydroPod is currently being tested at Syracuse University and will be piloted in single-family-style attached graduate student apartments there, as well as at Christopher Court by late 2022 and early 2023. His central system pods will also be deployed at RMI’s REALIZE projects in Boston and California. The REALIZE program aims to prove out prefabricated retrofit solutions that are cost effective, climate specific, and aligned with limiting global climate change to 1.5°C.
The end goal for both of King’s pod systems is to make low-carbon, high-performance retrofits simpler for building owners while minimizing construction disruptions to the tenants, smoothing the path for retrofits at a large scale. For tenants, the pods’ secondary benefit is the liberation and repurposing of the space inside an apartment that was previously taken up by mechanical equipment—more storage space at last. Building owners, meanwhile, gain the ability to change filters and provide other routine maintenance services to the pods’ systems without having to intrude on tenants’ living spaces.
“We have firm commitments to install our pods—both iterations—in about 35 projects that altogether total to 75 units,” King says, continuing, “and have a great trajectory to get to low-volume demonstration and beyond. I took a leap into the unknown to start this company and to develop new products. None of this work would have had such early success if RMI and the RetrofitNY program hadn’t believed in me and in the future of industrialized whole-building renovations and decarbonization at scale.”
King’s determination to provide solutions for large-scale low-carbon retrofits has him simultaneously working to fill the market gap for another retrofit product: a carbon-neutral façade panel. The team is in the early feasibility stage on the development of this retrofit panel with SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Stay tuned!
This article was published in the June 2022 Passive House Accelerator magazine. To read the whole magazine, click here.