Unity House: A Prototype for 21st Century Homebuilding

The OPEN Prototype Initiative Unveils Unity House - A Mass-Producible,

Customizable, Sustainable, and Adaptable Green Home

Apr 28, 2008, 01:00 ET from Unity College

    UNITY, Maine, April 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Unlike people, not
 all houses are created equal. Now, even the most entrenched principles
 around which houses have been built are being challenged. Today's builders
 of tomorrow's homes are addressing a whole new reality: that to be truly
 durable and sustainable, houses should be able to adapt to homeowners'
 needs over time. Moreover, this adaptability must be achieved with minimal
 impact to the environment. This involves nothing less than the reinvention
 of the home. But, how do you change a building industry that has held fast
 to conventional wisdom?
     According to the OPEN Prototype Initiative (OPI), the answer lies in
 the Open-Built(R) system of home construction, the nexus of future
 homebuilding. OPI is a program of the MIT House_n Research Consortium,
 Bensonwood Homes, and other industry partners. Its goal is to improve
 homebuilding across the country and to make homes more affordable,
 adaptable, and environmentally friendly. OPI has developed a process that
 makes it possible to construct thousands of environmentally friendly
 Net-Zero homes (which produce as much energy as they consume) and is
 sharing these innovations with the entire building industry.
     "There are countless examples of green homes, but the industry has not
 developed a process to affordably mass produce these homes," said Kent
 Larson, director of the MIT House_n Research Consortium. "The OPEN
 Prototype Initiative has developed scalable processes, such as
 prefabrication and the separation of core services that, when followed,
 enable builders to create thousands of customizable Net-Zero homes that are
 being made more affordable right now."
     OPEN_1, the first house built by OPI, used green building concepts such
 as energy-efficient wall, window, roof, and lighting systems; advanced
 tracking of energy use; and provisions for the best possible indoor air
 quality. The design and construction processes of the Open-Built(R) system
 demonstrate ways building assemblies can be fabricated off-site, with
 integrated systems for plumbing, heating and cooling, and exterior siding.
 Off-site pre-finishing of construction elements allows for faster on-site
 assembly and thousands of pounds of less waste and debris.
     The second home being built by the OPI, dubbed "Unity House," is the
 on-campus home for the president of Unity College. Unity College is a small
 school in Unity, Maine, with an environmentally focused curriculum. It was
 important to Mitch Thomashow, the President of Unity College (author of two
 well-known books on environmentalism), that his home reflect the college's
 environmental commitment.
     The house is scheduled to be assembled on-site in May and will serve as
 a single family residence, an on-campus meeting and entertaining space, as
 well as a classroom -- all possible because of Open-Built(R) technologies.
     Designed for Net-Zero energy use, the 1,930 square foot home will
 achieve LEED Platinum standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental
 Design), feature a photovoltaic (PV) solar panel array, and be a living
 classroom for college students. Because of these attributes and it's
 advanced prefabrication techniques, Unity House will be featured on an
 upcoming episode of This Old House, the PBS television home improvement
     "Unity House and the OPEN Prototype Initiative embody the principles of
 Unity College, including environmental leadership, sustainability, and
 collaborative and experiential learning," said Thomashow. "We are America's
 environmental college, and with Unity House we are proud to be a part of an
 effort to reframe America's building industry, making the mass-production
 of custom environmentally friendly homes a reality."
     A key to the OPI, and one of the main elements that separates the home
 and the building process from other green or prototype home projects, is
 the use of Open-Built(R) principles. Open-Built(R) thinking takes a layered
 approach to building, with each layer defined by its life span and
 anticipated need for future alteration. The high quality homes resulting
 from this process are built rapidly and with minimal waste. Homeowners can
 easily move or remove walls and fixtures, access swiftly evolving
 technologies or adapt the home to the changing needs of the occupants.
     For example, Unity House can be altered at its core, allowing walls to
 be moved or removed with the use of simple tools, rather than dealing with
 the mess of tearing down sheetrock. Preproduction in a controlled shop
 environment improves the quality of the home while reducing on-site waste.
 The average new homebuilding project today creates 8,000 pounds of on-site
 waste and can take from 9 months to a year or more to complete. Goals for
 the entire Unity House project include producing less than three barrels of
 on-site waste and completing on-site construction in only 20 working days.
     The architects/designers for Unity House are Hilary Harris and Randall
 Walter of Bensonwood Homes, with input from Kent Larson at MIT. Harris is a
 certified expert in environmental design and co-author of the Vermont
