Modular construction makes saving money, time, and resources easier

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by Glenn Hasek

In downtown Seattle, a citizenM hotel is being constructed using modular units stacked atop a traditionally constructed concrete podium. The design and delivery method – structural modular design – has been widely adopted in Europe, Asia, and Australia but is relatively new to the United States. The citizenM in Seattle is the among the first full-modular hotels in North America.

The citizenM New York Bowery Hotel opened last fall, and a dual-branded Marriott hotel is expected to open in the Gateway area of Murfreesboro, TN by the end of this year. The 160-room SpringHill Suites/TownePlace Suites property will be mostly built using modular construction. The first floor of the five-floor structure will be built on site, as is normal for construction. The top four floors will be installed as modular units. Each module will have two guestrooms, which will be largely finished and furnished prior to shipping to the site. Exterior building details will be added once the modules have been installed.

Between eight to 10 modules a day can be set in place, so it will take about 19 days to erect the upper floors. Additional work must be done once the modules are placed, such as connecting utilities and building out corridors. The Murfreesboro hotel’s modules will be built either in Indiana or Pennsylvania.

The use of modular construction techniques has opened up a world of opportunities for developers wishing to build at a lower cost but with greater efficiency.

What is modular construction?

Modular construction is a process in which a project is built off site in a controlled environment to produce “modules” that are then assembled on location. This building technique allows for faster construction time without sacrificing quality, especially in high-barrier-to-entry markets where available skilled labor is limited.

In the case of the Home2Suites by Hilton San Francisco Airport North, which is being built using modular construction, the property will have a distinctly green edge; solar panels will produce close to 50 percent of the hotel’s energy, a bio-retention pond will filter water run-off, and additional measures will help to reduce the hotel’s overall carbon footprint.

Modules can vary from entire guest rooms to just the bathrooms. In the case of the citizenM hotel in Seattle, modular units – entire guest rooms – were assembled at citizenM’s factory in Europe. Hotel units left the factory fully finished, down to the toilet paper holder. The modules even came with hung televisions and doors. They were wrapped in plastic, pressurized to keep windows in place, and shipped. The only items to be post-factory installed were the mattresses, pillows, and towels.

Off-site construction in a controlled environment

At the 612-room Omni Hotel that opened March 2018 in Louisville, bathroom pods were built off site in a controlled factory setting, then trucked to the job site for “plug and play” installation. The largest green-building benefit of using modular bathrooms is reduced construction material waste – in the short-term during initial construction and in the long-term during hotel remodels and upgrades.

When it was time for bathroom remodeling at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hagerstown, MD, there were no mold or water leaks in any of the hotel’s 100 guest-room bathrooms. Originally built with modular construction, the bathrooms held up well. Not needing to replace drywall not only reduced scrap from the remodel, it also helped reduce labor time. Another benefit of modular bathrooms is their role in improving air quality by reducing the potential for harmful molds. The bathrooms also are more energy efficient because of their airtight design.

Technique contributed to LEED platinum designation

When Yellowstone National Park Lodges needed to construct a new employee residence in Old Faithful Village in Yellowstone National Park, a modular construction process was used. It allowed for a swift schedule while minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency during the construction process. Constructed in Boise, ID, the modular units were transported into the park for final assembly and finishing. This approach meant that in the fall, when the temperatures dropped, crews were able to continue to work inside the building instead of putting the project on hold until spring. The project earned the rare LEED Platinum designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Perhaps no other hotel in North America is more modular than the Days Inn by Wyndham Sioux Lookout in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The 60-room Days Inn is comprised of 120 sea shipping containers on two levels. The modular units were prefabricated off site in Calgary, Alberta. The location of the Days Inn, in a remote northern Ontario area where the winters are long, helped sway the owners to build as much of the hotel off site as possible. By building the hotel that way, the overall construction time was reduced from 2.5 years to 13 months. The modular approach also reduced the cost of the project.

Most of the interior finishing, about 80 to 90 percent, was done in Calgary. Once the containers arrived in Sioux Lookout, they were connected in “Lego-like” fashion. There, electrical connections were made and the final finishing was conducted on the interior and exterior. A spray-foam insulation was used to ensure energy efficiency. Also making the property efficient, LED lighting was placed throughout, and low-flow water fixtures were used. On the exterior, vinyl siding and cultured rock were added.

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