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The Ultimate Guide to Modular Construction

Modular construction is fast becoming the construction method of choice in many industries due to the reduced costs, improved construction times, the flexibility that it provides and the consistent quality that can be produced. In particular, hospitals, schools and hotels experience the biggest benefits in mass-producing modules.

Widely accepted as an improved form of construction over traditional construction methods, modular construction also has benefits for the environment that cannot be questioned. Despite being accepted as a superior form of construction, modular construction was still largely ignored for the past 70 years. This was usually down to a lack of knowledge and the ill-informed assumption that complex buildings could only be constructed the traditional way.

Attitudes are changing rapidly, and health industries all over the world are being joined by prisons, schools and offices in using modular construction for their buildings.

What is Modular Construction?

Modular construction is where sectional buildings that are called modules are constructed off-site. Constructed in a factory these prefabricated units are more cost-effective than traditional construction practices. Additionally, they are constructed in about half the time compared to traditional buildings.

In much the same was as Lego pieces, these modules are designed to be placed next to each other and stacked once transported to site. This enables the user to create separate or larger rooms that can be connected together.

In most cases the modules are already 80% complete when shipped. First fix M&E, for example pipework, is completed in the factory. Second fix M&E, for example wiring, and flooring finishes are completed once the modules have arrived at site.

First examples of modular construction date back to the 19th century. Based in the UK, Henry Manning completed both the design and construction of cottage ‘modules’ that were then transported to Australia and erected. Despite this, it is only in recent years that modular construction has really become a regularly used form of mass construction.

Hospitals, schools and hotels are three types of buildings that see the best benefits of modular construction. This is especially due to the minimal disruption that modular construction causes to neighbouring occupied facilities and public areas.

Modular Building

Modular units can be constructed in various sizes depending on the magnitude of the completed project. On occasion, these modules could be as large as a trailer that has been designed to form a part of a much larger construction such as a multi-story building. No matter the size of the modules, the theory of being able to interconnect with other modules is the same.

How Does Modular Construction Work?

Designed and constructed in a factory-setting, modular buildings streamline the construction process as well as provide a more cost-effective solution for the client. Labour costs are drastically reduced, in addition to benefits to the environment that cannot be ignored.

Both traditional and modular construction methods begin in the same way. The planning, design and engineering and the preparation for site are all done in similar ways, however after that the construction processes take different paths.

Once site prep is complete for traditional construction, the process of laying the foundations would start. This is a lengthy process that has to be completed before the actual construction steps of the building can take place. Modular construction however saves this time by building the modules in the factory whilst this foundation work takes place on site. By the time the foundations are laid, the modules are already finished and ready to be shipped and installed on site.

At this point in time for traditional construction practices, the framing of the property would have just begun. This would then be followed up with the roofing, siding and insulation, fitting of the doors, windows and plumbing and electrical installations, before the final interior and exterior finishes can be applied. Modular construction, on the other hand, comes complete with all this already.

How Can Modular Building Help the Healthcare Industry?

Cost-efficiency for the NHS is just one of the big benefits of choosing modular construction. In addition, it is widely known that the NHS is facing bed shortages so the need for the quick construction of additional buildings nationwide is of priority.

So what are the core modular benefits for the healthcare industry when using modular construction compared to traditional construction practices?

  • Fast-track Construction: Modular construction has been proved to upto 60% of the time traditional construction methods would need to complete the construction of a new healthcare building
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Reduced labour and construction costs are an obvious benefit to the NHS. Modular construction can be as much as 30% cheaper than traditional construction
  • Less Onsite Construction Activities: With the majority of the construction taking place off-site, there is a reduction in onsite activities. Fewer deliveries and a reduction in on-site labour workers is also a big factor
  • Reduction of Noise: Patients at the existing hospital will be exposed to less noise, vibrations and dust that can be created by traditional construction processes. This allows lower stress and anxiety levels among patients, fewer sleepless hours and an improved healing environment
  • Staff Benefits: Healthcare staff usually work long hours so the noise and vibrations created by traditional construction methods can increase burnout levels. Sleeping on-site will no longer be affected either
  • Flexibility: Flexibility in the design and construction of NHS buildings has long been a big benefit. This flexibility is required as technology and computer systems evolve over time, so the need to be able to makes changes to the internal space is important

As you can see, modular construction is the favoured construction method for the healthcare industry for so many reasons. Many hospitals today are built or extended using this form of construction. Wards, Operating Theatres Mortuaries, Endoscopy A&E, laboratories and plant rooms are just some of the rooms and departments that modular construction is regularly used for in the healthcare industry.

