Courtesy Bensonwood Homes

Home builders aren’t usually on the front lines of innovation, at least when it comes to building systems. A tweak here, a small improvement there, maybe, but rarely a revolution.

Bensonwood Homes is the exception. While other home builders transition from traditional stick-framing to basic forms of panelized components (per recent NAHB research, which saw market share for such systems nearly double from 2009 to 2010, albeit primarily at the expense of modular and masonry methods), the Walpole, N.H.-based company is busy proliferating a proprietary, next-generation panel system called Open-Built.

Simply, the system creates chases within the panels to carry mechanical runs, a so-called “disentangling” of electrical, plumbing, and air distribution services within a wall or a floor that enable wires and pipes to easily and perfectly connect panel to panel instead of being installed separately after rough framing.

That kind of parallel (instead of sequential) building allows Bensonwood to deliver 40 to 50 custom, scattered-lot homes a year at an almost modular-home pace, far faster than with sticks and open-panel framing.

But arguably the greatest benefit of the Open-Built system is its inherent sustainability. With predesigned access points at critical junctures and manifolds, the panels enable homeowners to easily and affordably upgrade their systems as new technology becomes available.

“If a house isn’t flexible and adaptable to lifestyle changes and technology, it isn’t really sustainable,” says Rick Reynolds, the company’s marketing manager. Open-Built also cuts down on the C&D waste created from traditional system upgrades, another environmental benefit.

Though Bensonwood employs the system almost exclusively, the company isn’t averse to contracting with developers and builders who want to reap similar benefits. Case in point: Open-Built provided the shell for the new, residential-scaled wing of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine., enclosing the envelope in less than a week and significantly reducing the impact of construction on the adjacent gardens.

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