A fact that we all know, prefab and modular construction not only cuts down the construction time and overall costs but also benefits the people while also helping the planet heal. In the last 5 years, it is proven that the demand for prefabricated homes has almost doubled – mainly, up to $8 billion in revenue. Simultaneously, a report from the U.S Chamber of Commerce reports that 67% of the contractors believe that the demand is expected to increase in the following years. Well, it is definitely a given since the amount of eco-friendly advantages offered by this industry are tremendous.
From increased efficiency to labor productivity, improved safety, lower construction costs, and most importantly, low carbon footprint – the prefab industry has been providing phenomenal environmental-friendly benefits. Whether it is about cutting down on the energy bills, or consuming eco-friendly building materials, reusing resources, and leading to lesser noise pollution, the prefab homes are definitely making headlines for a greener, energy-efficient, and a sustainable future. Let’s discuss a few environmental-friendly aspects of prefab and modular construction and how they prove to be ‘futuristic’ yet again.
A research study by U.S Environmental Protection Agency states that traditional construction generates about 56 million tons of waste each year. And the fact is that prefab construction can truly bring down the statistic. Since the prefabricated modules are being manufactured in the factory itself, there is apparently no tolerance for error. The modules are pre-cut to size as required and if any waste persists, the materials are reused for another project or a purpose.
Prefabricated and modular buildings consistently make use of demountable and reusable framing systems that largely reduce the utilization of plywood and dimensional lumber. With the help of the latest technology and softwares, these prefabricated homes are designed, redesigned, and refined to create an outcome that requires much less waste as compared to a traditional building. The amount of material required is calculated before-in-hand so as to minimize waste in the later stages.
Some of these prefab builds are mass-produced. Hence, proportionately these materials get optimized smartly leading to minimal wastage. This methodology in return is a cost-effective technique to order and utilize materials efficiently. Moreover, prefab and modular buildings wait until all the materials are transported so the construction can begin altogether without over-ordering the materials – unlike the traditional buildings that tend to order a surplus of 5%-15%.
Hence, it is proven that the ‘order as you go’ method is one of the most efficient ways to reduce construction waste. Furthermore, traditional buildings tend to have occasional delays that often end up in materials getting wasted – which is vice versa in the modular and prefab industry.
Modular construction has the potential to reduce transportation emissions and other transport-related impacts like land, air, and noise pollution. The construction industry has been a huge contributor to toxic air emissions and greenhouse gases – mainly accounting for almost 57% of toxic air emissions, and 51% of hazardous waste generated. Moreover, the building life cycle majorly contributes to 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, 7% of Carbon Monoxide, 8% of Nitrogen Oxides, and almost 8% of other particulate matter. https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/%28ASCE%291076-0342%282005%2911%3A2%2893%29
The modular and Prefab industry has the ability to reduce the total number of deliveries to the work-site by 90%. This in return decreases the average travel distance of the workers to the work-site by 75% – thus, majorly affecting the environment and the climate, in a positive way. Another report by United Nations found that almost 39% of global carbon emissions result from the Building and Construction industry.
When comparing both the traditional and modular sectors, it is quite likely that the initial costs for transportation involved in the modular be exponentially greater than that of a traditional building. Costs required to transport the prefab and modular pieces to the job site are undoubtedly higher, but in the long run, traditional buildings tend to involve more transportation. Mainly, workers are expected to travel to the site almost every day along with the contractors, and other similar professionals such as plumbers, electricians, and specialty workers.
Moreover, every material is transported individually from the provider to the site including multiple expected and unexpected trips to the hardware and sanitary stores. In some cases, even the architect is bound to take site visits that further add to the toxic emissions and costs incurred.
Eco-Friendly Building Materials
Prefab industries are majorly incorporating eco-friendly building materials that either leave a positive impact on the environment or are locally sourced and harvested. After waste reduction and reduced transportation comes a stage where the building materials need utmost attention. Some of the conscious materials such as FSC approved timber and sustainably sourced steel are quite high in demand. These materials can be easily recycled and reused for other simultaneous projects in the prefab industry. Whereas on the other hand, materials used in a conventional building are simply thrown in landfills rather than being utilized for another building project.
Prefab and modular industry is incrementally attracting the population by strongly supporting innovative and creative forms and ideas. One such innovative material is Oriented Strand Board or OSB that comprises of fast-growing, sustainably sourced wood. Another example that defines sustainability in prefab is the Wikkelhouse that is on its way to becoming a 100% biodegradable home. Entirely made of recycled cardboard, this home is expected to last for a minimum of 100 years.
Utilizing these sustainably sourced building materials further fosters health and wellness in the interiors. The VOCs released from the paints, sealants, and adhesives are comparatively lower with a potential of much natural and authentic feel indoors. Also, the ability for the materials to collect moisture and lead to mold spores is comparatively lower.
Decreased Energy Consumption
Since the prefab modules are manufactured in a controlled environment, the energy required to assemble and operate is comparatively lower than that of a conventional building. During the construction process, energy utilization is minimized due to the innovative building process and the machinery involved. Additionally, modular projects require fewer labor and other workers, as well as power tools, plants, and on-site lighting and accommodation are absolutely annulled.