 Builds Greener Program, which certifies residential buildings constructed
 to sustainable criteria. She believes it's not enough for a home just to be
 green; it also must be flexible enough to meet the individual needs of
     "Very few people have the ability today to design and build a home that
 meets their needs," adds Harris. "Beyond just outlining a way to affordably
 build green homes, this initiative shows we can and should be building
 homes that can fit the needs of the homeowner, rather than forcing them to
 live within the current design of the house. What good is a green home if
 it can't adapt to change?"
     Tedd Benson, the founder of Bensonwood Homes, is nationally recognized
 for revitalizing and modernizing the timberframe industry three decades
 ago. Over the years Bensonwood Homes has continued to be a leading
 innovator, being among the first American builders to use Computer
 Numerically Controlled (CNC) machinery and one of the first to adopt 3-D
 modeling software for home design. But far and away the greatest innovation
 of Bensonwood, and central to this project, is in taking open building to a
 whole new level of sophistication, integrating all the layers of houses
 into a modern, Open-Built(R) design and manufacturing process. Benson and
 MIT's Larson believe OPI is creating a blueprint for a better way to build
     "Ultimately, the OPEN Prototype Initiative will lead to greater
 efficiencies," says Benson. When architects, builders, and suppliers begin
 adopting Open-Built(R) technologies, homes will become disentangled,
 enabling the industry to create a series of standardized systems and
 processes that increase efficiency and reduce costs, without sacrificing
     About the OPEN Prototype Initiative: The OPEN Prototype Initiative is a
 program of the MIT House_n Research Consortium, Bensonwood Homes and other
 industry partners. The overarching goal of the initiative is to improve the
 way homes are built in America, making them more affordable, adaptable, and
 environmentally friendly while sharing these innovations with the entire
 industry. The OPI is developing a series of prototype homes to be designed
 and constructed every 18-24 months. The first prototype, OPEN_1, was
 completed in the fall of 2006 in Greenfield, New Hampshire. The second
 house, known as Unity House has been designed, and is being fabricated at
 Bensonwood's Walpole, New Hampshire facilities. It is scheduled to be
 assembled on site at Unity, Maine, in the spring of 2008. For more
 information go to www.openprototype.com.
     About MIT House_n: House_n is a Department of Architecture research
 group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which explores how new
 technologies, materials, and strategies for design can make possible
 dynamic, evolving places that respond to the complexities of life. Other
 major House_n initiatives include The PlaceLab and the Open Source Building
 Alliance. For more information, go to http://architecture.mit.edu/house_n.
     About Bensonwood: For more than thirty years, Bensonwood has delivered
 uncompromising quality and innovation in timberframe, hybrid, and high
 performance building. Winner of PATH's 2006 Innovative Small Builder of the
 Year award, Bensonwood is a nationally recognized designer/builder of
 residential and commercial structures. Through its unique Open-Built(R)
 system, Bensonwood has been incorporating advanced technologies and
 environmentally responsible practices in all its buildings. For more
 information, go to www.bensonwood.com.
     About Unity College: Known as "America's Environmental College," Unity
 College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated,
 engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the
 environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to
 be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens
 through active learning experiences within a supportive community. For more
 information, go to www.unity.edu.
     About the Industry Partners/Sponsors
     Designer/builders of innovative, Open-Built(R) timberframe, hybrid, and
 other high performance homes and commercial buildings. www.bensonwood.com
     Delivering a broad range of products and services to customers in 160
 countries, connecting chemistry and innovation with the principles of
 sustainability. www.dow.com
     J.M. Huber Corporation
     Providing a broad range of industries with innovative products and
 services in three sectors: Engineered Materials, Natural Resources, and
 Technology-Based Services. www.huber.com
     Crown Point Cabinetry
     Premier custom cabinetmakers for period style kitchens, baths, and
 other rooms.
     A leading distributor of sustainable, green energy products and
 services, delivering and installing solar power systems for residential and
 commercial customers. www.groSolar.com
     Hallowell International
     Manufacturing revolutionary heating and cooling products that meet the
 needs of customers and our environment. www.gotohallowell.com
     Hodell-Natco Industries
     Full-service, wholesale distributors of specialty fastener and chain
 products. www.hodell-natco.com
     Loyalist Forest
     Suppliers of fine wood products from our sustainable forestscape.
     Stevens Roofing Systems
     Manufacturers and marketers of technically-advanced, commercial roofing
 materials. www.stevensroofing.com

SOURCE Unity College