*WRITTEN: 23 DECEMBER 2007 *REVISED: 28 DECEMBER 2007 [corrects typographic errors] *REVISED: 2009FEB11 revised, hexpanded and relEased]
When I started designing the SUBSystem back in the early 1980’s, I first panelized, then optimized the panel, and only then designed the connector. That was so successful, I’ve been working with panels and connectors ever since.
The system is astonishing in it’s ability to create buildings from a rather limited kit of parts. The connectors make everything immensely strong.
In a very large building, where there are many rooms completely internal to the enclosed space, the SUBSystem to date really shines, with all those utility ducts, conveniently hidden out of sight … but nevertheless right where you need them!
But most buildings are not large structures which MUST rationalize a huge utility infrastructure to get heat, light, air, water, data, power, etc, to all the room space.
Most buildings are houses, garages, or sheds. Many of them have only one room. Even in a multi-room buildings, most rooms have at least one outside wall. Utilities don’t have to be highly rationalized. Air comes in through windows. Pipes and wires come in pretty much anywhere. It’s not a problem: Stick it on the roof and forget about it. So you really don’t need all those utility ducts in most building. They’d certainly be nice in a large house, but not necessary.
The smaller the building, the less efficient the connectors are. If the connectors are bolted to panels on every side, they are most efficient. In a one room building, they are most inefficient, as they don’t attach any other rooms. My first enclosed structure, 4′x4′x8′ internal, 5′x5′x9′ external, has the minimum connector overhead of 24 connectors: three for each of the eight corners of the room. It IS an elegant way to connect walls and create utility space, but it’s a huge expense in small buildings.
So I started looking at the panel/connector relationship. The connector performs two basic functions in the SUBSystem: it creates phantom spaces, and it creates right angles: when you bolt it to the edge of a panel, you “turn the corner” to the adjacent wall, floor, etc.
When I analyzed it that way, the penny finally dropped!
Like a single celled animal, the one room house doesn’t need a complex circulation or utility system. So do you don’t need to use connector rings to create duckts for utilities.
You can eliminate the duckts, and bolt the panels directly to each other. For this, the panels have to be redesigned WITH A RING OF BOLT HOLES AROUND THE FACE OF THE LARGEST SIDE.
As they have been designed and used before, panels have a standard pattern of bolt holes around the narrow 6″ sides. Wherever there is a bolt hole in the outer sides, [3" from the top/side edge in a 6" panel], there will be a corresponding hole 3″ from that same edge, ON THE FLAT FRONT FACE OF THE PANEL. [It's the same geometry as a #8 domino.]
Up until now, SUBS panels have had bolt holes aligned with two of the three axes. [Around the outside edge, leaving the large surface intact.] When you add the third right angle, which the connectors provide, to the panel itself, you can then do without connectors.
This new ENHANCED PANEL can now bolt directly to other panels, at right angles, without expensive connectors, but maintaining the rigid 3-D bolted connection between all planes of the building. You can still use triangular duckts within the room to distribute the utilities.
When you do without connectors, you are back to the more traditional method of setting walls on top of floors, and floors on top of walls.
Drawings of the top and bottom of the 4′x8′ SUBS ENHANCED PANEL. The marks around the outside and down the center of the top are the nail or screw heads fastening the plywood sheet to the framing. It’s best glued too. The additional 8 bolt holes in the top are most easily seen in the p48EPbot picture. These reflect the bolt holes in the sides and ends onto the top surface so they can join at ANY right angle.
The eight new holes in the enhanced panel mate with the 12 holes around the perimeter of the standard panel when they are turned at right angles. The twelve bolt holes around the outside edges make 8 holes on the top surface when they are “flipped” up on top, since the two at each corner on the sides map onto the one bolt in the corner in the top surface. The room remains a hollow column of enormous strength.
When you skip the connectors, you need to adjust panel widths for the walls to fit. Thus a 6″ thick panel 42″ wide will fill in at a corner. In rooms only one panel wide, you need to shave off two widths, to 36″.
In a rectangular room, I’d leave the long walls long, just moving them onto the floors. I’d use the short panels in the short walls.
