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Modular vs Traditional Buildings

For many generations, the UK has embraced the normality of brick-and-mortar construction. Other forms of construction have been primarily shunned;...

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For many generations, the UK has embraced the normality of brick-and-mortar construction. Other forms of construction have been primarily shunned; however, with developing technology, changing needs and new generational ideas, there has been an opening for a new construction method to take the top spot. Modular buildings have come forward to solve our decreasing budgets and increasing needs for affordable living, energy efficiency and speed. The UK government has recognised the importance of modular buildings in the construction industry and has provided a £3bn funding framework to push modular buildings toward being the new norm. Both modular and traditional projects start the same in their construction journey. However, once the facilities are ready to break ground, the two quickly become dramatically different in their approach.


What is a modular building?

Modular construction is the process that uses prefabricated parts which are assembled in a factory using volumetric construction. Modular buildings are transported to the building site either entirely or primarily complete. This process is consistent and quality-controlled under the watchful eye of factory standards and production line speeds. As a result, when a modular building arrives on-site, it is usually 95% complete.


What is traditional construction?

Traditional construction is where the primary structure is constructed entirely or mainly on the construction site. This method, also known as stick-built, is the conventional way of building that has been used for generations as the primary construction method for new buildings. 


Cost differences between modular buildings and traditional construction

Modular buildings are more affordable than traditional construction; shorter build times and reduced design and planning changes significantly influence project costs. Furthermore, as building a modular structure is done in a factory at an optimised production rate, there is no dead time like with traditional construction projects where you must wait for the arrival of materials.

Modular buildings can be paid for in various ways, secured through a framework or private. Many modular building companies also offer a leasing agreement. These flexible lending options have proven very popular in the commercial and public sector, as it means the modular building can be returned once its purpose is complete. As you can expect, this is not possible for traditional buildings.

With the government’s guidance, the above financing options link with the £3bn DfE offsite framework. This framework, which is free of charge, is available to Local authorities, diocese, and academy trusts.


Environmental impacts of modular buildings compared to traditional construction.

  • Health and safety risks are minimised in a factory-based manufacturing environment thanks to the regulations in place for factory floors. 
  • Waste is minimised to reduce the project’s carbon footprint; possible as fewer people are travelling to the site and modules are produced directly to spec using computer-aided manufacturing. This meticulous attention and planning mean that only the needed materials are supplied.
  • Impact on the community is significantly reduced as construction work does not cause noise pollution, traffic, or diversions.
  • Modular buildings can be recycled and reused and, when constructed, using modern standards, benefiting from energy-efficient and airtight design and high-quality products.


The time associated with modular buildings

Modular buildings are famously faster than traditional construction. For example, factory production makes modular construction 50% faster than conventional construction, with 66% of firms that currently use modular buildings having reduced schedules, and 35% experience decreases of four weeks or more.


Schedule of a modular building construction

  • Day 1– Grading and site preparations are carried out, and foundation construction begins.
  • Day 10– Workers start building the modules. The construction for modules begins in the factory simultaneously as the foundations are prepared on-site, meaning weather has almost no impact on the schedule.
  • Day 40:Foundations are completed, and workers can start shipping modules. Modules are shipped 95% completed and include interior and exterior finishes, electrical, plumbing and flooring.
  • Day 45– Staff start setting the modules. Modular buildings are treated as traditional in this instance and must follow code regulations.
  • Day 65 – Interior and exterior finishes are completed. 
  • Day 80– Site clean-up and landscaping are completed. 
  • Day 90– It is the grand opening of your modular building. Once completed, modular construction can look no different to a traditional building.
  • Day 115 – Open for business for 25 days.
  • Day 135– Open for business for 45 days.
  • Day 155– open for business 65 days
  • Day 170– open for business 80 days
  • Day 180– 90 days of return on investment. With up to 50% of time savings over traditional constructions and an average consumption rate of 180 days, modular buildings can accelerate your return on your modular building investment.


The time associated with traditional construction

The term traditional is used to describe linear construction methods. This method requires every step to be completed before the next step can begin, which can cause time delays if teams are not correctly aligned. In addition, traditional construction is impacted heavily by weather, with weather damage and inconsistent labour yield affecting the overall speed and quality of the build. Since all construction takes place on the site, the building schedule is dependent on weather conditions, not staffing shifts.

  • Day 1 – Grading and site preparations start, and foundation construction begins.
  • Day 40 – Foundations are completed.
  • Day 45 – Framing begins.
  • Day 65 – Roofing, siding and insulation are installed.
  • Day 80 – Windows and doors are installed.
  • Day 90 – Rough electrical and plumbing is started.
  • Day 115 – Interior and exterior finishes are completed.
  • Day 135 – Electrical and plumbing finishes are completed..
  • Day 155 – Finishes to trim and touch-ups.
  • Day 170 – Site clean-up and landscaping.
  • Day 180 – Grand opening.


Some overlooked considerations of modular buildings

Access – when planning a modular construction, access must be considered initially. This consideration is because access is needed to allow for the delivery of large modules.

Changes – While the modular building process can be much faster, traditional construction methods allow later design changes.

Rigorous planning – design, approvals, site preparation, and development apply to both construction methods, but modular buildings must be planned and signed off early to allow for a smooth project.


Whilst it may be unlikely that modular buildings will surpass traditional construction in the coming years, there is a threat. With the increasing focus on reducing carbon footprints and using renewable energy in construction, modular buildings can provide many more solutions than their linear predecessor. So we mustn’t think of modular buildings as the market leader through aggressive takeover or the only future resolution but as one of the solutions to our many growing issues in society. If you decide between a modular building or a traditional building for your next project, contact us, and we can help guide you through more of the ins and outs of choosing modular buildings. You can call us at 01482 656590 or email us at contact@portablebuildingsales.co.uk.