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Performing maintenance on your heating ducts can be messy, and sometimes accessing parts of the system can be nearly impossible without opening your walls. Fortunately, home builders and researchers are working toward a solution. One concept gaining momentum is that of open building, which focuses on flexibility, ease of access and disentanglement of systems. If you are building, renovating or putting an addition on your home, try incorporating open building principles to make it simple to change or upgrade your HVAC system.

Total Flexibility

The idea behind open building is keeping the support structure of the house separate from the interior fill-out, and installing your HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems in logical ways which will allow for future upgrades and replacement. The goal is ultimate flexibility to change or improve your home without having to tear down and start from scratch. After all, chances are you’ll have to replace one or more of your internal systems before you need to rebuild the whole house.

In open building homes, infill systems like HVAC ducts are separate from wires, plumbing and insulation, so it’s easier to access them for cleaning, maintenance or removal. If you need to overhaul your ductwork to improve your indoor air quality, or install new features like a heat recovery ventilator, you simply remove some panels, do the work and pop the panels back into place. No need to break through drywall or struggle with pipes and wires that are in the way.

Rational Form of Design

The open building concept is being driven by the Open Prototype, a collaboration between MIT and Bensonwood Homes to build and test various models for open building principles.

“The simple act of disentangling the wiring from the structure and insulation layer allows you to upgrade, change, or replace a 20-year-lifespan electrical system when new technology arises without affecting a 300-year structure,” Bensonwood Homes founder Tedd Benson said to Ecobuilding Pulse. “Open Building provides a more rational form of design and construction that supports long-term sustainability for buildings with increased shell longevity, and more control and flexibility for the homeowner.”

The idea is to ensure that the home of today is ready to adapt to the needs of the tomorrow’s homeowners. “We can’t predict what people will need and want in their living environment,” Benson said. “Open Building principles respond to occupants’ changing needs rather than force the occupants to conform to a preconceived design.”



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