The entire fabrication phase in the factory controls the better use of energy and overall toxic emissions due to their advancement in technology and science. Moreover, on the big picture, time is directly proportional to the energy consumed. Since a prefab building requires lesser time to build, the relative energy expenditures and requirement are strategically lowered down as compared to a conventional building.
Efficiency is one of the major advantages offered by prefab and modular construction. From constructing the structure to drainage systems, interior and exterior finishes, and installing equipments – the time required is minimized with a direct reduction in energy and costs without compromising on the quality of the prefab product. Long story short, the environmental footprint for the prefabs is largely reduced due to these tremendous advantages offered.
Another major aspect to consider when calculating the environmental footprint of a prefab building is its utmost durability and longevity. Well, the fact is, the more durable your home, the less likely you are to renovate, rebuild, or replace it, and therefore the more eco-friendly will it be. The modular homes are in general extremely durable since they incorporate smart use of materials and technology while offering utmost flexibility in the function.
For example, a prefab home can be molded and remolded in various forms as per its functional value. That means you can easily add or subtract an extended unit as a garage or for your children or parents when they are visiting. This extension can also be used as an efficient home office in the present era. Furthermore, this structure doesn’t require constant expensive renovation and remodeling – basically, you can live stress-free in a prefab structure.
Modular and prefab structures constantly aim for a cradle-to-cradle approach. By providing flexible solutions for modules, these prefabricated units can be easily assembled, dissembled, and relocated for different uses in the future. If a prefab building is no more in use, these pre-assembled units can be simply dissembled for another use. Thus, largely affecting the total waste created on the planet.
This industry mainly reduces the reliance on fresh and raw materials for every new project. Rather, they reuse and reoptimize the existing materials or make use of natural and sustainable products. Discarded and abandoned prefab structures can be lifted – either room by room or the structure completely to be used in other projects. Hence, if this becomes a norm, many countries with housing crisis will be able to solve this ever-growing concern. For example, in the United Kingdom, a total of 300,000 homes are required each year to accommodate the growing population. And with this fast way of constructing durable buildings, these issues can be immediately solved.
Although traditional buildings are equally constructed keeping in mind the aspects of resilience and longevity, the main disadvantage lies in the fact that they can’t be dissembled. Unique to prefabricated structures that can be relocated and easily reused, the industry majorly contributes to reducing millions of debris by demolition, by simply reusing the modules.
Whether or not the noise pollution is directly linked with the environmental footprint of the prefab home, it is definitely a given that this smart technology helps your neighbors live in peace. Since the prefab modules are constructed and assembled in the factory, there is minimum site noise created by machinery on the work site. Typically, a prefab building takes around a day or two to assemble on the work site – unlike the traditional buildings that take months and months to erect.
With apparently no on-site machinery, no transportation of the vehicles and staff, and no delivery of the building materials – noise is reduced dramatically. As there is also no accumulation of construction materials by the site, it is quite likely to receive lesser complaints as your community becomes equally happy and satisfied. In a busy urban area, this is pretty much a necessity.
Apart from the above-mentioned characteristics, there are various interior features and technologies implemented that can tremendously control the environmental footprint of a prefab home. First and foremost, the insulation incorporated can largely reduce the energy required to get the building running. Many prefab structures involve the use of ‘Structural Insulated Panels’ or the SIP’s that combine two layers to form an insulated foam that is apparently 15 times more airtight than fiberglass. On the big picture, cutting down on utility bills while strategically maintaining the indoor temperature.
Many prefab and mobile homes are self-sufficient – mainly, by reducing the reliance on external sources for basic necessities such as electricity and power. Hence, keeping this in mind, the manufacturers are largely incorporating solar panels to reduce 2.5 tons of carbon emissions each year. With excellent insulation and efficient solar power panels, the prefab home is now trying to achieve the most futuristic vision.
The next step that a prefab home follows in reducing the carbon footprint is by specifying efficient fixtures and eco-conscious equipments. Mainly incorporating dimmable LED lighting, smart sensors, solar water heaters, low E or triple-paned windows, and electric carports may tragically bring down the reliance on energy. Most modular buildings use such lighting systems to save 75% energy while offering 25 times more longevity than traditional lighting.
The prefab industry is undoubtedly expected to change the face of the construction industry. With the current problems such as high costs, lesser time, and labor shortage, this industry very smartly covers the associated disadvantages. Moreover, now that we have discussed the various aspects of environmental footprint interlinked with the prefab industry, it is definitely a given that these homes are the future homes of the planet. Not only can they help solve the housing crisis immediately but can also help in letting the planet heal.
From the initial design process until the final delivery of the prefab product, the environmental footprint is 50 times lesser as compared to a traditional building. So, are you planning to rethink the future? Well, if you want to reduce the environmental footprint of your home, there is no better time to switch to these efficient prefab homes. Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below.