Unity College celebrates new life for Unity House

First-ever LEED Platinum U.S. college president residence becomes academic facility
Building inspired successful new Unity Homes line of energy-efficient dwellings

Unity-House-BCKGRND-1004

UNITY, Maine — Unity College is inviting alumni, donors, staff, faculty, and the local Unity community to an event that celebrates the repurposing of an important campus building.

The Unity House rededication ceremony is 2 p.m. Saturday, July 23, off Quaker Hill Road on the Unity College campus.

“Net zero” Unity House is 2,000 square feet of LEED Platinum-certified space that generates as much energy as it uses annually. Originally built as a home for the Unity College president, the signature building is being rededicated as classrooms, lab space, and faculty offices, beginning this 2016-17 academic year.

“Unity House is a natural living and learning laboratory and we’re excited to be able to give students better access to it as a model of sustainable energy systems,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “It was a visionary educational construction project from the start and it continues to set sustainability trends nationally. It will be great to celebrate the next chapter of this building with our alumni and other partners.”

Constructed in 2008, the structure was the first home of a U.S. college president to be LEED Platinum certified — the highest sustainability rating conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Its innovative features include a movable interior wall that is adjustable for changing uses and customizing room spaces; large south-facing windows that allow for passive heating; photovoltaic cells that produce electricity; a flat roof equipped with a protective membrane system to insulate and protect the structure; structural components designed to last for hundreds of years; and wiring and mechanical systems that can be easily replaced when they age or become outmoded. Also, because large central supports provide much of the structural strength, exterior walls incorporate fewer wooden supports and can accommodate more insulation.

“Rededicating this space to academic use gives our students direct access to net zero construction principles in practice,” Unity College Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer deHart said.

It was the first home built by the OPEN Prototype Initiative, a collaboration between Bensonwood Homes, based in Walpole, N.H., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open Source Building Alliance, whose stated goal was “to change the way homes are built.”

The design for Unity House eventually inspired Bensonwood to spin off Unity Homes — a new company that produces a line of homes based on Unity House that company officials say can be built in as little as 30 days and last for 300 years.

“We plan to make our homes adaptable to the needs of those who live in the home, making them as energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly as possible, and of course, affordable for the average homeowner to purchase,” said Tedd Benson of Bensonwood Homes. “Unity House encompasses those goals and truly is a model for sustainable homes that can be mass produced right now.”

“We are proud we were able to provide Bensonwood — and Unity Homes — with a platform to scale up production of residences that make sustainable shelter more accessible for more people,” Khoury said. “Finding scalable sustainable solutions is a part of our institutional mission, and we engage with like-minded partners wherever possible.

“We are thrilled Unity Homes is enjoying success. The fact that they have created new jobs, new products, and a new way of looking at sustainability makes this about much more than just a single building.”

About Unity College

The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity College is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors and an M.S. of Professional Science degree offered online. For more information, visit unity.edu.

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