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Builders Increasingly Turn Toward Modular Construction

Faster, cleaner, smarter: By using modular construction, EAH Housing anticipates saving time, money, and energy while building Greenfield Commons. The project marks the corporation’s first foray into modular construction, a building technique that continues to gain momentum in the building industry. Partnering with EAH Housing on the construction are Swinerton Builders and Factory OS, a Bay Area company that has gained the support of several big tech companies for its pioneering approach to off-site construction.

In Santa Cruz, Novin Development is also looking to increase efficiency by using modular construction for its 831 Water Street project.

Modular construction is increasingly being looked at as a way to bring more affordable housing online. In Salinas, Zumwalt Construction estimated it would save $1.6 million on the construction of the 50-unit Hacienda 3 apartments which is increasingly being looked to as a tool to help ease the affordable housing shortage.

In modular construction, much of the structure is built in an off-site factory via an assembly-line process, then trucked in and moved into place by crane.

According to the International Code Council, there is a growing interest in off-site construction as the building industry and society struggle to address key challenges including the availability of affordable housing, a lack of skilled workers, material use, and sustainability job site safety and industry production.

According to a 2017 report by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the benefits of modular construction can include “reductions in construction cost by at least 20 percent, shortening of construction time by up to 40%, and minimization of impacts on the neighborhood surrounding construction sites.”

The shorter construction period helps avoid fluctuations in materials cost, and the controlled, off-site production environment eliminates weather-related delays that plague traditional construction schedules. Environmental impacts for modular construction are also lowered, with less construction materials waste, vehicle noise, or carbon emissions due to fewer transportation requirements.

“We build apartments very much like we build cars,” Factory OS co-founder/COO Larry Pace told CNBC in a recent interview. “We stack them like Legos on the building site, and you have a completed building.”

In the case of Factory OS, that can be down to the smallest details, such as the toilet paper holders.

A recent Forbes article, “The Future of Real Estate is Modular,” described how modern-day fabrication technology and modern-day design are creating buildings that, in many cases, are not just less expensive to build than traditional “stick-built” homes, but better looking and more sustainable.

At a time when the construction industry struggles to find workers, Pace also sees opportunities for workers from other fields to retrain into well-paying, union-supported jobs in a growing industry. More than half of Factory OS’s tradespeople were trained by the company, he said.

“We have big aspirations that we could be producing housing that was costing $800,000 down to $200,000,” predicts Pace.
Photo courtesy of International Code Council.