Get it Fast and Right with Modular Construction

One of the old sayings that applies to buying just about anything is that you can have it fast OR you can have it right, but you can’t have both. Using modular construction to build your new custom home turns that saying on its head. The whole premise behind modular construction is to take advantage of two main tenants of factory construction; to build quickly and to build correctly AND in addition, to do it consistently each and every time.

Turning Home Construction into a Manufacturing Process

Think about the current method of custom home construction. It is one of the only processes left today that is largely done outdoors. One hundred and seventy five years ago some construction guys figured out that it just wasn’t efficient to build windows and doors onsite and install them in a newly built home (yes, they actually used to build the doors and windows on the jobsite and install them in each home). Since that great epiphany, it has taken about another one hundred and fifty years before people started to believe that it may make sense to build larger components of a home in a factory and deliver them to the home site.

It comes down to process. In the field, building a custom home is chaotic at best. Dozens of trades and dozens of suppliers have to all travel to a single point for a brief period of time to work on a single home. A subcontractor may be working at a location 50 miles east of them this week and then at a location 30 miles south of them the next week. Construction has to happen in order. You can’t install the drywall until the wiring is done. You can’t install wiring until the framing is done. A subcontractor can’t get to the house to the south of him until he completes the home he is working on to the east of him.

A subcontractor can’t be sure all the materials he needs to do his job are at the jobsite until he gets there and inventories what has been delivered. All of the deliveries are left outside in piles or may be left in an unsecured, unfinished home and barely covered or protected. The process is loosely followed for every home and it’s riddled with opportunities for expensive mistakes, misunderstandings, and multitudes of schedule delays.

By moving the process indoors, it turns the construction process into a manufacturing process. Some basic characteristics of building anything using a factory process include: economies of scale, centralized production, standardization and uniformity, and use of a trained and consistent workforce. By making custom home construction a manufacturing process, the chaos of building a home in the field is replaced with the consistency only found in a factory production environment.

Speed Kills – Just Not in the Factory Building Process

There are dozens of modular home factories in the U.S. and no two of them are exactly alike. As Americans, we pride ourselves in believing we can always do it better each and every time. That same thinking is pervasive in the modular home industry. Each factory is built a little differently as each factory designer believed they had a way to improve the factory production process to build their modules better and/or faster.

Factory construction increases the speed of production while simultaneously enhancing the quality of the product. Here’s why:

Centralization – Workers and tools are brought together in a factory that is specifically designed to handle the machinery/tools needed for home construction and to handle the flow of materials efficiently. It helps eliminate issues dealing with theft and damage of tools and materials common on home sites today.

Standardization and Uniformity – This isn’t just for the overall construction of modules that make up a modular home but also for components. A factory actually makes smaller components of homes in the factory and then assembles those smaller components into the larger component we call a module. By guaranteeing that each and every smaller component is built to an exacting specification and then insuring it is assembled correctly, the quality of the larger product/module is insured.

Economies of Scale – Custom home construction is just that, custom. Each home is different, each location is different, and the characteristics of each home site are different. Concentrating custom home construction in a factory means that purchasing agents are buying materials common to all custom homes in bulk. This allows them to achieve pricing far better than can be achieved when buying materials a pickup truck load at a time. Think about how buying from Costco works. The factory is using a lot of everything to build so many homes so quickly in a single location.

Labor – Today, labor is the #1 issue in home construction. Since the great recession, the single biggest obstacle for every home builder is finding a skilled craftsman to work for them to produce quality homes. Factories concentrate the labor in one location and bring consistency to employee’s lives. Paychecks don’t depend on the weather. Homes are built everyday indoors. Unskilled employees are trained to perform specific tasks in a specific and consistent manner. With the division of labor, an employee doesn’t have to do ten things on a jobsite and do them just good enough. He/She is trained to do one or two things very well and they do them consistently every day.

Because of the assembly line process, the actual time to build the factory portion of a new custom home can be as little as 2-3 days. This speed is achieved with the highest level of quality and consistency, far better than most homes constructed entirely onsite, because of the advantage inherent in the manufacturing process. That’s why everything else you buy today; your phone, your computer, and your car is built in a factory.

The Advantage Goes to Modular Construction

Compare the two processes, building a home outdoors or building a home in a factory. Take everything you know about the products you already buy that are built in a factory and compare that with home construction. Can you imagine making any of those items in your home or in your backyard? Could you make that product as quickly or with the same level of quality that it is currently provided at when built in a factory?