FOUR INCH PANELS When I first designed SUBS, I wanted to make sure it was built strong enough to pass ALL building codes, so I went with 2×6″ framing lumber, which many codes now require. But lots of buildings don’t need to meet codes or inspections at all. Sheds and storage buildings are often not covered at all. Historically, most walls were built with 2×4s, not 2×6’s. 2×4’s are the cheapest and easiest to use. Plus a 3.5″ x 1.5″ “2X4″ makes a convenient 4″ panel if you skin it with 1/2″ plywood or other sheeting.
So I’ve been building 4″ panels lately, instead of the 6″ heavy duty panels I mostly built before. They’re plenty strong for walls and roofs, and noticeably lighter and easier to manhandle.
Although I’m plenty happy with 4″panels for normal walls and roofs, they aren’t heavy duty enough for floor panels that have to carry heavy loads. A few people on a roof is no problem, but don’t load floors with furniture, plus storage to the ceiling, and then throw a big dance party. Use a 6″ floor panel.
So I’d like to use a 6″ floor panel, bolted to 4″ panels for walls and roofs. But the panels are different thickness. The 6″ panel has a 6′ modulus, and the holes are 3′ from the end and edge. The 4″ panel has a 4″ modulus: a 4″ square. The connector holes are in the center of that 4″ square. So if you drill both sets of holes, in the same panels, their centers are 1.4″ apart. That’s plenty of room to use half inch bolts, but I’d scale back to a 3/8″ bolt/hole for 4″ panels.
The solution is to drill the 4″ panel with 3/8″ holes on the sides and the front face, [the Enhanced Panel in the 4" panel size], and to drill the 6″ panel with BOTH SETS OF HOLES for bolts in the large flat face.
Both the 1/2″ holes, 3″ from the end and sides, for the 6″ panels to bolt to, and the 3/8″ holes , 2″ in from the end and edge of the 4″ panel. So you can stack 4″ walls on a 6″ floor panel, and another 6″ floor panel on top of that wall.
If you want to mix and match 6″ and 4″ panel next to each other in the same wall, you would need the hole pattern for the 4″ panel in the sides of the 6″ panel as well as the front face.
LONG AND SHORT BOLTS: Setting a wall on top of a floor, the bolt only has to go through 3/4″ of plywood [the top skin of the floor panel] and 1.5″ of framing lumber. That’s only 2.25″. With washers and a nut, which can easily be a wing nut for no-tools construction, a 3″ bolt leaves you some extra threads to fasten something else too.
To bolt a 4″ roof panel on top of a wall, you need to go through 1.5″ of framing + 4″ of the roof panel, which is 5.5″, so you need at least 6″ bolts for washers and a nut. Carriage bolts from the outside secured by wing nuts on the inside makes for good security and easy changes, as they can’t turn the carriage bolt from outside to break in.
To put a 6″ floor or roof panel on a wall, you need 1.5″ + 6..0″ = 7.5″ so you need at least 8″ for washers and a nut.
At most corners, you will need the long bolts too, since the panel faces will usually be outside, and you have to go through the panel to get to them. If you have internal rooms, you will use more short bolts for the “other” side of internal walls.
When you want to put on an addition, all you do is start bolting new panels to the outside of the existing structure! The holes to bolt it up are already there!
Holes can all be drilled at the factory. But since the faces probably wont all be filled with bolts, the face holes can be factory-filled with caulk, or a flush mounted knock-out plug so walls, floor and ceiling won’t be full of holes. Or they could just have a locator dimple and you would drill the ones you need.
Natural evolution starts with the simplest and easiest! Only when that leads to a problem is it necessary to develop a new solution.
Connectors would be essential in a multistory hotel. They would be extravagant in a one room shed. You can always add connectors to non-connector rooms when you are expanding, or take your old rooms apart and add the panels to a new connector-structure.
Happy Building!
O — ) \\
Bill Dur = / Simple Universal Building System “SUPERIOR BY DESIGN!”
DISTRIBUTION: Newsgroups: alt.ucp,alt.architecture,alt.architecture.alternative,, Reply to Blog: “blogical thought” = Permalinks to this article: SUBS Home Page: February 17th, 2009
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