DeLuxe Building Systems Inc.
Modular construction is not a new method to the construction industry, but DeLuxe Building Systems Inc. is a unique provider in a number of ways. Although the company evolved from offering the traditional single-family modular structures constructed from wood, DeLuxe has also built projects built with structural-steel framing since the early ’80s and totally non-combustible construction shortly thereafter. It has the most rapid steel-framed modular production capacity in the industry allowing it to meet tight schedules, and it has nearly 50 years of systems-built experience, so it knows how to successfully complete a job.
“Up and down the East Coast, there are only three manufacturers that focus on non-combustible construction, and there are probably only a dozen throughout the United States,” says John Erb, vice president of sales and marketing. “Our founder has helped develop the modular industry by creating some industry groups.” Erb also serves as a trustee or board member on a number of associations at the national and governmental level.
Based in Berwick, Pa., DeLuxe was founded in 1965 by Donald E. Meske, who is the company’s founder and active president. DeLuxe began by building traditional modular wood-frame, single-family homes and medium-sized apartment structures, but eventually evolved into steel-frame modular construction. In the past six years, the company has completely focused on steel-framed, and non-combustible modular construction.
“All we do is steel and concrete,” Erb notes.
In the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, for example, DeLuxe is finishing in a seven-story upscale apartment building that has a first-floor retail leveler. Erb explains this structure required DeLuxe to create 56 modules – all of which have been delivered and installed – and the company is doing the completion work.
“This will be ready for occupancy shortly,” Erb says. “This project was on an infill site, and the developer wanted to minimize construction activities to get the revenue sooner. We were a great fit because we focus on providing a 30 to 40 percent faster build cycle.”
Efficient and Consistent
Much of DeLuxe’s speed comes from its state-of-the-art facility. Its main production facility is located within an industrial park and covers 250,000 square feet of space with two production lines. DeLuxe also has a concrete panel plant and a steel fabrication facility, where it also manufactures its own light-gauge framing components. The company has enough capacity to build nearly 2.5 million square feet per each year.
“We have the space to store about 600 modules,” Erb says. “We have to manufacture a fair amount of them before we can deliver them to a project site, so this storage is important.”
The company opened its concrete floor panel facility a couple years ago in an effort to decrease production time on its modular structures. This facility allows DeLuxe to make the concrete panels in advance, instead of pouring the floor panels on the production line and waiting for them to cure. This also makes its manufacturing process more efficient. Erb notes the panels also create a stronger dimensional diaphragm for the entire module, as well as eliminate typical rot, mold and insect-attracting properties that occur with wood framing.
“We wanted to be able to develop floor panels for our modules, and this allows us to produce enough panels for a project six to eight weeks ahead of time,” he says. “This allows us to have enough produced and cured in time as we start assembling the complete modules.”
DeLuxe also benefits from the features of the entire facility. “Within the facility, there are several automation features that allow us to work faster and repetitive,” Erb explains. “But we also benefit from the consistency of the trade work coming out of our facility – we have consistent quality because the people working for us are our employees, not subs.
“We are currently building two projects simultaneously on our two lines, and that is a big plus for us.”
Student housing is a major focus for DeLuxe right now, and it is working on a 120,000-square-foot residence hall structure in upstate New York, as well as a building for a charter school on Long Island. Last year, DeLuxe completed a 465-bed student residence hall for Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. This was a 136,000-square-foot structure. The construction management company with the help of DeLuxe was able to complete this project in a year from “ground breaking to ribbon cutting,” Erb says.
“The key advantage we had on this project was that the construction manager won the bid on their credentials and price,” Erb explains. “However, the price they quoted was still $5 million over the budget, so our modular construction helped to cut that cost. We also helped ensure the critical path for the tight schedule. Modular was really the only way to pull it off with the schedule on this project.”
When working with project teams, DeLuxe will set parameters for the project in terms of the modular dimensions. The Department of Transportation sets limits on the size of a module that can be delivered over the highways; however, the logistics of the site for the installation of the modules will also dictate size due to crane reach and access to the site. The company brings a structural engineer to the design team that knows DeLuxe’s methods and they work with the project owner’s design team in educating the architect and other design consultants on how the modules can be designed in the most cost-effective manner.
“Sometimes contractors come to us because they want their project to be cheaper and they think modular is the way to do that,” Erb says. “Often, it’s not cheaper, but it will be faster and that is where we can save them money. It’s important that we get involved in the design early so there doesn’t have to be a lot of changes, if the design has to be changed from a traditional design to modular.”
DeLuxe is in the midst of a considerable period of growth and has been active in several market sectors. Erb admits the company doesn’t have as much repeat business as he would like to see, but that is primarily because it’s working a lot with universities and colleges, and they aren’t quick to start another new project. DeLuxe, however, is seeing a lot of activity in the hotel market, which fits well with its modular structures.
“We are really hot and heavy chasing down potential projects and clients,” Erb explains. “We’re also doing a lot of education with architects so they can promote us with their clients. Modular construction is not new and our capabilities lead the industry, so it’s time for contractors to see all of the benefits we provide.”
He stresses that the characteristics of DeLuxe’s structures also surpass what is available in the rest of the industry.
“Typical modular companies max out at four-story structures,” he says. “We tend to go after projects that start at six stories. When you get over five stories, the building codes specify that the structure has to be steel and concrete and non-combustible. That is exactly what we provide.”
The fact that DeLuxe has the capabilities to build two projects simultaneously has been a major boost to its sales, and its storage capacity also helps a lot. Therefore, the company has a fairly strong backlog, with many projects getting close to contract, Erb notes.
“We have a vast amount of experience here – not just in modular construction, but so many of us have spent years in the construction industry,” he explains. “As a result, we think like a construction company, not just as a modular manufacturer. We have an entire project team of seasoned construction-savvy folk, and we bring all of that expertise to each and every project, in addition to all of our in-house capabilities.”