Unity Blog

Project Download: A Xyla in Vermont

Net Zero Xyla

Like many Unity clients, Sandy and Mark came to us looking for a retirement home that would be high performance and net zero. They had found a lovely building site in Guilford, VT, with good solar exposure. As educators for whom retirement is still a few years off, they plan to continue living in Massachusetts for the next few years, while using their new home during the summer and on weekends during the school year.  

We completed the home last spring and Sandy and Mark have been living there this summer. I sat down with them recently to learn firsthand about their experience designing and building with Unity, and to find out how we could improve our process for future clients. These new Unity homeowners began our conversation with complimentary words—always a good sign:

“We love this house; it’s so comfortable. We appreciate the simplicity of the design. The process of working with Unity was generally great.”

It’s always nice to hear positive comments about our homes and the design/build process. I knew that there had been a few challenges during the construction of the home—there always are! But before asking about these, we discussed the planning of the project.

How did you come to work with Unity Homes?

“We first heard about Unity via Bensonwood. About six years ago, friends of ours had built a Bensonwood home. We were impressed by the quality of the home, but felt that Unity’s focus on performance and sustainability—and the price point—were the right fit for us. Fortunately, we were able to incorporate some of our favorite elements from the Bensonwood home into our Unity home.”

Had you talked with several different building companies before deciding to work with Unity?

“Not really. Our friends had wonderful things to say about working with Bensonwood, and our initial interactions with Unity were positive. We felt that Unity’s design system—which allows for some flexibility but also provides constraints—would work well for us. But ultimately it was Unity’s focus on high performance, net zero homes that made the decision easy.”

How did you find the process of designing and planning your home?

“We liked having some flexibility in the design options, but also knowing that there were constraints. We probably would have had a hard time with the unlimited possibilities of a completely custom design process. With Unity, we could play with the design, without having to be designers. And when it came time to incorporate special features like the hickory flooring from trees on our land, Unity was amenable.”

Have you been comfortable in the house now that it’s done?

“Yes, we’re very happy with the mini-split heating and cooling system. Last winter the system kept the home warm even during the coldest stretches. And because we are sensitive to noise, we were pleased to find that the house is very quiet!”

Based on your experience working with Unity, do you have suggestions for ways in which we could improve the design/build process?

“In general the process went well, but we think it would have been helpful if Unity had provided more site supervision after the shell of the home was raised. Some of the subs were great, and did wonderful work. A few of the subs required more coordination and guidance. Unity’s project manager provided some of this oversight, but because he wasn’t always on site, there were some gaps in the site supervision.”

Providing appropriate levels of support for work on site is a challenge, particularly as we also work to lower costs. We are increasingly teaming up with good builders around New England who are able to provide site supervision in their own locales more efficiently than we can.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Sandy and Mark whether they would be willing to provide a review of Unity online. Sandy said “We’d be happy to promote Unity because we think that all new homes should be built to this level of quality.”

We appreciate Sandy and Mark’s support, and we share their belief that all new homes should be built to be energy efficient, healthy and comfortable. When we have the privilege of working with clients such as Sandy and Mark who strongly share our values, we are reminded of the larger purpose of our work: to improve lives and honor the planet with every home we build.