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Busting the Myths of Pre-Fab Modular Bathrooms

An interview with SurePods’ Bill Seery

From his frequent conversations with building industry professionals, Bill Seery, VP of business development for SurePods, hears firsthand what they believe about the myths of pre-fab modular bathrooms / modular construction – with opinions ranging from the well-informed to erroneous. Here we interview Bill on what misconceptions he hears about pre-fab, and how he answers those points.

Blog editor: What is the biggest myth regarding pre-fab construction that you encounter?

Seery: Often our team doesn’t hear about the misconceptions upfront, because the person has such strong beliefs about the way they think pre-fab works, that they don’t even start a conversation with us in the modular/pre-fab business.

Over time, though, we’ve learned that some people won’t even consider pre-fab because they think it can’t be customized or is low quality. In the case of modular bathrooms, they envision a unit that’s only a step above a jobsite trailer. When I show them photos of our bathrooms in five-star properties like the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, though, they see the reality is quite different.

Another misconception is our pods can only be used in certain types of structures. However, we’ve been installed in all kinds of buildings – from low-rise wood-framed senior living facilities in the suburbs to high-rise steel and concrete hotel towers in downtown L.A. As with the low-quality myth, we address this by showing people case studies of the projects we’re in.

Blog editor: To what degree do people’s perceptions of modular overall lead to myths about pre-fab bathrooms, in particular?

Seery: More building professionals are encountering modular construction, which often takes the form of a stand-alone unit, like a concrete IT shelter near a cell tower. To them, modular means a monolithic concrete structure or a pre-fab wood house in sections going down the interstate. That’s not our bathrooms. We use steel studs and specialty wall and ceiling panels for a durable and attractive bathrooms. If you stay at the downtown Seattle Embassy Suites by Hilton, for example, you’d never know the bathrooms in the guest rooms are pre-fabricated.

Blog editor: What are some of the constructability myths you encounter specific to pre-fab bathrooms?

Seery: When they think of a bathroom pod, some general contractors envision a thick floor assembly, and assume they would need to depress the concrete slab to align the height of the bathroom’s finished floor with the floor in the rest of the space. I can see why they might think that, but then I show them our floor specs, which in reality have tighter tolerances than required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They don’t need to modify the slab at all to accommodate our bathrooms – just slide the pod into place, and install a floor threshold the same as they would with a site-built bathroom.

Blog editor: Beyond design and construction, what other myths are out there about SurePods?

Seery: GCs sometimes think it won’t be cost feasible to ship our pods to their location. We’re happy to work with them, though, to analyze the total cost of building and delivering our bathrooms compared to onsite construction. Often it pencils out for them. For example, we trucked pods over 1500 miles from our central Florida plant to Massachusetts – no problem.  We’ve even shipped internationally from our Orlando plant to the Bahamas.

Blog editor: On the design side, what misconceptions do architects have about pre-fab bathrooms?

Seery: Not so much misconceptions, but they tend to be concerned about interface issues – such as the floor height I mentioned before, the MEP hook-ups and ceiling heights. One of their biggest myths is thinking they’ll lose usable space by having a pod wall added to the thickness of the demising wall. But, as with the thin floors in our pods – we have thin, durable walls made of steel studs, so there’s no meaningful loss of space. Think of it this way: our pods have been used in hotels in dense downtown areas in Seattle and L.A., where every inch is critical from a space planning perspective, and there was no issue with going modular.

Blog editor: Please tell our readers about a building professional who initially was skeptical about modular bathrooms, but later became a fan.

Seery: When American Life – the developer for the 393-room L.A. Live Marriott – approached Ed Kirk, director of construction for SODO Builders, about using pre-fab bathrooms, he was skeptical. A very experienced executive on complex projects, Ed knows his stuff. He told American Life there wouldn’t be any schedule savings since the bathrooms weren’t on the project’s critical path. But, the developer really wanted pre-fab, so Ed said he’d do it, and would track the process in detail to quantify the results.

Here’s what Ed found when the project was completed in 2014: “The realized savings from [using SurePods] is evident by the fact that we not only maintained our original schedule, but actually were able to mitigate some delays we had from other areas of the project, and eventually ended up opening the hotel 4 weeks early from when we’d originally scheduled it. The overall schedule benefits from using the modular system was equal to about eight weeks in the overall project schedule.”  That was Ed’s answer, which he knew down to the day since he tracked the project so carefully.  We’ve since completed another project with Ed and are in pre-construction now for our third project with American Life.

Blog editor: In closing, what are the key truths about SurePods you’d like the blog readers to remember?

Seery: When done right, pre-fab and modular provide the unparalleled speed of construction, high quality and lower total cost of ownership. The best way to fully realize these benefits is to plan for SurePods in pre-con – the earlier, the better.

For more information on SurePods please visit our contact us page and we will get back to you right away.


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