Frequently Asked Questions
1 > How much do Unity homes cost?
This is the first question that many people ask, and one of the most difficult to answer until we have learned more about the particular project. As a starting point, the base price of our four design platforms are as follows: Xyla: $215,000; Zūm: $255,000; Värm: $300,000; and Tradd: $345,000.
2 > What does the “Base Price” include?
3 > What are the major factors that influence the final cost of a Unity Home?
Starting from the base price, a project’s cost can be influenced by a number of factors, in particular: Location, Site, Design, Specifications, Timing.
Location – How far is the building site from our production facility in Walpole, NH, and what are local labor costs?
Site – Is the site steep or flat? Wooded or open? Wet or dry? Accessible or remote?
Design – Which design platform will be used as a starting point, and what components will be assembled to create the finished design?
Specifications – While all of the options we offer for materials, finishes, fixtures and equipment represent solid values, some options are more affordable than others.
Timing – Will the site be prepared and the home assembled in the middle of winter? Will the process be rushed due to concerns about the schedule, or will the pace be more moderate? Will important decisions be made in a timely fashion by the client and others, or will the schedule stretch due to inconsistent communication?
4 > How does Unity define “affordable”?
One of our goals is for every employee to be able to afford a Unity Home. For us, this is a meaningful definition of “affordable.” To reach this goal, we are constantly striving to lower costs, without sacrificing the quality that we see as essential to our mission. The work we do at Unity is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We have been at this work in one fashion or another for over forty years, and we see ourselves continuing to improve efficiency and lower costs for at least another forty years.
5 > What is the average heating cost for a Unity home?
The average cost to heat a Unity Home is dramatically lower than for a conventionally-built home. We have modeled heating costs for our homes in many locations throughout the northeast and found that they typically range from $700 to $1400 per year.
1 > How flexible is Unity’s design system? Must I choose one of the plans shown on your website, or can I create a custom design?
Unity’s four design platforms — the Tradd, Xyla, Värm and Zūm — represent starting points for the customized homes that we design and build. Because each building site is different and every client is unique, our design system is flexible and adaptive. Once a platform is chosen, we work with our clients to fit the design to the site and to the client’s needs. The designs shown on our website are examples of homes that have been designed within our system.
The interior layout of our homes is typically quite flexible, while the exterior design is more systematized. Because the exterior massing of our homes is based on pre-designed and pre-engineered elements, staying within the system helps to minimize design and engineering costs, and optimize the performance of the building shell.
2 > I understand that Unity’s design system involves assembling pre-engineered components into a complete home. Can I see the various elements that are part of Unity’s standard system?
We are working on developing an online catalog of our standard design elements. For now, the Montage design process is led by our designers who assemble the components of our design system on behalf of our clients to create the final configuration of the home.
1 > How long does it take to produce the elements that go into the home, prior to assembly on site?
Typically it takes 12 to 16 weeks from the signing of a “build” contract for us to deliver the components of a home to the site for assembly. During this period, permitting and site work are happening in parallel with the work in our shop.
2 > How long does it take to finish a home, after it has been assembled on site?
The site assembly phase for a Unity Home typically takes one to one-and-a-half weeks. Many factors affect the time required to install the final finishes and fixtures in the home, but on average that period is six to eight weeks.
1 > What is Unity’s geographic radius? How far from Walpole can Unity build a home?
We have built Unity Homes throughout the Northeast, down the Atlantic coast as far as North Carolina, and as far west as Ohio. With each passing year, we are able to serve clients effectively at ever greater distances. In principle, we are capable of building homes across the United States. In practice, our geographic reach tends to be constrained by the costs of trucking building components to distant sites.
2 > How does Unity generally contract the construction of a home when it is located an hour or more from Walpole?
Our success at “building from a distance” has several keys. One of the most important is our practice of “building virtually before building actually.” By designing all aspects of a home virtually in 3-D before starting any construction, we can solve problems with the click of a mouse, rather than the roar of a reciprocating saw. The components that we deliver to a jobsite are embedded with solutions, rather than with problems.
A second key is constructing the components of the home in the controlled conditions of our shop. Prefabricating building components in this way results in their fitting together quickly and smoothly on site.
Although Unity is striving to prefabricate as much of the home as possible off-site, some of the work is most efficiently completed by tradespeople on site. Therefore, a third key to Unity’s ability to build effectively from a distance is finding experienced local team members with whom to partner on each project. We have decades of experience working with hundreds of builders and tradespeople around the country. Often, these local partners end up as fans and sources of new work. A carpenter in Virginia who worked recently on one of our projects remarked, “I don’t understand why all homes aren’t built this way.”
3 > Does your process include a site evaluation to determine the best location and elevation of the home on the site?
We handle in-person site evaluations on a case-by-case basis. Since one of Unity’s primary objectives is to contain costs, we have to be convinced of the value of a site visit before committing to making it. For straightforward sites, a topo survey and photographs may provide us with the information we need to design the home and locate it appropriately on the site. For more complex sites, a visit from one of our designers or project managers may be warranted.
1 > Does Unity prefer to build its homes on slabs or on full foundations?
Unity Homes are built on slabs and on full foundations. Because building on a slab is generally more cost-effective than building on a full foundation, many Unity Homes end up on slabs.
