Is modular construction shaping a sustainable future?
Modular construction is quietly driving a revolution in the way that we will live over the next twenty years. With the UK set to be net zero by 2050, sustainability is no longer a buzz word and has become a fundamental consideration in the way in which we build housing. Leading-edge construction techniques have the potential to drive sustainable construction in a sector that is predicted to grow to £6 billion while creating opportunities for thousands of jobs in offsite construction.
But what's driving the interest in modular techniques for sustainability? As costs rise in the traditional building sector and sustainability goals become more urgent, the advantages of modular are critical in meeting ambitious green goals.
An attitude change
The new “prefab” is light years away from the homes that rolled off the production line in the 1950s. And it's this attitudinal change coupled with the capabilities of high-end projects that has reignited interest in modular as a critical driver of sustainable construction.
Built offsite in a factory environment, every factor of a modular build can be quality controlled. Constructed to the same or higher sustainability standards than a traditional build, modular reduces time frames and overall project costs.
However, when the market demands high quality, high-performance housing stock that can last a lifetime, can modular really deliver? In his first budget, the Chancellor took much-needed steps towards supporting the offsite construction industry to increase efficiency and productivity, cost-effectiveness and timeliness in project delivery. It was a recognition by the government of modular construction as the only realistic way to meet the housing shortage and ambitious targets for net carbon in 2030 and net zero by 2050.
Where offsite construction represents the best value for money across capital projects, key government departments have been instructed to adopt a presumption in favour of modular solutions. These energy-efficient-for-life buildings represent an energy saving of up to 67% over more traditional construction methods, reduce waste by 90% and can be produced to be entirely recyclable. When compared with traditional construction methods, modular delivers sustainability and value plus the opportunity to create routes into the construction industry through creating skilled jobs in modular construction.
There are other ways in which going modular can reduce the impact of a construction project. From improved offsite working conditions to a reduced construction footprint, modular addresses many of the issues that make traditional construction sites so unsustainable. For example, modular construction can reduce the number of on-site deliveries by 90%, reducing noise and pollution impacts on the neighbouring community.
While each module may require more building materials than a conventional project, the reduction in net wastage more than offsets this when measured against the longer life cycle of a robust modular construction. Once on-site, modular constructions that reduce thermal bridging via improved factor installed insulation and the precision of the air barrier can reduce environmental impact and operational costs by up to 20%.
Cost-effective and sustainable, modular is also highly flexible in design. Imagine a building that can be made hurricane or earthquake-proof or deliver accessibility features or have future proofing baked in from design to demolition simply by remodelling the BIM.
They're ideal for projects that must adapt and evolve with changing needs, creating innovative solutions in a fraction of the time a traditional construction project requires. In some cases, it's 25-30% quicker to commission and construct a modular building. And with the clock ticking on the housing crisis and carbon zero, modular construction is creating a quiet revolution and driving a sustainable future.