PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

Organizing Residential Utilities:

A New Approach to Housing Quality

November 2004, 80 pages

Pipes and wires and ducts, oh my! How can we prevent utility entanglement from impeding innovation?

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Utility systems, including ducts, wires, and pipes, run almost haphazardly through the walls of stick-built homes, sometimes compromising structure and insulating integrity, and often making repair and modification difficult. This report outlines methods for disentangling utilities, which has great potential to reduce the time, cost, and complexity of construction.

Key Results:

  • Disentangling utilities can reduce the cost of utility installation, time of construction, home maintenance costs, cost of renovations, and cost of customization. Disentangling utilities also enables increased homeowner participation in home alterations.
  • Changing coordination methods, structural systems, and finish materials can also increase costs. The benefits of disentanglement must be weighed against these added costs.
  • At this time, high-end builders can achieve greater economies of scale than small builders by using manufactured components that integrate disentangling features.
  • The perceived benefit of quality by association with high-end construction -- in addition to any potential efficiency benefits -- may also encourage adoption.

Recommendations for Builders and Remodelers:

  • Before construction begins, use software and digital libraries of building components to allow efficient and accurate planning and predefine utility pathways.
  • Separate building layers by lifespan, and decouple utilities from the structure with open web floor trusses and raceways.
[IMAGE: Integrated Single-Family House Utility Wall Prototype]

Recommendations for Manufacturers:

  • Create an integrated utility gateway that brings all of the services into the home in a single location.
  • Create integrated utility modules, for example a fully plumbed bathroom wall, which can be manufactured as one piece in a factory in a disentangled manner.
  • Increase the use of quick-connect electrical and plumbing components to allow even greater gains in efficiency and ease renovation.
  • Anticipate potential future utility systems before they are widely implemented and make allowances for their eventual installation.
  • Tailor solutions to the market in which they will be used. The local market topography (average cost, code requirements, popularity of "do-it-yourself") and the builder's business model (site-based vs. factory-based, custom vs. generic) must be considered when introducing new products for the purposes of disentangling.

See page 6 for an historical timeline of the evolution of utility systems in the average home.

See Appendix B for a database of potentially relevant disentangling technologies.

Content updated on 1/2/2007

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