In our industry, we often hear the terms modular, prefabricated, and manufactured thrown around interchangeably. While they do all refer to offsite construction methods that aim to increase efficiency and drive down costs, there are some important distinctions between them. This post was created to give you insight on the difference between modular buildings vs prefabricated buildings.
WHAT ARE PREFABRICATED BUILDINGS AND WHAT DOES PREFABRICATED CONSTRUCTION MEAN?
Prefabricated buildings refer to the largest category of off-site constructed buildings. To understand prefabricated buildings, we need to think about the term prefabrication.
Prefabrication means building out essential elements in a factory setting or factory-like setting. Then, those elements of the buildings that were prebuilt are brought to the site of construction and pieced together.
WHAT ARE MODULAR BUILDINGS?
Modular buildings and the modular construction process are a part of the prefab building family. Modular buildings are prefabricated into almost completed modules, or volumetric sections of a building.
Sometimes the entire building is only one module, meaning the entire building is almost completely assembled and then delivered to the building site. Modules are often able to be transported by commercial truck trailers to their destinations.
HOW DO MODULAR AND PREFAB BUILDINGS DIFFER?
Modular and prefab buildings sometimes differ and sometimes don’t. Put on your philosophy and logic hard hat for one second and think about it this way. All modular buildings are prefabricated buildings, but not all prefabricated buildings are modular buildings. This means both undergo a prefabricated construction process, but can differ in one key area.
BOTH ARE MADE OF MODULES BUT ONLY ONE IS MADE OF PANELS OR SMALLER PRE-BUILT SEGMENTS
The primary difference between the two is that prefabricated elements of a prefabricated building are sometimes built out into smaller parts than full volumetric modules. Some prefabricated construction companies might build out the wall panels separately from the building.
In contrast, modular buildings are almost always built into large modules and assembled in a lego-like fashion.
TYPES OF BUILDINGS THAT UTILIZE PREFABRICATED AND MODULAR CONSTRUCTION
Modular and prefabricated construction is used on an almost endless number of building types. Modular units are specifically better than prefabricated buildings assembled from panels for temporary and portable buildings such as offices and school portable classrooms. This has to do with their assembly into easy to move, steel framed bodies. Below are some of the most common prefab and modular buildings:
MADE OF BOTH PANELS OR MODULE BASED PREFABRICATED BUILDINGS:
- Prefabricated Storage Buildings
- Prefabricated Office Buildings
- Prefabricated School Buildings
- Homes and Housing
- Retail and Commercial Prefabricated Buildings
- Prefabricated Apartment Buildings, Villas, Hotels, and Townhomes
MADE PRIMARILY OF MODULE BUILT BUILDINGS
- Offices, Classroom, and Construction Trailer Rentals
- Portable Workforce Housing Units
- Portable Medical Labs and Administrative Offices
COMMON PREFABRICATED BUILDING MATERIALS
While a plethora of materials are used in any given construction project for both small and large-scale buildings, below are the top three modular building materials.
These materials along with aluminum and fiberglass make up the vast majority of the core infrastructure in prefab units.
Each material type has its advantages and disadvantages which give prefabricated construction companies the ability to construct your building to enhance its particular use.
Wood, for example, is both durable and lightweight compared to metal buildings or steel buildings and concrete built structures. However, steel and concrete buildings offer varying sizes and permanence for building types and modules and are also fire resistant.
Depending on the size of the prefabricated building company, often companies will specialize in one or two main building type materials. This allows them to specialize and maintain efficient construction methods.
WHY CHOOSE A PREFABRICATED BUILDING?
The reasons for choosing a prefabricated building are similar to all the reasons we’ve discussed in our blog before about modular buildings. That is, prefabricated buildings aim to do the following things:
Prefab buildings create an efficient building process that can be streamlined in a factory setting minimizing the amount of time spent on a construction site.
Prefabricated buildings like modular and manufactured buildings allow for the use of temporary modular and permanent modular buildings.
Prefab buildings can be built faster and with less hurdles than site built construction.
Prefab building construction is greener (more environmentally friendly) than traditional building sites
The factory, process driven environment that prefabricated elements are assembled allow for added quality control, material reuse, and avoidance of weather hurdles.
Floor plans come in both standard formats and customized layouts.
PREFABRICATED BUILDING KITS
The prefab construction industry has also given way to another market altogether. That is, it creates a straightforward building experience for the everyday handyman to build their own prefab buildings solutions. Kits can be ordered customized or standard and often come with first and secondary framing already completed. Folks now have a way to assemble small structures such as prefabricated steel sheds, garages, and sometimes even their own modular offices.
Want to learn more about modular construction? Visit our guide to modular building construction.