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Making Sustainable Homes the New Normal

Tedd Benson Speaks at Greenbuild 2015, Washington, D.C.

 By Rick Reynolds


In order to fulfill its social contract with homebuyers, the building industry has a moral obligation to make high quality, low-energy, life-inspiring, sustainable homes that are at the same time, affordable and worthy of the role they play in peoples’ lives; this according to Tedd Benson, founder of both Bensonwood and its sister homebuilding company, Unity Homes, who spoke at the Greenbuild 2015 conference.

To reach this lofty goal, Benson exhorted that this new, higher design/build standard must be the natural outcome of an overhauled process wherein logic, organization, technology and methodology disrupt the status quo in site-built homebuilding, or “stick building,” as it is unceremoniously known.

In characterizing stick building as a hopelessly outdated methodology—where commodities and disaggregated parts are delivered to the raw building site—Benson emphasized that quality control, efficiency and waste reduction become all but impossible to achieve. Instead, Benson maintained, a better standard is one that incorporates a finite number of value-added, integrated building elements, created off-site under controlled conditions—where quality, efficiency, and consistency can be assured—leaving the build site for precision assembly only.

Underscoring Benson’s talk was the Greenbuild Unity demonstration home, assembled in three days inside the Greenbuild Expo Hall by Unity Homes, Hanley Wood, and a host of world-class suppliers. Here, attendees stood in long lines to   tour the forward-looking home and see and feel what a sustainable future could look like. The zero energy-ready home, part of the Zūm platform, like all low-energy Unity Home offerings, is available today.

A strong proponent of Open Building—as first described in separate ways by the visionaries Stewart Brand and John Habraken, where houses are designed according to how they live over time—Benson emphasized that flexibility and adaptability are essential to creating sustainable, long-life buildings. In Open-Built®, Benson’s own practical version of Open Building, disentanglement of the mechanical and structural layers is essential in ensuring homes naturally iterate to support many generations of lives. Ultimately, through dimensional coordination and embedded technology that monitors performance and triggers service, residential building design can allow successive homeowners and their families the flexibility to adapt to the inevitable life changes everyone faces.

Benson concluded his remarks by saying that, in scaling up these ideas and increasing production, a higher standard in housing, where houses are built to last for centuries and warrantees outlast their mortgages, can be made more affordable for everyone, and as such, more democratic.

Unity Homes was honored as one of Building Green’s “Top 10 Products for 2016.” The modern, wedge-shaped Zūm demonstration home, featured at Greenbuild 15, was awarded “Best of Show” by


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