Modular, there are a number of things that we’ve learned. This accumulated experience, these things that we’ve learned, we are now bringing to the super-cool Cubix at Othello project!
Modular construction is a method of building in which the main components (modules) are assembly line manufactured in “truck-sized pieces” in a climate-controlled factory. Finished modules are transported on specialized trailers to construction sites and crane-set on to foundations to create entire buildings.
Every building is, of course, different, but standardized modular components can be assembled to create custom developments of different heights and sizes. Maximum allowable heights for wood-frame modular buildings can vary by local building code and jurisdiction; for example, in British Columbia, codes are now changing to allow heavy-timber buildings to be built up to 12-stories high, while in Washington state, current regulations allow for wood-frame modular buildings up to 6-stories.
Through pre-manufacturing, modular construction sites are now becoming more points of building assembly using small, highly specialized teams rather than places where developments are slowly, stick-by-stick, hand-built in the traditional way with huge crews of construction workers. The result, of course, is that complex buildings are completed much faster, with less site impact, and with a far greater ability to control quality and building performance.
I’ve been in the modular building world for over twenty years and, over that time, it has been really interesting to see the growth of the industry and especially the growth of understanding of how complex buildings can be de-risked through the use of pre-manufacturing. Modular buildings de-risk the entire building construction process in three important ways:
- Completion timing de-risked: Because a factory, by its nature, has to run on a precise schedule, the timing of the factory-assembly of modular building components is highly predictable. Modules are usually manufactured while site foundations and civil works are being done. Weather conditions become less of a factor. Through the double-streaming of the construction process, with factory assembly and site works at the same time, building completion timelines are reduced, and project completion milestones can be scheduled more precisely.
- Cost de-risked: Module costs can be very accurately assessed prior to construction start. We know precisely what labor and other inputs are required, for example, for the installation of an HVAC system or a window or any other building component. In a factory environment, the cost to frame up a wall system or install a plumbing fixture is exactly understood. With much of a building made up of pre-manufactured modules, construction costs are known upfront. Metric’s factories are not subject to the levels of construction cost escalation often seen in today’s building environment. With the higher level of planning required prior to manufacturing start, change orders are rare.
- Building envelope de-risked: With building codes incorporating higher energy performance standards, greater attention is required in the construction of building envelopes. Factory environments, with their good lighting conditions, quality assurance systems and high safety standards, allow for a greater level of attention to details around such things as window openings, wall assembly penetrations and flashings. Even temperatures inside the factory mean that peal-n-stick membranes or high-performance tapes are installed in ideal temperature ranges. Dry conditions ensure that assemblies are never rain soaked and, if desired, the factory is able to pre-test assemblies to ensure that, ultimately on site, building envelope performance is assured.
Modular construction offers advantages over traditional building methods with the more efficient use of materials. Careful planning allows for the pre-ordering of materials such as drywall and wood for framing applications in precise dimensions resulting in minimized waste. Because the factory is an indoor environment, only products and materials that do not contain environmentally hazardous components or high levels of volatile organic compounds are used.
With the trend of young workers choosing other career paths, traditional construction companies are experiencing a growing shortage of skilled trade workers who would rather not have to work outdoors year-round. Factory assembly work is steady, clean and safe, and so is inherently different from site construction. Because of this, Metric Modular is able to draw from a wider pool of workers resulting in a team that is likely more ethnically and gender diverse and who tend to stay with the company longer.
When I first started at Metric, it was often difficult to convince builders, developers and architects on the benefits of utilizing modules in the assembly of important buildings. Those early adopters who did try out modular often encountered steep learning curves but, in the end, were also often rewarded with the benefits that the system provides. It has been really interesting to observe, as time progressed, as complex modular developments sprouted, and as companies such as Metric Modular proved the viability of modular, that there has now been a huge surge in interest in this form of construction.
In speaking with architects, developers and large construction companies, I’m seeing a growing understanding that in order to de-risk the achievement of building envelope performance, cost certainty, and timing predictability, modular construction is a logical choice.
With Metric’s years of modular construction experience, and with that built-up knowledge that we’ve been able to bring to this development, it is going to be so exciting watching Cubix at Othello rising up!