The custom modular home building process is just that, a process. It is designed to build custom homes fast and right…. every time. Modern modular construction is becoming the preferred way for both builders and homebuyers to build custom homes today!

County Waives Rebuilding Permit Fees after Lilac Fire

San Diego County will waive permit fees for the rebuilding of more than 200 structures that have been destroyed or damaged in the Lilac Fire.

The County Board of Supervisors approved the waiver Monday after hearing the damage done by the 4,100-acre Lilac Fire. The supervisors also extended an emergency declaration. Get the latest updated information on the fire here.

San Diego County Disaster Recovery manager Amy Harbert reported that 104 residential and two commercial structures were destroyed along with 78 accessory structures such as barns, sheds and outbuildings.

An additional 13 homes and five commercial buildings were damaged.

The permit waiver will apply to structures within the fire’s perimeter in unincorporated areas and any other areas in which county approval is needed.

County public works employees were removing debris from county maintained roads and replacing damaged street signs. In the near future, they will be repairing guardrails and establishing erosion control in the burn areas.

Also, an estimated 200 acres of park land burned in the fire. No park structures have been affected, according to Harbert.

A center has been set up to assist residents with questions and resources. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Vista branch of the county library at 700 Eucalyptus Ave. Residents can call (858) 495-5200 for more information.

Contact USModular, Inc. for more information on building using modular construction!


Modular Construction: An Alternative Building Method for San Diego

Modular construction can reduce build time by 30-50% and provide an alternative solution in today’s tough market.

In the market for a new facility or addition but concerned about construction costs? Look to permanent modular construction as a way to acquire a new building in a tough economy. This alternative construction technique yields faster completion times, improved efficiency, cleaner materials, and better quality control.

A Different Construction Process permanent modular constuction is a method of construction, not a building type. It greatly differs from temporary buildings, such as construction trailers or mobile homes.

“These are custom-designed commercial buildings just like their site-built counterparts,” explains Phil Slingerland, COO of a firm specializing in modular construction. “Using permanent modular construction does not change the design, structural system, or finish materials options available to the owner and architect. The only difference is in the method of construction.”

After the design is finalized with an architect, construction plans are sent to a factory where the majority of the building is erected. permanent modular construction uses prefabricated elements for as many building components as possible. Everything from walls and mechanical systems to painting and carpet can be completed on the assembly line.

“The difference is that 60% to 90% of modular buildings are completed offsite in a controlled production environment, including all MEP, fixtures, and interior finishes,” says Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute (MBI).

While modules are assembled at the factory, sitework can begin at the same time, such as laying the foundation or prepping utility connections. This greatly decreases the time needed for total construction. Modular buildings are often completed 30-50% faster than conventional structures.

Once the modules are ready, they are shipped to the site and fastened together. The final construction stage includes completing exterior systems such as cladding and roofing components and internal spaces like lobbies, stairwells, and elevator shafts.

The beauty of the finished building is that occupants will not be able to tell how the structure was built. The art of permanent modular construction is to make the modularity disappear once you complete the building.

Atwater Valley Gets New Campus

Merced County Office of Education turned to modular construction to ease overcrowding at leased facilities for Atwater Valley, an alternative education school in California. To accommodate close to 250 students, the county contracted with American Modular Systems to create a 10-acre campus with over 20,000 square feet of new buildings.

The Atwater Valley campus now houses a four-wing building with 18 classrooms, separate art and science labs, a gymnasium, library, shop area, and administrative offices.

The new campus offers a plethora of benefits, including:

  • 60% reduction in build time
  • Exceeds CA Energy Code by 33%
  • Scalable design to meet future enrollment growth
  • Superior acoustic environment

The school opened its doors to students in fall 2011, and the administration was pleased with how the new campus came together.

“We were able to reduce a two-year construction timeline almost in half, breaking ground to student occupancy taking roughly 10 months,” says Terry Ruscoe, director of support services for the Merced County Office of Education.

The accelerated timeline did not compromise the need for energy efficiency. Campus buildings feature tight envelopes, cool roofs, daylight harvesting, and the latest mechanical systems.

“Time will tell us the overall student performance outcomes derived from these buildings,” says Ruscoe, “but after seeing how they are constructed, I have little doubt about their durability. As trustees of public funds we need to be highly vigilant about getting the most bang for every taxpayer’s buck. This technology has come a long way – these are not your mother’s portables!”

