Open Building


mechanical core wall with services in place

Houses and buildings are much like our bodies; parts age at different rates and need to be serviced or replaced if we are going to get the maximum life out of them. Philip Proefrock at Green Options notes that there are six "layers" in the life of a structure:

* Site - the location; building site itself. Timeless duration
* Structure - the framework; the "bones" of the building. 100 to 300 year lifespan
* Skin - the cladding. 40 to 100 year lifespan
* Space plan - the interior partition walls. 10 to 30 year life
* Services - electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and heating/ventilation systems. Updated every 1 to 10 years
* Stuff - belongings and furnishings. Can change monthly

Yet we design buildings as if everything has the same life span and changing the simplest thing like an electric outlet location requires smashing drywall. I personally tried to change some halogen potlights to compact fluorescent and found that I would have to peel the drywall off the entire ceiling to get the mounting hardware out. Why do we build this way?


We don't have to. Philip introduces us to the concept of "open building", where "The principle is to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building. Open building stipulates separate zones or chases for different functions and services. This will, for example, make it easier to change plumbing systems without needing to repair other systems that cross or interfere with access to the necessary parts of the plumbing system."

He points us to timber framer Ted Benson, who's company, Bensonwood, practices open building. Baseboards are removeable to get at the wiring; plumbing is run in big, accessible chases. Mechanical systems for the second floor are accessible via removable panels. Adding outlets or adapting to new technologies (remember trying to put CAT5 cable networks before Wifi?) becomes easy.

Philip concludes "Buildings need to be built to meet immediate needs. But they also need to be constructed in a way that future needs and changes to the building are also given consideration. Much in the same way that we need to conserve resources for the use of future generations, the buildings we build today will also be used and re-used well into the future, and a longer-term approach to building is another part of building green." It is a great point. ::Green Options Read also the PDF from Fine Homebuilding about Bensonwood,: ::Reinventing the House