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What’s the Future of Modular Construction?

A conversation with Bill Seery, SurePods business development director.

A 10+ year veteran of the building prefabrication industry, our business development director, Bill Seery, continually looks for ways to further enhance the benefits of modular construction. We recently asked him where he sees modular bathrooms evolving in the future – here’s our conversation with him.

Blog editor: What’s the biggest trend in modular construction you foresee in the next 10 years?

Seery: The interesting thing at the moment is we’re getting more clients reaching out to us, due to the lack of skilled labor. Without the people to build them, more projects are failing to launch, so developers have a greater sense of urgency to find solutions. If you think the labor situation is bad now, imagine what it will be like in five years as more skilled workers retire. One stat I saw was that only one skilled construction worker enters the workforce for every five who retire.

Going forward, every single thing about construction will need to change given that labor isn’t coming back. Construction will need to evolve ever more rapidly to assembling plug-and-play components on site, versus today’s method, which focuses on handcrafting the building. This is the way cars and nearly every other good is made, so before long everything you touch on the job site will need pre-fab elements. Already we’re seeing pre-fab rooms; underground water detention vaults; even pre-fabricated electrical systems, like control rooms, being used.

Blog editor: What changes do you see coming specific to modular bathrooms?

Seery: Modular bathrooms will continue to move more into the mainstream – not just being used in big hotel projects, but increasingly into multi-family housing, and eventually single-family residences. Pre-fab bathrooms for single-family homes will likely start out as a choice among a set of standardized designs, with the homeowner able to select from a menu of features like countertop styles, toilet options, etc. It’s a bit like the way Ikea offers cabinetry now – you pick among components to customize something for your home.

Blog editor: What will it take to make modular construction more wide-spread?

Seery: Because pre-fab systems come out of the factory manufactured to exact dimensions, on-site tolerances will need to be much more clean and accurate. Much of construction now is making things fit when the building isn’t straight and true – a lot of trimming and shimming. But, new technologies such as precision siting with drones and lasers will make on-site construction more accurate.

Another change that is making modular more popular is that as developers have seen the quality possible with pre-fab, they’re less concerned with how bathroom pods compare to site-built. Instead, they’re focused on getting the project built since they don’t have the people to do the work.

Blog editor: What advice would you offer developers to be ready for the future of modular construction?

Seery: It’s crucial to remember that like adopting any new building method, switching to modular construction is an iterative process – not a one-time thing. Each project you do, your crews will get better and better at it. Sometimes developers see modular as a risk, but the current construction process is broken, and will only get worse, so not changing is risky itself. JFK put it this way: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”

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