Serving Multiple Markets
This technique can produce a single building, an addition, or a campus setting, but it is most beneficial for projects with highly repetitive spaces. Think of duplicate rooms common to schools, dorms, offices, military housing, senior living, and hotels.

Modular construction has also been used for standalone buildings, such as banks, chain restaurants, satellite bureaus, and retail. Any building without irregular layouts or large expanses will benefit.

The only limitations to size are those dictated by material use and code. For example, the world’s tallest modular building in the U.K. is over 25 stories. Buildings can occupy any square footage specified and are easy to expand. Modular construction is also a great way to add an addition onto a traditional building.

The Core Benefits
From factory precision to faster installation, modular construction offers an attractive range of advantages:

1) Scheduling
One of the greatest benefits is the ability to dramatically reduce the time needed for construction. Factory efficiencies allow building components to be completed quickly and without weather delays. No more contracting with multiple crews – the factory has all of the key players onsite to handle multiple building requirements.

This makes modular construction suitable for owners who need buildings quickly, properties with hard dates for occupancy, and areas where seasonal weather restricts or even halts construction.

2) Jobsite Improvement
Nearly completed modules ease the need for site equipment and staging areas, making them ideal for complicated sites. Perhaps your property is in a remote location or has accessibility difficulties. You may be in an urban or campus setting and have a narrow building site. Modular construction is likewise a great alternative for areas where an experienced or affordable labor force is difficult to come by.

Permanent modular construction affords a cleaner worksite with fewer disruptions. With the majority of work completed offsite, issues such as noise, dust, debris, and weather complications are greatly reduced.

The lower numbers of people, equipment, and traffic at the worksite also decreases the number of construction hazards. “The chance for accidents and related liabilities caused by such a volume of people and materials moving on, around, and offsite every day is significantly reduced,” says Slingerland.

3) Waste Reduction
Because the factory process decreases the potential for errors, material use is more carefully monitored, Hardiman explains. By controlling inventory, resources and building materials are better protected. An assembly line also offers more opportunities for recycling throughout the process.

Permanent modular construction really works well with lean construction – it’s engineered to cut out any construction waste,” says Johnson. “For example, steel studs are usually cut to a standard length and shipped to a jobsite where they’re cut to the needed size. Instead of wasting 2 feet of metal, the studs are created on the factory line to the exact length required.”

4) Quality Control
Just like a car assembly line, a prefabricated building module has built-in quality checks. Modular building factories are dedicated to crafting highly effective buildings with inspections at each station, eliminating on-the-fly decisions or unexpected complications that can occur in the field.

“The construction process is carefully engineered to create a sequence of steps that is repeated precisely on every module,” Slingerland explains. “This decreases the variability that can occur on a site-build project.”

After installation, capital improvements to extend the building’s life, such as HVAC or roof replacements, can be made on the same schedule as a conventional building. The same maintenance and inspection requirements common to traditional facilities will also apply to modular buildings.

Permanent vs. Temporary

Modular construction is an alternative to traditional construction only. It is not an extension of temporary modular buildings, which meet a different purpose and offer separate benefits.

Permanent modular buildings are comparable to buildings strictly built onsite in terms of quality, life span, and materials used for construction. They are not intended to be relocated, though individual modules can be replaced.

Temporary buildings provide an affordable space that is mobile or relocatable. Clients are typically offered a predesigned layout and have little input over materials used or opportunities for extensive customization. These structures are commonly used for construction site offices, emergency spaces, sales centers and mobile showrooms, and temporary classrooms.

While there are many benefits associated with portable buildings, their purpose and lifespan can be abused by owners unwilling to commit to the costs of a permanent building.

“Temporary buildings often become permanent fixtures,” explains Maggie Hartley, American Modular Systems. “That’s a problem as many of these structures are aging and have poor ventilation and lighting. This leads to an unhealthy learning or work environment.”

Relocatable buildings also don’t offer the same investment benefits as a permanent structure. Some are available for lease only and aren’t truly part of your portfolio.

“Relocatable buildings are not permanently affixed to real estate as a rule,” explains Tom Hardiman, MBI. “This allows for the building to be considered personal property or equipment, which depreciates over a shorter span.”

5) Sustainability
As with traditional buildings, modular construction easily incorporates sustainability. Specify the use of recycled materials, LED lighting, high-efficiency mechanical systems, sustainably harvested wood, and low-flow fixtures just as you normally would.

