Modular Construction: A Greener Life Cycle
The construction model of using prefabricated modules has been around since the 1950’s. Early modular construction, such as Habitat 67 (pictured above), were the pioneers of the green construction movement. Habitat 67 was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and built for the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal Canada. This stunning structure was built using interlocking prefabricated concrete forms placed at varying positions, reaching up to 12 stories high. Safdie had visualized integrating gardens, fresh air and privacy into urban living with an unconventional building style.
According to the Modular Building Institute (MBI), significant advances have been made in the processes that make modular construction appealing. Complex buildings such as health care facilities, educational structures and multi-story, steel-framed structures benefit from the cost and time efficiency of modular construction. Because they are constructed in a controlled factory environment modular buildings can be made to the exact client specifications. The individual construction of each module allows the manufacturer to pay more attention to the detail of each unit. The National Research Council reportedly stated that the controlled conditions of manufacturing building components off-site allows for improved quality and precision in the fabrication of the unit.
Today the construction processes for modular buildings are set up to save money and time and reduce material waste, making it even more appealing to the environmentally minded builder. At the same time that the building site is being prepared, the individual modules can be built in an indoor manufacturing facility, in an assembly line fashion. For example, assembly starts with framing and flooring, the walls are added next. Once the walls are attached electrical wiring, insulation and plumbing are installed while the interior walls are being finished. The roof is then installed with the use of an overhead crane. Lastly, the interior is finished with the specified flooring and bathroom fixtures while the exterior finish is attached and doors, windows and trim are installed. When the modules are delivered to the site they can be up to 90 percent complete.
There are several reasons why modular construction is considered to be a more sustainable form of building. By using an assembly line process materials can be ordered in bulk, stored inside to prevent weather damage or theft and materials not used on one project can be set aside for use on another at a later date. In addition to recycling and reusing materials and keeping them from the landfill, there is less environmental disturbance to the building site because of the decreased amount of equipment, vehicles, and traffic at the construction site, which lowers the carbon footprint of the build. Also, LEED certification is a very achievable goal with modular building with the installation of high efficiency mechanical systems in each module. Furthermore, prefabricated modular buildings are constructed with the intention of being reused when the time comes. If a business needs more space to expand or to change location, the buildings can be added to or disassembled and moved. They are meant to be deconstructed and repurposed instead of being demolished.
Cost, environmental impact, quality and sustainability are all advantages of modular construction, but the fact that the buildings are adaptable, flexible, modifiable and reusable is what makes modular construction a solid example of a more green life cycle.