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What are Modular Buildings?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

Modular buildings are buildings which are made from prefabricated three dimensional components made in a factory. A simple modular building may be made from a single section, while more complex structures are made by attaching several sections together. Modular buildings can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from temporary housing after a natural disaster to establishing a permanent facility such as a gymnasium on a school site.

When a modular building is ordered, it can be a custom building, or ordered from a company's existing line of products. In either case, construction occurs indoors in a factory environment, with the factory creating one or more modules, depending on the size of the building. Each module is totally self contained, including everything from the roofing to the electrical wiring, and the modules are totally finished inside. The size of the modules is generally limited by ease of transport, with companies not making modules which are too large or too dangerous to move easily.

Once modules are finished, they can be shipped to the location where the modular building will be installed. The site can be prepared with a temporary or permanent foundation, depending on how the building will be used, and the building can be locked onto the foundation and to other modules to make it ready for use. A modular building may be temporary, semi-permanent, or permanent in nature.

One of the big advantages to modular construction is that it is very rapid, and it tends to be less expensive than a site-built structure. Manufacturers are not limited by issues like inclement weather or the vagaries of a local work force, and because they have a great deal of experience, they can put structures together quickly and well. Because modular buildings need to withstand shipping, they also tend to be more earthquake and weather resistant than site-built structures.

Modular buildings are also known as manufactured or prefab structures. In some regions of the world, this building technique has faced considerable consumer opposition, with consumers viewing such structures as cheap or tacky. In fact, modular buildings run the gamut from very low-cost structures which are of poor quality, to very solid, elegant buildings which feature the latest in modern design innovations. Some companies actually opt to specialize in high-end modular construction, offering features like increased environmental friendliness during the construction process, and finished structures which are specifically designed to be more energy efficient.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By KaBoom — On Feb 06, 2012

When I was in high school, overcrowding was a huge problem in my school district. The county helped alleviate this problem by getting a few portable modular buildings and setting them up outside the high school as classrooms.

From what I remember, this was a pretty cost effective solution to the problem. It created more classroom space and the county didn't have to worry about redistricting or any of that nonsense.

I actually had a class in one of the buildings, which was lovingly dubbed "Trailer II", one semester. It wasn't half bad, as far as classrooms go.

By JaneAir — On Feb 06, 2012

@SZapper - That's very interesting about the environmentally friendly modular homes. I know when I think of pre-fab homes, I definitely don't think "environmentally friendly" or "spectacular." Most of the modular homes in my area do look pretty trashy, and you can definitely tell they're pre-fab homes.

I guess it's not surprising that I think this way, after all the article said there is a lot of consumer resistance to modular buildings. However, I think that some careful marketing could probably change a lot of people's minds. I'm already intrigued by the "spectacular" homes mentioned in the other comment.

By SZapper — On Feb 05, 2012

I'm really surprised that prefabricated modular buildings are more earthquake and weather resistant than buildings that are built on site. I think this is actually pretty cool though.

I was reading about a company awhile ago that specializes in environmentally friendly modular homes. And let me tell you, from the pictures I saw, the homes looked spectacular. Definitely not cheap or tacky!

However, I was wondering how weather resistant they were compared to regular buildings. I'm glad now I know the answer. I will definitely be keeping this in mind for future home shopping!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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