Modular buildings are often a misunderstood concept, so this comprehensive modular building buyers guide explains step-by-step everything you need to know. This information can help you evaluate and answer whether modular building construction is suitable for your project, and it will also give you an understanding of what to expect from start to completion.
If your organization’s building space need falls into one of the following categories, then keep reading, because modular building construction might make sense for you:
Modular construction allows for the building structure to be constructed inside an off-site factory, whereas traditional construction requires all building activities to be performed consecutively on the construction site.
Modular buildings use the same materials and meet the same building codes as conventional construction, but with a significantly shorter construction schedule.
A completed modular building is essentially a traditional building that is constructed off-site in a factory, rather than being built from the ground-up on-site. Modular building factories use the methodology of prefabricating a building in individual sections (“modules”) by leveraging assembly-line techniques. Building the modular structure off-site allows for preparation of the construction site at the same time, rather than performing each phase consecutively. Every modular building has its own specifications.
Modular buildings are built in sections because they need to be transported to the construction site over-the-road from the factory. Constructing the building in sections allows for delivery behind a truck as an over-sized load.
Temporary modular buildings are used as leased space, typically for a defined period of time. Uniquely a temporary modular building of any square footage can be delivered to a property and installed, then removed when it is no longer needed. Temporary modular buildings are precisely designed and engineered for relocation so they can be repurposed and redeployed for use several times throughout their lifespan.
The temporary nature of a modular building is defined by the intended use, the foundation design and the way it is affixed to the foundation, rather than by the building’s structural design. In other words, a modular building built for relocation has the capability of being affixed as a permanent building. Temporary modular building foundations are specifically engineered so the building modules can easily be disconnected and demounted, while the foundation itself is relatively simple to disassemble and remove.
Temporary modular buildings are most often built as V-B structures.
Permanent modular construction uses the off-site modular building methodology to construct permanent buildings intended for long-term use. Most often built as II-A, II-B, and V-B structures, permanent modular buildings can be built not only as wood framed structures, but also steel and concrete. Even to the discerning eye it is difficult to tell the difference between a finished conventional and modular constructed building. Typically a permanent modular building is produced with many upgrades, often including highly customized architectural design features and finishes specified by an architect.
Permanent modular buildings are installed and perpetually affixed to foundations engineered and designed for long-term use. Ground-level accessibility along with an extensive storm water management system, side-walks, paving, and landscape features often accompany a permanent modular building.
Watch this video that demonstrates the capabilities of permanent modular construction.
This video was produced by Vanguard Modular Building Systems.
Modular construction uses the same standard building materials used in traditional construction. Options are seemingly endless for interior and exterior custom upgrade materials.
Materials used by factories to construct modular buildings are often purchased in bulk to keep costs low and are stored under roof, often in a climate controlled area, protecting them from inclement weather and drastic temperature swings.
Roof height limitations keep modular buildings from being viable solutions for building a gym, auditorium, or other high-ceiling facility. Over the road transportation of the modules requires compliance with roof height regulations, creating the limitations.
Modular buildings are not pre-engineered steel buildings. Steel buildings are entirely different, from the way they are manufactured all the way through to the installation process.
Modular homes and manufactured houses are significantly different than commercial modular buildings. Commercial modular buildings are built to IBC (International Building Code) while modular homes and manufactured houses are built to either IRC (International Residential Code) or HUD (International Residential Code). Energy requirements, loading criteria, engineered plan requirements, ADA code requirements, life-safety, fire, and existing building code guidelines and requirements all differ between these codes.
Assuming proper maintenance, temporary modular buildings can have a useful life of between 20 and 30 years. The limit on useful life primarily has to do with the fact that these buildings are set up, disassembled, and relocated numerous times to different locations throughout this time.
Permanent modular construction has similar useful life to that of conventionally built structures.
Modular buildings are designed to meet the IBC (International Building Code) and all other applicable state and local building codes.
A standard modular building is set on a concrete pier foundation. These piers can be installed on a parking lot or plot of grass, and rise typically 2-3’ above ground. For temporary structures, decks and ramps will be installed at the building’s entrance.
For permanent modular construction, the modules can be set at grade level. This requires a full perimeter foundation wall and interior concrete piers. While this foundation option is more expensive, it eliminates the need for decking to the exterior doors.
