Yet another large step in the quest to make green building efficient and more affordable: Green building leader Bensonwood Homes has constructed a prototype net zero-energy home that was recently awarded LEED Platinum status, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest rating for green building construction.
The Unity Home, currently occupied by the president of environmentally focused Unity College and his wife, uses widely available green building strategies including passive heating, tight thermal insulation and concrete slab foundation (which allows the home to stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer). These low-energy techniques work so well that even in the cold Maine winter, the homeowners rarely need to rely on the rooftop solar panels for energy to heat their home.
The home is also engineered for easy repair, adaptation and resilience. Interior walls can be detached and moved from place to place using simple tools, allowing residents to change the use of rooms as their own needs change. And Bensonwood's patented Open-Built building system uses a modular structure that allows easy access for repair to the home's mechanical systems (the company's description of why this works reminded me a bit of Interface's famous floor tiles ... if you spill your wine, you simply pop up one tile and replace instead of writing off the whole rug).
Unity is the second home to be designed and constructed under the Open Prototype Intitiative (OPI). This program, run by the MIT House_n Research Consortium, Bensonwood Homes and other industry partners, aims to advance technologies and techniques for building affordable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes, and to share that information openly across the building industry.
We've extolled the virtues of prefab building in both this 2005 article and this recent interview. Ease and efficiency of manufacturing are these homes' biggest assets, allowing them to but built off-site both quickly and at less cost than a traditional home, resulting in a smaller construction footprint. (Incidentally, prototype homes are also terrific options for earth-friendly urban infill, though this house looks like it is built in a low-density area).
Bensonwood's Unity homes range in price from the high $300Ks to the high $500Ks, putting them out of reach for many. But if this prototype/prefab model is successful with homebuyers, we hope to see prices drop further in the years to come.
We applaud Bensonwood, as well as MIT and other OPI affiliates, for their effort to advance the practice of green building.
Photos courtesy of Bensonwood Homes.
Buyers should note that while the prototype may have been certified as LEED Platinum, this would include significant efforts to reduce the ecological impacts of site development.