The Pain of Visiting Model Homes; Our Solution

Scoping out model homes can be a great way to jumpstart the process of planning for a new home. Many prospective customers get excited to find out what they like and what options are out there – even to gain decorating ideas!

One of the things we hear from many people is that when they visit model homes (in many locations), they’re not in the best condition. Namely, the trim is splitting, drywall is cracked, items are broken or missing…it’s not perfect, as it should be. Why would someone display a model home in such a condition, especially when it’s supposed to represent the best a company can do?

We try to do better by offering an actual factory tour for our potential customers. Think about it – you’re visiting the real factory that would build your home and furthermore, you can see the homes being built! The tour is conducted inside of a dry, climate-controlled factory just 90 minutes south of Albany in Dutchess County (Wingdale, NY).

If you’ve researched modular construction, seen photos or videos, and are interested in more, a factory tour is a really great way to continue the planning process. Nothing comes close to being in the factory and being able to ask questions or voice your concerns. There are also two model homes on site! If you’re ready for a tour, contact us to learn more and register.

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R-Value of Insulation

An R-value is one of the most popular building metrics – but you may find, as you’re thinking about building or finding your next home, that you don’t quite understand what it is and how it can be useful.

To measure heat transfer in insulation, an R-value is used. There are two tests that are essential to determine an R-value.

ASTM C518 Test

This test is relevant to single materials – a sample of the insulation material is placed inside a heat flow meter apparatus between a cold plate and a hot plate. As heat flows from the hot to cold plate through the insulation, the testing device measures precisely how much heat is flowing.

ASTM C177

This test uses a guarded hot plate to measure heat flux through materials that have a low thermal conductivity. It is usually used for flat materials.

Interestingly enough, testing for R-values measures every aspect of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation. If you were testing a rigid foam board, heat would be moving through the foam via conduction, and through the air bubbles within the foam via radiation. There wouldn’t be convection through such an airtight material, but convective loops forming within the air bubbles would speed the transfer of heat through the material and would affect the heat transfer measurements.

By capturing all three methods of heat transfer through materials, R-value gives us a great way to compare insulation products.

In fact, the R-value measurement was created and popularized because it easily communicates relative insulation values.

Make sense? What other things do you wonder about as you move forward with building your home? Shoot us an email at info@saratogaconstruction.net

 

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Offsight Construction = Green Construction

Due to recent advances in technology and consumer awareness, there is a growing acceptance of the environmental advantages of offsite, prefabricated, and modular building systems.

Think of modular construction as a construction process rather than a type or style of building. The difference between offsite and traditional, onsite construction comes from where the building is built, not how. Sixty to 90 percent of commercial buildings are built offsite in a factory-controlled environment and transported and assembled at the final building site. 
 

Due to the quality-controlled process, modular construction by nature is material and resource-efficient and allows for the following green benefits:

1. Less construction waste
2. Design for deconstruction
3. Repurposing buildings for secondary locations
4. Fewer site disturbances
5. Improved indoor air quality
6. Reduced construction schedules

Less Construction Waste

Offsite construction makes it possible to optimize construction material purchases and usage while minimizing onsite waste. Since modular builders work in a factory controlled environment, they can have many construction projects underway simultaneously in one location, so they are better able to re-inventory materials that may have been allocated to one project, for use in another. With site built construction, a general contractor would send any overage to the recycle bin or to the dump.

Bulk material deliveries sent to the manufacturing facility are also stored in a protected environment safe from theft and exposure to the environmental conditions of a job site.

Design for Deconstruction

Modular buildings are also more readily designed for deconstruction. The fact that the modular building is assembled in modules means that it can be disassembled at the end of its useful life. Buildings can be reused by simply reversing the process in which they were installed on site. 

Repurposing Buildings

One of the most sustainable concepts for the building industry is remodeling and reusing existing modular buildings instead of building new ones. Relocatable buildings have a useful life of approximately 20 years if properly maintained and permanent modular buildings can last over 60 years. Capital improvements can also extend the useful life of these buildings. Once the buildings have served their purpose in one location, they can be moved or reassembled to accommodate the next use.

Fewer Site Disturbances

Because of the unique offsite construction process, modular construction workers report to work at the same manufacturing facility rather than commuting to and from various construction sites. Once a project is completed in the factory, the building components are then transported to the site for installation. This process greatly minimizes the traffic from workers, equipment, and perhaps most importantly, suppliers.  Rather than making multiple deliveries to the site, modular manufacturers buy in bulk with fewer deliveries. 

