With college enrollment rates continuing to rise, the need for student housing may be at an all-time high. Build the cost of new dorms into already steep student fees and the equation can be unsettling, to say the least.
Enter modular dorms, an alternative form of construction that offers colleges and universities an option that is “greener” and more cost effective than traditional construction.
Modular construction differs from traditional or “stick-built” in that it is built in a factory, under climate controlled conditions. Factory construction allows for superior quality control, an aspect that is sometimes overlooked – particularly at some off- campus housing units that are often overcrowded, creating unsafe living conditions.This type of “slap dash” housing often does not meet safety regulations and isin non-compliance with building codes.
In addition to outstanding quality control, the off-site modular construction process provides numerous benefits, chief among being that 75% to 95% of modular projects can be prefabricated in the factory while the site is being prepared, translating into a tremendous time saving. In addition, weather delays and rework due to seasonal damage is dramatically decreased, not only saving time but also reducing disruption to the campus.
With no exaggeration, student housing – if modular built – can begin construction at the end of one academic year and be move-in ready by the beginning of the next school year. Mere months – and months where the campus population is small – as compared to some housing projects that can test patience and finances. This swifter construction timeline decreases the potential for the interruptions and inconveniences that typically accompany such a project. Moreover, student housing can be constructed to specific architectural stipulations with the modular approach and can be built to blend in with existing campus structures.
In terms of environment, the streamlined process of modular construction better ensures LEED requirements as it generates less waste, creates fewer disturbances and reduces build time. Green options include use of environmentally friendly products, energy saving technologies, operational cost saving materials and features to improve the interior environment through noise reduction and improved air quality. Also, the amount of construction related waste is reduced dramatically due to lean manufacturing and construction methods used in prefabricated modular. Another environmental benefit is the potential for substantial energy conservation as modular materials such as precast concrete has thermal mass and can provide continuous insulation.
Developers can also reap time saving benefits with a modular build. Traditional construction requires a general contractor to oversee subcontractors, most of whom work for varying companies and with individual schedules. Combine those differing schedules with weather and zoning approval delays and you can be looking at an open-ended completion date. With modular, all trades people work within the same factory, virtually eliminating the construction process at the building site.
What must also be taken into consideration is air filtration which can cause considerable heat loss. Factory construction allows modular manufacturers the ability to use more sealants/caulking in areas that might be overlooked or inaccessible to builders on site. For example, factory construction allows access to the walls above and below electrical outlet and fixture areas, spaces that are usual suspects for heat loss.
Cost overruns are essentially a non-issue with modular construction, yet another attractive element for campus housing officials to consider. The prospect of no show subcontractors is eliminated since all work is done in-factory. And because modular manufacturers purchase materials in volume, supply savings are passed on to the consumer.
Available and affordable student housing can dramatically impact student retention. While some students may not be put off by housing that is a bit “sketchy,” their parents are likely notas open minded when it comes to the safety of their college kids.
Ultimately, modular buildings and portable buildings offer significant advantages compared to conventional buildings, including: shorter construction time, reduced site disruption, more consistent quality, financial savings and flexibility of use. The benefits of temporary buildings, portable buildings and permanent modular buildings have resulted in widespread acceptance of modular construction as a better alternative than conventional construction. It’s time that our colleges and universities take a closer look at the many merits of this cost and time effective approach to campus housing.
Francine Townsend is CEO of Mod-Tech Homes, LLC, http://mod-techhomes.com, located in Marshfield, MA. Their firm specializes in modular construction and built the prototype Urban Housing Unit along with the Pennsylvania factory PennKraft, which has been used to promote housing in Boston. The small housing units are seen as a potential solution for college housing as well.