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Paradigm Shift: Prefab Construction is Faster, Greener and Less Expensive

Prefabricated elements or entire buildings can be produced faster, more safely and for less money, especially when paired with computerized design and planning.

Prefab and modular construction are the way of the future, representing a greener, more efficient way of building that can solve all sorts of jobsite challenges. Everything from electrical and plumbing systems to interior room modules and even sections of entire structures can be prefabricated offsite in a controlled environment to cut costs, improve safety and speed up the construction process.

There's a certain perception of prefabricated buildings that has kept them from being adopted on a wider scale: namely, that they're cheap. That might have been true back when the most common prefab structures were made for trailer parks or architecturally nondescript projects, but new technologies and a stronger motivation to cut costs have boosted prefab's quality and popularity.

A 2011 market report by McGraw-Hill Construction found that 66% of responding firms improved project schedules, 65% decreased project costs and 77% reduced construction site waste using prefabrication and modularization. The latter is a key component in green building, and a requirement to meet many of the official green building standards like Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED). Prefabrication can also lessen the environmental footprint of a project by reducing impact on the site, which can be a big concern with sensitive or remote locations.

Offsite construction eliminates weather delays, allowing for year-round construction and resulting in lower labor costs. Theft and vandalism rates are lower and materials can be kept in a climate-controlled environment instead of being exposed to the elements. Safety hazards are also easier to control in a warehouse rather than onsite. Plus, the mechanization used in prefab construction means more precise results that meet building code standards and assure high quality.

Used in conjunction with BIM (Building Information Modeling), a 3D-model-based process of designing, planning and building, prefabrication can be more flexible than many builders might imagine. Elements can be constructed offsite even for unique, irregular and one-off jobs and installed without a hitch.

The key to success with prefabrication is strategy, particularly in selecting which projects are most appropriate for the method. Buildings with repetition, like schools, housing, hospitals, hotels and dormitories see the biggest benefits, especially in cost savings from producing parts at volume. Other concerns include efficiently transporting the components to the site, and ensuring that workers are skilled in the techniques required to properly assemble them.

Will prefabrication result in a total reinvention of the industry? Challenging the status quo is never easy, but the more companies hear about its benefits and educate themselves about how it works, the more popular prefab construction is likely to get.

If you’re looking for other ways to enhance safety at your construction sites, check out the Safety & Training courses offered by United Rentals, which are offered online, on-site or at select store locations.