With an accelerating crisis in demand for housing, particularly in the affordable and social housing sectors, modular construction has not just become an attractive proposition; it’s also a huge growth sector that’s attracting significant investment.
And it’s not just residential properties that are bringing modular construction to the fore either. Factory fabrication means that modular construction offers a very attractive option for projects where timescales are tight or site conditions are challenging. With most new build projects constructed on brownfield sites, modular construction also offers the opportunity to carry out the demolition, enabling and groundworks phases while the construction phase is already underway off site.
Firestone’s EPDM roofing membranes already have a global reputation in modular construction. Here we will explain why the development of the modular construction market is picking up pace and how Firestone’s RubberGard EPDM roofing system is helping to ensure modular projects meet their design, quality and performance criteria.
What’s New About Modular?
Modular construction may be known as a ‘modern method of construction’ or MMC, but it is far from a new idea. The concept dates back to the 1830s when a British carpenter, Henry Manning, shipped components from London to Australia for his first project.
Several Manning modular projects ensued, include a ‘Friends Meeting House’ Quaker chapel, which is still standing in Adelaide; an early testament to the durability of modular buildings.
Henry Manning’s pioneering efforts are not the only examples of early modular innovation either; the hospital built for the treatment of injured soldiers in Crimea where Florence Nightingale famously saved lives was also a modular structure shipped out to be erected close to the fighting.
Far from being temporary structures modular projects are often designed to last. They have also shown considerable resilience. The speed and resource efficiency of modular construction was vital for the war effort during World War II, with British armed forces relying on modular Nissen huts and Bellman Hangars. And, after the war, modular construction once again played an important role in providing homes for those who had been displaced by bombing raids.
Modular construction may not be new but two key things have changed:
• Modular construction is no longer seen as a quick fix solution to a particular problem but as an attractive building methodology with numerous advantages
• The materials available to construct modular buildings, such as Firestone’s own EPDM roofing membranes, mean that modular construction can be used to offer improved build quality and performance over the long term
Advantages of Modular Construction
Modular construction offers a wide range of advantages over conventional building practices, many of which are being leveraged for specific sectors where cost, time and site challenges make modular especially beneficial.
• Reduced site time – with the modules built off site in a factory, the amount of time and personnel required on site is significantly reduced, which means less disruption for the occupants of neighbouring buildings and a more efficient build programme. Often site works and the construction of modular units can take place concurrently, leading to significant reductions in the programme
• Improved quality and consistency – factory build practices enable manufacturing-style quality assurance checks to be embedded in the construction process throughout. This avoids site delays for snagging issues and also supports high standards of consistent build quality. From a roofing perspective, each module can be checked and verified as watertight following the installation of the RubberGard EPDM system and stored until it’s required on site
• Lower cost – The reduction in programme length and site personnel often results in cost savings, which enables a higher proportion of the project budget to be dedicated to high quality materials
• Reduced health & safety risk – with most of the construction work carried out in a controlled factory environment, the overall health and safety hazards associated with a project’s site phase are significantly reduced
• Reduced exposure to weathering & contaminants – On any site, the roof is completely watertight once the RubberGard EPDM membrane covers the substrate. For a modular build, the roof area of each module is finished with a fully fixed EPDM membrane prior to going to site. As much detailing as possible is also carried out in factory conditions. This minimises the substrate’s exposure to dust, pollution, moisture and UV on site.
• Rationalised logistics – with the modules constructed off site, deliveries to site are reduced, which can be particularly advantageous on confined or hard to access sites.
RubberGard EPDM’s Role in Improved Modular Build Quality
A proven building material with many reference projects still performing well more than 40 years after they were first installed, RubberGard EPDM has become a system of choice for modular build projects, thanks to the advantages it offers during the build programme and throughout the service life of the finished building.
These features and benefits include:
• Excellent tensile strength
• Flexibility and elasticity
• Cold applied for both fully adhered and mechanically fixed systems
• U/V resistant
• Puncture resistant
• Practically odourless
The EPDM material is both strong and flexible, with excellent puncture resistance, ensuring a resilient solution within a busy factory environment. Requiring no torch or hot works of any kind during installation, the cold applied system can be fully adhered or mechanically fixed and is almost completely odourless. To address the management of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and solvents in a factory environment, Firestone has even developed a water-based adhesive to ensure that the factory installation process is safe and practically odourless.
Detailing and sealing the bay-to-bay joints onsite is also fast and simple, with the range of QuickSeam accessories developed by Firestone as part of the RubberGard EPDM system. These include, QuickSeam Splice Tape, a fully cured self-adhesive tape that provides consistent and watertight adhesive thickness within the seam, and QuickSeam FormFlash, which is designed to flash inside and outside corners, pipes, penetrations and other details.
The versatility, safety and ease of use that the RubberGard EPDM system offers for modular construction has made it extremely popular for modular projects across a wide variety of sectors.
Examples in Education
The education sector, where programmes are often tight due to the pressures of the academic calendar, has been a particularly significant part of Firestone’s growing popularity in modular build projects. At Fullhurst College in Leicester, for example, which featured both conventional and modular build elements, it was the modular building specification of the RubberGard EPDM system that influenced the choice of the same roof covering for the whole project.
The modular element of the £14 million programme was delivered by modular specialist, Ideal Building Systems, and comprised 72 modules, half of which were factory-installed with the RubberGard EPDM system.
As Phil Burton from Ideal Building Systems explains: “Ideal Building Systems uses the RubberGard EPDM membrane as standard on our modules. We were able to carry out 90% of the roofing installation for the modules in our factory. There is virtually no roofing detail that cannot be achieved using Firestone’s RubberGard™ EPDM roofing system.”
At the £24 million Deans Trust School in Manchester, a two- and three-storey high school made up of 161 modules, the RubberGard EPDM system was used for each roof section, with mechanical termination of the membrane around each module so that, when the sections were assembled on site, two surfaces of EPDM were mechanically clamped together. Once the modules had been erected on site, these joins were sealed quickly and easily with Firestone’s QuickSeam™ cover strip, creating a continuous roof surface.
Collaboration with the Modular Construction Sector
Modular Construction is not always the right choice for every project but it is increasingly being considered as a potentially advantageous alternative to conventional building methodologies. That’s why it’s so important that manufacturers like Firestone work with the modular sector to ensure that the buildability and performance profiles of our products meet the requirements of modular buildings.