Modular Building in 2014

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Modular homes have a bad reputation. They are commonly thought of as being cheaply built with low quality materials and shoddy workmanship. I have seen drywall tape peeling off of walls of fairly new modulars, ceiling tiles coming loose, floors warped and so on. But today’s modulars are built to standards that are on a par with a good quality home. They can even gain LEED certification.

modular home construction crane

Modular building is efficient in many ways. Structures are built in a huge factory instead of outdoors, so there are no delays for bad weather. That creates stable jobs and allows for consistent supervision. Several jobs can be done at once in one place, so managers are not running from job site to job site losing time. Assembly line-type building with all the sub-contractors on site makes delivery predictable, too.

Because there are fewer delays, construction time is lessened, meaning the builder saves money, which means a more affordable home for the customer. Job stability means higher building quality, too. It’s a win for everyone!

Not just for residential homes

Not only homes are built from modular sections. They can be used for municipal, commercial and multi-family buildings, too.

In New York City, 56 modules are being put together to create The Stack, a 7-story building that will house 28 apartments. Only six of the apartments will be slated for affordable housing (low-middle income), while 22 will rent at market value. I’d like to see a larger percentage of low-income units, but the prices of $1800-3000 are deemed reasonable for Manhattan.

B2 in Brooklyn, however, will accommodate low- and middle-income residents. This is billed as the world’s largest modular building at 32 stories. Modules will be built at Brooklyn’s Navy Yard industrial park and moved to Atlantic Yards, which is a large, mixed-use development of office, retail, housing and the arena for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

Almost half of the 363 units will be priced for low- to middle-income tenants. This building will hopefully take care of the bad reputation of modular building. It will be built with a steel frame and the precision and exactly standards used for airplane engines. No shoddy craftsmanship here!

Modular home Huf Haus in Scotland

“Huf Haus” modular home located in Scotland. This example shows that pre-fab modular homes don’t have to be featureless rectangular boxes.


World of Modular 2014

The convention for the modular building industry, World of Modular 2014, is being held in March 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. Multi-family housing and green building will be addressed. The Stack and B2 will be featured as successful and new multi-family housing.

Although modular building is considered green because of its efficiency in manufacture and reduced waste, Adam Cohen has taken it a few steps farther. He is building commercially to passivhaus standards, which I think is the most energy efficient building method ever developed. The building envelope is air-tight, windows are triple paned, doors are super insulated, and there is a heat exchanger that allows in fresh air without heat being gained or lost. That’s it in a nutshell, but utility bills in a passivhaus are low or non-existent. The addition of renewable energy can make a passivhaus net-zero.

Anyway, Adam Cohen will be presenting at World of Modular 2014.

Speaking of net-zero, Onion Flats is building net-zero multi-family units in Philadelphia, PA. The drawings show attractive buildings that fit their neighborhoods, and they are built efficiently and with the ultimate energy efficiency in mind. One of the architects at Onion Flats, Tim McDonald, will also be speaking at World of Modular 2014 as well.

Building method of the future

So if you think modulars are like old, shabby single-wide mobile homes, think again! I think it will be the preferred building method of the future. I have wanted to be an architect my whole life, but I think a modular will be my next house. That’s house great I think they are!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.