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experiences in modular building: is it more cost effective?

by fmgarchitects.

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Above: Daoine Oga modular-built community childcare facility, Navan

Is modular building a cost effective and efficient way to build?

It depends. From 2001-2010 we were involved with the development of a number of similar-sized purpose-built childcare facilities on green-field sites under a national and later European childcare capital funding scheme.

Towards the end of the building boom years, construction prices had peaked and we had begun to include modular contractors on the tender list in order to meet budgets. A modular contractor was the successful lowest tenderer for a 3800sq ft. building in December 2007.

Twelve months later in January 2009, construction costs had plummeted and a similar modular contractor tendered some 30% higher that other tenders based on conventional block build for a similar project.

Modular building has additional costs compared to conventional building including factory/premises overheads, large-element transport costs (including bracing of the structure) and site cranage. The “speed of construction” argument is countered by the lead-time for fabrication drawings and factory assembly.

The process of future extension and adaptation of the building should also be considered. While a modular contractor may be attracted to the economies of scale of a medium to large-scale project, we have found that they may be unwilling to engage with alterations or minor extensions to the structure later. We are at present looking at extending a modular building with a block-built extension for these reasons (which seems counter-intuitive).

Modular build may be more advantageous for repetitive units where a repeat factory process can be established. McDonalds have established this with their standalone drive-in restaurant units (a restaurant was once constructed and opened from groundwork up in 13 hours). However many of the advantages of modular building already exist in hybrid form as timber frame kits and structurally insulated panels (SIPs). Perhaps there is a middle way?

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