Green, High-Performance, Multi-Family Housing

Coming to a factory near you

By Rick Reynolds

Montage builder, Bensonwood, long known for its off-site fabrication of high performance residential and commercial wood structures, is ramping up its production capacity to accommodate an increased demand for green, healthy, multi-family housing. The imperative for wise land and energy use is making these sustainable, multi-family construction projects more and more attractive to civic planners, developers, and builders, as well as for homebuyers, and renters. This trend is no accident.

Environmentally sensitive and operationally sustainable multifamily properties are important for both construction professionals and consumers alike. Multi-unit housing, by definition, is more densely designed than single-family houses, which decreases the amount of land and construction materials needed per unit.

For construction professionals in particular, schedule shortening is key. Maintaining a job on site costs a lot of money. Alternately, shortening production time at the build site shortens management time, site insurance, cleanup, and the delay of income stream from sales or rentals. Efficient, non-linear*, off-site fabrication of multi-unit housing, concurrent with site work, shortens time on site, ultimately reducing financial exposure (risk) and waste.

Southface EntranceOn the consumer side, both buyers and tenants benefit from the enhanced indoor environmental quality, drastically reduced operational costs through the pooling of shared heating/cooling resources, and lower maintenance costs. When built to LEED and Passive House standards—benchmarks more easily achieved through off-site fabrication—and accompanied by Energy Star protocols, these operational costs can dwindle to mere pennies on the dollar every year throughout the life of the building.

For consumers and construction professionals alike, high performance in multi-unit housing is important precisely because it can make sound ecological and economic sense.

Not surprisingly, market forces play a role here. Due to low turnover, there is a shortage of existing, affordable, high-performance, single-family homes. Moreover, those interested in a custom built, high performance, single-family house generally intend to remain in the home for a number of years, which leaves little inventory on the market. Rentals and sales of green, multi-family units, in contrast, are typically occupied on shorter horizons, with annual leases or owner up-sizing often determining increased turnover. Therefore, green, multi-unit residences will increasingly become the more available choice for many seeking healthy, high-performance living at a lower price point.

Southface Village Condo InteriorBensonwood, known for its lean building practices and high performance building systems is the natural choice for low to mid-rise, multi-family construction. With its in-house architects, engineers, virtual fabricators, project managers, CAD driven, computer numeric controlled (CNC) panelized fabrication facilities, and experienced on-site installers, Bensonwood both manufactures and manages, delivering consistent quality, on time and on budget.

The company’s montage building protocol leads to better energy efficiency, passive house levels of air tightness, and consistent quality from factory-built components that all but eliminate manufacturing mistakes.

A case in point is SouthFace Village, a ski-in, ski-out community at Okemo, in Ludlow VT, where Bensonwood has completed the first of three high-end, 2-story, 14-unit complexes, with the second one near completion. Out of 500 panels and 63 truckloads per building, only a handful of panels required any modification on site to install.

Southface condo kitchenBensonwood architect, Randall Walter designed the two slope-side buildings— Sugar Maple and Tamarack—with the environmentally sensitive site (in an environmentally progressive state) foremost in his mind. Walter’s plans passed an extensive review period. And with his extensive space planning experience, clients buying condos made very few changes to the floor plans. Buyers, almost to a person, liked what they saw on the plans. In the end, everything fit. Everything worked the way it was supposed to.

Notably, the Bensonwood brand was used in marketing. Ted Rossi, the developer of SouthFace Village would tell condo buyers: “You’re buying a Bensonwood,” signifying the built-in value.


Soutfcae Condo sitting roomOther multi-unit projects currently in the Bensonwood pipeline include two different 16-unit, 3-story apartment buildings in two different states, designed by two different outside architects. Bensonwood will faithfully convert their plans to its Montage design/build systems to ensure predictable quality and performance. More on these developments in an upcoming post.