Debunking Modular Building Myths

OP INSTITUTIONALPhoto credit Shelly Harrison Photography

By Lee Dellicker

When most people think about modular construction, the double-wide trailer is often the first thing that comes to mind. This isn’t all that surprising since historically, modular construction was used for just that – mobile homes. These simple structures weren’t very aesthetically pleasing and were often made with low-quality aluminum. But fast-forward several decades, and today modular construction is something quite different. With the proper planning processes in place, any building can now be built using modern modular techniques.

Modular has evolved into a true planning process and building solution offering sophisticated structures, shortened on-site construction time, and improved safety performance. It’s also extremely versatile and allows builders to adapt to a variety of building situations to benefit clients. In other words, it’s not prescribed to one building type, but rather can be used to enhance a wide variety of building components or assemblies. And when planned and executed correctly, it’s also an approach that overcomes schedule challenges and enhances quality.

So, when should modular be used as an alternative building system?

Occupied Spaces

In areas where sound, dust and vibration mitigation are critical, modular is a great alternative to traditional building systems. Traditionally, materials, machines and workers are brought to the construction zone and the structure is fully assembled on-site – but that creates a good amount of disruption to the surrounding community. Modular allows for much of the building activity to happen off-site in a factory setting, limiting the amount of on-site work required to complete a project.

When dealing with construction in occupied spaces, safety is also a significant concern. With modular, safety is dramatically enhanced due to the simple fact: that there are far less hours required on-site. Fewer hours on-site equals a reduced risk of accidents.

Academic Institutions

Many academic institutions across the country are faced with an urgent need to build dormitories, academic buildings and performing arts facilities within tight timeframes and budgets to meet the growing and changing needs of their student population. On campuses where breaks between sessions provide short construction windows, modular offers a more efficient, speedy and affordable option. Much of the process  – wall panels, flooring and finishes – can happen at the modular facility, which allows the builder to assemble the pieces on the campus relatively quickly and within the agreed-upon timeframe.

With a construction timeline of just eight months, Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., for example, needed at least 150 beds for the incoming freshman class in the fall of 2016. The modular option provided the school with a buildable solution that could be constructed during the winter months, allowing them to meet their tight timeline, campus planning, and budgetary requirements. The successful outcome was an increase in the final bed count from 150 to 225 beds without sacrificing quality or cost.

Another reason modular is such an attractive option for academic institutions is that many of those projects tend to feature repetitive design elements (like apartments and hotels). When most of the spaces within the building will have the same layout, it’s very easy to have those produced quickly and effectively in a modular facility.

Unpredictable Weather

One of the most popular reasons to use modular is when building in locales where the weather can be inhospitable and unpredictable. In these cases, using modular provides an incredible amount of control and predictability in the face of variable weather conditions. With modules built and constructed in a controlled environment, quality is built-in from the start and structures are completely weather tight.

Harsh and changeable weather conditions can also drastically delay construction. If a snowstorm hits the construction zone, a project could be delayed several days or even weeks, but using modular mitigates those risks and enables the builder to stay on schedule.

While modular construction is an innovative building resource for the reasons mentioned previously, modular won’t be right for all projects, and not all projects need to be 100 percent modular. In fact, modular can be a hybrid solution such as prefabricated, panelized walls integrated with a site-built frame. Modular is really a planning process, not a product, that helps us adapt to various building challenges with increased quality, improved safety performance and condensed on-site construction durations.

Lee Dellicker is partner, president and CEO of Windover Construction, a leading full-service construction management firm in New England, focused on academic, nonprofit, commercial and residential projects. For additional information, call 978-526-9410 or email [email protected] 

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