Environmental benefits of modular construction | Converge.io

June 22, 2023

Modular construction, an innovative and environmentally-friendly building method, is transforming the construction industry. It's a process that primarily entails constructing individual sections or 'modules' off-site, usually in a factory setting. 

Each of these prefabricated sections is meticulously crafted and later transported to the designated site, where they are seamlessly assembled to create a fully formed structure. This process vastly differs from traditional construction methods, offering unique benefits, particularly concerning the environment.

In this article we will discuss the environmental benefits of modular construction as well as disclose whether or not it meets the current sustainability goals. 

Read more: Read up on the costs of post-tensioning and how it compares to pretensioning.

The Environmental Impact of Traditional Construction

The construction industry has long been recognised for its substantial environmental footprint. This comes as no surprise when you consider the countless ways in which construction interacts with and affects the environment:

  1. During the extraction and manufacturing of construction materials, significant quantities of CO2, a potent greenhouse gas, are produced.
  2. The byproducts and waste from construction processes, including unused materials and debris, often end up in landfills, contributing to landfill expansion and environmental degradation.
  3. Noise and dust pollution generated during construction can have detrimental effects on local wildlife, often disrupting their natural behaviours and habitats.

Dissecting the Environmental Challenges of Traditional Construction

Traditional construction methods, while effective in their own right, present several environmental issues that cannot be overlooked:

  1. Energy Consumption: Traditional construction processes consume considerable amounts of energy, from the manufacturing of materials to their transportation and the actual construction.
  2. Waste Generation: The waste produced during traditional construction is a major issue. Leftover materials, redundant packaging, and general construction debris all contribute to this waste, much of which ends up in landfills.
  3. Land Disruption: Traditional construction often necessitates extensive land clearing, a process that can significantly disturb local ecosystems and contribute to habitat loss.

A small plant growing in the mids of cracked concrete

Four Environmental Benefits of Modular Construction

Modular construction has become a revolutionary force in the building sector, with its significant environmental benefits placing it at the forefront of sustainable construction.Here are four of the main environmental benefits:

1. Resource Efficiency

When buildings are constructed in a factory setting, there is a higher degree of control over resources. This heightened control and precision reduce the possibility of overuse or wastage of materials, resulting in a more resource-efficient process. 

It also curtails the requirement for excess materials to be delivered to the site, leading to fewer transportation emissions.

2. Minimised Site Disturbance

Since the majority of the construction takes place off-site in a controlled environment, there is considerably less disruption to the local environment. This protects local wildlife and vegetation from the disturbances that typically accompany construction projects. 

The on-site assembly phase is also generally quicker than traditional construction, reducing the duration of potential noise and dust pollution.

3. Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a crucial aspect of modular construction. Modular buildings often incorporate state-of-the-art energy-saving technologies and are better insulated due to factory-controlled conditions, which can significantly reduce the energy demand during their lifetime. The buildings' design often prioritises natural light, further reducing electricity consumption for lighting.

4. Reuse and Recycling Opportunities

An intriguing aspect of modular construction is the potential for reuse and recycling. If a modular building no longer serves its initial purpose, the modules can be disassembled, transported, and repurposed for a new project. This reduces waste, the need for new materials, and lowers the energy requirements for new construction. 

Additionally, materials from decommissioned modules can often be recycled, further contributing to the circular economy.

Read more: Learn more about how post-tensioning is used while building bridges and buildings

Evaluating the Sustainability of Modular Construction

The next question to consider is, 'is modular construction sustainable enough to meet the sustainability goals?' With its reduced environmental impact and alignment with several global sustainability principles, the answer leans towards the affirmative:

  1. Carbon Emissions: Modular construction, with its controlled, off-site processes, generally produces fewer carbon emissions compared to traditional construction methods.
  2. Material and Resource Efficiency: The efficient use of materials and resources in modular construction minimises waste, contributing to the development of a more circular economy.
  3. Adaptability and Longevity: Modular houses and buildings can be easily deconstructed, moved, and reused, extending their life cycle and promoting sustainable building practices.

Does modular construction meet the requirements of the revised PAS 2080?

Modular construction, due to its inherent benefits such as reduced material waste, lower energy consumption, and minimized site disturbance, is more likely to align well with the principles of PAS 2080. This building method can contribute to lower whole-life carbon emissions, which is the focus of the PAS 2080 standard.

However, to achieve the ultimate goal of sustainability, continuous improvements and advancements in modular construction techniques must be pursued.

Read more: We explain the advantages of modular construction and the concept of post-tensioning.

Things to consider

The environmental benefits of modular construction are increasingly making it the go-to choice in the construction industry. By reducing waste, promoting efficient use of resources, and facilitating recycling and reuse, modular construction offers a greener, more sustainable alternative to traditional building methods. As we strive towards global sustainability goals, the adoption of modular construction is a step

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