Modular construction is more popular than ever. Although it has been around for decades, modular is now the trending topic across the building industry. Known also as prefabricated, pre-engineered and panelized construction, modular construction, as defined by the Modular Building Institute, is a process in which a building is constructed off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designed to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities– but in about half the time.
The challenge is, like all trends, it is difficult to understand the future impact the hype brings. While modular builders will tell you the time savings alone saves enough in overhead and carrying costs to justify prefabricating parts of any project, questions and concerns of durability are paramount. With a strong roster of both schools and facilities geared for those with disabilities and an even longer history with energy savings design, we began working with Modular when it was “uncool” to mention.
BUDGET GOALS: WHY IS MODULAR SO COST EFFECTIVE?
Required state or federal wage rates, union work rules, and laws requiring more than one prime contractor on a project have been shown to increase construction costs 20-30 percent. With labor costs making up more than half of the cost of any new building, any reduction in the time or cost of labor equates to big savings. Constructing more of a building off site in a location where wage rates and work rules are less restrictive, leads to significant savings, even considering the transportation costs.
CONSTRUCTION GOALS: HOW DOES MODULAR CUT DOWN TIME?
While meeting budgets are paramount in project completion, many clients select the modular method of construction primarily due to the reduction in construction time and association site disruption. In situations of schools and senior housing facilities, you can’t ignore the noisy and added safety concerns of construction sites. Projects like these, benefit from reduced time, noise, disruption and potential dangers. Building the parts, or 'boxes' as they are called, while simultaneously preparing the site and foundation is the big cost and time saver.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE?
Let’s address the biggest and most pressing concern over modular construction - durability. Some prefabricated or pre-engineered structures are built to the absolute code minimum. The least safe building you can legally construct. Modular construction if properly designed and specified, can be as durable and as high performing as conventional construction.
So, what turns a trend into a lasting-solution? Understanding nuances. It is important the project team is familiar with the process because poor coordination between site and factory can lead to challenges in the fit and finish of the final product.
Durability, therefore, relies on knowledge of dimension tolerances and clearances since building parts arrive at the job site in various stages of completion. It is not unusual to have fully painted and carpeted rooms adjacent to spaces in need of rough plumbing and electric work.
Modular construction can permit our public buildings to be built better and perform more efficiently. It can improve the lives of students and families that deserve good education in healthy, safe and high performing buildings.