From more efficiency, to cost savings, improved quality, and sustainability, modular construction is increasingly recognised for the many benefits it can provide to the construction industry. Since 1994, every major review of the construction industry has in some way recommended a move towards offsite construction.
However, in some parts of the world, including the UK, take up remains low, with less than five per cent of housing projects described as modular. Meanwhile many other countries, such as Germany, Japan, China, and the Netherlands are growing their capabilities, with Sweden blazing a trail with 84 per cent of housing projects considered modular.
Here in the UK, we remain conflicted due to polarised views divided between sceptics of modular construction and zealots who are enthralled by the technology. However, it may very well be time for us to move past this point as the benefits grow increasingly apparent and our construction needs continue to evolve.
Firstly, modular is a more environmentally sustainable way of building than traditional methods. Environmental impacts are significantly mitigated, with waste reduced by 50 per cent, emissions down by 50 per cent, site water consumption down by 30 per cent, and energy savings of around 80 per cent. Modular also reduces traffic congestion and noise pollution levels.
Add to that, offsite construction can substantially reduce the risk of work-related accidents. On average, 44 people were killed on British work sites every year between 2009 and 2014. The overall cost of injury and work-related illness in the UK remains at around £1.2 billion a year. Offsite methods reduce the need to work at heights and underground, and production lines are proven to be a much safer working environment. If we universally adopted modular construction, we could see as much as an 80 per cent reduction in occurrence of work-related injury and death.
The National Audit Office has demonstrated that offsite construction methods can reduce onsite build times by up to 50 per cent if the project is considered to be modular from the outset. In 2018, only 60 per cent of construction projects were completed on budget, and less than 40 per cent were delivered on time. Given that, modular presents a huge opportunity for improvement by enabling speedier project completion and greater certainty.
When it comes to cost, it is difficult to be definitive due to the variety of construction methods and materials used, but it is reasonable to assert that for a like-for-like quality, the cost would be about the same. When you consider that modular is more sustainable, safer, faster, and of better quality than traditional, there is no denying the greater advantages this method of construction holds over traditional.
Philip Watson – Director, Head of Design at HLM Architects recently put together the below video ‘We Need to Talk About Modular’ for the Festival of Learning Spaces.