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Organizing Residential Utilities: A New Approach to Housing Quality

Release Date: 
November 2004 (80 pages)
Posted Date:   
May 13, 2005

Utility systems are everywhere in the home. What were once major innovations – central heating, hot and cold running water, and electric lights – have become so commonplace as to be taken for granted. In fact, the network of utilities (pipes, wires, and ducts) in the home is now relatively simple compared to those in some of the other environments that people occupy – airplanes, ships, cars, etc. Although the systems in the home are comparatively uncomplicated, their installation involves inefficient, labor-intensive processes that would not be tolerated in other products and industries, such as those mentioned above. Utilities are run almost haphazardly through the walls of stick-built homes, sometimes compromising structure and insulating integrity, and always making repair and modification difficult. In the future, utilities will inevitably become more complicated as homes become centers of work, learning, communication, entertainment, preventative health care, and distributed energy production. The new utility systems that emerge to meet these functions will likely include advanced control systems, LED or fiber-optic lighting, wireless and wired data networks, additional fire safety plumbing, building-integrated photovoltaics, and ubiquitous low-cost sensors for security, health, comfort, etc. Existing utility systems can also be expected to expand. Conventional entangled processes will increase the complexity and cost of construction, and could inhibit the introduction of new utility systems. Furthermore, new building technologies and construction techniques have the potential to compound the problem: utility entanglement could become a major roadblock to innovation in home construction.

This report is designed to outline methods of disentangling utilities, with the goal of increasing the functionality of housing, while simultaneously reducing its cost. Disentangling of utilities should have the following positive impacts:

  • Reduce cost of utility installation
  • Simplify the home construction process, resulting in less rework
  • Reduce time of construction
  • Reduce home maintenance costs
  • Reduce cost of renovations
  • Reduce cost of customization in initial build and renovation
  • Enable increased homeowner participation in home alterations