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 construction sector.

The current pressure to provide thousands of affordable, safe and modern housing units in every medium to a large population center 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 and Symmetry is investing in this market as well.

It’s inherent that not every project or development lends itself for 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 read to occupy.

These methods are part of nearly every project built in our current market. Throughout our ongoing research we have begun to rethink our position on modular construction and the numerous benefits to every project. For simplicity’s sake we are going to focus on turn-key “modular” solutions and look at some of the pros and cons of this approach.

Off-Site/Modular Construction:  

THE PROS

The most talked about and prevalent benefits are the established cost and schedule savings. As a global rule, cost savings are in the area of 10% to 15% over the conventional method and time savings on on-site presence can be as large as 25% overall.

Cost

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 work force with the knowledge and experience of completing 1,000’s of units per year yield significant savings to a development team. 

Finishes

Off-Site/modular solutions also provide similar flexibilities in terms of finishes and fixtures as its counterpart. The products can range from a 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

Schedule/time savings are a direct result from 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 compared to the conventional world.

Workforce

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.

Quality

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 confirm to all local restrictions.

THE CONS

Perception

The largest con, in our opinion, remains as the negative stigma that’s associated with modular housing. The tired association of “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 it’s 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 will start on average 4 months earlier compared to conventional construction. For developers who carry financing this will require earlier involvement from your private or institutional lenders.

Logistics

Logistically this delivery requires a receiving site within a ~10 mile radius that 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. 

 Competition

This method requires a timely/early decision by the team executing your development project. Given the ability to hard-bid a more conventional 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/modular solutions can compete with conventional construction!

Planning

Lastly, the off-site/modular approach does require finite decisions earlier in the design process. The prefabrication process requires 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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

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