The lower level of a modular home partially laid on it's foundation at the home site

Like some people, you may think of modular construction as those prefabricated homes that are sometimes used as temporary housing. However, modular construction is a versatile process used in various projects, from small-scale renovations to large commercial buildings.

So, when does modular construction make more sense than traditional?

This article will describe situations when modular (or prefab) construction makes more sense than traditional building.​ Read on to learn more about these circumstances to help you decide if modular construction is the right choice for your next project.

When Does Modular Construction Make Most Sense?

Here are 13 instances where modular construction makes more sense than traditional, including:

  1. When you have a short build time
  2. When you can’t get conventional contractors
  3. When building in a remote location
  4. When building in a challenging environment
  5. When you have tight budgets
  6. When you need to improve energy efficiency
  7. When you’re concerned about sustainability
  8. When you must meet strict building codes
  9. When you want to minimize waste
  10. Limited space or unique requirements apply
  11. When you need complete control of the build process
  12. When design flexibility is important
  13. When quality is important

Now, let’s look at each of these circumstances more in-depth.

1.) When You Have a Short Build Time

If you need to construct a structure quickly, modular building is often the best option. The process can be slow and unpredictable with traditional construction, thanks to weather delays and other factors beyond your control.

However, with modular construction, most of the work is done in a factory setting, so manufacturers complete it in a fraction of the time.

Here are a few reasons why building a prefab takes a shorter amount of time:

  • All the work is done in a controlled environment, so there will be no weather delays.
  • The modular units can be constructed simultaneously, so there’s no need to complete one section before starting on the next.
  • Machines do most of the work, so it’s more efficient than traditional construction methods.

2.) When You Can’t Get Conventional Contractors

In some cases, you may not be able to find conventional contractors available to work on your project. This shortage can be due to several factors, including a lack of skilled workers or the remote location of your project.

Luckily, modular building makes it possible to work around these obstacles. Since constructing a modular home only requires a relatively small team working in a controlled environment, your project is less dependent on the availability of traditional contractors.

Therefore, modular construction is ideal if you want to start your project quickly, even with limited access to skilled labor.

3.) When Building in a Remote Location

Prefab is often ideal when building a project in a remote location. Due to the modular designs and easy assembly, you can quickly and easily put a modular home into place even in areas that are difficult to reach or require special equipment.

Additionally, modular building doesn’t require extensive site preparation, making them cost-effective.

A crane lifting a modular home panel

Thanks to innovations like steel framing and energy-efficient design features, today’s prefabs are more durable than ever before, meaning they won’t be at risk of damage during transportation or in harsh weather conditions.

So, if your project will be in a remote location, consider choosing prefab construction for the best combination of convenience, affordability, and reliability.

4.) When Building in a Difficult Environment

Modular construction can also be a great choice when building in a challenging environment. If your project is in an area with extreme weather conditions or other tough conditions, traditional construction methods may not be able to withstand the challenges.

For example, building a conventional home may be more challenging during winter, when snowy and icy conditions can slow you down significantly. Most notably, you may find it diffifult to build a foundation when the ground is frozen.

Meanwhile, modular construction is less susceptible to environmental factors like snow, wind, and rain. Building a prefabricated unit is done chiefly indoors, so weather conditions won’t have as much of an impact.

However, you’ll have to wait for the extreme conditions to subside before you can transport the modular units to your site and begin assembly.

So, if you’re building in a challenging environment, modular construction may be the better option to ensure a quick, high-quality, successful project.

5.) When You Have Tight Budgets

When working with a tight budget, modular construction may also be a good choice for your project. Because modular units are built in a factory setting and then transported to the site for assembly, there is less waste and overhead costs than traditional construction methods.

In addition, prefabs are often much quicker to build than traditional homes, so you can get your project started and finished in a fraction of the time. Because of that, modular construction saves you labor costs since you’ll be using fewer resources to get your project off the ground.

This video by Tech Collective describes some of the cheapest prefabricated homes on the market:

Screenshot from a tour of a home's interior build using modular construction
Courtesy of Tech Collective

Caveat: Although building a modular home is cheaper than a conventional house, getting financing can be challenging since lenders are often unfamiliar with the construction method. However, you can check programs like Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle mortgage and FHA 203K loans to see if you’re eligible for financing.

6.) When You Need to Improve Energy Efficiency

Another situation where modular construction makes sense is when you need to improve your home’s energy efficiency. According to the US Department of Energy, adequately insulated prefabs are up to 31% more energy-efficient than conventional homes.

Most notably, due to their unique designs and prefabricated materials, modular units lend themselves to energy-efficient features like insulation and tight seals.

Additionally, modular homes often have better air quality due to reduced exposure to outdoor pollutants during construction.

When you combine these advantages with innovations in green building technology, you can create a modular home that’s environmentally friendly and stylish.