2 > What determines the choice of slab versus basement?
Many factors affect the choice of a slab versus a full foundation — starting with the site itself. If the site slopes significantly, then the “cut and fill” required to prepare a flat area for the slab can be relatively costly. Slab foundations lend themselves to flatter sites.
3 > How does the choice of foundation affect the home’s performance?
A Unity Home will be built to a very high level of performance, regardless of whether it is on a slab or a full foundation. The techniques and materials for insulating a slab versus a full foundation vary, but the principles and outcome are similar.
1> What systems does Unity specify for heating and cooling these homes?
Because Unity Homes are so energy efficient, they do not require a traditional central heating system consisting of a boiler and hot water piping, or a furnace and ductwork. We have found that air source heat pumps — so-called mini-split systems — are an excellent match for the minimal heating requirements in our homes. These systems have the added benefit of providing cooling during hot, humid weather. Depending on the size and configuration of the home, one or two condenser/compressor units may be required, serving one or more indoor air-handling units.
2 > Does Unity recommend radiant floor heating for its homes?
Unity does not typically recommend radiant floor heating for its homes, because they have a slow response time that is not well-suited to high performance homes. In addition, most radiant floor systems add unnecessary expense in a Unity Home.
One of the ways that Unity lowers costs is by “right-sizing” heating and cooling equipment for our low-load homes. Our homes are so efficient that one or two air-source heat pumps can typically provide all the heating and cooling that is needed.
3 > Do finished basements typically have radiant floor heat?
Typically if a Unity Home has a finished basement, that space is heated and cooled by the same mini-split system that conditions the rest of the house.
4 > I am concerned that a finished concrete slab floor might feel cold. Can I have flooring installed over a concrete slab?
Various finished flooring materials can be installed over concrete slabs. Typically we recommend and specify “floating” wood floors.
5 > Does Unity offer geothermal heating systems as an option for its homes?
Unity Homes are not typically heated with geothermal (ground-source) heating and cooling systems, for some of the same reasons we do not recommend radiant floor heat. Geothermal systems are more appropriate to houses with conventional heating and cooling loads. Because our homes are so efficient, geothermal systems tend not to be cost-effective.
6 > Can a wood stove be used to heat a Unity home? What about a pellet stove?
Wood stoves and pellet stoves can be used to provide back-up heat to a Unity Home, but we do not recommend them for primary heat. The heating loads in these homes are so low that comfort is best maintained by a small mini-split system run more-or-less continuously, rather than an intermittent (and harder to modulate) system such as a wood stove. Because Unity Homes are built to optimize indoor air quality and energy efficiency, it is critical that outside combustion air (“make-up air”) be ducted directly to any wood-burning appliances.
7 > Why do Unity Homes not typically have fireplaces?
Traditional fireplaces may be wonderful for creating ambiance, but they can cause several issues in high performance homes. A primary drawback is that the flue of a fireplace is difficult to air-seal when the fireplace is not in use. A chimney that allows conditioned inside air to be sucked out of the house via the stack effect is essentially a large hole in the roof of the house. Given how hard we work to make Unity Homes energy efficient, we are not fans of holes in roofs.
Unlike wood stoves and pellet stoves, providing dedicated make-up air for combustion in a fireplace is challenging. And because our houses are so air-tight, there is a real danger of backdrafting — of flue gases being pulled into the house — should the house be de-pressurized by, for example, a bathroom fan.
8 > What type of system does Unity recommend for domestic hot water?
The hot water in many Unity Homes is created by an electric resistance water heater. We recently began offering heat pump water heaters, a relatively new technology (in the US) that provides greater efficiency. Although we generally recommend against systems that burn fossil fuels, some owners of Unity Homes elect to install on-demand (tankless) propane-fired water heaters.
1 > Are Unity Homes LEED certified?
All Unity Homes are LEED certifiable, meaning that if a client chooses to pursue LEED certification, the home will qualify. Because the process of certifying LEED compliance can represent a significant investment of time and money, most of our clients choose not to pursue it.
2 > I am concerned about formaldehyde leading out of building products like OSB into a house with an envelope as tight as Unity’s. How can Unity guarantee that the air inside the home will remain healthy?
Unity does not use materials containing urea formaldehyde. In general, we try to avoid incorporating into our homes any materials that will off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Because the health and safety of the occupants of our homes is our highest priority, every Unity Home is equipped with a heat recovery ventilation system. These systems — either HRVs or ERVs — constantly exhaust stale air out of the home, and bring fresh air into the home. We follow the building science mantra “build tight, and ventilate right.”
1 > How many Unity Homes have been built?
Unity’s heritage stretches back to the mid-1970’s when Tedd Benson first began developing systems for the off-site fabrication of highly-crafted, precision-fit building elements. During the past forty years, Bensonwood has built nearly 1,000 homes — always with the intention of lowering the cost of high performance. The founding of Unity Homes in October of 2012 represents the culmination of that vision. To date, Unity has built over 30 homes throughout the Northeast, and has an additional 10 projects currently underway.
2 > Where have Unity Homes been built?
While most Unity Homes are built in New England, we have built as far west as Ohio and as far south as North Carolina. See the map below for the states in which we have built homes.