Many people are increasingly supportive of a more circular economy — one that embraces reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling what isn't suitable for reuse. Modular construction is one step in the journey and it's gaining traction as a greener alternative to traditional stick-built structures or additions.
In short, modular construction is assembling pre-made units called modules. These units can complete a building or serve as an addition to an existing one. Factories produce the modules off-site, and construction professionals install them after delivery to the site.
Sustainability is a method for managing natural and other resources to ensure their continued availability. Modular construction contributes to the goal in multiple ways.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), construction and demolition debris make up a significant portion of the waste entering landfills.
With modular construction, building occurs in a controlled setting and makes it easier to recapture and repurpose materials. Plus, the indoor environment means inventory doesn't undergo exposure to the elements. As a result, there's less need to redo existing work because of excess moisture or damage.
The modular approach also simplifies inventory control. The factory can store leftover materials for other projects — a choice that's not always readily available with traditional construction.
Storing materials for later use isn't the only way to make the most of them. Many of today's modular manufacturers are paving the way toward more sustainability by also focusing on using recycled materials in their building processes.
Options abound for materials like reclaimed wood and recycled glass and steel. Modular home companies are even offering materials like flooring made with post-consumer content.
Another key way modular construction supports sustainability is through shorter project timelines. Since construction pros can carry out the site prep work during the building process, completion happens faster. The sooner construction concludes, the less energy expended throughout the project. The controlled indoor building setting also helps conserve energy resources.
Parts of the modular building industry are embracing greener construction practices, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED-certified builders focus on improving health and environmental quality while reducing carbon and waste throughout construction. Gaining certification points includes putting energy-saving features within the modules.
Reusability is one of the most significant reasons modular construction is so sustainable. It's easy to disassemble modules and relocate them or reconfigure them.
As a result, the buildings can adapt to many different purposes. Repurposing an existing modular building also allows for better use of resources. With less demand for new construction materials, construction is more sustainable. Plus, reusing the building doubles up on waste reduction — once during the initial construction phase and a second time by avoiding demolition debris.
Most of a modular home's construction occurs off-site, resulting in fewer construction vehicles at the installation point. Less traffic and fewer people on-site for extended periods means less activity impacting the immediate surroundings. Plus, there's less pollution in the immediate area thanks to a faster construction process and fewer pieces of heavy machinery.
Disassembly and relocation are also easier on the surrounding area than a traditionally built demolition — the processes create less dust and debris.
Shorter project time frames and more efficient material use naturally translate into savings. In addition, the indoor construction setting reduces the possibility of inventory theft, which cuts down on the need to replace materials.
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