Modular Building FAQ

MODULAR BUILDING FAQ

For as long as the modular construction industry has been around, there’s been some misunderstanding what it is, how it works and how does it compare to conventional building. In this article, we tackle some of those most frequently asked questions in modular building.

WHAT IS MODULAR CONSTRUCTION?

According to the Modular Building Institute (MBI), “Modular construction is a process in which a building is constructed off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designed to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities.”

Unlike site built, modular building is constructed in sections or “modules” by a manufacturer and later put together on-site. The finished building is identical to the design intent and specifications of the most sophisticated site-built facilities – without compromising quality or aesthetics. In fact, by controlling the work environment, there are many benefits that are much tougher to achieve with conventional methods. As a custom builder, Whitley Manufacturing offers a variety of construction types for your modular buildings.

modular building installed by crane

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF MODULAR BUILDINGS?

There are two distinct divisions in the modular construction industry. Permanent & Relocatable (or temporary).

permanent modular constructionPermanent Modular Construction: Permanent Modular Construction (PMC) takes place in a factory controlled environment. Manufacturers use a variety of materials including, wood, steel and concrete.  The building is 60% to 90% complete when transported to the final building site. The modules can be integrated into conventional construction or as a standalone turnkey solution. The PMC method is just as it sounds. It is Permanent. Once installed on site, the structure is not designed or intended to move. And, just as important, it is indistinguishable to any conventional building.

Relocatable modular clinicRelocatable (or temporary) Building: A Relocatable Building (RB) is designed to meet applicable codes or state regulations and provide flexibility for reuse or repurpose several times. Typical RB applications include temporary medical clinics, construction site offices, and classrooms. This type of building is not permanently fixed to the site. They offer fast delivery and ease of relocation and reconfiguration (such as adding modules to increase the size of the building).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MODULAR AND PREFABRICATED BUILDINGS?

The terms modular buildings, prefabricated buildings, prefab buildings, and pre-engineered buildings all refer to structures or components built off-site in a factory setting. In many cases, some in the construction industry use these terms interchangeably. However, there are some basic differences to describe each.

  • Modular Building: Many in the business consider modular building as 3 dimensional, box shaped units, that are assembled together on site to create the whole building. In other words, 4 modules at 600 sq. ft. each are connected to make up a 2400 sq. ft. building.
  • Prefabricated Building: In contrast, prefabricated systems may be used to describe flat components such as factory built wall and floor panels or smaller sub-sections (i.e. utility pods) that are shipped loose to the site to be assembled.

Whitley Manufacturing offers a hybrid approach. Each building module is customized for a variety of applications as well as prefabricated components (such as modular restroom cores and panelized systems) to be used in conjunction with conventional construction.

Crane installs modular buildingCrane installed prefab unit of buildingCrane installed prefab roof

WHAT IS THE SQUARE FOOT COST OF A MODULAR BUILDING?

As a custom builder, there are many variables involved in an accurate budget of a building.  This may include the construction type, specifications, mechanical systems, level of finishes selected, and site costs at the building’s final location. Whitley Manufacturing is happy to provide guidance on costs of modular buildings, recommend one of our distributors’ local to your project site, and provide reference material or case studies of similar projects.

WHAT IS THE OVERALL TIMELINE FOR A MODULAR PROJECT?

Delivery schedules are a function of current manufacturing backlog, the size and complexity of the building and the availability of specialty materials. However, our manufacturing process is able to deliver on an accelerated timeline. We make use of the latest in construction technology and modern manufacturing methods. By operating indoors, the builder avoids the disruption of weather delays. In addition, construction of the building occurs at the same time as the site work. Whereas conventional building moves on a consecutive timeline (foundation first, building second and so on), the modular process is concurrent. On average, modular construction reduces timelines by 30-50% versus conventional construction. Below is a comparison of the typical timelines modular versus conventional.

modular building construction timeline

HOW IS A MODULAR BUILDING INSTALLED?

Whitley Manufacturing partners with a network of skilled and professional distributors across the country. They can provide transit, local code consultation, site preparation and improvements, foundations, set-up and installation, finishing, and a variety of finance options. With their expertise and experience, our distributors provide a worry-free turnkey project. Contact us to find the distributor best suited for your project.

Modular building installedModular building installedMulti-story modular building installed

HOW DOES MODULAR QUALITY COMPARE?

Yes! In some cases, modular buildings provide better quality than site built. Sometimes confused with manufactured homes, or HUD built homes, modular buildings meet or exceed all applicable state and local commercial building codes. As a result, your state building department or their third-party representative must approve all building plans.

Modular builders operate in a well-controlled factory environment and maintain a team of high-quality building specialists. Professional teams work year-round specifically on modular buildings. Strict in-house quality control inspectors monitor the work at each phase of the process.  Additionally, a third-party inspection agency and engineering firm confirms the quality and code compliance.

Manufacturers have to build each modular unit to withstand the bumps, twists and rough ride over the roadways and construction site. Engineering designs additional support where needed to provide a rigid structure that will avoid any damage during transport.  The end result is a building typically stronger than any site built structure.

WHAT FLEXIBILITY DOES MODULAR CONSTRUCTION OFFER?

Modular building provides almost the same flexibility as conventional construction. In fact, the market demands a more “scalable” approach to modular design.  By plugging in building modules, a school can rapidly expand to handle overflow enrollment, or a hospital can add an emergency wing. Unlike conventional construction, modular builders can design the structure for de-construction and relocation, such as a relocatable school and clinic. A small set crew can quickly separate the units, have them transported to a new location, and re-assembled or reconfigured to meet other demands. Now, facility managers/owners are able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances that was not possible with a typical building.

HOW IS A MODULAR BUILDING MOVED TO THE SITE?

A specialized delivery company with experience moving oversized loads will transport the modules to the building site. Drivers pull each module on a flatbed trailer or a carrier system fabricated to the building’s frame structure. To protect the module from the elements while in transit, a prep crew covers each module with waterproof membranes and shrink-wrap.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO INSTALL A MODULAR BUILDING?

Installation time can go very quickly. A set crew can install and make a building weather tight in a matter of days or even hours.  But, this really depends on a number of factors. The Installation time will depend on the size of the building, the complexity of the structure, any limitations to accessing the building site and the size of your work crew. However, when compared to conventional building, a modular building can be complete 30% to 50% faster.

DO MODULAR BUILDINGS REQUIRE ANY SPECIAL INSPECTIONS ONCE THEY ARRIVE?

Site inspections should only involve work performed on site, such as utility connections and on-site built structures.  Most all other inspections take place before the modules arrive. A reputable manufacturer will have quality control procedures already in place that oversee each work phase. In addition, a third party agency and an engineering firm will inspect the structure again to confirm that all code compliance and quality standards are met.

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2 thoughts on “Modular Building FAQ

  1. That’s interesting that prefabricated buildings are composed of multiple smaller pieces. Like you mentioned, these pieces can be smaller than the modules in a modular building. I bet a prefabricated building would work well in places where you needed a lot of square feet. like warehouses or churches.

    • Correct, Larry. You may want to check out our clear span modular structures called the UpGrade. The UpGrade can span long distances without support columns, providing a lot of flexibility with the floorplan layout. So, yes, warehouses and churches would be ideal applications.

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