Construction is messy. And I’m not just talking about your basic home improvement project (although, is there anything worse than cleaning up drywall dust?). I’m talking about big construction. Each year, the U.S. construction industry generates 164,000 million tons of material waste and debris. This accounts for 30 percent of landfill content (EPA, 2004). And you thought plastic water bottles were a problem?

Now, I’m not blasting the construction industry. It’s a vibrant, necessary institution here in the U.S. But there are “greener” options those of us in the construction industry could consider – like modular construction. Modular construction involves subdividing a structural system into smaller parts. These parts can then be combined to create a customized final structure. It’s sort of a “plug and play” type of construction that requires less of a learning curve, less waste because the modular components are prefabricated, more consistent end structures, and labor savings for contractors. Modular building also allows for simplified expansion as additional modules can be seamlessly integrated into the end design.

Cleanroom constructed of modular panels.

A cleanroom constructed of modular panels.

As a custom structural panel laminator, I’ve supplied builders with prefabricated panels for modular structures. And I can say that these builders demand high-quality cores, surfaces, and laminations. Currently, the big users of our prefabricated panels for modular structures include: utility enclosures, communications buildings, recreation buildings, hurricane/tornado shelters, security booths, hazardous chemical storage, deployable kitchens, and portable classrooms.

 The Panelman wonders, why hasn’t modular building really taken off? It seems like a perfect tie-in for the current “green” mindset, it reduces energy, saves on labor, and provides a structurally sound end building. I’d like to hear what others out there have to say…

Want to read up on how modular building could fit into the U.S. construction industry? Check out this document by the Committee on Advancing Competitiveness and Productivity in Construction.