Green Building Trends: An Architect’s Perspective on Prefab Construction
By Kathy Werder
In October 2000 a massive flood in Uckfield, England, put parts of the town under 6 feet of water severely damaging a McDonald’s restaurant. Just two weeks later, that same McDonald’s was up and running again. How? With speed, quality and efficiency, modular construction has become the ideal solution for both temporary and permanent space required in sectors such as healthcare, higher education and low-rise offices.
Today McDonald’s is at the forefront of prefab or modular construction technology in the United Kingdom and has set up several franchises using the sustainable prefab construction model. Each structure took just four weeks to build, and a reduced impact on the environment and the improvement of whole-life performance are among the many benefits.
Advancement of technology in the 21st century has given rise to this faster, more cost-efficient method of building construction. It is so named because each individual unit (module) of the building is prefabricated in a factory while the foundation is prepared at the actual construction site. After the modules are ready, they are then transported to the site and assembled on top of the foundation.
So, as opposed to traditional construction, the two phases in prefab construction (foundation laying and building) happen simultaneously instead of sequentially. This is mostly why modular prefab is more cost-effective and time-efficient compared to traditional construction.
Here are some more interesting facts about modular construction.
1. Prefab building is Flexible and Can be Customized to Suit your Budget
Prefab construction can be easily dismantled and re-assembled to another location. In some cases, the entire building can be recycled thus reducing the need for new raw materials. In the technical term of the word “flexibility,” any building — modular or traditional — is quite rigid. However, when it comes to budgets, timeframe, specifications and location modular buildings provide a great deal of flexibility.
It terms of budget constraints, prefab buildings will give you the option of renting temporarily or purchasing permanently depending on what you can afford. Prefab construction companies can customize models to meet your specific requirements. You can also choose from a range of designs, which can help you stay within your budget. According to a report by the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, going modular can reduce construction cost by 9 to 20 percent.
2. Quick construction does not Compromise on Quality
The controlled factory environment in which each individual module is built makes it easy to closely monitor the quality of materials being used. Even during the construction inside the factory, there are timely inspections done by trained engineers to ensure top-notch quality of the finished product. While assembling the building on-site, there are state-imposed codes and regulations to which the construction company must adhere. Combining quality construction with record timing, a modular construction company in China recently built a 57-story building in just 19 days.
3. Prefab building is Resource and Energy Efficient
One of the defining characteristics of modular construction is that it is a lot more resource efficient than traditional construction because it results in almost no waste of time, energy and material resources. Not only can modular construction reduce energy consumption during the building process by around 67 percent, it also reduces energy costs for its occupants.
Today, most modular buildings (homes, schools, hospitals and even prisons) are constructed with the sole intention of being energy efficient. This means using energy efficient glass for windows, installing solar panels and water heaters, and using geothermal systems instead of traditional HVAC systems are all a part of modular construction.
The newly constructed Sky City in China used approximately 200,000 tons of steel, and can withstand earthquakes of a magnitude of up to 9.0 on the Richter scale, as well as resist fires for up to three hours. This 220-story high-rise will house 31,400 people and will use just a fifth of the energy required by a conventional building.
4. Prefab buildings are Low-maintenance
Modular buildings are generally constructed to be more durable than a conventional construction. Screws are used instead of nails, and joints are reinforced with glue to maintain structural integrity during transport. About 10 to 20 percent more lumbar is used in the construction of modular homes thus helping to keep them more stable.
Modular wall panels are built with durable materials and require little maintenance apart from occasional surface cleaning. Repainting and surface repairs are not usually required.
5. Prefab buildings are built with Greater Detail
About 60 to 90 percent of modular construction takes place offsite. Since each individual module of the building is built in a controlled factory environment, it is very easy to make them according to the exact specifications of the client. Individual construction makes it possible to pay more attention to detail per unit. Because of this, modular construction is often of higher construction quality than conventional buildings.
6. Prefab buildings Offer Tax Benefits
Loans taken to build or buy modular homes are completely tax deductible. Even modular building purchases made without loans are tax deductible. Furthermore, while building a modular home, if you install solar panels, solar water heaters, wind turbines or geothermal systems, you can write off 30 percent of the cost of each of these systems in your taxes.
7. Prefab buildings are 100 Percent Recyclable
Today, almost all modular or portable buildings are made up of recycled or recyclable materials like recycled metal, glass and wood. For instance, Mobile Modular uses 100 percent recyclable and glue-less carpet tiles made from post-consumer materials. Also, each modular building can be reused over and over again by new owners or tenants in any part of the city, since they are essentially portable.
There is no such thing as demolition when it comes to modular buildings. They are simply dismantled and reassembled to the liking and specifications of the new owners.
According to Modular Building Institute (MBI), an industry body accounting for 60 percent of modular contractors, the modular construction business is a small but growing percentage of the total construction industry. Modular construction is pushing boundaries, has several advantages over conventional construction and has rightly been labelled as “the future of construction.”
Image credit: Flickr/seier+seier
Kathy Werder, an architect by profession, has completed her education from the University of California. A researcher by nature, most of her research papers focus on promoting integration that leads to sustainable and lean design and construction practices. Kathy is obsessed with the latest rage in the construction industry – modular building solutions. She is also an avid writer, and loves blogging about ‘green buildings and portable construction units.