Improved Indoor Air Quality

Many of the indoor air quality issues identified in new construction result from high moisture levels in the framing materials. Because the modular structure is substantially completed in a factory-controlled setting using dry materials, the potential for high levels of moisture being trapped in the new construction is eliminated. 

Reduced Construction Schedule

With modular construction the site preparation and construction take place at the same time. This allows for most projects to be completed 30 percent to 50 percent sooner.  This streamlined and efficient work process results in few labor hours needed per project, thus fewer trips to the site per project.  Earlier occupancy of a building also allows for faster revenue generation.

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Whitepaper Cites Government Report Promoting Efficiency of Modular Construction

 Charlottesville, VA -The Modular Building Institute (MBI) has published a whitepaper that cites a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Research Council (NRC) which identifies modular construction as an underutilized resource and a breakthrough for theU.S. construction industry to advance its competitiveness and efficiency. 

The NRC report, developed at the request of  NIST, was the result of the work of  an ad hoc committee of experts, assembled to  provide advice for advancing the competitiveness and productivity of the U.S.construction industry. The committee’s specific task was to plan and conduct a workshop to identify and prioritize technologies, processes, and deployment activities that have the greatest potential to advance significantly the productivity and competitiveness of the capital facilities sector of the U.S.construction industry in the next 20 years. The committee identified five breakthroughs to improve the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry, including breakthrough number three: “Greater use of prefabrication, preassembly, modularization, and off-site fabrication techniques and processes.” 

“This report validates what we in the industry have long known; that a greater use of off-site construction leads to improved efficiency and productivity.” said Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute. “Modular construction is a more resource-efficient, inherently greener process and more developers and owners are beginning to realize these advantages.”

  
(Left) Milestones Middle School in Phoenix, AZ, a modular building completed in 166 days by Accelerated Construction Technologies; (middle) Example of a factory-controlled environment; (right) [Un] Modular Design for Deconstruction, winner of the EPA’s 2009 Lifecycle Building Challenge Awards

 The NIST/NRC report also says “Manufacturing building components off-site provides for more controlled conditions and allows for improved quality and precision in the fabrication of the component.”

In addition, the report says that prefabrication and modularization allow for the following:

  • More controlled conditions for weather, quality control, improved supervision of labor, easier access to tools, and fewer material deliveries (Construction Industry Institute, 2002).
  • Fewer job-site environmental impacts because of reductions in material waste, air and water pollution, dust and noise, and overall energy costs, although prefabrication and related technologies may also entail higher transportation costs and energy costs at off-site locations;
  • Compressed project schedules that result from changing the sequencing of work flow (e.g., allowing for the assembly of components off-site while foundations are being poured on-site; allowing for the assembly of components off-site while permits are being processed);
  • Fewer conflicts in work crew scheduling and better sequencing of crafts persons;
  • Reduced requirements for on-site materials storage, and fewer losses or misplacements of materials; and
  • Increased workers safety through reduced exposures to inclement weather, temperature extremes, and ongoing or hazardous operations; better working conditions (e.g., components traditionally constructed on-site at heights or in confined spaces can be fabricated off-site and then hoisted into place using cranes) (Construction Users Roundtable, 2007).

The NIST/NRC report goes on to state, “Prefabrication and related techniques are commonly used in the construction of industrial projects, but they are also used, if less frequently, for commercial and infrastructure projects.  The committee believes that greater use and deployment of these techniques (if used appropriately) can result in lower project costs, shorter schedules, improved quality, more efficient use of labor and materials, and improved worker safety.”

Excerpts of the report are reprinted with permission from the National Academies Press. A full copy of the report is available on the MBI Web site here and the whitepaper can be viewed here.

 

 

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I highly recommend this author

If you want to learn more about modular construction, I highly recommend the books by author Sheri Koones.  Her most recent book, Prefabulous + Sustainable: Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home, she shows just how beautiful and green modular homes can be. 

