US Builders Review                                                    

Changing the Course of Homebuilding: The Unity Home Displays a Better Way to Build at Greenbuild 2015

By: 
Molly Shaw

Tedd Benson, founder of Unity Homes, an off-site fabricator of high-performance homes based in Walpole, New Hampshire, is looking to change the traditional homebuilding equation. By improving longevity and delivering high-quality craftsmanship, Unity Homes is enhancing occupant’s overall quality of life in sustainable and beautiful, thoughtfully designed homes.

Benson started Unity Homes to raise the standard of homebuilding and to serve the public in a better way. “There’s a serious defect rate in American homes today — anywhere from 15 to 80%,” he says. “In any other industry if you had a defect rate of any more than 1%, you’d be out of business.”

Time to Raise the Bar

Despite serious defect rates today, Benson says the U.S. does have a strong homebuilding tradition, steeped in quality craftsmanship, but the industry has strayed from quality for the sake of rapid construction. “This standard was lost in the post-World War II years when stick built took over,” he explains. “This method allowed homes to go up with more speed, but they’re not built to last. The reality is that homes should last longer than they do now. ”

Since its inception, Unity Homes has looked to change the industry with a mission to: “through process and product, improve the quality of life,” by building to higher standards. “The home should not be a place of worry; it should be a place that elevates us,” says Benson.

“This is why Unity Homes uses high-quality materials and looks to the future when creating design concepts,” adds Benson. “Rather than building to today’s code standards, we want to surpass the ideas we have now and see how we will be expected to build decades from now. We’re looking at 2030 code standards, not just 2015.”

In addition to uplifting the quality of craftsmanship, Unity Homes is also building for the 21st century, which means fossil-fuel free construction and energy efficiency at the forefront of design. “Today, there’s no reason a home needs to operate using fossil fuels. We need to utilize renewable resources like wood and cellulose,” adds Benson.

Using sophisticated computer production modeling to build the home "virtually" before construction streamlines the process and reduces redundancy. A Unity Home is organized into useful layers for simpler construction, maintenance and future upgrades, incorporating renewable materials and low or no-VOC materials and finishes.

“Homes are typically poorly and inefficiently built, but Unity Home’s component-based construction benefits consumers because instead of cutting and shaping one piece at a time, Unity creates complete modules [for example: the complete bathroom, not just a separate sink, faucet, tub and drain],” explains Benson.

Unity Homes panel construction

Component Construction Goes Vertical in Just Three Days

Unity Homes took to the Expo Floor at the annual Greenbuild International Conference Nov. 18 through Nov. 20, in Washington, D.C., to showcase the advantages of streamlined module design, off-site fabrication and quality craftsmanship with rapid on-site assembly. The Greenbuild Unity Home is a 1,620-square-foot, full-size home, constructed on the expo floor in three days.

Unity Home’s virtual fabrication team developed a digital 3D model that incorporated all parts and pieces of the home. “The models allowed us to develop details for complex intersections, prevent conflicts between various components and build the panels and pods efficiently,” says John McElroy, jobsite captain at Greenbuild.

The careful planning and attention to detail helped Unity Home’s crew assemble the completed UnityHome inside the convention center. “It wasn’t easy to pull this off,” says McElroy. “But we learned a lot and the next one will be easier.”

The Zūm model is net-zero energy ready, and features a modern, light-filled open floor plan. The home demonstrates how high-quality design, engineering and construction can combine with practice and affordable features, state-of-the-art products and technologies to maximize performance, resiliency and sustainability, while enhancing the comfort, health and security of those who live in the space.

Greenbuild home in progress

Partners and pivotal products in design

The Unity Home is a collaboration project between Unity Homes, BUILDER and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2C).

The design incorporated several leading manufacturers and cutting-edge building materials and products from:

  • Intus Windows — Steel reinforced unplasticized PVC frames create the backbone of the Passive House-certified Arcade Window line. The windows feature triple-pane glazing and EPDM gaskets.
  • Kohler —The Sensate touchless kitchen faucet allows users to cook and clean up with a wave of the hand or placement of an object causing the sensor to activate.
  • GAF — Poprietary stablizers and UV absorvers help EverGuard Extreme TPO withstand the high heat environment of rooftop photovoltaic panels. The product is also C2C certified.
  • Advanta — Kitchen design incorporated a sleek slab door style with Studio Full Access C2C-certified cabinetry with a laminate surface, thermally fused to CARB2-compliant composite panel cores.
  • GE — Energy Star qualified 80-gallon Geospring Hybrid Water Heating was installed in the space of a standard 50-gallon tank, but is 69% more efficient.
  • IceStone — A C2C-certified Silver supplier, IceStone’s Portland cement, 100% recycled glass and nontoxic pigments were incorporated into design.
  • GreenFiber — Cel-Pak cellulose insulation comprised of 85% recycled materials are naturally resistant to fire and mold.
  • Huber Engineered Woods — With moisture protection and higher wood density than other materials, Huber’s Advantech subflooring stays flat without cupping, swelling or warping. Also used in the project, Hubner’s ZIP System’s wall and roof panels have a built-in moisture barrier that eliminates the need for housewrap or roofing felt.

The Unity Home has been inspected and tested according to LEED for Homes version 4 program requirements and is anticipated to achieve a LEED Platinum Certification when moved to its final destination in New Hampshire.

For Benson, it all comes back to increasing safety and security and making home a welcome place. “The safest place should be your home; it is where you live and it should be safe in every sense of the word, but also be beautiful,” he says. “This is what Unity Homes delivers.”

Benson says the company’s showcase at Greenbuild 2015 was a means for Unity Homes show its products are very accessible. “Our ambitious goal is to allow anyone to have this type of home if they desire,” he says. “We continue to develop our systems and processes and we’re sharing them, so we, as developers and builders, can bring quality to consumers sooner.” Rising well above current American standards, Unity Homes is changing the course of homebuilding by delivering more value and improving quality of life for its clients.