September 30, 2023


Making a New Home

Modular Monitor: How GCs, trades and architects view offsite construction, by the numbers

9 min read

Considering the fact that Construction Dive started using the pulse of offsite construction, this column has been inundated with praise for the process from self-recognized modular builders.

Modular-centered firms are placing with each other vertically built-in organization types, handing above keys to turnkey structures and even calling the motion disruptive. 

But modular builders most likely just can’t go the needle on their individual, so the emphasis is various for this month’s column: modular’s other stakeholders. 

Whilst there are above two hundred modular builders in the U.S., in accordance to the Modular Creating Institute, professional modular setting up only accounts for about four% of the market. It would take sweeping obtain-in from common contractors, designers, proprietors and all relevant trade industry experts for modular to be described as an business disruption, or a “major disturbance in the way matters are completed,” as Ivan Rupnik, an affiliate professor at Northeastern University’s College of Architecture, puts it.

House owners may be the most pivotal, because they conceive and fund assignments, and if a construct is going to be modular, it has to be modular prior to shovels strike the dust, in accordance to Laurie Robert, LEED AP and vice president of modular setting up professional NRB Inc. in Canada.

Who’s generating way for modular?

Whilst Robert also expressed the frequent sentiment that absence of education and learning between proprietors frequently inhibits modular’s takeoff, it’s critical to observe that there appears to be a specified threshold for a tipping point: Once proprietors are convinced, they go out and actively champion it.

But what about architects, construction professionals and subcontractor groups these as erectors and setting up enclosure trades? What do they appear to be to concur on, and in which do they differ?

To that finish, Dodge Data & Analytics not long ago launched a report that culled with each other assumed leadership on modular and prefabrication, these as the observation from Rupnik, and recorded success from a study on modular construction that elicited responses from extra 600 AEC industry experts ranging from designers to steel fabricators. 

To participate, respondents had to have labored on at least a single job that concerned prefabrication aspects or comprehensive modular construction in the very last a few decades. Of that pool, only 15 recognized as modular builders or manufacturers, and their solutions ended up recorded separately.

As a publication that’s trying to glow light on the industry’s extra comprehensive and frequently varied sights of modular, it’s refreshing for Construction Dive to see a wide array of tangential stakeholders weigh in on the subject matter. 

Responses ended up damaged out by a few professions.

Who’s chiming in?



Architects (designers)   a hundred sixty five
Engineers (involved in the designers group) 33
Basic contractors/construction professionals (GCs)   176
Subcontractors (trades) 219
Modular builders (not involved in this story)  15

Evaluation exhibits how substantially they dovetail on myriad sentiments and also some of the methods in which they distinction.

Basic contractors that responded, for example, overwhelmingly showed aid for offsite setting up strategies. That may possibly not be a whole shock, looking at that very last month we heard heavyweights that have created their title in common stick setting up, these as Mortenson and DPR, talk about benefits they’ve had with offsite construction.

But it is critical to contemplate in which GCs’ stance matches between other stakeholders in the developed environment. 

For a single, this was the group that most forecasted improved use of comprehensive-volumetric long lasting modular construction. A slight the vast majority predicted only twenty five% or significantly less of their assignments currently being composed of mostly flat-packed or 3D modules developed offsite in the up coming a few decades. But extra importantly, a quarter of that group stated they’ll be making use of the process on extra than half of their assignments. Only thirteen% expected no involvement at all. 

Where does modular make sense?

Out of fourteen market segments, GCs observed health care services the most promising for modular construction. Forty-a single % chosen health care as currently being in the prime ten most-promising sectors, which signifies a increased quantity than any other group. Respondents ended up going out on a limb on their health care predictions, because that number is double the share of firms that rated it as a single of the prime setting up sorts they’d completed through modular suggests in the past a few decades.

Health care rated likewise for the 219 trades associates that responded. Like the GCs’ rankings, it also came in as the subs’ strongest group for modular development, with fifty six% crowning it in their prime ten irrespective of only 31% placing it in that class when seeking again.

But the consensus of contractors and subs differ from that of designers, who stand guiding multifamily as the strongest contender for increasing modular inroads. Fifty percent of the extra than two hundred architects and engineers polled rated it in a single of the prime spots, irrespective of only sixteen% indicating it is been a single of the most distinguished categories in the latest decades.

Multifamily is potentially the major enigma of the report. “Design firms,” for occasion, in accordance to co-authors Stephen Jones and Donna Laquidara-Carr, “are very optimistic about the job of modular on multifamily assignments going ahead,” and the quantities again that up.

Trades, on the other hand, more commonly rated it as currently being sizeable in the very last a few decades yet not virtually as most likely to hold these importance in the up coming a few. GCs’ take appears to be that it will taper marginally but stay about the exact same, with only 33% indicating it has been and will continue to be a single of the prime setting up sorts for modular. 

GCs and trades are also extra optimistic about modular in the hospitality phase, with it coming in next and 3rd in that exact same index, respectively, for the up coming a few decades. Designers, on the opposite, anticipate the sector’s use of modular slowing.

What is driving offsite’s development?

For all groups, the “desire to improve productivity” reigned as the most critical aspect influencing the go to offsite in the past a few decades, in accordance to Laquidara-Carr and her team’s findings, while builders and subs rated productiveness gains even increased than designers, most likely because of how it impacts their workflow.

Remaining competitive” was the next-most influential aspect between all a few, and even extra so for subs.

