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Is Modular Construction Sustainable in the Long Term?

November 8, 2023

Sustainability and building compliance expert. Specialising in low energy design, SAP, SBEM, BREEAM, and air testing for the construction industry,

Andrew Sadler

Modular construction techniques, where parts of a building are prefabricated offsite before being transported and assembled on location, have proven to be popular with building companies and renovation experts over the years. 

Modular construction: A greener and efficient alternative to traditional building methods

This construction method often promises faster project completion times, greater quality control, fewer risk factors, and potential cost savings compared to traditional construction. Modular construction methods make effective and efficient use of components that are manufactured or produced in factory conditions, thus alleviating many of the delays and problems caused by inclement and turbulent weather.

It’s estimated that in most modular building projects, 60-90% of the construction work is completed offsite before being transported to the site, where the remaining 10-40% is completed to provide the vital aesthetic finishes and structural markup. Once a project is completed, distinguishing between a structure built using modular methods and one built traditionally can be notably challenging.

Modular construction is known to reduce the overall carbon footprint and environmental impact of the project. The modular sections are delivered prefabricated resulting in fewer ad-hoc deliveries and tradespeople on-site at any one time. However, with sustainability and climate change discussions growing in volume and veracity, we have to ask whether this type of construction is truly environmentally beneficial in the long run. Let’s analyse the sustainability benefits and tradeoffs.

The benefits of modular construction for sustainability

There are several ways that modular building techniques can enable more sustainable construction practices.

Energy efficiency

Waste reduction

Material sourcing


The tradeoffs to consider

While modular techniques offer plenty of sustainability benefits, there are also some important considerations to bear in mind:

Transportation logistics

Shorter lifespans

Limitations on design

Key takeaways – modular construction can be sustainable if used strategically

Modular building techniques do offer sustainability benefits thanks to the collective preservation of materials, reduced overall transport costs, energy efficiency, and adaptability.

However, it’s clear that concerns around logistics, lifespan, and design restrictions should be factored in. This is not to suggest that traditional onsite construction and modular components cannot be adopted simultaneously to overcome the common obstacles seen in building projects. It’s evident that a proactive and methodical approach can yield the best results in a project’s stability, safety and aesthetic appeal, along with the overall productivity of contractors.

Some best practices for sustainable modular construction include:

Overall, modular structures can be a more sustainable construction option if executed strategically. The method offers green benefits but also has caveats to consider. It’s unclear whether this practise is truly sustainable in the long run, however, it’s clear that construction companies have to take steps to maximise their efforts and energy preservation. Opting for an increased use of modular fixtures can be pivotal in helping them achieve their sustainability goals and minimise their impact on the environment.

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