Modular buildings can be used to meet almost any temporary or permanent building space need, but if you need high ceilings or extensive clear span space with no supports, traditional construction will likely be your best solution. That being said, modular buildings are often combined with site-built construction to maximize speed, where modular can be used, and also satisfy height and clear span requirements with conventional construction.
Because of the ease, efficiency, and cost savings, modular buildings can fit the needs of almost any organization. There are key industry segments that have found ways to use modular buildings to expand their business or community:Modular building construction is not limited to these industries by any means; however it is prevalent among them.
The number one reason people choose to build with modular construction over traditional construction is the accelerated construction schedule.
Faster construction naturally means occupancy sooner and less disruption to the site and operations. Cost effectiveness, reduced safety risks, and convenience are byproducts of the off-site construction speed. People also like the fact that modular construction is used to build both temporary and permanent structures which offer flexibility that is just not an option with traditional construction.
Sale prices for new V-B type standard temporary modular buildings generally range between $50 and $100 per square foot, not including site-work, delivery, and installation. Custom modular buildings have a much broader price range, from $70 to $400+ per square foot, because customization options are seemingly endless, starting with the engineered support structure to the final finishes. Each modular building has its own set of specifications so it is important to understand that these ranges are for a general frame of reference.
Pricing beyond the building could include site-work, foundations, delivery, installation, access systems, utility runs, and potentially much more.
The level of customization, structure type, and complexity of a custom building project is what drives the price. When looking to lease a standard modular building, rates generally run anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per square foot per month. The lease term length and building size will be the primary drivers of your specific monthly rate.
Every job site and project is different, so pricing can vary widely.
Every modular building project will vary, but generally the time frame from start to completion of construction is roughly 8-20 weeks. Traditional construction, for a similar project may take 6-12 months.
Modular building construction has traditionally been used to build relocatable offices, portable classrooms, and other specialized temporary buildings. Within the past decade there have been significant advancements in the technology, design, and engineering of modular buildings. These advancements in off-site modular construction has accelerated the opening up of many new markets for permanent modular construction, also known as “PMC”. Beyond classrooms and offices, some modular construction companies are using the construction methodology to build multi-family housing, hotels, high-rises, banks, franchise restaurants, and much more.
Modular buildings can be as little as a few hundred square feet, or as large as tens of thousands of square feet depending on the project. Multi-story buildings can be built with modular construction and result in a finished product appearing no different than that of traditional construction.
In fact, modular buildings are considered stronger than site-built construction, because each section is built to stand-alone and support itself as it is transported by truck to the jobsite.
An accelerated construction schedule is the primary benefit of modular building construction; however it is not the only significant benefit:
These are the primary ten steps that make up the modular building process from beginning to completion.
1. Property Identification
The site selected for the modular building is very important because it will have a direct impact on many other components of the process. When deciding on a property it is important to consider the grade (slope) and soil compaction. You will want to take into account site accessibility in addition to proximity to water, sewer, utilities, and existing structures. Each of these considerations could have significant bearing on the cost of your project and many of them can be controlled in advance by selecting the right piece of property and site for the building. Furthermore, you will want to have a clear understanding of the municipality or local governing body and how easy or difficult they are to work with, because the permitting process and periodic project inspections will impact the project schedule, in some cases substantially.
Traditionally those looking to construct a custom permanent building might start out by contracting with an architect to design their facility. The growing trend is for project owners to contact and partner directly with a modular building dealer that has the ability to perform a complete design-build project. Either route you decide to take will generally result in a high quality modular building you can be proud of and that provides all the space needed. Custom modular buildings give you the opportunity to specify the exact layout you need as well as select almost any exterior and interior finishes you desire. Custom modular buildings are built to meet all applicable state and local codes and can be tailored to meet the highest energy standards you desire.
3. Formal Proposal
The formal proposal allows clients to see everything together before signing a contract. A typical proposal may include: Delineation of responsibilities, pricing, project schedule, terms, drawings, and building specifications.
4. Permits and Approvals
In most cases permits are obtained by the customer but can be secured by the modular dealer, typically for an additional fee. This part of the process is where things may get bogged down. It is important to find out what the local officials require as early in the overall process as possible, because the actual approval of the permit application can take significant time. Timing of the approval often depends on where your building will be located.
