Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Modular construction has become increasingly popular in recent years due to reduced construction times, better consistency in manufacturing components, and higher levels of overall safety for workers – and all at a price point that’s as much as 15 to 20 percent less expensive than traditional construction.

What modular construction does take, though, is supreme organization due to the complexity of making sure all the different moving parts are working together. In order to make the entire process more understandable, we’ve broken it down into seven common steps. Let’s take a look.

1. The Design Phase

Every construction project begins with a design, and modular projects are no different. This beginning phase revolves around drawing up plans and specifications for the building to be constructed. This part of the process is routinely done in close concert with a client or developer, with the contractor’s project manager acting as a facilitator. 

Lots of things get hashed out during the design phase, most of which are rather straightforward. Important questions like project budget, type of building to be constructed, and what the timetable is for people to move into the building are all answered. Decisions about types of finishes, safety features, and other construction materials to be used are all made as well during this part of the process.

2. The Engineering Phase

Once a building design has been finalized, it’s time for qualified engineers to review these plans to ensure they’re all properly up to code. Just like a traditionally site-built structure, a modular building also has to comply with building codes on the local, state, and national levels to ensure they’re safe for people and don’t place the environment at risk. 

Ensuring that designs are up to code requires an exhaustive knowledge of all the different building codes for a specific location, as well as knowing which ones apply to the type of building to be constructed. Residential buildings will have different requirements than commercial or industrial ones, and all these differences must be taken into account during an engineering review.

3. The Permitting and Approval Phase

Reviewing design plans to ensure everything will be up to code is one thing – getting actual approval for the construction to begin is another altogether. The property owner might be the one who’s responsible for getting the right permits in order to begin building, but many owners delegate this responsibility to the contractor, authorizing them as their representative to streamline the process. 

Building owners do need to ensure that they follow up with the contractor to confirm the right permits are secured before breaking ground, though. The consequences for not obtaining the permits needed can be severe – penalties and fines are common, and in some instances, a building owner can see their construction project demolished if it’s deemed unauthorized.

4. The Site Development Phase

Once permits and approvals have been met, it’s time to prepare the job site so that a building can be constructed upon it. This usually starts with surveying the property to identify its exact borders and to choose the precise location of where the construction will be. Site development also typically encompasses any demolition of existing structures, ground excavation and grading, and making sure connections for electricity, water, and sewer are all present and serviceable. It’s also important that any drainage systems are set in place to prevent flooding or soil erosion.

Now for one of the ways that modular construction differs from traditional on-site construction methods: how the site is developed. Modular construction is advantageous because the development of the site, such as grading and laying a building foundation, can be underway at the same time that the modules are being manufactured at an off-site location. This means that construction time is cut down by a sizable margin as a result. 

5. The Fabrication Phase

Now it’s time to begin actually fabricating the modular components of the building. As mentioned above, this step usually takes place concurrently with the one above, as site development can occur at the same time while fabrication activities are undertaken at an off-site facility. 

Modular construction components are often fabricated using production or assembly-line methods that have a component move through a production facility one step at a time. First, the module is framed, then filled with floor and wall sections and insulated. Truss or roof assemblies are usually built on the ground before being lifted into place and affixed near the end; meanwhile, plumbing, electrical wiring, and mechanical components are all added one by one until the module is ready to receive finishes and trim.

6. The Transportation Phase

Once each fabricated module is completed, it’s prepped for transport. Modules are shipped overland by specialized cargo carriers that are experts in transporting modular building components. The majority of modular builders will contract with these companies instead of handling transportation themselves. 

In order to standardize the transportation process, most modules are limited to maximum dimensions of around 70 to 90 feet long and 16 feet in width. This also ensures that these modules comply with any state or federal shipping regulations. Delivery occurs according to a set schedule to keep things organized, with the modules received in the order that they need to be installed on-site.

7. The Installation Phase

Once the modules and components of a project begin to arrive, it’s time for the general contractor to get to work. Each module is installed in order, connected to local utility hookups, and received any on-site finishing that was unable to be completed at the fabrication site. 

The methods used for placing these modules will differ depending on whether the construction is meant to be permanent or semi-permanent. Temporary buildings are usually placed on raised foundations using simple mechanical methods. More permanent structures, placed on graded foundations, are typically set in place through the use of a construction crane.

The unique nature of modular construction makes it versatile, affordable, and an excellent alternative to on-site construction for many. This process is only going to become more popular as time goes by – the next house you live in just might be modular as well.