Modular vs Traditional Construction: What’s the Difference?
A question we’re often asked is, “what are the biggest differences between the modular vs. traditional construction processes?” Stick-built construction has long been the standard in commercial construction, but factory-built construction has been growing in popularity over the years. Significant advancements in technology have made the process of designing, moving, and assembling modular components easier.
One of the most significant differences in these building methods is time. Since modular construction can be done simultaneously in a factory and on-site, it can be completed up to 50% faster than traditional construction. This is especially appealing for commercial use since business owners begin to see a return on investment much sooner than with stick-built construction.
How can a building be built to last in such a short amount of time? Steps to ensure efficiency, durability, and dependability are the top priorities in modular builds, just as they are in traditional construction builds.
If you still have doubts regarding the process of modular vs. traditional construction, refer to this infographic that outlines the main differences between the two processes. The advantages of modular are evident when viewed through a side-by-side comparison.
Modular vs. Traditional Construction: Avoiding Delays
No matter where your building or expansion project takes place, stick-built construction projects will face delays caused by unfavorable weather conditions. Whether it’s snow-covered work sites in New England, hurricane warnings along the coasts, or extended periods of extreme heat, seasonal construction delays can cause several issues that impact a project timeline and budget. These include:
- Requiring the purchase of additional materials and equipment to replace what is ruined on-site.
- Pushing back the start dates on your next projects, creating a domino effect.
- Leading to haste and careless mistakes that are more likely to occur when workers are trying to make up time.
- Increasing the risk of worksite injuries due to unsafe environmental conditions.
On-Site Seasonal Construction Delays
Extreme temperatures (high and low) and extreme moisture can wreak havoc on your building supplies, equipment, and workforce when the majority of the construction takes place on-site.
- Paint stored or applied in very moist conditions can face issues with adhesiveness, color, and drying time.
- Overexposure to moisture can cause mold in carpeting, drywall, wood, and insulation.
- Moisture buildup in bricks can result in condensation collecting in interior walls, which can cause swelling.
- High winds and hail, often associated with rainstorms, can damage materials, cause dents, break glass, etc.
- High temperatures can affect the strength of concrete and result in premature settling.
- Paint applied in high heat can crack, wrinkle, or blister.
- Bricks that get too hot cannot adequately adhere to mortar paste.
- Dehydration and sunstroke can affect worker safety. They are known to affect people’s judgment and reaction time, which can lead to dangerous situations.
- In extreme cold, the water and solvents in paint can freeze.
- Masonry materials, including concrete and brick, can weaken when ice crystals form.
- Mortar and grout also weaken, meaning they cannot properly absorb moisture and will be less resistant to water later.
Off-Site Construction Takes Weather Delays Out of the Equation
When up to 90% of your new building or expansion space is constructed off-site, seasonal construction delays have less potential to negatively impact your timeline and budget than in traditional construction operations.
Modular and Traditional Construction: How They Are the Same
Although there are many differences between modular vs. traditional construction, there are also instances where they are the same.
A common misconception about modular building is that you can bypass the process of applying for and obtaining building permits and inspections. This is untrue. Modular construction is construction and, just like you would with a traditional, on-site project, you still need to follow the traditional permit process. Additionally, modular buildings need to be built to meet appropriate local and state building codes.
Building Permits for Modular Construction
Construction or building permits are required for new construction or major renovations. Each region of the country is different and, depending on your project type, different approvals, variances, and/or permits are required. For example, local approval may be enough in some areas, but in other areas, county approval is necessary.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that permits can be omitted from a modular construction timeline. A modular building cannot simply show up on-site without approval from local authorities.
Typical construction permits fall into these categories:
- Foundation & Building Permit – necessary for projects that enlarge, repair, change, add to, or demolish a structure; including new construction and additions to existing structures.
- Mechanical Permit – required when installing or replacing a heating/cooling system; installing, altering, or repairing gas piping between meter and appliances; or installing appliances that are required to be vented (bath fans, dryer exhaust, kitchen range).
- Electrical Permit – should be obtained when installing, repairing, or altering electrical or communication wiring and equipment.
- Plumbing Permit – necessary for plumbing in all new building installations.
Other permits that your modular project could require:
- Road Opening Permit
- Water/Sewer Tap
- Fire Suppression Permit
Meeting Building Codes at an Accelerated Pace
In addition to going through the permit process, modular buildings must also meet the appropriate commercial building codes and undergo building inspections. Just as with stick-built construction, in the modular construction process, architectural or factory drawings are approved for local and state codes. The alternative construction methods used in modular building, however, allow for the subsequent inspection process to be much more streamlined.
In traditional, on-site construction, as each step of the open-construction process is completed (foundation, framing, electric, plumbing, etc.), an inspector must visit the site to approve the work.
During an off-site, modular construction project, specialized inspections are also completed at each step of the process, as the individual module moves down the assembly line. This unique quality control strategy allows for imperfections to be caught and corrected without affecting other areas of the project, which saves time and keeps costs low. When the project is ready to be assembled on-site, each module will carry proof of compliance along with it, ensuring that additional inspection is not needed.