Modular Building Institute

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A Typical Conversation About Modular Construction

Original Comment:
On a recent call with MBI’s Owner Developer Council, we discussed the typical reasons that the traditional construction community does not fully embrace modular construction. The conversation goes something like this:

Owner: I want to use modular construction for my next project.

GC: That’s been tried years ago. It doesn’t work.

Owner: Well, given your labor shortages and the demand for housing, I think we should give it a second look.

GC: Yeah, but I already have existing relationships with my subs, and I don’t want to lose them.

Owner: We need to find a better way to deliver our projects and I think modular construction is the answer, so let’s look at it.

Owner to architect: Design this so we have a series of repeatable boxes to maximize manufacturing efficiencies.

Architect: I don’t want to sacrifice my artistic integrity.

Owner: I’m not asking you to do that, I’m asking you to consider designing this project so that it can be efficiently built in a factory.

Architect: It’s been tried before. It doesn’t work.

Owner: Yeah, I heard that already. Let’s give it another look. Maybe things have changed in the last thirty years.

GC: If we move half the work off site, do I still get my general conditions fees?

Owner: How about we all sit down – owner, architect, GC, and modular manufacturer and talk about this project and your respective scopes of work. There is a massive need for education, housing, and healthcare infrastructure and with the labor shortage, we must be smarter about how be build.

Status Quo public policy makers: We need to address housing so let’s make it really difficult for anyone to utilize anything different than what we are used to.

Typical code official: Yes, I can get behind that.

Policy maker: Let’s just throw more tax credits at the problem and see what happens.

Concerned Citizen: What about all the construction waste that ends up in our landfills. I read that construction of a new 2,000 square foot home generates four tons of waste. I also read that modular construction can reduce and divert more than half that waste away from landfills.

Construction industry: cricket noise.

Forward thinking policy makers: What if we incentivize developers to get more units on the street more quickly or with less waste? Or what if we talk to our economic development agency to try to incentivize more modular manufacturers to come to our state to build housing? Maybe we should be helping manufacturers instead of penalizing them.

Organized Labor: You don’t want them. It’s been tried before. It doesn’t work. The quality is cheap, and they are unsafe. Let’s expand prevailing wage laws and push for more apprenticeship requirements. It makes for a good sound bite, and it will bolster our membership.

Taxpayers: Seems like working in a controlled factory setting would be safer with a higher degree of quality control. And won’t these forced labor requirements increase the cost and limit the number of contractors available? If we continue to fall behind in affordable housing units, our schools are falling apart, and clearly our healthcare system needs more attention, how are restrictive labor policies, excessive regulations, and self-serving interests going to solve anything? Shouldn’t we step back and look at these issues holistically and come up with new solutions?


Sound familiar? What conversations are you having?
Started on August 26, 2021 by Tom Hardiman
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Additional Comments:
"I don’t want to sacrifice my artistic integrity." LOL!
OK, I guess we (architects) deserve that from time to time, however, I would like to point out that it was Frank Lloyd Wright that was an early pioneer of modular components for affordable housing (Google "Usonian House").
Updated on September 29, 2021 by Pablo Serna

I have found there are plenty of architects who were willing to give it a try, and some really good ones too. It's a bigger problem on the GC side since many of them don't know how to charge for it and the fears of liability and warranty work are always present. I made big hay as a residential GC during the worst of the housing crisis by embracing these concepts - zero-energy, healthy, modular, panelized, you name it. Those builders that can embrace the future will be rewarded, and never has that been more true than with off-site construction.
Updated on August 26, 2021 by Douglas Selby

This is spot on, espeially the Owner, Architect portion for me. Our goal is to find the owners that want an architect and a GC with modular expereince on their team.
Updated on August 26, 2021 by Kacy Caviston

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