Why your understanding of modular construction is off base.
By Grant Geiger
Most likely, you have some familiarity with the term, “modular construction.” While it has been implemented for decades, recent technological and design-based advances have led to new iterations that significantly elevate the method. In fact, modular holds the potential to overhaul construction across industries. Compared with traditional on-site building, it can cut timelines dramatically, increase safety and sustainability within the building process and produce stronger buildings.
Although modular construction boasts a laundry list of benefits, there are several misconceptions holding some back. Learn why your previous understanding of modular may need to be revisited.
A Few Common Use Cases
Modular construction is used extensively across various industries, including hospitality, education, commercial and residential real estate and healthcare. Given its capabilities to shorten timelines, companies are able to complete and open the doors of their facilities much faster. The construction of buildings in an off-site location coincides with foundation work, allowing for completion 30 to 50 percent sooner than on-site building.
When building with modular, construction projects create less disruption within the site and surrounding areas, making it an excellent solution for projects such as hotels, apartment complexes, hospitals and classrooms built in highly populated, urban environments. For example, construction on a campus can gain incredible efficiency and faculty and students only experience closures, reroutes and potential traffic during a short period in which the prefabricated buildings are delivered and installed (as opposed to the lengthy disruption historically caused on-site).
Misconceptions Plaguing the Industry
Modular construction has evolved immensely, yet when planning a project, some are inclined to question or write it off completely. This is often due to a lack of understanding surrounding the process and implementation, largely attributed to the pace of recent advances in the space.
A common myth circulating is that modular construction costs more than on-site construction. Actually, it is frequently more cost-efficient to build with modular construction. Given that the construction takes place in a highly-controlled environment and units are designed specifically to code and measurements, on-site human error and frequent defects are eliminated. Further, the mere time-saving factor drives costs down significantly. Labor expenses are also reduced, as the team required for modular construction is usually smaller than those needed on-site. The routine, expensive delays caused by external factors on a regular site, such as weather conditions, are also removed from the equation with modular.
What about safety? Another rumor making the rounds is that modular buildings are less safe than conventional counterparts. In reality, when built with a trusted manufacturer, modular buildings are often safer. Due to the nature of prefabricated rooms, they must be relocated from the point of construction to their designated site. This indicates that the structural makeup of modular units is stronger than rooms in traditional buildings – as the structure must withstand transportation and installation without damage. When worker safety during construction is taken into consideration, indoor construction environments are also proven to reduce risks of accidents and other common liabilities that come with on-site building.
Another commonly propagated misconception is that modular constructed facilities are always designed for temporary use or somehow flimsy. This simply isn’t true, as the modules are subject to rigorous testing and meticulous quality control during the manufacturing process. If errors are found, they are eradicated prior to installation on-site. In fact, the “life expectancy” of modular construction is the exact same as that of on-site building and the demanding quality standards for modular construction create permanent structures that are built to withstand the test of time.
The quality of modular construction is often actually higher than that of standard construction. When some hear the term modular, they’re likely to envision Sears Roebuck kit homes circa 1908, but that’s not an accurate representation in the least. These simply aren’t on par with the cutting-edge, quality products of modular construction we experience today. Using steel and other robust materials, modular construction can meet hurricane concerns, seismic zone considerations and any other building regulations or requirements.
In fact, major players across industries are shifting to build with modular construction, including global leaders such as Hilton Hotels. Earlier this year, the hospitality group partnered with Finnish modular firm, Admares, to build “The Hilton Box” – a modular luxury hotel room. In 2016, the company also used the firm to modularly construct its hotel at Resorts World Bimini in the Bahamas. With 269 prefabricated hotel rooms, Hilton recognized impressive results and significantly increased efficiencies during construction. The modular rooms were built even faster than initially anticipated, outpacing the speed at which the project’s general contractors were able to complete the foundation, shell and core.
Additional Benefits Elevating Modular
A major asset provided by modular construction is a scalable model, which is especially important for a field like healthcare. Once one hospital is planned, designed and constructed, it creates a footprint for that health system to duplicate and meet the needs of patient populations quickly. The result is an on-demand, repeatable and scalable process that is maximized for efficiency. Modular construction enables rooms to be built upfront to code and specifications, reducing onsite construction costs. Units are delivered complete and assembled, allowing an accelerated opening timeline. Patients can be treated sooner and health systems can recognize revenue faster, which is not often the case in the industry.
Modular also provides enhanced flexibility. In the era of urban innovation, many new buildings are designed and constructed with cutting-edge technology for a seamless customer and patient experience. While LED screens and automated controls may be new today, the technology could be outdated by the time a facility built on-site opens it doors, let alone when you consider advancements that will occur within three to five years. When built modularly, units can be updated or replaced quickly and affordably, as opposed to lengthy, expensive remodels usually required to implement such changes.
In terms of labor concerns, modular building also proves beneficial. The construction industry faces an ongoing labor shortage issue causing understaffing problems and strains on budgets and deadlines. When adopting modular building and partnering with trusted manufacturers, smaller teams are needed to staff a project, with workers focused on site prep, foundation work and installation.
Incredible attention to detail is placed on the building itself with modular; it’s as much about the physical building itself as it is the construction process and location. This is reflected in the craftsmanship and intuitive design elements experienced in a modular structure. It is also much greener than traditional construction, allowing teams to be mindful of and reduce waste. According to Construction & Demolition Recycling, the volume of construction waste produced globally on an annual basis will double by 2025, reaching 2.2 billion tons. Reduced waste in modular construction is achieved via shorter timelines, decreased site waste and emissions, the utilization of sustainable materials and its transportable, flexible nature allowing buildings to essentially be reused.
Ultimately, by embracing technology and innovation beyond regular industry standards, modular building is advancing the entire field. The projects are expertly planned, designed and engineered utilizing BIM-enabled technology and built by experienced teams. Moreover, companies at the forefront of the modular revolution are producing new technology that redefines how to build modularly. In many respects, developments in the space will continue to outpace public understanding, making ongoing education and research a vital component in wide adoption.
Grant Geiger is the founder and CEO of EIR Healthcare, an award-winning modular innovation firm bringing efficient industrial practices to healthcare, laboratory and life sciences. He and his team are dedicated to driving global change in the industry across the healthcare ecosystem. Reach Geiger on LinkedIn and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.