Owners look to make sense of modular construction

One effect of a growing economy is the cost to build or renovate hotels is constantly climbing. In 2018 alone, the cost of construction rose an eye-popping 5.7 percent, according to Rider Levett Bucknall’s “First Quarter 2019 North American Quarterly Construction Cost Report.”

One cause of rising costs is a severe labor shortage. With the scarcity of qualified manpower, buildings being constructed lack quality and are taking longer to build. This is why some ownerships are studying modular construction as a potential solution to build more efficiently and with greater quality control.

With modular construction, the building can be constructed by various methods depending on the circumstance of the design and location. Buildings can be constructed out of wood, steel or even concrete. They can be created in components such as prefabricated panels, where the walls are built in various incremental lengths from floor to ceiling and stacked on a trailer and transported to the site. Each is numbered and designed to connect to each other. They can be completed with such exterior finishes such as a brick veneer, an exterior finish insulation system or siding. They also can have the windows set in place at the fabrication plant. Other modular methods go as far as creating a fully completed guestroom, including the finished bathroom, flooring in place and most of the furniture, fixtures and equipment, including the television attached to the unit.

Be mindful that shipping and logistics can increase the cost of the modular pricing, in some cases significantly. The cost of trucking can add up quickly and sometimes exceed the cost of traditional construction. Having the manufacturing plant closer to the site helps alleviate some of the transportation costs. For one hotel project in New York City, rooms were built in Poland, shipped to Brooklyn and trucked into lower Manhattan. A bit far, but for the market at that time, it might have been the best option.

An important element to keep in mind when contemplating modular construction is the local building department must agree and approve your modular plan. This may involve someone visiting the plant where the modular components are being fabricated. Lastly, make sure the detailed construction drawings are signed and sealed by a qualified engineering firm that specializes in modular design and your contractor has experience in this method of construction. The time benefit of modular will be lost if your project is used as a learning curve.

Stephen Siegel is principal with H-CPM, a construction project management and owner representation company.