7.) When You’re Concerned About Sustainability

Modular construction is also a great choice if you’re concerned about sustainability. Because modular homes are built indoors in a controlled environment, there is less waste than traditional construction.

In addition, modular homes are often made using recycled materials or renewable resources, which can help you meet eco-friendly building standards like LEED certification.

Besides, modular construction can often be completed more quickly than traditional building processes, which means you’ll use less energy and resources to complete your project.

8.) When You Must Meet Strict Building Codes

Whether building a commercial structure or a modular home, you’ll likely need to meet strict building codes. Fortunately, modular construction is up to code in most cases.

Modular buildings often exceed building code requirements because they’re made in factories with more stringent quality control measures. Also, modular units usually contain fire-resistant materials, so you can be sure your home or office will be safe in a fire.

A modular home being fabricated in a factory

Here are some other benefits of modular construction that can help you meet strict building codes:

  • Modular homes often have energy-efficient materials and features, so you can save money on utility bills while still meeting code requirements.
  • Units can withstand high winds and other severe weather conditions, so you can be sure your dwelling will stand the test of time.
  • Modular construction often employs advanced technology and engineering techniques, so your structure is designed to meet or exceed safety requirements.

9.) When You Want to Minimize Waste

If you’re looking for a construction method that minimizes waste, modular construction is a good option.

Whether you are concerned about the environment, want to cut costs for on-site cleanup, or live in a remote location where disposal could be challenging, modular homes are your best bet for a quick, waste-free build. 

Since prefab homes come partially built, less waste is generated than in traditional building methods. Modular construction can result in up to 90% less waste, so you can feel good about your environmental impact.

Here are some examples of how modular construction helps you cut down on waste:

  • Modular units are assembled in a climate-controlled environment, minimizing the risk of weather damage and other issues that lead to wasted building materials.
  • Because modular units are manufactured offsite, less waste is produced during transportation and on-site 
  • assembly.
  • Prefabs use recycled materials and renewable resources, such as bamboo and cork, which can help lower overall waste production.

10.) Limited Space or Other Unique Requirements Apply

If you’re working with a limited amount of space, modular construction can be a good solution. That’s because modular units are often smaller and more efficient than traditional structures.

A half of a white modular home in wrapping suspended from a crane on a modular home install

In addition, you can customize modular construction to meet your distinct needs. So whether you’re looking for a home that’s accessible or an office with unique features, modular construction can help you get the results you want.

Here are some examples of how you can use modular construction in limited or unique spaces:

  • You can build modular homes on small lots or in urban areas where space is limited.
  • You can customize modular offices with walls, doors, and window systems to fit any space, including unusual or hard-to-access areas.
  • Modular buildings can be designed with features like ramps and elevators to make them more accessible for people of all abilities.

11.) When You Need Full Control of the Building Process

Modular construction can allow more control over your building process. That’s because modular units are built in a factory setting, enabling you to design and customize each part of the structure. 

Also, modular construction offers greater scheduling and site management flexibility, so you can ensure your project stays on track.

Here are some examples of how modular construction can provide more control over your building process:

  • The construction takes place in a factory, away from the elements, allowing a more streamlined process and reducing delays due to weather conditions.
  • Builders can often produce modular units faster than traditional structures, which helps you stay on schedule and avoid costly delays.
  • Modular designs allow for maximum flexibility in terms of design and layout, so you can ensure your project meets your exact specifications.

12.) When Design Flexibility is Important

If you’re looking for a construction method that offers maximum design flexibility, modular construction is a good option. You can customize modular units to meet your unique specs, from layout and size to color and finishes.

In addition, modular construction allows for a much more comprehensive range of customization options than traditional methods. Therefore, you can create a unique structure, whether designing your own modular home or working with an architect on an office space.

The roof modules of a white modern modular home

Some examples of how modular construction offers maximum design flexibility include:

  • You can add or remove modular units as needed to adjust the size of your space.
  • You can combine modular units in various ways to create different layouts.
  • To create a custom look, you can select from a wide range of finishes, fixtures, and materials.
  • Modular construction can be used for residential and commercial projects, allowing you to create a space that meets your particular needs.

13.) When Quality Is Essential

If you’re looking for a high-quality construction method, modular is worth considering.

Prefab builders often use high-quality materials and advanced building techniques to ensure that your home is durable and long-lasting. That makes modular building a great choice if you want to invest in a quality home that will stand the test of time.

Plus, modular homes must meet strict building codes and undergo rigorous quality control inspections. So you can rest assured knowing that your modular home is built to last.

Pro Tip: For helpful insights into what to look for in a home, check out The Confident House Hunter: A Home Inspector’s Tips for Finding Your Perfect House.

The book is full of tips and information to help you find a home that’s safe, sound, and right for you.

Sources

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