As the global construction industry continues extreme growth to meet increasing demand for both temporary and permanent building development, there is renewed interest in the topic of modular construction. To help people understand the full scope of the modular construction industry, we created this helpful guide.
Modular construction refers to the trade of building individual prefabricated “modules” in a controlled environment, often a warehouse or large construction plant. The individual modules allow for convenient transport. And Later, these parts will be installed and assembled on-site to make one or multiple cohesive units. To sum it quickly, modular construction is the process of assembling a building project by pre-built or pre-assembled separate pieces, that will later be installed and fixed together to make your final completed product.
Often times, you might hear modular construction mentioned in the same sentence as volumetric construction:
Volumetric construction is the process of assembling individual prefabricated modules together, either side-by-side or multiple stories high, to create a final building. You can think about volumetric construction in the same way that you think about masonry or even playing with legos. Specific sized, six sided cuboids stacked neatly to create both simple and complex geometric buildings and complexes. Volumetric construction is a part of the modular construction process.
A modular building, also known as a portable, prefabricated or pre-assembled building, undergoes a fairly straightforward process of construction. Consider the following modular construction steps that go into assembling a modular building complex before it can finally be transported to the site and assembled:
Like any other architectural project, modular construction also begins from the drawing board. However, the difference when designing a modular building is that it is more intricate and detailed due to the prefabricated method of construction. Here are some of the factors that impact the construction process:
Once the design has been completed, the engineering check is next. No plans can be approved unless certified engineers from a registered government agency check the blueprints for any violations of local construction codes. Agencies such as the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) ensure that there are no health or construction hazards and that all required safety measures are in place.
While a major part of modular construction occurs in the factory, there is still on-site work that requires local permits to be obtained by the developers. Failure to obtain these can lead to severe penalties or worse, complete demolition of the building. Here’s a general, non-exclusive list of permits:
Apart from the assembly of prefabricated modules, site development is the only aspect of modular construction that takes place on-site. Once engineers and experts have surveyed the area to assess the type of land they will be working with, the foundation is laid out. The land has to be excavated until the desired depth is reached; this is also necessary to allow the installation of a drainage system. The last step includes installation of a firm foundation upon which the building will be placed.
Module fabrication happens simultaneously with on-site preparation, which is one of the principal reasons why modular construction allows you to save so much time compared to traditional methods. The actual module fabrication process starts with a welded steel frame. Once on the assembly line, the entire structure is created on this frame, including base floors, walls, and ceilings. After the skeleton is prepared, the electrical and plumbing accessories are added to it. The final steps include interior design features per the client’s wishes, such as doors, floors, paint, etc.
Upon completion, the individual modules need to be transported to the site for assembly. Due to regulations on the size of modules that can be transported, these are generally built on a predefined scale.
Typically, there are three width options for a module, but some companies may offer two larger selections. This variance exists due to differences in federal and state regulations, as well as the factory’s capability to produce a certain size. The five most common widths are:
As with width, the length of your module may differ from state to state. As such, most of the modules are built 60 feet in length, with some manufacturers also going as long as 72 feet.
Unlike the above two, the allowed height for any cargo as per federal and local laws is 13 feet and 6 inches. Many factors influence the height of the module, most notably the size of the carrier and the roof that will be attached above the ceiling. A carrier is typically around 2 feet 5 inches tall. Combined with a roof, the average height for a module reaches 8 – 9 feet.
The benefits of modular construction are abundant. The four most notable advantages include:
The answer to this question is yes, modular construction is more affordable than traditional construction all things being equal. While traditional and modular projects can cost a significant amount depending on the scope of the project, here are some of the reasons that costs are kept lower for modular companies and their customers:
Prefabricated modules are assembled inside a large, controlled environment. This means modular companies avoid building in the weather elements and chaotic environment that typical outdoor construction faces. Avoiding weather conditions allows carpenters and skilled technicians to assemble the prefab units without delays and in any climate.
Assembly occurring in one location allows for a well-maintained building process in which tools, assembly materials, and employees of construction companies can maintain better order and efficiency.
Some companies allow for flexible leasing options and have fleets of thousands of pre-built structures. This means that you can receive entire buildings for office space, school portables, storage, medical and healthcare labs for only as long as you need them.
Because the building modules have been completed as much as possible before being transported to the site and without interruptions such as weather, the whole process is easier to complete. Modules are quickly transported and installed together like legos. This makes onsite construction a minimized operation process.
As mentioned above, entire modular buildings and modules are conveniently portable. They fit on the back of commercial semi trailers, freight trains, and ocean ships. This not only saves the costs mentioned above, but allows for flexibility of positioning. If your worksite or school campus undergoes developments, modular buildings can be conveniently relocated and put in a better on-site position.
This also means that once a building has served its use, you can simply sell it, or give it back to the modular leasing company.
Modular construction is associated with multiple environmental benefits. All modular buildings can be assembled with the high quality materials and high standards of engineering to ensure that they are energy efficient. This saves you money on air conditioning units and HVAC heating cooling systems, and also produces less fossil fuel waste caused by excessive heating and cooling.
Modular construction also produces less waste as materials can be reused for multiple units. It’s also less likely that employees might lose tools or resources inside the controlled construction buildings.
The installation process onsite is less intensive for the on-site locations environment. Quick, simple installation with minimal materials means that modular companies spend little time and effort on your actual campus.
In combination with the offsite, prefabrication process and the fact that modular companies like VESTA Modular having fleets of portable buildings and trailers already completed across the United States, modular companies can often complete the delivery and installation process quicker than traditional construction companies. Depending on the scope of the process, a project can be completed within days, weeks, or months.
VESTA has been recognized by national awards and as “The Fastest Growing Modular Construction Company in the U.S.”. If you’re curious about how a modular construction project can save you money, time, and still exceed your quality and design expectations, contact us to get a quote and get started, today!