What Are Modular Building Systems?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen

Modular building systems are prefabricated construction modules that are designed to be built in sections at a factory, transported to another site, and assembled into a finished building. By prefabricating modular components in a factory, manufacturers can use the principles of assembly line construction and exercise greater control over quality. Modular building systems allow for quick and easy on-site construction of many types of buildings and structures as compared to similar structures built on-site from scratch.

Prefabricated structures are not new, having been in use for over 100 years. They have risen greatly in popularity since the last half of the 20th century, however. The first modular building systems were prefabricated home kits marketed and sold by the Sears company in 19th century America. Today, these types of systems are available for the construction of a much broader array of buildings besides homes. Almost any standard kind of structure can be built using prefabricated sections.

Even large buildings, like skyscrapers, often make use of prefabricated modules during their construction, although it is unusual for such large structures to be built using only modular construction techniques. The basic structure of large buildings may be assembled from prefabricated sections, however. Roof trusses, which are often assembled at a factory and transported as a unit to a construction site are one example. Prefabricated concrete sections for all types of construction are another.

Construction of buildings using modular building systems is simpler and faster than building a similar structure from scratch because much of the work of construction has already been completed elsewhere. The sections, or modules, are shipped to the construction site where they are assembled. Less manpower is needed on-site for this type of construction as well. Some modular homes may be built in as few as two large sections before being assembled at the construction site. Many modular building systems use a larger number of prefabricated sections to complete even a fairly simple single family home, and some larger structures may use dozens of modules or more.

Some people still prefer scratch built buildings over modular buildings, however. They feel that the degree of customization possible with a purely site built structure, particularly single family homes gives them many more options that are not available through modular construction techniques. Many modular building system manufacturers are continually trying to improve the level of customization available to their customers to combat this sentiment, but to some extent, custom built homes will always have an advantage in this respect.

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