Modular construction has been gaining popularity in recent years. It is faster and more cost-effective than traditional construction methods. It allows builders to construct efficient and aesthetically pleasing buildings up to 50% faster than traditional building. With all the benefits, many experts believe it may be the future of construction. Although there are many advantages, there are also some disadvantages. Before we review the pros and cons, let’s look at what modular construction is, and briefly review its history.
Modular construction is a method of the building where “modules” are built off-site. It is important to note that ‘modular’ and ‘prefab’ don’t mean the same thing. ‘Prefab’ is used to identify any component of a building that is manufactured in a factory before arrival and installation on the building site. Some examples of prefab components include staircases, roof trusses and wall panels. Modules are a specific kind of prefabrication that encloses a space, such as a room. Once built, modules are transported to the building site and are assembled.
While you may assume Modular construction is a modern method, it actually dates back to the 1600s. A Colonial-American fisherman had just moved from England to the New World and wanted a home built with “trusted” English construction methods. So, he had his home built in England and shipped to North America by boat over the Pacific. Modular homes were also used in the 1800s during the California Gold Rush. Mining towns were booming, and they needed a quick housing solution to meet the demands. More than 500 preassembled homes were built in New York, then shipped to California for installation.
In 20th Century North America, the industrial invention of the assembly line made modular homes even easier to build. This was particularly useful after WWII, which saw a major housing shortage and required a large number of homes to be built in a short period of time. In years after, modular construction expanded into a commercial building, providing a cost-effective and fast way to build businesses in a booming post-WWII economy.
Governments have started using modular homes for low-income housing. Modular construction allows them to build inexpensive homes for those in need. Additionally, structures that are needed in a rush can be erected in record time. Many governments are using modular construction to quickly build COVID-19 structures during the current global pandemic. With its many benefits, it’s no wonder modular construction continues to increase in popularity.
One of the most crucial benefits is speed. Modular construction can be completed 30-50% faster than traditional construction. This is because it is a series of repeated builds that are completed off-site. The structures are then transported to the site and assembled. Assembly takes significantly less time, as you are basically just putting together puzzle pieces. This reduces overall project timelines. With shorter timelines, you can reduce overall costs.
Cost efficiency is another main benefit of modular construction. Since you have less time assembling on-site, your labour costs are lower. There is more simplicity in building, as the designs are repeated, thus streamlining the process. You will spend less money and time with architects and trying to meet building codes and requirements, as you can create the “perfect” module, and just repeat that exact process for all other modules.
Although necessary, the construction industry is guilty of creating a lot of waste and carbon emissions that can greatly damage our planet. Many builders are looking for ways they can reduce their impact on the environment and focus on “green building”. With a repeated process for building modules, it is easier to act sustainably when building. Modular construction greatly reduces waste produced from construction. It is easier to budget for materials, so less goes to waste than on a traditional construction site.
Although there are many benefits, it is important to consider the potential disadvantages. One problem, which is the most obvious is damage during transportation. Since items are being built off-site, they need to be transported. This time in transit leaves room for potential damage. This could cause potential architectural issues in construction if damage impacts the structural integrity.
With transportation, you also need to consider the size of the modules. Modules are restricted to being the size that the method of transportation can hold. If you are transporting the modules by truck, modules are typically restricted to maximum dimensions of 16′ widths and 70′ lengths. This leaves less room for customizations.
Since modular construction consists of repeated modules, it’s important to get every aspect of the build perfect. There is no room for error. One miscalculation and all of the modules could be compromised, causing additional time and resources you may not have. It could also cost additional time on-site to cater to the mistake. Making time to ensure perfection helps avoid possible delays and additional costs.
Modular construction is the way of building the future. It has many benefits such as reduced costs, time savings and reduced waste. The benefits make it seem like a clear path for the future of construction. However, like any construction method, there are disadvantages. These include potential damage during transportation, less customization, and no room for error. Although it may not be right for all applications, it will only continue to increase in popularity as we continue to build our world. With the current trends of building, modular construction might just be the perfect solution for improved productivity in construction.
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