Women in Construction: Nicole Tysvaer Discovers New Career as Entrepreneur
Updated: Jul 7
By: Mike Plotnick, Construct Utopia, Jun. 07, 2021
Former educator seeks to expand sustainable housing options.
A doctoral degree in education is an unconventional credential for a homebuilding career, but it served as a gateway for Nicole Tysvaer, Ph.D., to discover her passion for expanding sustainable living options.
Tysvaer spent the first 20 years of her career working in youth development and job training programming, with a heavy emphasis on the construction trades. But it wasn’t until she built a new home for her family in 2010 that she realized how much she enjoyed construction.
“I was finishing my dissertation at the time and absolutely fell in love with the building process,” she recalls. “I took a vacant lot and turned it into a gorgeous home—and I was just smitten.”
The experience altered the course of Tysvaer’s career—and she hasn’t looked back since joining the world of women in construction. “After the project was complete, the builder, architect, and I all had a champagne toast and said, ‘Hey, let's do another project.’ And we’ve been working together ever since.”
HOW GALAXY HOMES AND SYMBI HOMES GOT STARTED
In 2014, she launched Galaxy Homes, a custom homebuilder in Washington, D.C., together with building industry veteran Matt Kulp. She’s vice president of sustainability for the company, which specializes in constructing and remodeling high-performance houses that maximize energy efficiency.
Tysvaer also serves as CEO of Symbi Homes, a residential development business she co-founded with Kulp and architect John Linam, AIA, in 2018. The firm is broadening the marketplace for single-family homes by focusing on wellness, energy-efficiency, and technology. Its latest demonstration project—Symbi Duplex One—is a net-zero energy ready duplex in Mount Rainier, Md.
“We started with a theory that there was a market for houses with smaller footprints that were loaded with sustainable and smart home features,” she says. “The purpose of the project was to prove to investors that it was a viable model.”
Four months before construction wrapped up, Symbi Duplex One was already under contract. Each 3,200-square-foot unit incorporates a flexible floor plan with a first-floor home office that can be converted into a master bedroom and a self-contained apartment in the basement that can also function as quarantine space. “The entire first floor is designed so someone can age in place, with an ADA-accessible bathroom and three-foot-wide doorways,” Tysvaer says.
Her typical workday begins with 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation, a practice that helps ground her for whatever the day may bring. “As a builder, you never really know what's going to come your way when you wake up in the morning,” says Tysvaer...