Unity Blog

Unlocking the Advantages of Panelization in Island Construction

Benefits and Challenges of Building on Islands

Constructing a new home on an island, whether near freshwater or surrounded by ocean, presents unique benefits to homeowners despite its challenges. Living on an island offers scenic beauty, privacy, and a peaceful environment. It promotes an active lifestyle with ample outdoor activities and a strong sense of community. Islands often have reduced pollution levels and noise, providing a cleaner and more serene living experience. There are, however, added challenges to building a home on island terrain—including labor shortages, difficult shipping logistics, and exposure to extreme elements. Unity has a long history and expertise in offsite construction methods, offering durable panelized homes with innumerable benefits for those looking to build on difficult terrain. Unity guides prospective homeowners through design, technical, and logistical considerations, ensuring the creation of a comfortable, lasting high-performance home.

The Value of Unity’s System

The main value of utilizing Unity is the guaranteed labor for the largest part of the build process: the prefabrication and installation of the weather-tight high-performance shell. Labor can be scarce among limited island resources, often with increased competition among homebuilders to secure dates and guarantee the build timeline. Many islands, like Chebeague Island in Maine, have town offices that limit the release of building permits throughout the year to manage time and disturbance.

Benefits of Unity’s Panelized Approach to Homebuilding:

  • Simultaneous Site and Home Development – Prefabricated panels can be manufactured at the same time as the site and foundation work, greatly speeding up the process and minimizing construction time on site.
  • Quick Onsite Raisings – The Unity Building Systems crew will also raise the structure within days, minimizing noise and disruption for neighbors.
  • Climate-Controlled Construction – Building a new home is also a significant investment that you will want to protect in the long run. Offsite construction frontloads the work in a climate-controlled factory, meaning materials are less exposed to elements, greatly reducing risks of mold and deterioration over time and protecting your investment.
  • Ease of Shipping to Remote Areas – In terms of material handling when building in remote areas, materials often need to be shipped to the island due to limited access. Panels are preferable over modular units in this case as they are compact enough to be easily transported by ferries and barges. While some islands can accommodate big trucks by way of bridges, others may require the use of a barge or even helicopters for transport, in which panels are an excellent fit.  
  • Expedited Build Process – One main benefit of Unity’s panelized components is that the materials are already fully insulated and complete before shipping, greatly expediting the build process and overall timeline. 

Technical and Design Guidance

Building on an island involves numerous technical, design, and aesthetic considerations that Unity can expertly guide you through. While Unity’s panels are robust enough to withstand coastal winds as is, island projects may require additional engineering to include fortified hardware and connections between the panels. Island foundations can also pose challenges, such as rocky terrain and high water tables, typically making slab-on-grade foundation the most economical option (although walkout or full basements are possible depending on the site).

The importance of resilient housing construction on exposed terrain cannot be overstated, as frequent storms and the effects of climate change can elicit unpredictable conditions. Unity’s panels, containing dense-pack cellulose insulation, triple-pane windows, and lasting airtightness, protect against overheating in the summer and freezing temperatures in the winter. This ensures the safety of families in extreme weather conditions. Unity’s optimized home designs also offer a mix of modern and traditional aesthetics to choose from, ensuring a coherent look with the surrounding architecture. Platforms like the Zum offer a modern take on view-capturing homes while blending seamlessly with more traditional New England cottages. Some of the smaller design platforms like the Nano offer flexibility for a variety of uses, including short-term rentals or year-round affordable workforce housing. Affordable housing is a significant challenge for year-round island workers, and Unity aims to address this through offering innovative and affordable home plans pre-designed for everyday life.

Where Efficiency Meets Experience

Unity stems from the legacy and long-standing experience of the Bensonwood brand, which has successfully completed home installations over the course of the last 50 years on islands near Lake Winnipesaukee, the Great Lakes, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Block Island just to name a few. Unity Project Manager Derek Sherburne has managed many island projects throughout the years, explaining: 

“There’s no getting around itin one way or another, deliveries for island projects involve trucks AND boats. This makes efficiency imperative for keeping costs down. With panelized construction, materials such as framing, insulation, and windows are all consolidated into just a few truckloads of panels. This saves a client two very important things: time and money.” -Derek Sherburne, Unity Project Manager 

This kind of hands-on experience provides unparalleled value to future homeowners, especially those looking to build on islands. Guaranteed labor, a resilient lasting structure, and ease of transporting panelized components are some of the compounding benefits of working with Unity that will help simplify the high-performance homebuilding journey. With Unity’s expertise, you can confidently embark on your island construction project knowing that every detail will be meticulously planned and executed for a lifetime of comfort and security.