Modular buildings bring many green advantages! Here are a few we love – and one excellent example!
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Buildings come in all shapes, sizes and materials. But there’s one eco-friendly construction trend we’re loving: modular buildings.
Modular buildings are basically single building units that are manufactured off-site and then transported to a desired location. They are also referred to as prefabricated, or ‘prefab’ constructions.
While the 2000’s were all about the Tiny Home movement, we predict the new housing trend for the 2020s will be prefab. And why not? Modular buildings offer significant advantages.
Here, I’d like to outline the benefits of prefab buildings, and then illustrate how one awesome hotel is embodying each of those benefits, and more!
The Green Advantages Of Modular Buildings
Modular construction still represents only a tiny fraction of the large construction industry. However, it is growing faster than any other part of the industry and will soon become mainstream.
There are many benefits to modular building construction, like its being twice as fast to put up as traditional buildings. However, there are also loads of environmental benefits to a modular building, including these, below.
1. Reduces Waste from Construction
The construction industry produces some of the most waste among many industries in the world. The estimate is that the industry produces about 56 million tons of debris annually.
Modular construction can produce much less waste than traditional buildings because modules are usually constructed simultaneously in the factory. Therefore, any products that are discarded can be used to make another module.
The debris produced when building a traditional house is rarely useful for any other type of construction. The result is that it will simply be discarded, and often in a way that’s highly detrimental to the environment.
2. Recycled Materials Are Used
Did you know that recycled materials are often used when making prefabricated houses?
Materials such as aluminum, wood, and steel, which are always used in construction, are often ‘second hand’ in modular construction. In some cases, fully constructed materials, such as shipping containers, are upcycled into new buildings, as we shall see below.
3. Reduces Energy Used During Construction
One of the most effective ways to be friendly to the environment is to reduce the amount of energy we use. Modular construction uses way less energy than that needed to make a traditional house.
By making small modules in a factory setting, efficiency is paramount, and the goal is to use as little energy as possible. In some cases, artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to create very efficient and environmentally friendly building processes.
Moreover, modular buildings are easier to make and hence take less time, which means less energy usage. There is also no transportation of materials to the construction site, which also minimises energy consumption.
And finally, if shipping containers or other existing materials are used, energy use is pretty much just limited to transporting the components.
4. Reduces Carbon Emissions
A study by the UN revealed that about 40% of global carbon emissions are made by the construction industry. Most of those emissions are made simply because of inefficient building processes in the construction industry as far as raw materials, labor, and equipment are concerned.
On the other hand, modular building significantly reduces carbon emissions. Since every aspect of the building except the final assembly is done in one location, transportation is minimal. It also takes much less raw material, labor, and equipment to construct a modular building as opposed to a traditional one.
5. Reduces Energy Needs for the House
In addition to the energy consumption when constructing a traditional house, you also need to consume a lot of energy to live inside it. For example, most builders are instructed to install an HVAC unit in almost every home.
On the other hand, modular buildings have many features that make the house energy efficient. One way they do that is by having “structural insulated panels” (SIPs). They form two layers of insulated foam, which is much more airtight than fiberglass as a seal.
Result? You don’t need to do very much to ensure that your home is heated. And the less air conditioning or heating you use, the less energy you consume in your home.
6. Solar Panel Integration
An integral part of being environmentally friendly is finding alternative energy sources to the ones we use now. There are many modular buildings made with alternative green energy central to their design.
Solar power, despite being in its infancy, can sustain the low energy needs of a modular building. It is especially so when it is used alongside excellent foam insulation.
Solar panels on a modular building mean that a family can produce up to two and a half times fewer carbon emissions than a traditional house. The more solar panels develop, the more environmentally friendly prefabricated houses will become.
7. Energy-Efficient Fixtures and Finishing
Even the smaller parts of a modular structure are designed in a manner to make them as environmentally friendly as possible. The level of energy efficiency will depend on the manufacturer of the building and how innovative they are.
Some of the eco-friendly features you can find in a modular building include electric garages, natural lighting windows, solar water heaters, and energy-efficient batteries.
All the energy-efficient fixtures and finishes will not matter if the residents of the house don’t benefit. The end result is that modular buildings make residents healthier by removing the volatile and harmful compounds typical of a traditional house.
An Excellent Example Of A Modular Building
The Stow-Away is a new eco-friendly apart-hotel found at London’s Southbank, and it was built to be sustainable from the ground up.
A completely recyclable building, the South Bank site embraces the ever-growing need for eco-responsibility and is made from a fully modular construction. Namely, repurposed shipping containers.
All materials used in the building of Stow-Away: South Bank have been chosen to support the land, the environment and the ecosystem within the area. The 26 shipping containers that make up the building have been fitted throughout with initiatives, all designed to have a positive environmental impact.
The roof has solar panels which generate electricity for the site and transfer any excess electricity back into the national grid. The Samsung air conditioning and hydro units recycle and recirculate energy that reuses excess heat from the air conditioning system into the hot water, helping to reduce overall energy consumption. The rooms themselves are lined with eco friendly timber cladding.
If you think modular buildings can’t be luxurious, think again! the Stow-Away is about good design and the rooms are testament to this. Designed to be micro apartments, rooms have all the facilities for guests to make a home away from home. Each studio space is used with efficiency in mind, whilst maintaining a warm, welcoming and elegant feel with simple but luxurious touches including ultra comfort Hypnos™ mattresses approved by the Queen, marble tiles and Molton Brown toiletries.
The interior walls of the containers have been clad with finely graded plywood giving a warmth of texture. The herringbone flooring creates a longer perspective from the hallway and the marble tiled bathroom exudes a sense of luxury.
It seems that modular buildings are a sustainable trend that’s set to grow. And well it should! There’s no need to create new materials when we have so many that currently exist in the world. And that’s true not only for fashion, but for construction, too.
And if you think prefab or upcycled building components don’t equate luxury, the Stow-Away hotel in London proves beyond a doubt that that’s untrue. Modular buildings can be just as posh as any new build – they’re just a lot greener!
All images from (and of) the Stow-Away hotel, Southbank.