Sustainable Building Construction – How Modular Buildings Go Green
Green lifestyles are becoming increasingly common with growing concerns over the future of resources and our personal impact on the environment. To address these concerns, the modular building process focuses on sustainable building construction that minimize waste, maximize material use, and utilize a more streamlined process.
Here’s how modular construction is going green and applying less stress on the environment with sustainable construction methods:
Less Material Waste
Using traditional on-site construction methods, a 2,000 sq. ft. structure will result in 8,000 lb. of waste in the landfill. Off-site modular construction, on the other hand, reuses leftover materials on future projects or recycles them, greatly reducing the amount of “trash” filling up local landfills.
Pre-fabrication also allows modular builders to optimize their material purchases and usage. Bulk materials at the manufacturing facility are stored in a protected and controlled environment, so there is no material loss from theft or exposure to environmental conditions.
Less Material Exposure
Air quality issues are identified as one of the top complaints customers have with new construction. Poor air quality results from high levels of moisture being absorbed into the framing materials, which is caused by exposure to inclement weather. Since the bulk of a modular structure is completed in a factory-controlled setting using dry materials, the potential for moisture being trapped in the construction materials is eliminated.
Less Site Disturbance
Because most of the modular building process takes place off-site, there is far less impact on the surrounding environment of the final building site. Fewer vehicles and imposing pieces of equipment are needed at the site, which means fewer pollutants and less disruption to green space surrounding the site.
Pre-fab modular buildings offer a selection of high-efficiency mechanical systems that can be installed in each project. LED lighting, programmable thermostats, ungraded triple glazed windows, and upgraded roof insulation are all available to promote energy efficient operations in new modular building construction.
Recycle & Reuse
When a businesses’ space needs change, the beauty of modular buildings is that they can be disassembled and removed. An important sustainable benefit is that temporary modular structures can be relocated and reused with only minimal modification. This reduces the demand for raw materials and minimizes the amount of energy expended to create an entirely new building to meet a new need.
How Modular Building is Playing a Role in Reducing Construction Waste
With nearly 40% of the nation’s landfill waste coming from construction materials, green builders are focusing on reducing and repurposing waste in the construction industry. Modular construction has long been a front-runner in the field of sustainable building construction. Thanks to off-site operations, modular construction has efficient inventory control, material reuse, automation of tasks, and delivery.
The Trouble with Traditional Construction
Figures developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) help us truly understand the sheer amount of construction and demolition (C&D) waste produced with each project. In commercial construction, new buildings generate an average of 3.9 pounds of waste per square foot. Looking at a mid-size office building or college residence hall (approx. 50,000 sq. ft.), almost 100 tons of waste will be produced during the project. If the project includes demolition, the same 50,000 sq. ft. building will result in almost 4,000 tons of waste (155 pounds per square foot).
While progress is being made to make traditional construction more sustainable, the EPA still estimates that 88 million tons of C&D waste are added to landfills each year.
Modular Construction – Reducing Construction Waste by 90%
Modular construction has been providing an environmentally responsible alternative for over 40 years. The Modular Building Institute recently shared a report from WRAP, the Waste and Resource Action Programme, which outlines the key ways that building design and construction processes can be revised sustainability with waste reduction in mind. Many of these design strategies have been implemented by modular builders for decades. In fact, it’s been proven that modular construction has the potential to reduce 90% of construction waste through off-site construction.
From the WRAP report: “The benefits of off-site factory production in the construction industry are well documented and include the potential to considerably reduce waste, especially when factory manufactured elements and components are used extensively.”
Extensively? How about exclusively! Over 90% of the construction process, including all the steps included in building the individual modules, takes place in a climate-controlled indoor manufacturing facility. What this equates to is zero material waste generated from weather (rain or snow) damage or from on-site theft. Additionally, scrap supplies are much easier to save and reuse for the next project when all construction happens at the same place. This is opposed to traditional construction where tossing scrap into a dumpster is much easier than moving it to a new location.
Again, straight from the WRAP report: “Research has identified that the reuse of material components and/or entire buildings has considerable potential to reduce the key environmental burdens (e.g. embodies energy, CO2 waste, etc) resulting from construction.”
Reuse is the cornerstone upon which the modular industry was built. Temporary modular buildings are leased to meet a short-term need, after which they are removed from a site and used for a new project. As a tool in the zero waste movement, modular buildings result in twice the waste reduction. They not only minimize the amount of waste generated on the initial build but also eliminate the need for additional raw material and energy use when buildings can be reused, as opposed to new buildings created.
Pioneers of the Adaptive Reuse Movement
There’s a growing trend of re-purposing old, abandoned buildings for new uses as a way to spur community development and environmental stewardship. Adaptive reuse is the concept behind schools being built in historic factory buildings and apartment complexes being constructed from retired shipping containers.
Modular building systems are a prime example of a green life cycle. They are flexible, adaptable, modifiable, and reusable. They are essentially built to be unbuilt. The advantage of a relocatable modular building is the ability to deconstruct, not demolish. As easily as modular buildings are assembled, they can be unassembled. At which point, they can be relocated and with some minor rework and adjustments to fulfill a new need for a business in a completely different industry.
- A portable classroom used as swing-space during a major renovation project can quickly be refreshed inside and out and installed at another school location as portable classroom space to relieve overcrowding.
- An on-site construction management office can be modified and upgraded to serve as commercial modular office swing space at an industrial facility.
Modular buildings are ideal for flexibility and expansion. Like a life-size game of Tetris, modules of relocatable buildings can be added, relocated, or removed with minimal disruptions to the surrounding site and buildings. Modules are easily relocated or refreshed for their next use at a new location.
The adaptable reuse nature of modular structures reduces the need for additional raw materials and minimizes the energy necessary to create a building. Used modular buildings also present an affordable option for those that cannot afford new or do not want to buy new for other reasons.