Modular construction is a building method that involves the use of prefabricated materials and assembly elements. Prefab homes or manufactured homes are prime examples of buildings that are modular, meaning that individual parts and modules come together to form an overall structure.
These construction systems have traditionally been used for temporary homes, including civilian and military housing, offices, classrooms, restaurants, emergency and healthcare clinics, public facilities, and industrial spaces. Some modular structures are relocatable, meaning they can be assembled, disassembled, transported, and reassembled in a new location.
Modular architecture can also be applied to permanent structures, which are called Permanent Modular Construction (PMC) buildings. This approach to construction is used for many reasons, including on-site building cost and labor reduction, shorter job turnaround, easy standardization in multi-unit buildings, and reduced impact on the environment and job site surroundings.
Although modular homes have their roots in prefabricated and mail-order kit homes that became common in the early to mid-twentieth century, there is a lot of modern technology that goes into a modular structure. This includes CAD, automated, and additive manufacturing processes. Modular construction has seen a resurgence as a more sustainable building trend and an answer to increased demand for new homes and more affordable housing.
How Does A Modular Building System Work?
A modular building system starts with a modular design, which is comprised of elements and sections that will fit together through stackable and inter-module connections. The basis for most modular buildings is determined by the standards of a 20 food shipping container—the dimensions of which will set the measurements of each interlocking module.
The design then guides the production of the walls, roof, foundation, and other portions of the structure. Components are made with provisions for windows, doors, stairs, power, water, and sewage lines, HVAC systems, and other essentials. The vast majority of components are built through a standardized, assembly-line style, which is completed indoors and using standard construction materials of wood, steel, brick, concrete, and composites.
Once all of the modular components are completed, they are inspected, packaged, and transported to the building site. With sixty to ninety percent of the building process already completed, the process of assembling the house on-site is relatively quick and requires less labor and resources than conventional construction.
Once the structure is assembled, fixtures, connection to utilities, appliances, and furnishings can be added. Depending on the complexity and size of the design, a modular building system can be assembled over just several days or even several hours.
Although they are sometimes associated with simplified midcentury and tract style housing, modular building designs are not limited to uniform and minimalist architecture styles; modular homes can be designed in modern and classic styles, from mission, to bungalow, to colonial, to victorian and more. Modular housing may also be single-level or multi-story, with custom and extension pieces added on.
The Benefits And Drawbacks Of A Modular Design Home And Buildings
Modular buildings can offer many benefits compared to conventional construction. The ability to complete the majority of construction offsite means that buildings can be erected quickly, with few complications and setbacks due to weather and the elements. Off-site building and on-site assembly allow for construction in remote locations or sites that lack a supporting infrastructure, such as disaster sites, new developments, rural, or unsettled areas.
Job site labor demands, waste production, and impact on the surrounding environment are also greatly reduced. Applying additional quality checks and inspections in a manufacturing environment can better ensure the integrity of building materials before transport, as well as during the site build.
Although they offer many advantages, modular construction only makes up a little over five-and-a-half percent of the construction market share. This is partly due to a number of issues and limitations, including training and skills needed for manufacturing a structure, which can be vastly different from those needed to complete a site build.
Modular buildings can sometimes be incompatible with existing lot features and infrastructure, especially in those areas that are already developed for traditional site-built structures. The transport process can also pose its own problems, including limitations on modular elements to the size of a shipping container and the potential for damage during loading, transport, and unloading which can greatly complicate assembly.
While modular homes are made to the same zoning and structural requirements as site-built homes, some home owners may be skeptical of their value, partly due to their market acceptance compared to traditionally-built houses.