The Advantages of Modular Construction

The construction industry is a model of inefficiency, constantly going through the bidding process and looking for subcontractors that are on time and competitive. They are forever dealing with building inspections and OSHA rules and regulations. Blueprints and specifications can vary from derisory to daunting. Bidders can waste endless hours just trying to obtain adequate information or trying to decipher too much. There are few projects, new construction or remodels that are completely straightforward. Every phase will have its problems and undoubtedly be plagued with cost overruns. The construction industry is controlled mostly by bidding, and that means that the buyer is constantly getting the cheapest alternatives until he decides he wants something better, and then he’d better be prepared to get out his checkbook. He is depending on the architect to make all of the right decisions without any bias. He is depending on the specifications to spell out what he wants and then be followed to the letter.

The bidding process is constantly lowballed. Anyone can buy a project. When the bids are in, the game is played by questionable rules, and if a buyer gets stuck with contractor x when he wanted contractor z, there’s a fair chance there is nothing he can do about it. This speaks nothing of the dozen or two subs that will be hired by the contractor to be on the project.

Bidding is a cost of business, and a big one in terms of being unproductive. If a contractor wins 30% of their bids, that might be a fair percentage for them. If the bidding process is 5% of the cost of a job, guess who pays the overhead for the 70% that the contractor didn’t win. This also holds true for the subs. This equates to a substantial amount of wasted time, effort and lost revenue. Bidding equates to approximately 17% of the overhead in this example. Overhead can quite often run 50% or more of the project. The bidding process is also a guessing game no matter how sophisticated and proven the system, and sometimes a place for duplicitous behavior. Contractors and subs can often lose money on projects and are then forced to make it up on the next or go out of business.

The longer you work around the construction industry, the more you see that begs for change. Building the way we build isn’t just a bad idea in terms of efficiency, it’s a bad idea in terms of waste and inflexibility.

Imagine if you will that you are having a commercial building built because your company has grown and you are tired of paying rent. The cost of the project has you wondering if it was such a good idea. All of a sudden you realize that a piece of equipment that you need will not fit into the plans and you have no choice but to modify the layout. You sit down with a pencil and ruler and decide that you can accommodate the equipment by moving a single wall. It doesn’t seem like much but you know it’s a cost overrun. In a commercial project it involves the contractor, sometimes the architect, certainly the framer, the electrician, possibly the plumber, undoubtedly the sheetrocker, the flooring installer, the ceiling tile man, the sprinkling system sub, and possibly the cabinet and trim man, who may be two different men. This speaks nothing of cables that may be run for communications, security, or computers that are probably all separate systems. The painter may not care unless the wall that has to be moved is already painted or wallpapered. The guy that hangs the door may not care unless the door is already hung. The interior decorator may not care unless it messes up her plans for furnishings. Oops, did I forget to mention there’s a window. Let’s go outside the building and checkout the damage. Damn, it’s brick and stucco. Doesn’t matter, it has to be moved.

Now, let’s imagine the wall is structural. We have to bring the engineer in on this one. Wouldn’t you guess, it’s going to affect the foundation and the roof. Thank god the project is just a single story. You laugh. Oh, did you forget that you are the owner. Aren’t you wondering if the banker is going to kick you out of his office?

You think this little nightmare is something? Not at all. This is just an everyday occurrence. This is what makes perfectly good and modern buildings get bulldozed to the ground when they need simple modifications. Sometimes it’s cheaper to start from scratch. Sometimes owners are so fixed in their location that they can’t conceive of moving and they ultimately spend more remodeling than building a new building.

Let’s jump into the future and compare OsumPODS construction. What trades are involved? First let’s understand that the contractor may now only be responsible for the shell. He may or may not actually cast the building. In all likelihood he will, otherwise there may be no need of his services. The buyer will do the interior, including all of the mechanics. The buyer will do the wiring, heating, cooling, ventilation, and plumbing by ordering components. There will be no fixed or structural walls in the interior. They are modular. There will be no wires or plumbing hidden in any walls, floors or ceilings. The contractor will cast the required number of modules for the square footage the buyer needs for his operation. Since the interior space is flexible, the buyer can get by with far fewer square feet, and seldom have unoccupied space in the building. He doesn’t have to plan for growth and build more square feet than he needs. He’ll spend the money down the road if that happens and he’ll simply add modules.

Does that mean that OsumPODS are totally flexible? In one respect they are less flexible that stick built construction. Windows and exterior doors if any will be cast into the walls. They will generally be fixed and near impossible to modify. This is where good planning is still important. In a commercial project, perhaps the windows are high above eye level, basically for light, and moveable partitions can be placed anywhere without concern of window placement. This will not be true of exterior doors, but in OsumPODS, there will be no requirements for escape routes from the structure since OsumPODS are fireproof, thus no need for additional doors since there will be a single point of ingress and egress through an elevator or staircase, perhaps for each module.

OsumPODS have few of the constraints of conventional buildings that must generally be considered deathtraps. We live and work in deathtraps. We just don’t think of buildings that way because of incidence, but in reality buildings burn in fires, collapse in earthquakes, flood in floods, and wash away in tidal waves. In OsumPODS, you will flee to the buildings instead of away. They will be the safest place to be in any disaster.

Let’s imagine you have just built an OsumPODS and now need to move a wall for your piece of equipment. Who is involved? No one but you. In fact, after you place the machine, you might decide that you have added too much space, and you simply tweak it by scooting the wall 6 inches. What is involved? Certainly modular walls will have constraints because they are objects, and perhaps it will be like assembling jigsaw puzzles to make everything work. But you won’t have to be concerned because you have a computer program that is great at rearranging space and utilizing all of the components. Does than mean that you will have all the components you need, or that you might end up with parts that you are unable to utilize. Of course that can be a problem, but certainly one that can be overcome. And how do you think the cost will compare to revamping conventional construction?

Realize that this concept is simply an extension of one that is already proven. Look at how many businesses already utilize mobile cubbies for workspace, not that they are anywhere near as private as your modular walls. Now imagine that there is no need for any fixed walls, not even for toilets. Imagine that every component is an entity within itself that is totally independent of any system. Imagine that all of the heating and cooling is built into modular walls. So is the lighting. Imagine that modular walls gain their power by being pushed up against a continuous receptacle that runs around the interior of exterior walls. This continuous receptacle is flush and mounted into a molded cavity. Imagine the modular walls that don’t adjoin exterior walls will in turn plug into walls that do. Power is always anywhere you want it. So are lights and heating and air-conditioning.

Building with components such as modular walls changes the way we build completely. Closets and shelving are now integral parts of components. The flexibility is unlimited. Need more storage, add a component. It also changes the whole concept of furnishings. Perhaps some of your seating is now built into the modular walls.

Building this way is also quite affordable. You can have your shell and occupy it like a minimalist. You can manage until you can afford the components. They are no longer a part of the cost of construction.

The overhead of running a business building OsumPODS is minimal, thus you the customer get substantially more for your money. There are far fewer people involved, and with predesigned modules there may be no need of an architect or engineer at all. There is no need of going through the bidding process. You figure out the cost for yourself by checking the price of different components and modules on the Internet. The cost of your lot is substantially less without any infrastructure other than a road. Perhaps OsumPODS will cost as much per square foot as conventional construction, but since you are getting something that produces its own energy, recycles its water, retains its value and lasts a thousand plus years, would it matter if it cost more per square foot? And remember, you won’t have to purchase hazard insurance for the life of the structure.

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