Modular Construction, A Better Way for Green Building

Rising energy costs, higher standards of sustainability (for example California’s Green Building Standards Code) and innovative technologies are driving the demand for sustainable building.

Yet, site-built, stick frame (or conventional) construction even with significant limits when it comes to green building continues to dominate the residential construction market. According to a 2010 Annual Builder Practices Survey by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center, site-built construction owned 82.4 percent of the market.

In the introduction to her book “Prefabulous World, Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the World” Sheri Koones writes, “We have learned over the years that there are better ways to build a house . . . Prefabrication has been my mantra for a long time because it is such a superior way to build.”

California Pre-fab Deck

California Pre-fab Deck

Modular construction is one prefabricated approach proven to help reduce the environmental impact of building a home while helping to increase the energy efficiency and overall sustainability of the home.

Up to 90 percent of modular construction takes place in a factory off site. Homes are built in the factory in modules and then shipped and craned into place before being finished on site. Modules are shipped with interior fixtures, flooring, finishes and appliances in place leaving minimal site work left before the home is finished. Modular homes must meet the same codes as site-built homes and often exceed the building standards.

Skilled craftsmen, resources and materials are located in a single location during construction and provide key benefits when it comes to green building.

Reduced Material Waste

With conventional home construction comes significant waste.

According to the Website ConstructionWaste.SustainableSources.com, 8,000 pounds of waste is typically thrown into a landfill for conventional construction of a 2,000 square foot home.

While waste recycling is gaining momentum for conventional construction, factories building modular homes consistently utilize leftover material from one project in additional projects in the factory.

“Because [systems-built homes] are built in a factory and much of the lumber is pre-cut, there is less scrap and waste; the cut-off pieces are often ground up and recycled; the central location of a factory means no wasted transportation to get workers to an isolated job site, so there’s savings in fuel and energy,” said Steven Winter, Chairman of the U.S. Green Building LEED for Homes Program.  “So, in a whole array of material savings, time savings, and energy savings attributes, systems built homes go a long way toward achieving green objectives.” 

Reduced Construction Time

And while modular construction offers significant environmental advantages over site-built construction when it comes to waste recycling and energy savings, the process also reduces overall construction time to further reduce the building impact on the environment.

With modular buildings, where construction of the home takes place in a factory, simultaneous in-factory and on-site work reduce overall construction time. Weather delays, vandalism and theft are practically non-existent in the factory setting to further increase the efficiency of the construction process.

More Sustainable Living Upon Completion

Selected features, design aspects and planning can improve the efficiency and sustainability of any home, but modular construction lends itself to greater sustainability than conventional construction.

With linear construction during conventional building, access is limited around electrical outlets, fixtures, pipes and other sources of air infiltration. Having that access in a factory allows better sealing to reduce air infiltration to prevent a loss of heat when the home is complete to reduce heating and cooling costs. Traditional two-by-four framing is often replaced with two-by-six framing in modular homes to increase the amount of insulation included in the home.

Many modular home factories, like Irontown Homes, focus on building more sustainable homes by including reclaimed material in the construction and utilizing low-flow faucets, ENERGY-STAR appliances and HVAC systems, LED lighting, low-E thermally broken windows and doors as well as other innovative technology to increase the homes’ sustainability.

Even with the advantages of building a modular home, false preconceptions often drive homebuyers and even builders from modular construction. But unlimited design, feature and floor plan options with stricter standards of quality magnified by more intense scrutiny and more frequent inspections have helped to diminish those preconceptions.

On Modular.org, the official site for the Modular Building Institute, it states, “As owners and designers look for more sustainable designs for improved environmental impact, modular construction is inherently a natural fit.”

By Ben Webster – Irontown Homes

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