Modular construction is changing the way people look at housing. As the world seeks rapid solutions to address shortfalls in nearly every sector, modular continues to build upon its reputation as a safe, cost-effective, and greener alternative to traditional construction. In the last several years alone, the North American modular industry has experienced double-digit growth rates. Globally, the modular construction market is projected to reach nearly $157 billion by 2023.
But as modular continues to be a proven alternative solution, there still exists a need to educate people on the basics of modular builds. While the concept may be new to many, examples have been around for generations. Some of the world’s most iconic structures were built through a modular process. For example, the Statue of Liberty was primarily constructed in France, disassembled, and then shipped in more than 200 crates across the Atlantic. It then took four months for workers to reassemble the pieces in its final resting place on Liberty Island in New York. Early prefabrication methods were also used to construct the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which historians believe helped expedite the 22-month construction schedule.
To help you and your customers learn more about the modular process, we have listed some common FAQs and answers below:
What is modular construction?
Modular construction uses offsite construction (building in a controlled environment) to create modules that are then installed on a project site. This process adheres to the same rigorous building codes as traditional construction and offers the same or even better choices for materials.
What is the difference between the terms ‘modular,’ ‘prefabricated,’ and ‘offsite’?
These words are often used interchangeably in web articles, but this can be misleading. There are some key differences to be aware of:
‘Modular’ refers to the overall process of constructing, delivering, and installing fully-enclosed modules (e.g. completed rooms).
‘Prefabricated’ refers to specific pieces that are prebuilt and installed as a component of a house or building. For example, the wall assembly or roof system in your house was constructed elsewhere before it ended up as part of your home.
‘Offsite’ refers to the construction process of where planning, designing, fabrication and assembly all occur in a controlled environment (see more on offsite construction in the section below).
What are the benefits of modular construction?
The main benefits of modular construction over traditional (site-built) construction can be broken into five important categories:
- Speed of construction. Modular construction often accelerates project timelines because offsite fabrication and site preparation happen simultaneously. Offsite construction also limits costly weather delays. Compared to the timeline of a traditional construction project, a modular project is well into the installation phase when traditional crews are still engaged in the building process and still have to complete site restoration. Overall, modular construction can accelerate project timelines by between 25-50%.
- Greater Cost & Schedule Certainty. These two often go hand in hand. In traditional site-built construction, unexpected schedule delays (due to weather, damage, etc.) result in greater costs for variabilities like labour and construction materials. Offsite fabrication provides greater control over external factors, allowing for the delivery of projects on time and budget, leading to faster occupancy and greater customer satisfaction.
- Safety. Offsite construction can significantly reduce workplace accidents. The climate-controlled environment mitigates the risk of weather-related hazards, inadequate lighting, and the dangers of working at great heights. The elimination of these risks leads to greater quality control through routine inspections. Offsite construction is also a significant contributor to reducing contractor insurance costs. In an industry survey, 58% of customers report that workplace safety was a significant factor in their decision to use modular.
- Environmental Efficiency. Offsite fabrication reduces construction waste through recycling and increased material protection from outside elements. Building in a controlled environment also prevents moisture from seeping into modules, allowing for improved airtightness and a more sustainable outcome. Furthermore, there is less site disruption and fewer emissions from running vehicles and equipment. Modular builds can also be designed as relocatable buildings, which can be disassembled and moved to a new site with minimal disruption.
- Reduced Community Impact. There’s nothing worse than a construction crew clogging up the neighbourhood for weeks—even months—on end. This creates prolonged headaches for residents, businesses, and emergency services. With the bulk of construction done in an offsite construction facility, modular builds all but eliminate the need for consistent on-site crews. The site work for modular consists of three phases: site preparation, installation/craning, and post-installation mitigation and clean-up. Whether it’s in a city core or rural townsites, the impact on the community and neighbouring structures is greatly reduced.
Where else can I see examples of modular construction?
Governments at all levels have seen the benefits of modular construction to meet demands for affordable and supportive housing, Indigenous housing, medical facilities and more. These needs have been particularly underscored during the pandemic. In addition to accessing adequate housing, vulnerable individuals also require protection from the spread of COVID-19. Modular units have also been put into action as fully operational emergency field facilities, which can then be relocated and redeployed to different locations as needed.
There are examples of affordable housing complexes in nearly every major Canadian city. Again, it comes back to the speed of construction. In many cases, projects can go from the design phase to occupancy in a matter of months. Modular housing has been a key driver in government efforts, such as the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) and National Housing Strategy (NHS), for faster turnarounds for at-risk individuals across Canada.
The private sector is also turning more towards modular for innovative, fast, and cost-effective solutions. Industries ranging from retail, hospitality, and energy rely on modular options for their customers, clients and workforce alike.
The choice is becoming clear for builders: modular construction is leading the way for a brighter, greener, and smarter future.
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