A while back, in my post entitled Demolition Derby, I showed you some pictures of a house I'm working on in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia. During demolition, we exposed some serious structural issues and, upon further investigation, have determined that the best way forward is to demolish most of the existing building and start new (actually, we're demolishing everything but the basement). Through discussions with the contractor, we determined that the best way to get the project built may be modular construction.

You've seen me write about prefab before, but this time I'm in from the beginning. The first step, now that we're building new, was to revisit the design drawings for the home to see what improvements could be made. When we thought we were going to renovate the existing house, we were limited by a number of factors--existing window placement and sizes, existing door placement, existing ceiling heights. However, if we are going to build new, we can do things the way we want to. The resulting design is more streamlined and efficient, and gives the clients more usable and high-quality space.

The next step was to visit the modular factory. The contractor has worked with Signature Building Systems before, so we started there. This trip combined two of my favorite things: building design and factory tours. The Signature factory is a huge open space--200' x 400' (that's 80,000 square feet, for those of you keeping track):

While at first the space looks chaotic, there's a very methodical process going on. The slideshow will give you the basic idea (sorry for any blurry photos--fortunately my architecture skills far surpass my photography skills!).

One of the things that struck me was the quality of the work going on. Historically, modular construction has had a bad reputation. But on my visit, I saw careful construction practices, quality materials, and skilled labor. Not only that, but the indoor construction means that everything is protected from the weather. Modular construction has also been shown to reduce overall construction-related carbon emissions, since the builders tend to live relatively close to the factory, thereby reducing the number of miles driven each day. Plus, large material orders can be placed and delivered in bulk, reducing shipping costs and impacts.

Once the modules are delivered to the site, a crane lifts them into place. Signature has a team that will fasten them to the foundation and to each other. Then the local contractors will close the seams inside and join the plumbing and electrical systems. They are also responsible for the exterior finishes (in this case, stucco and brick).

Obviously, I'm pretty excited about this process. It's not perfect for every situation, but it holds a lot of promise for the future. I'll keep you posted as we move forward.

Anyone out there have any experience with modular construction?

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