“We’re seeing a shift toward high-performance, sustainable design,” says Maggie Hartley, director of marketing for American Modular Systems. “Energy efficiency over the lifespan of the building is a definite priority. There’s a reliance on mechanical systems, tight envelopes, ventilation, and smart lighting to achieve energy savings.”

While the process itself affords more opportunities for sustainability, other green benefits include:

  • Improved IAQ – Moisture reduction, use of dry materials, and time for off-gassing result in fewer VOCs.
  • Compatible with LEED – Modular buildings can compete in the same categories as traditionally built ones. They can even yield an advantage in credits for Sustainable Sites, Materials and Resources, and Energy and Atmosphere.
  • Reusable – Whether you need a new layout or your building has been damaged, modular buildings can be disassembled so individual modules can be replaced or refurbished.
  • Tighter Envelope – PMC typically results in a tighter envelope, which improves energy efficiency. This is due to the durability required for transportation and the lack of weather complications such as moisture and water intrusion.
  • Renewable Energy – Modular construction can accommodate alternative energy sources, from solar panels to a geoexchange system. Buildings can also be designed so renewable energy can be added down the road.

For information about building using modular construction in California contact the experts..USModular, Inc.


How Modular Buildings Could Solve the Housing Crisis in San Diego

In a factory just outside Bedford sits the answer to Britain’s housing crisis. Here, workers inspect a line of containers — apartments in various stages of construction — and scribble on clipboards.

Welcome to Vision Modular Systems’ housing warehouse, a place where prefabricated homes are put together. It is a far cry from the dust and dirt of a traditional building site and looks more like something out of the futuristic movie Wall-E.

Entire homes are made here: ovens and radiators, even toilet-roll holders, are fitted and beds are topped with mattresses. When finished, the units are placed on trucks and driven 53 miles to Holloway in north London, where they will be homes for students.

Analysts predict that 2018 will be the breakthrough year for modular housing (the preferred name for prefabs). The notion was strengthened this week when Berkeley Homes, one of Britain’s biggest luxury builders, announced that a new 160,000 sq ft factory in Ebsfleet, Kent, will produce 1,000 homes a year; the company eventually wants a quarter of its homes to be prefabricated.

More than 15,000 homes in Britain are built this way each year, but the government wants to increase access to finance for modular builders, with the aim of raising the figure to 100,000 a year by 2020.

Why is modular housing booming?
Factory building requires fewer builders at a time of chronic shortage in the industry (60 per cent less per property built, according to Vision); it is a much faster process, often taking as little as a month to build; and the technology is getting better, ensuring a quality product.

The modular housebuilder Nhouse is setting up a factory in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire and claims that it can build a house in 20 days. Meanwhile, Legal & General has announced a new modular factory in Leeds that will churn out 3,000 homes a year. L&G are significant investors in the purpose-built rental sector (known as build-to-rent).

“It’s not necessarily the case that modular is cheaper, but it’s massively more efficient,” says Adam Challis, the head of residential research at JLL, the property consultant. “You can draw parallels with Jaguar Land Rover’s factory in Telford. Legal & General’s decision to hire the former Rolls-Royce boss [Rose Toogood, the car company’s former business development director] as its chief executive is very telling. It’s increasingly about bringing precision engineering to the construction market, which is long overdue.”

Nicky Gavron, the chairman of the London Assembly planning committee, says: “You wouldn’t buy a car made in a field, so why buy a house manufactured in one?” The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a fan of using modular building to boost the supply of homes in the capital.

Why is choice limited?
The majority of modular properties in Britain are apartments, because smaller units are more profitable for developers and are easier to transport.

“Land values are so high that everyone looks to increase their density,” says Mark Farmer, the chief executive of Cast, a construction consultant.

One of the companies that uses Vision’s factory in Bedford is Pocket Living, a specialist in affordable compact homes for first-time buyers. A recent development in Wandsworth, southwest London, contained 53 one-bedroom properties ranging from £225,000 to £330,000.

Vision, which produces 2,000 homes a year in partnership with its sister company Tide Construction, is working with the US company Greystar on the world’s tallest modular tower, which will be made up of two buildings, one with 44 storeys and the other with 38, containing 550 rental flats in Croydon, southeast London. It will be completed in 24 months.

Farmer believes that more housebuilders will announce modular construction divisions this year because of concerns that the skills shortage will soon lead to diminishing quality in their on-site projects.

