What Is Modular Building Construction?
Modular construction is the process where buildings are made up of individual sections (“modules”), constructed in an off-site controlled manufacturing facility, and assembled together at the final building site. The modules are fabricated using standard building construction materials while leveraging assembly-line production methods.
When you think of a modular building, maybe you imagine a small trailer or even a large apartment building made up of individual units. Either example can be true, but are you still left uncertain on the specifics of modular or prefab construction? In this blog, we will answer all of your remaining questions (and maybe more!) So sit back and be prepared to become a modular building expert.
Modular Construction Process – What is Involved?
The modular building construction process is often compared to building with blocks, in that each piece is constructed to fit perfectly with the next piece. The end result is a high-quality product constructed in a safe and efficient work environment. But how can a building be built to last in such a short amount of time? Steps to ensure efficiency, durability and dependability are top priority in modular builds, just as they are in traditional construction builds.Individual modules are typically built between 8′ and 14′ feet wide so they can be transported on the road to the building site.
Module lengths depend on the overall building configuration, square footage requirement, and site layout. They most often range between 30′ and 72′ feet long. Here are a couple of simple examples of how to calculate modular building square footage based on the size and number of modules:
- 2*(14′[W] * 50′[L]) = 1,400 square feet
- 10*(12′[W] * 32′[L]) = 3,840 square feet
At the same time that module construction is happening at the manufacturing facility, prep work is being done at the building site. This includes excavation, grading, foundation, and utilities.
Once all the individual modules are constructed off-site, they are delivered and staged at the building set in a pre-determined order to make final assembly as efficient as possible. A crane is used to place the modules and construct the complete building.
Modular Construction vs Traditional Construction
As mentioned above, the biggest difference between traditional construction and modular building construction is that much of the modular construction happens within a manufacturing facility, and traditional construction is built on-site from the ground up.
The overlap of activity that takes place off-site and on-site in the process of modular building makes a big impact on the construction schedule. Since modular construction can be done simultaneously in a factory and on-site, as opposed to conventional construction which has to wait for site preparation before building can begin, it can be completed in about 50% of the time as traditional construction.
This form of factory-built construction has been growing in popularity over the years, as significant advancements in technology have made the process of designing, moving, and assembling modular components easier.
If you still have doubts regarding the process of modular vs traditional construction, refer to this infographic that explains the main differences between the two processes. The advantages of modular are evident when viewed through a side-by-side comparison as shown below.
What Materials are Modular Buildings Made Of?
There are primarily two framing types used in modular construction. The first option would be standard wood-frame construction (Type V B) which is built with standard lumber. The second option would be steel and concrete (Type II B non-combustible). Both options have their unique benefits. Steel and concrete are stronger building materials but wood-framed buildings are often less expensive.
Beyond your choice of framing, the rest of the materials used in modular building construction include:
- Wood trusses used for roof
- Drywall or VCG (vinyl covered gypsum) interior wall finish
- Acoustical ceiling (“drop ceiling”)
- CPVC, pex, or copper piping/tubing
- Double pane glass
- Solid core doors
- Commercial hardware and fixtures
- Carpeting of preferred thickness (rolled carpet or carpet tiles)
- VCT (vinyl composite tiles) or ceramic tiles
Customizing Modular Buildings
In most cases, your layout or floor plan can be configured in any way desired! You decide what rooms you need and how many you need. Include additional restrooms, conference rooms, lunch rooms, locker rooms, waiting areas, or storage spaces as you see fit.
Once your layout is approved, here are some of your options for customizing the appearance and operations of your modular building space:
- Exterior finishes (brick, stone, stucco, siding)
- Slope of roof (flat or pitched)
- Crown molding and trim
- Hardwood floors
- Upgraded hardware and fixtures
- Cove base
- Broadband wiring
- Alarm systems
- Secure access
- Sensor Switches
- High-efficiency HVAC
- Solar power
- Roofing color
- Wall and ceiling insulation
What is the Life Expectancy of a Modular Building?
Like any building, the life expectancy for your modular building depends on how well you care for it with regular maintenance. Permanent modular buildings do not have a limited life-span. Temporary buildings typically have a useful life of 20-25 years, which could be longer if they are very well maintained and renovated periodically. All modular buildings, temporary or permanent, can be expanded, remodeled, and updated as you find necessary.
Busting Modular Building Myths
Throughout the decades, as modular building construction continues to rise in popularity and usefulness, the industry has rapidly and progressively improved its products. It’s time to set the record straight on many common modular building myths we still hear.
Myth: They Aren’t Structurally Sound
FACT: Modular buildings are engineered and professionally fabricated to meet all the same building codes that traditionally constructed structures must meet. The assembly of each module is performed in a safe and controlled factory using quality construction materials. Because modular buildings are fabricated in sections, structural inspections can be consistently performed throughout the modular construction process. In addition, inspections at the project site during the assembly process further verify the modular building’s structural integrity.
Myth: They Don’t Look Nice
FACT: Today’s modular structures create a portfolio of functional, creative, and attractive temporary and permanent spaces. Contrary to popular belief, pre-assembled buildings designed for permanent use can be multiple stories and, depending on the budget and specifications, a building’s interior and exterior can be created to meet any custom design. Most importantly, modular buildings can be finished to match the architectural design and façade of surrounding buildings, seamlessly blending into your professional or educational community.
Myth: Modular Buildings Are Only Temporary
FACT: Temporary modular buildings are often seen at construction sites or near expanding businesses making it understandable why many people recognize modular building construction as temporary solutions. While portable modular buildings offer a fast solution to an urgent need for space, permanent modular construction (PMC) provides an alternative permanent building option to meet the broad long-term space needs of businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, and more. PMC solutions are fitted on permanent foundations which are custom installed to precisely meet the specifications of each modular building, resulting in a high-quality cohesive structure.
To see more examples of what you can build using modular construction, view recent project photos in our gallery.