Recently there has been considerable discussion within the Modular Building Institute on the use of the term “modular”. Some industry leaders believe that the term modular is confusing, and using it to describe both temporary and permanent commercial buildings is a mistake. In the residential industry, modular only refers to permanent homes, while manufactured housing refers to relocatable HUD Coded homes. In Europe, most modular companies refer to their building system as “off-site construction.”
The commercial modular industry in the United States has changed significantly over the last 30 years. When Ramtech entered the industry in 1982, the commercial modular industry concentrated on relocatable mobile offices and temporary classroom buildings. Most modular projects were built on outrigger frames set on block foundations, and if they were not moved within 5 years, they were considered permanent. Operating and finance leases dominated as these mobile buildings were considered personal property.
During the last 5-10 years, the industry has changed dramatically. While temporary buildings are still an important part of the commercial modular industry, permanent modular building systems are becoming the norm and are now thought to compete well with site framed buildings, as well as tilt-wall and steel building systems. Architects, major contractors, and owners are beginning to see “Permanent Modular Construction” (PMC) as a means of completing commercial projects faster and at a lower cost.
While there may always be some confusion when the term “Modular” is used, a lot of time and money has gone into educating architects, large contractors, and owners on the benefit of commercial modular construction and progress is being made every day. Virtually every week we see a news release or blog posting that speaks to the growing acceptance of modular construction as a viable alternative to stick-built construction. Commercial modular buildings are built in a manufacturing plant, in a controlled environment, to the same building codes as site constructed buildings. They can be Type 5 wood construction or Type 2 non-combustible construction, and in the case of Ramtech’s permanent modular building system, can utilize a concrete slab foundation.
As more hospitals, schools, office complexes, and military facilities are built using permanent modular building systems, the overall construction industry will come to better understand “Permanent Modular Construction.” Let’s not change the name of our industry or the product we produce. Let’s continue to educate the public so that 5 years from now “Permanent Modular Construction” will be viewed by everyone as a great option for commercial construction. The industry’s goal should be to grow the size of the industry from approximately 2% of commercial building construction to 20%. Staying consistent in our message to owners, architects, and large general contractors is critical to achieving this goal.
Mike Slataper is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Ramtech Building Systems, Inc.