“They will act before the labour and skills crisis causes brand issues for them by producing poor-quality on-site homes,” he says. Farmer is the author of a report that was commissioned by the government in 2016 warning that a skills shortage would devastate the construction industry within a decade.

Are larger, luxury homes on the way?
There are family-sized modular properties being built, but these are in the minority. Some of the homes on Essential Living’s Creekside Wharf development in Greenwich, southeast London, will be designed for families, with buggy storage, acoustic noise insulation and an on-site nursery, but most of its 632 modular flats — built at a rate of 20 a week — will be geared towards urban professionals.

Urban Splash, a large modular developer, has just sold 21 three-storey modular townhouses in the Irwell Riverside neighbourhood in Manchester. Prices range from £380,000 for a one-bedroom property to £410,000 for four bedrooms.

However, the practical problem with building bigger properties is that you can’t fit them on lorries — an abnormal load should not exceed a width of 4.3m or a height of 4.95m, according to Highways Agency rules. This means that modular houses have to be transported by road in components, which costs more and is not as environmentally friendly.

Alex Johnson, an architect at Assael Architecture who specialises in modular construction, says the practice needs to become more mainstream. “If it does it will generate confidence not only from the public, but also the lending community, who are waiting to see more of these developments.”

Most modular houses remain upmarket. The most established brand is Huf Haus, known for its distinctive wood frame and glass luxury houses, which takes about a week to erect and cost about £300 a square foot. Other modular builders include Stommel Haus and Facit Homes.

Is anyone investing?
Modular is already backed by billions of pounds of Chinese money and expertise, and more foreign investment is on the way, particularly from Germany and Scandinavia.

The China National Building Material Company has partnered with the housing association Your Housing Group and the developer Welink Group in a £2.5 billion venture to build 25,000 modular homes over the next five years in Yorkshire, the northwest and the Midlands. China has some of the greatest expertise in this area, having built a 57-storey skyscraper in only 19 days in the city of Changsha, Hunan province, in 2015.

Is the quality good enough?
The bête noire for those working in the sector is the often-used shorthand description “flatpack homes”. The stigma of poorly made prefabricated postwar housing remains, explaining why some mortgage providers have, until recently, been reluctant to lend on modular homes.

However, supporters argue that modern, modular homes have better energy efficiency and are more durable than their conventionally built counterparts. Farmer says that the “panellised systems delivered in a factory situation, in controlled conditions, provides a much better level of insulation” than those built on building sites.

Expect the explosion of modular to be one of this year’s big property trends.

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Google Will Buy Modular Homes To Ease Affordable Housing Crunch

Google owner Alphabet Inc. is finalizing an order to buy 300 apartment units from Factory OS, a modular-home startup.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the tech titan – in an to effort alleviate soaring home prices in Silicon Valley – is likely to use the new dwellings to serve as short-term housing for Google employees.

The expected value of the deal is $25 million to $30 million, the Journal says.

Modular construction, in which a complete home or an addition is built in a climate-controlled factory and then delivered to the home site, has been around for decades. In recent years, the technology has been deployed to help alleviate housing shortages across the U.S., including Detroit, New York and Miami.

Silicon Valley has been grappling with a severe housing shortage for years and tech companies are increasingly becoming more active in trying to help solve that problem. Late last year Facebook announced that it will spend about $20 million in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, Calif., two cities that surround its campus, to create a fund to build new housing.

But easing the chronic affordable housing crunch  is an uphill battle. Home prices in tech hubs such as San Jose, Palo Alto and Cupertino rank among the priciest in the country and jumped to record levels again in April.

Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties all posted all-time median price highs in April, CoreLogic reported.  The price for the typical previously owned home was $1,050,500 in Santa Clara County, which is steadily holding above the $1 million level; $805,000 in Alameda County; $590,000 in Contra Costa County; and $1.4 million in San Mateo County.

Google’s move also comes as tech giants continue to expand their Silicon Valley presence.

Apple Inc. has already begun moving thousands of its employees into Apple Park, the company’s new 2.8-million-square-foot circular building in Cupertino, Calif., that resembles a spaceship. Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. have tapped top architects Frank Gehry and Bjarke Ingels for expansions. Inc. paid to put its name on a new, 61-story tower that will be the tallest building in San Francisco.

To learn more about modular construction in Southern California, visit USModular, Inc.  Experts in building using modular construction.


Article credit: Forbes Magazine