There are as many different forms of contracts as there are designs for modular buildings. Typically, the form of contract is determined by the size and scope of the custom modular building project. Aside from monthly rental invoices, most often modular building projects are billed either based on milestone achievements or by monthly percentage of project completion.
6. Site Preparation
While the modular building is being built at the off-site factory, crews work to prepare the job site in time for the building’s delivery. Site preparation can include surveying, demolition, excavation, foundation work, utility installation, and more.
7. Plant Fabrication
The approved building design is typically provided by a modular building dealer a modular building factory for execution. The individual building sections are constructed in an assembly-line method. The support structure, plumbing, electric, data, mechanicals, ductwork, insulation, doors, windows, interior finishes, and exterior finishes are often all completed within the factory.
Once the module is completed in the factory, the individual building sections can are transported by truck in a predetermined order to the job site.
As the modules arrive on site they are staged and prepared to be set in a predetermined order on the completed foundation system. The modular building sections are precisely situated on the foundation one at a time, next to each other, so they line up exactly.
The walls, ceilings, electrical, data, plumbing, and duct work were all exactly positioned during fabrication, to line up exactly with the modules on either side as they are installed. Connections are completed during installation at each mate line, which is the place where the modules meet up. The units are then seamed at each mate line, which involves attaching the exterior weather proofing and facade along with completing the interior floor, wall, and ceiling finishes.
Finishing out the modular building installation, external connections are made with utilities, water, sewer, alarm systems, and data lines as applicable. The unit is energized for power and the water is turned on. Access systems, which may include decks, steps, ramps, and sidewalks, are installed. Other work such as paving and striping, site restoration, and landscaping are performed at the tail end of the installation process.
A certificate of occupancy is issued by local authorizes after all required inspections have been completed and approvals given.
Now that you know the modular building process, there are a few items you will want to consider, but not necessarily have all the answers to, before requesting a quote for a modular building. Knowing more answers now can be helpful in moving your project along more efficient and timely.
Requesting a quote is simple! Fill out the few bits of information in the form below. You will be contact with in no time by an experienced modular representative who will provide you with the modular building information you need, and guide you through the process.
Most modular building dealers provide very similar temporary modular offices and classrooms for lease, including: building floor plans, interior and exterior finish selections, scope of work, as well as speed of delivery and setup. Building pricing is often closely comparable also. That being said, there are three areas you will want to look at beyond pricing, to ensure you are signing a contract with a reliable and client oriented modular building dealer.
Major differences between modular building dealers show up when you compare:
• Financial stability
• Team experience
• Individualized service from beginning to end
You may have seen in the news over the past year that there have been some prominent modular building companies facing significant financial challenges, including filings for bankruptcy protection. When signing a contract for a lease with a modular building dealer, you want to make sure they can provide the building you need and service you expect. If financial challenges are the focus of the modular building dealer, consider how that may impact your experience as their client. Make sure you get the best financing options available by working with a reliable and financially stable modular building dealer.
Leasing a temporary office or classroom building is not rocket science, but an experienced sales and project team will provide you with extremely useful guidance and insight. Furthermore, a skilled team will help your project go smoothly, because they are better equipped to readily identify and address pitfalls before they become problems. The comprehensive nature of the proposal you receive, will be another good indicator regarding the team’s experience, and what type of service you can expect.
Individualized Service from Beginning to End
As a first impression, no one likes to call a toll free number and speak with someone that is reading from a script. A quality modular building dealer will take the time necessary to understand your particular space need, and provide a solution that is both efficient and cost effective. Responsiveness, professionalism, and comprehensive communication are all indicators that you are working with a quality modular building dealer. A company’s reputation is built by what others say about the business, so take the time to see if they have testimonials about their products and services. Don’t ignore your initial impression of a modular building dealer, as it is likely what you can expect to experience throughout your time working with them.
It All Comes Down to This
The bottom line is that while price is very important, so is building quality and a thorough evaluation of the company you will be working with. There are many good modular building dealers throughout the United States from which to choose, but you will find that some stand above the rest.
“The modular buildings, purchase, installation and punch out was a very pleasant experience. When something needed to be done or corrected, you did it. Thanks to all your people.”
“The experience has been good. We are very satisfied with the modular…the staff is very excited.”
“If we have needs like this in the future we will go back to Vanguard first!”
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