Prefabricated buildings are the future of the construction industry. Buildings are no longer going to be constructed on-site, which is high cost and low safety. The manufacturing of structural parts in a safe, controlled factory setting is proving to be highly successful.
What do you need to know about prefabricated homes and buildings and this cost-saving wave of the construction future?
What are prefabricated buildings?
Prefabrications, or off-site fabrications, are buildings that are fabricated before(“pre”) coming to the construction site. These are also often referred to as “modular” buildings because the buildings come in different pieces or modules.
Basically, the different pieces of the structure are built in a factory. They are then transported to the construction site, where the different pieces are assembled together into the final building.
Prefabricated buildings are not mobile homes. They need a foundation just like any other construction site. The foundation is typically built on-site, and the other pieces (like the walls, roof, floors, windows, and doors) are initially created in the factory and then assembled on-site.
Prefabrications have had a reputation of being cheap and low quality—because they were initially used to create short-term housing, especially for those needing assistance and relief from emergencies. But this reputation is outdated and misconceived at this point. Today’s prefabrications are elegant and high quality, and they’re often indistinguishable from traditionally-built homes.
Plus, they’re some of the highest tech construction you can get. A lot of prefabricated building parts are printed with 3D printers. Learn more about the emerging 3D printing technology here.
What are the benefits of prefabrications?
- Fast construction times
When the construction crew shows up, most of the parts are already made. The workers just need to assemble the parts, hook up the utilities, and do safety checks. This means significantly less manpower and time on site, leading to drastically faster construction times.
Additionally, because most of the construction is done indoors in a factory, the construction process is less vulnerable to weather delays. You could build all of the pieces in the middle of a week-long run storm, and you only need one sunny day to put all the walls together on-site.
Imagine a six-month project taking two weeks. That’s what you get with prefabricated structures.
- Energy efficiency
Building high-quality structure pieces off-site helps to create a “tighter” construction. When the pieces are put together, they tend to have a closer seal at the seams, which can help better regulate energy usage when the building is in use. Prefabrications are also highly modern, so most companies use state-of-the-art windows and utilities to that help make the building more efficient.
This minimized carbon footprint is great for the environment, for the building owner’s wallet, and for the “green” mission of the construction company.
Additionally, construction in the factory allows for optimal use of materials. Companies are able to track the materials being used, and they can recycle with greater ease.
- Low costs
The average cost to build a custom home ranges from $350,000 to $1.5 million. Prefabricated homes average between $50,000 to $300,000. That’s a significant cost difference.
Fast construction times means lower labor costs. Labor is the greatest construction expense, so lowering this can have major impacts on overall costs. Plus, the increased energy efficiency means long-term savings on energy bills.
- Quality assurance
Because the parts are assembled in a factory, there tend to be more quality assurance processes in place. There are supervisors constantly watching the production and there are strict, uniform processes to follow. High-precision, high-technology factory tools further ensure consistent output of building parts. Plus, factory construction means that the building is less susceptible to the elements (like weather, animals, and thieves) during construction.
There also tends to be a higher quality because those workers on-site are all highly skilled. Prefabrication construction companies don’t need to hire as many laborers, so they tend to hire only those who are super skilled in their areas. As opposed to hiring ten bricklayers, the company hires one brick supervisor.
Greater quality assurance helps construct safer, stronger buildings. The “tight” construction of prefabricated buildings also means that the structure might be sturdier—which may even help withstand certain natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes.
Moreover, laborers spend less time on the job site, and they tend to be doing less labor-intensive tasks. Most of the on-site construction involves technology like cranes and bulldozers as opposed to manual hands-on labor. This helps improve the safety of construction workers, which tend to have a high rate of injury.
Prefabricated buildings come in “pieces” so you can customize your structure to your specifications. Customization options are nearly endless because parts can be designed and built in a controlled environment. 3D printing also makes these customization options even stronger.
What are the disadvantages of prefabrications?
- Upfront payment
You usually need a greater down payment for prefabrications compared to traditional buildings. The down payment is usually around 20%, and the rest you pay off in your mortgage. You may also need to apply for a specific prefab-home loan from your bank.
The upside to paying more upfront means you save money in the interest in the long run.
Hooking up utilities to your prefab home takes a lot more organization because you need to compare foundation and off-site blueprints. The best way to overcome this concern is to work with a prefab construction company that offers utility services, so you don’t have to worry about it yourself.
You usually need to apply for (and be approved for) a permit that is specific to a prefabricated or modular building. These can be hard to obtain in certain cities. They’re more common in energy-conscious cities without lots of building laws.
Prefabricated structures aren’t “cheap” like their misconceived reputation suggests. In fact, they are equal in cost to traditional housing. Labor costs are lower, but transport costs can be high.
Prefabricated buildings require advanced technology. They need heavy-duty cranes and precision machinery to make sure the pieces are appropriately fixed together. This means that companies need to constantly stay updated with solid technology advancements.
On the plus side, this means that prefabrication is always at the forefront of technology and advancements. To stay competitive, construction companies constantly have to be innovating—which leads to massive growth for the building industry overall.
How are prefabrications being used?
Currently, prefabrications are most popular for small to medium homes and office buildings. This is because factories are able to create walls, roofs, and floors with ease—but more complicated structures are still too large for the assembly line.
Prefabrications are also increasingly common for concrete and steel structures. It’s much easier to mix and mold concrete in a factory than transporting wet concrete and attempting to mix on-site. And the cost of cutting and welding steel is much lower with standstill factory technology than transporting tools to the job site.
We anticipate that companies will start to create methods to expand prefabrications to even larger building projects, though. In fact, some companies have already started to undertake major public projects using 3D printing prefabrication, like MX3d’s creation of the stainless steel bridge in Amsterdam.
Prefabrications are able to raise safety and quality while lowering costs, construction time, and energy consumption. Prefabricated buildings are modern and elegant with a high value that is only going to increase over time.
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