“Interestingly,” the report notes, “design firms report acquiring been most hugely motivated by trying to find improved price tag performances (fifty eight%) — out[pacing] equally GCs/CMs (49%) and trades (fifty%). 

“This,” the findings continue, “ … [indicates] that architects and engineers comprehend equally prefabrication and modular construction can have a optimistic impact on price tag manage and really should guide to extra development of style and design answers that consciously empower equally.”

What is keeping modular again?

The rub, having said that, is that designers forecasted the least expensive total share of prefabricated assemblies usage in the coming a few decades. Only sixteen% expected use of prefab elements these as guiding-the-wall plumbing assemblies for headwalls or multi-trade assemblies these as previously mentioned-the-ceiling corridor racks in hospitals, as opposed to comprehensive-volumetric room modules.

This suggests, the authors wrote, that designers need to have “to grow to be extra engaged with designing in a way that allows contractors to carry out prefabrication.”

Finding on the exact same web site in the development of equally prefabricated assemblies-based mostly and module models can take teamwork, and the society requires to adjust, NRB’s Robert stated. “The development of your staff, such as the owner, the architect, the standard contractor, the modular builder and all other stakeholders,” she continued, “is surely the most critical component of a modular project’s accomplishment.”

“Style firms and GCs most hugely price experience, but style and design firms are much extra affected by proprietors on their modular provider choices than GCs.”

Donna Laquidara-Carr

Field Insights study director, Dodge Data & Analytics

Thankfully, for the sake of modular’s development, there are quite a few matters to concur on. All a few groups leaned into the thought that modular construction enhances job schedule overall performance, with that aspect resonating as the major driver for development. Around half of just about every groups’ respondents thought modular lessens job expenses more than enough to contemplate it a hugely influential aspect in stirring up need. 

But GCs did not concur with most subs and designers on modular’s penchant for improved good quality as currently being a prime driver. Only 34% thought it will enjoy an critical job, whereas half of the designers and half the subs stated it’d have an progressively substantial stage of impact.

An additional spot in which all groups aligned involved their take on what is inhibiting modular development the most. House owners, as famous, are still a single of the major influencers on regardless of whether business gamers toying with offsite methods in fact use them on assignments or not —​ and that’s legitimate for all groups, with just about every ranking “lack of owner interest” a prime obstacle. 

Kendra Halliwell, affiliate principal of the women-owned Icon Architecture, also previously expressed the simple fact that availability of modular factories, or absence thereof, can be a large determinant in regardless of whether a modular job will get greenlit. Which is even extra apparent for designers, in accordance to the report, with half of that group ranking it as a big setback to development and GCs trailing marginally in that view. 

“1 issue I want to emphasize is, if you’re performing a modular job, to visit the factory at least when a 7 days although it’s currently being created,” the AIA and LEED AP architect stated through a circumstance analyze presentation of her firm’s 1st modular construct, the 171-unit, 129-module The Graphic Lofts, Boston’s largest modular multifamily development. “We did not prepare for that, and we ended up acquiring to make up for that. We did, having said that, fulfill a few occasions a 7 days — sometimes through digital meetings — with the architect, contractor and modular maker.” Proximity to the factory is critical, she stated.

Trade contractors, having said that, never see availability in the exact same light. Only about 23% regarded as it a issue, but that could be because trades “are not as concerned in sourcing suppliers,” in accordance to the report.

How are offer choices created?

How gamers choose modular construction solutions is another eye-opener. “Design firms and GCs most hugely price experience,” the report observed, but “design firms are much extra affected by proprietors on their modular provider choices than GCs.” 

Joe Beeton / Construction Dive, information courtesy of Dodge Data & Analytics


“Price,” having said that, “is not a hugely influential aspect for selection of a modular construction provider,” for any groups making use of comprehensive-quantity modular builds, the authors observed, noting that it will most likely be extra of a aspect as extra and extra suppliers enter the market.

But which is various from what respondents had to say about the offer of prefabricated elements and solutions. “This contrasts with prefabrication, in which it rated next total on this exact same record of 6 aspects and was cited as the key influencer by 20% of GCs/CMs,” the report famous. “This may possibly replicate the various maturity ranges involving these two marketplaces, in which because there are extra suppliers accessible for prefabrication, cost can be extra conveniently made use of for competitive analysis.”

However a various take is that some builds require a mix of equally comprehensive-module rooms and single- or multi-trade prefabricated assemblies, or blend people offsite aspects with common strategies, normally known as hybrid builds. Robert, concurring with another frequent notion, espoused the price of hybrid types.

And it is in hybrid or prefab do the job in which quite a few subs glow. Whilst they are concerned in comprehensive-quantity modularization positions as perfectly, they frequently are the most intensely invested when it will come to any other positions that demand at least partial panelization or prefab elements.

The analyze notes that “trades can frequently make the final decision to prefabricate their section of the do the job without considerably impacting or involving other trades.” Subs appeared equally the most perfectly-versed in prefabrication when seeking again at the past a few decades and also the most enthusiastic about the up coming a few.

Subcontractors frequently have to place their workers’ necks on the line, so modular’s purported basic safety benefits hold a ton of water for subs. “Safety scores much increased with trade contractors because of its direct impression on their workforce,” the report stated. 

Remain tuned to this regular column as it can take a further, nuanced and sometimes extra crucial glimpse at the modular motion, and come to feel free of charge to electronic mail me your feelings, worries and tips on subjects to deal with in this sequence.

The Modular Watch sequence is introduced to you by The Modular Creating Institute​ (MBI), the voice of professional modular construction.

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