Flexibility and Reuse Drive Modular Industry

The modular construction industry has for many years practiced flexible design and reuse. In fact, many companies in the modular industry recycle entire buildings for different applications. One of the unique aspects of modular construction is that it is more readily designed for deconstruction. The fact that the building is assembled in modules means that it can be disassembled at the end of its useful life. In many cases, entire buildings are repurposed and reused for secondary needs at secondary locations. There is simply not a more sustainable concept than reusing an entire building for a new purpose.

The ease with which the modular construction process allows for flexible design and reuse strengthens its position as a resource efficient, inherently greener way to build.  Renovated reuse can provide advantages in sustainability, cost savings and still be as architecturally alluring as buildings constructed by more traditional methods. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently hosted its third Lifecycle Building Challenge for buildings or projects designed to reduce the environmental and energy impacts of buildings. The competition is intended to spur innovation and highlight best practices that could be put to use by the building industry to help it reduce the more than 88 million tons of construction- and demolition-related debris sent to U.S. landfills each year, according to EPA estimates.  

The common theme among the winners was modular construction, particularly with renovated use of materials. The winner of the Best Professional Product award — the ENVY Modular Wall System developed by Douglas Spear and Aaron Barnes — is made of panels and extruded joining parts that are recyclable, reusable and can be recycled into new products with zero waste. The EPA estimates that the ENVY wall system saves one ton of landfill waste for every 70 linear feet of wall used. 

At its annual Awards of Distinction competition, the Modular Building Institute, the international trade association for commercial modular building, hosts a category for best “renovated reuse” of existing buildings. Here are case studies of a few winners:

Parker Charter Essential School — Devens, Mass.
The Parker Charter Essential School addition features two-tone HardiPlank siding to match the surrounding community of Devens. Triumph Modular installed custom steel fabricated railings and wire mesh in the connecting corridor, making for an excellent transition from the existing school to the new school. Vinyl composition tile was installed using Morse Code consisting of clever quotes chosen by the students and teachers of the Parker School.

New axles were fabricated and installed to ensure a safe delivery during the 60-minute trip from nearby Holden back to Devens. Many upgrades were made to the new Parker school building including electrical and fire alarm upgrades as well as the implementation of new plumbing and sprinkler components. All mechanical rooftop units were cleaned, balanced and tested once construction was complete to ensure the best air quality. To meet current Massachusetts building code, a new 2,500 lb. hydraulic elevator was installed onsite at the Parker Charter Essential School.

This was the largest modular relocation project in New England and was half the cost of building new.

Highland Creek Home Sales Center — Raleigh, N.C.

The project is a renovation of an existing Pac-Van sales office that was remodeled and painted to resemble the homes within the community. Using the same materials and contractors that were constructing the homes provided savings for the remodel.  It included the addition of a self-supported roof system to simulate the design and look of the new homes throughout the community.

The roof system design was one that can only be achieved through an onsite application. The client requested a self-supported roof with support posts around the modular building to sustain the roof load. The original design of the building wasn’t engineered to support this type of roof and the new design and modifications offered a solution to achieve the desired effect. The result also accommodated a warm and inviting front porch that really adds to the aesthetics of the building. The project was delivered in 31 days.

Brookfield Homes Sales Office — Kona, Hawaii

The original unit was a standard doublewide with metal siding, VCT flooring, wood paneling, and modulux lighting.  Due to the technical simplicity of the modular unit, the architect was able to freely design and accomplish all of the requirements by the owner.  The modular provided a solid foundation to work from.  The architect was surprised at the rigidity and quality of the framing and insulation. The air conditioning ductwork and the electrical wiring was a cost that he could take out of his estimate due to the extent of the modular’s pre-finished condition.  The layout was designed to create the atmosphere and to showcase the quality of the homes being offered.

Benld Elementary School — Gillespie, Ill.

Benld Elementary School was in desperate need of additional classroom and administrative space after the mine underneath the school collapsed, resulting in the building being condemned.

M Space Holdings, Inc. based in New York City, added a site installed sprinkler system, site installed fire alarm system and a full data system with phones into the existing building. The sprinkler system met all the 2007 National Fire Protection Association requirements for a wet type automatic sprinkler system. This included hydraulic calculations, control valves, drain valves and tamper switches.

By using an existing building, the school district not only had its new school significantly faster, but also saved money. M Space provided a better solution than the school’s original plan. Not only was everything under one roof, but the existing M Space building provided the school with an additional 8,000 square feet — 6-8 additional classrooms — giving them more for their money. Cost efficient features of this building are the aluminum decks, ramps and stairs. The school is leasing these items and by doing this it avoids paying installation fees, thus saving money.

Tom Hardiman is the Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute, the international non-profit trade association representing commercial modular contractors.  For more information visit www.modular.org.  

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