Making Construction Greener Through Disruptive Technology

The growing preference for green buildings, constructed to reduce overall environmental impact, represents a major trend in the U.S. and around the globe. Building tenants are increasing looking for space that uses less water, energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are motivated by certifications from organizations such as LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. According to the U.S. Green building council, the green building industry’s direct contribution to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be $303.5 billion from 2015-2018.

Yet green buildings themselves are just a part of an improved environmental story. Another important piece of the puzzle are the new techniques making the actual construction and renovation of buildings more eco-friendly as well.

Chief among these is modular construction in which a building is constructed of modules which are built in a factory setting. These buildings are constructed by fitting the modules together onsite, like giant Legos, to create the finished structure. This technique is especially useful for apartments or hotels, which potentially could be using the same floorplan and layout for multiple units, but modular techniques are being used in every type of building.

There is growing recognition of the environmental benefits of modular construction, which is one reason this technique is becoming more popular. Some of these benefits are:

1.       Reduced Waste: Because most of the materials for a project are processed in a controlled indoor setting, and not susceptible to being ruined by the elements, anything not used can be repurposed for another project. Organizing and saving materials is also much simpler in this type of setting and these methods can help reduce the 135 million tons of construction waste that goes into landfills every year.

2.       Less Traffic: Construction site traffic can be considerable, with workers, vendors, agencies and planners all coming and going. Because workers are all going to one site, and the modules are delivered at set intervals, the noise and air pollution around the site is significantly reduced.

3.       Shorter Schedules: Modular techniques can cut the amount of time needed to complete a project by as much as 40%. This translates to less travel, and a reduction of energy and water use, both onsite and off. 

According to the Modular Building Institute’s Executive Director, Tom Hardiman, modular construction should be thought of as an evolution in construction methods, rather than a “trend.” It is an evolution whose time has come, especially when considering the environmental benefits.


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