Not only is the building process more cost-effective and efficient but the consistent quality that the industry demands stands a higher chance of being met through this construction process.

Modular Hospital Example
Above is what the inside of a modular hospital can look like. The size of the modules can vary depending on design.

Modular Building vs Traditional Construction Methods

When we talk about traditional construction methods, we are talking about the onsite linear type of construction where one task cannot be completed until another has been finished. One of the main benefits of modular construction is that the prefabrication of modules can be completed concurrently with work that is being completed on site, thus saving valuable time. Construction of the modules can be started at the factory at the same time as the foundations are laid on site to provide a completion date that could be up to 50% faster.

  • Shorter Construction Time: Modular buildings can be completed in half the time of traditional construction methods. As an accelerated production method, modular construction is completed offsite in a controlled environment while onsite tasks can be completed concurrently
  • Safer Process: Construction of modular buildings is also considered much safer than traditional construction methods. Constructed in a controlled manner in a well-supervised factory environment, there are fewer dangers involved. Dangers such as the potential of falling from heights are removed with modular construction
  • Financial Savings: Modular construction will bring a reduction in labour costs due to being factory made
  • Reduced Site Disruption: Modular construction aids the onsite construction process by taking away the time-consuming tasks that would be required with traditional construction methods. 80% of the construction activity has been removed from the site, limiting site disruption
  • Safer for the Environment: Due to a reduction in waste materials created, either by weather damage or by on-site accidents, modular construction is friendlier to the environment. Additionally, a smaller carbon footprint is created due to fewer vehicles being needed onsite
  • Not Impacted by Weather: Traditional construction is always affected by the ever-changing weather conditions but this does not play a part in the modular
  • Consistent Quality: Being constructed in a controlled-environment, modular buildings are afforded a better level of quality control. Additionally, due to workers completing the same tasks over and again, they can become more efficient at what they do
  • Flexibility: Modular buildings offer up a lot of flexibility too as they can be used permanently or temporarily. They can be easily moved or extended which makes them perfect for emergency situations
  • Reduced Impact on Local Community: The area surrounding the site will be less affected by noise and traffic while construction takes place. With most of the construction taking place in a factory-setting, there will be a reduced amount of noise on site

Due to the many benefits described above, modular construction and buildings are now accepted to be better than that of their traditional counterparts. End results are often identical as well with modular designs having the ability to be modified on-site with any architectural alterations to make them look identical to traditional buildings.

Construction Site

The Green Impact of Modular Construction

Did you know that the construction industry is the largest consumer of natural resources in the UK? The impact that this industry alone has on the environment is huge with more than 400 million tonnes of building materials being used on a yearly basis.

Modular construction is taking steps to address this through combining cost-effective building techniques that reduce the cost and time required as well as the negative effects on the environment.

On top of the obvious initial benefits to the environment, many modular environment companies are even taking action to further reduce any damage caused to the environment. More eco-friendly materials are being used in the construction of modular buildings and efforts are also being made to reduce the consumption of waste.

Environmental benefits:

  • Reduction in Waste-Materials: Due to being constructed in a factory environment, there are far less wasted materials being created and sent to landfills compared to traditional construction. Many materials are also recycled and used in other modular constructions
  • Eco-friendlier Materials: The use of eco-friendly materials are becoming more common in modular construction. FSC-approved timber is one such material that is regularly used in modular construction while sustainably sourced steel is another
  • Reduction in Energy Consumption: Due to being constructed in an assembly-line fashion, there is much less energy being used compared to traditional construction. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project is considerably more than the energy consumed through modular construction
  • Reusability: Another fantastic benefit for using modular construction is the reusability that it provides. Disassembling and moving a module to another site is far easier to do. Furthermore, even if the building becomes unneeded or obsolete, its parts can be used in other projects. This essentially reduces the need for fresh new materials for each new build
  • Reduction in Noise Pollution: Due to being built away from the construction site, noise levels are kept to a much lower level and therefore causes less disruption to the environment and the people around it

The many benefits that modular construction has for the environment is plain to see and further focus on eco-friendly materials is only going to increase those benefits. Using modular construction is the way forward for many industries out there right now and the reduced impact on the environment has to be one of the biggest benefits.  We expect modular construction to take an even larger share of the construction industry and awareness to increase even further over time.