Modular and prefabricated (prefab) construction is a method that involves several of a building’s components built in an offsite factory and assembled on site at an optimal time. If this only brings to mind trailer homes and school portables, think again: modular and prefab techniques are being applied to a wide range of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings with the potential to deliver the following benefits:
As reported by The Modular Building Institute’s white paper, “Improving Construction Efficiency and Productivity with Modular Construction,” more than 135M tons of debris from construction sites in the US end up in landfills every year. Prefab and modular techniques enable the reduction in material waste as well as air and water pollution and overall energy usage. Additionally, the USGBC awards credits specifically for homes that use offsite fabrication for walls, roof, and floors as part of their LEED for Homes rating system.
Modular and prefab construction can alleviate onsite hazards such as height- and confined space-related dangers. Spending less time on site also means less exposure to inclement weather and extreme temperatures. Plus, controlled factory conditions support enhanced productivity, precision, and quality.
According to an AMA Research Ltd. report published by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), “Current Practices and Future Potential in Modern Methods of Construction,” offsite manufacturing has the potential to save up to 90% in onsite waste related to packaging, temporary, and damaged materials. Onsite theft also decreases, as whole modular units are a lot harder to steal compared to smaller, individual parts.
As an expected result of the benefits listed above, projects are completed more efficiently. With work being performed off site, onsite tasks can occur simultaneously and allow for a compact schedule. Additionally, onsite weather delays cease to be a major problem.
Modular building parts are often designed in a way that allows for them to be readily disassembled, moved, and/or refurbished for new use. As per The Modular Building Institute’s white paper, some modular buildings can even be recycled in their entirety.
Is there any reason NOT to go modular? At this point in time, there are a few overarching cons: slow-to-adapt building codes and zoning rules, restricted design customization, and the extra coordination necessary between offsite and onsite teams (including the need for a conveniently located offsite factory). However, as a strategy with more pros than cons (particularly its “green” benefits), the popularity and widespread use of modular and prefab construction will likely be ever increasing.