Here are some reviews of the book:

“Sheri Koones has written another important book on the value of building Prefab-this one clearly explaining the enormous sustainability benefits of the process. Prefab, she explains, is intrinsically green for many reasons, but especially because there is so much less waste in the manufacturing process than in a standard site built home.  The book illustrates some exceptionally beautiful prefabricated homes from around the country, all of them pointing to the fact that a well designed and built prefab home is a superior house and a more planet friendly alternative to the standard way of building. It’s time that more of us were building this way.  Sheri is showing us how.”  Sarah Susanka, FAIA, architect and author of The Not So Big House series and The Not So Big Life

“Sheri Koones taught us in Prefabulous that prefab is no longer synonymous with trailers and double-wides.  With this book she is sharing a more important revelation, prefab offers an attractive, affordable path to green solutions.  It’s a convincing story about accomplishing more for less—more style, health, efficiency, sustainability and livability with less waste, energy, water, maintenance, time and cost.  I wish it had been available for the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and for Greensburg KS and know it will soon become required reading for anyone interested in quality housing for the 21st Century.”  Bob Berkebile, FAIA

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Great article from the New York Times

I just found this great article that highlights some of the commercial applications for modular constuction.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Squeezing Costs, Builders Take New Look at Prefab

By RONDA KAYSEN
Published: June 14, 2011
 

PHILADELPHIA — A package arrived on a shabby north Philadelphia block in January 2010, wrapped in Tyvek and measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide. Inside was a kitchenette, a bathroom and two bedrooms. The only thing missing was the toilet bowl lid. Just six weeks — and 88 similar packages — later, the Modules at Templetown, a four-story student-housing complex of 80,000 square feet near Temple University here, had completely risen from its concrete foundation.

The technique used to build the Modules, modular construction or prefab, in which major components are assembled off-site, has a long history in the single-family housing market, but its place in the commercial field has been limited. Currently just 1 percent of the commercial building market is prefab, mostly limited to schools, hospitals, dormitories or retail stores, although the largest modular building in the country is a 21-story Hilton hotel in San Antonio that was erected in 1968.

Now, with an emphasis on materials conservation and reuse, and developers looking to squeeze costs any way they can, modular construction is getting a closer look.

Often the word prefab conjures images of inexpensive and poorly built structures like trailer homes. But proponents of prefab, many of whom shudder at the moniker, say that modular design done well is anything but cheaply built. A modularly constructed building uses the same materials as a traditional one. But because it is made in a factory, workers are not battling the elements and can construct it more soundly and with less waste, proponents say.

“The quality of what you can assemble is infinitely higher on a factory floor,” said the hotelier André Balazs, who considered building a luxury modular hotel atop the High Line in Manhattan, but abandoned the idea when he found it too costly in New York.

Mr. Balazs said he was in discussions with manufacturers in Europe to build individual hotel units abroad and ship them to this country to assemble a boutique hotel in Los Angeles, a process that could be replicated in other cities.

Nearly all contemporary buildings rely on some element of prefabrication, with facades largely constructed off-site and windows and doors standardized. Even “bathroom pods,” bathrooms built and assembled off-site, are becoming increasingly common. But the idea of building most of the building in a factory and setting it atop a foundation simply has not taken off.

“Is the technology there to do it? Yes. Is the desire? Yes,” said Christopher Sharples, a principal at SHoP Architects, which is designing a possible 34-story prefab tower for the developer Forest City Ratner at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. “In the near future, I think people are going to become more educated about what the potential of this approach could be.”

The market share of commercial modular construction is poised to increase in the next five years, according to the Modular Building Institute, an industry trade group. In addition to the possibility of a tower at Atlantic Yards, an eight-story modular apartment building is scheduled to break ground this summer in the University City section of Philadelphia.

 

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What makes a home ENERGY STAR qualified?

Now more than ever, homeowners are trying to reduce their energy usage and cost.  One way to do this is to build an ENERGY STAR qualified home. 

To earn the ENERGYSTAR, a home must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) , and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.

And with homebuyers increasingly interested in green building, energy efficiency is the place to start. That’s because the energy used in homes often comes from the burning of fossil fuels at power plants, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and risks of global warming. So, the less energy used, the less air pollution generated. And the easy way to make sure a new home is energy efficient is to look for the blue ENERGYSTAR mark, the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency.

Any home three stories or less can earn the ENERGYSTAR label if it has been verified to meet EPA’s guidelines, including: single family, attached, and low-rise multi-family homes; manufactured homes; systems-built homes (e.g., SIP, ICF, or modular construction); log homes, concrete homes; and even existing retrofitted homes.

ENERGYSTAR qualified homes can include a variety of ‘tried-and-true’ energy-efficient features that contribute to improved home quality and homeowner comfort, and to lower energy demand and reduced air pollution.

For more information, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy at www.energystar.gov

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