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The figures also suggest that modular construction is the key to both programme efficiencies and a more sustainable construction process; creating a safer, cleaner working environment where conditions can be controlled more effectively, which generates up to 90% less waste than comparable site-based builds.*

Furthermore, modular’s ‘zero tolerance’ manufacturing process delivers a tighter, more robust building envelope and necessitates precision alignment of services. From considered building orientation to the specification of green materials, modular designs can also be customised, and meet all applicable building codes and standards.

Downtime and weather damage in New Zealand’s fickle climate are also minimised, as is the risk of degradation by mould, mildew, rust, and sunlight – known to cause health issues for inhabitants and shorter building lifespans.

Generally speaking, modular buildings cost less than conventional on-site builds of comparable size: RDT Pacific Cost Manager Khai Tan suggests this could be easily 15%. Care must be taken so that affordable does not become ‘cheap’ however. Cost savings can be redirected towards durable materials and quality insulation, fenestration and amenities.

Transporting completed modular building sections is a considerable challenge, both in terms of travel (often on public roads) and positioning on site. This is balanced with the speed of construction and minimal disruption once on site and the need for fewer vehicle movements overall: particularly beneficial in small, high density or environmentally sensitive sites. In addition to transport logistics, manufacturing restrictions may affect unit dimensions, and therefore room sizes. In this case, panelised forms and flat pack versions can make both manufacture and shipment easier.

While modular building is no new thing, increasing need for speed in construction in line with economic development is driving its uptake. In 2012, Chinese firm Broad Sustainable Building posted time-lapse footage of its flatpack skyscraper construction: taking just 360 hours to erect a 328-foot-tall tower called the T30, overlooking the Xiang River.

The company has so far built 16 structures in China, which are fabricated in sections at two factories in Hunan. From there the modules – which include ducts and plumbing for electricity, water, and other infrastructure preinstalled – are shipped to the site and assembled with cranes and intensive human resource. Broad Sustainable Building is already franchising its standardised skyscraper construction model in India, Brazil and Russia. According to Chairman and CEO Zhang Yue, traditional construction is ‘chaotic’ and by bringing methods into the factory, it is possible to solve many of the industry’s challenges.

With New Zealand’s smaller population, we can’t achieve the economies of scale that make modular methods so viable in populous countries such as China. So far in this country, a handful of manufacturers are successfully building modular, single dwelling residential projects, although there has been less uptake in providing permanent modular buildings for commercial, education or larger scale residential use. In light of current housing prices and availability, that could be set to change.

*Source: U.K. Waste & Resources Action Programme