The Modern Construction Industry
The current construction market requires general contractors (and their subcontractors) to deliver fast-paced and cost-efficient products at record volumes. Symmetry Builders Inc. is continually educating itself on the evolution and developments—as well as the pros and cons—of the off-site/modular vs. traditional construction sector.
Currently, there’s pressure to provide thousands of affordable, safe, and modern housing units in every medium to a large population center. This has this industry ramping up its capacity and workforces. We’ve witnessed this continually growing sector make huge strides since its inception a few decades ago. So, Symmetry is investing in this market as well.
In the debate of modular vs. traditional construction, it’s inherent that not every project or development lends itself to this type of construction. But, more often than not, the off-site/modular community has viable solutions available. There are various methods encompassed in the term “off-site construction” ranging from pre-cast wall panels, structural systems to full buildings ready to occupy.
These methods are part of nearly every project built in our current market. Throughout our ongoing research, we’ve begun to rethink our position on modular vs. traditional construction and the numerous benefits the former can bring to every project. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to focus on turn-key “modular” solutions and look at some of the pros and cons of this approach.
The most talked about and prevalent benefits when discussing modular vs. traditional construction are the established cost and schedule savings. As a global rule, cost savings are in the area of 10% to 15% over the traditional method, and time savings on on-site presence can be as large as 25% overall.
The cost savings are predominantly a consequence of a complete unit (module) being planned, designed, and fabricated in a single facility. Efficiencies from an all-inclusive workforce with the knowledge and experience of completing 1,000’s of units per year yield significant savings to a development team.
Off-Site/modular solutions also provide similar flexibilities in terms of finishes and fixtures as its counterpart. The products can range from very basic workforce housing to high-end custom units. This type of construction does not stop at housing/residential products. We have seen hospitality projects (hotels), medical facilities/hospitals, municipal buildings, and even office buildings all completed using modular construction.
Schedule/time savings are a direct result of being able to pre-fabricate the majority of your project off-site. The fabrication of these units starts prior to mobilizing the construction manager on the actual project site. By the time a foundation or podium is in place, a skilled installer can lift up to 6 to 12 units into place per day and complete a 150-unit project in as little as three weeks! Finishing the common areas, facades, site work, and making the final MEP connections is far more efficient in the modular vs. traditional construction world.
Manpower has been a huge hurdle in every hot construction market in the country. The implementation of off-site/modular solutions allows a vast majority of the trades to be performed in factories where labor is much more available and cost-effective. This allows for more predictable scheduling and additional cost control.
The overall quality of modular units is truly exceptional. The acoustical performance of these units is much higher than traditional construction. Quality control and inspections of these units are conducted in the plant prior to shipping. No further municipal/local building inspections are required after that other than for the areas described above. Usually, these units follow the highest IBC/IEC codes and will conform to all local restrictions.
The largest con in modular vs. traditional construction, in our opinion, remains as the negative stigma still associated with modular housing. The tired association of a “cheap’” product creates a fear of lower than average market value, or a smaller pool of potential buyers on for-sale products. The unfortunate component is this is driven by an out-of-date perception rather than the true capabilities of off-site/modular fabricators.
One aspect of this method worth discussing is the requirement of early financing. Planning, engineering, and coordination of these units start, on average, 4 months earlier compared to traditional construction. For developers who carry financing, this will require earlier involvement from your private or institutional lenders.
Logistically this delivery requires a receiving site within a ~10-mile radius. This allows all modular units to be unloaded and staged so that the installers can coordinate the smooth transport to the project site and guarantee a smooth and efficient installation.
This method requires a timely/early decision by the team executing your development project. Given the ability to hard-bid a more traditional project over the modular delivery leaves some developers guessing about the competitiveness of modular construction. We are 100% certain that Symmetry Builders, Inc. is able to prove that off-site solutions can compete in the modular vs. traditional construction debate!
Lastly, the off-site/modular approach does require finite decisions earlier in the design process. The prefabrication process requires the procurement of all finishes, materials, appliances, equipment, and other components early in the process. This does limit the flexibility of site changes but also allows for clearly outlined specifications to tenants, leasers, and end-users.
The off-site/modular method is an often misunderstood yet highly effective approach in our construction market. The ability to deliver a higher quality product in a faster time frame for less cost should be considered by any developer. Additionally, the ability to deliver projects in a more controlled fashion limits the risk to both general contractors and development teams.