Modular Construction is the Future

There, I said it. Go ahead and disagree, but there is compelling evidence suggesting that modular is the way to go for new construction projects. With advances in the manufacturing process, the average person peering at a building can’t tell the difference between modular and on-site construction.

But you know who can tell the difference? Owners. Developers. Our clients who reap the advantages of off-site construction. They see the difference in cost savings, in scheduling, and in their ROI, while their tenants enjoy all the comforts of a modern building.

Let’s take a closer look at those advantages, shall we?

Setting the Stage

Developer A has a prime site downtown slated for a new mixed-use residential/commercial building. Developer B has the prime site directly across the street from Developer A and plans to build a similar mixed-use development. Developer A hires an architect, who designs the new building, and later puts it out to bid. Developer B also hires an architect but plans to use modular construction.

Both projects are carefully planned, engineered and designed to meet building regulations. When the design is finalized, planning permissions are in place, and contractors are on board, building begins.

Developer A’s traditional contractor begins with site development, leveling the ground, installing utilities, and pouring foundation. Once the site is ready, framing begins. Once framing is complete and walls are up, various trades (mechanical, plumbing, electric, roofing, etc.) start their scopes of work. Construction is delayed during a snowstorm, and the plumbing sub takes an extra two weeks to complete their scope because they don’t have enough skilled laborers to get it done in the given timeframe.

Developer B’s modular construction process runs a little differently. While the site is being prepared, the building components are being concurrently assembled in a controlled factory environment off-site. The frame is assembled, and walls and insulation are added in a process similar to that of an assembly line. Once the components have reached a certain stage of assembly, they are transported to the site and installed. Interior and exterior finishes are completed, and Developer B has a new turnkey development ready to rent out.

I like to imagine Developer B looks at the still-being-constructed Development A smugly as they rent out the last space in their building.

The Advantages

Who wins in this scenario? Both buildings appear to be of good quality when they are finished, though Development A might have suffered some materials damage during the snow storm… and how confident can we be in the new laborers the plumbing sub used?

I’m not going to trash traditional construction, and I’ll give Development A the benefit of the doubt and assume they thoroughly inspected and replaced damaged materials, and the plumbing sub did an excellent job, even if it did take longer.

But that last point is a big one. It took longer.

Development B enjoyed several benefits as a result of choosing modular construction, not the least of which is that their development was completed months before Developer A’s, allowing them to snap up new tenants and start seeing a return on their investment faster.

Developer B saw the advantages of modular construction, including:

  • Cost Savings – no wasted materials, delayed schedules, or costly labor.
  • Time Savings – no time lost due to weather, theft, or unskilled labor.
  • Labor – modular assembly doesn’t require skilled laborer, making it cheaper and more reliable to staff
  • Quality Control – modular building environments are highly controlled and protected from the elements, and modular buildings are designed to the same regulations as non-modular buildings
  • Site Impact – minimal impact to the site (thus minimal restoration required at the end of construction), as well as advantages in maneuvering/staging a space in a busy area (downtown)
  • Sustainability – lower potential for excess material or generation of waste in the production environment
  • Material Use/Economies of Scale – modular manufacturers negotiate better pricing due to the volume and consistency of their orders, translating to cost savings for their client

So, who would you rather be? Developer A, or Developer B?