Rendering of white and teal building with some greenery and a sign that says Beacon Landing

Rendering Courtesy of Abode Communities | Architecture Studio

Interest in modular housing construction for multifamily development has steadily increased over the last three years. Prefabricated construction, which includes modular and manufactured homes, involves a mix of on- and off-site processes woven together to reduce costs, manage supply chain risks, and expedite construction schedules. As market forces such as high interest rates and building material price hikes – e.g., lumber – continue to motivate developers to seek competitive advantages, prefabricated construction may be poised to help solve these critical issues while offering prospect of addressing affordable housing shortages.

VCA Green has successfully provided services to support development teams engaged in prefabricated construction projects without impacting design and construction schedules and, in many instances, with favorable return on investment. Some services include:

•   Energy modeling that helps control hard costs
•   LEED and GreenPoint Rated stewardship
•   HERS (Home Energy Rating System) design review and testing
•   Building commissioning functional performance testing.

Let’s highlight a few of the top value-adding propositions of this construction approach, in the context of multifamily residential development:

Controlled production location and environment.
Modular residential units are built at “the factory” in enclosed areas, which minimizes opportunities for construction delays due to inclement weather. While rain may be falling at the proposed development site, unit construction can continue.

Concurrent processes and assembly line scales of efficiency.
Multiple trades can work concurrently on and off site. Units can be framed while grading is underway. Drywall can be hung, flooring and indoor water fixtures installed, and insulation applied in units, while foundations are being laid. Inspections on the units and site work can be called as the work is completed, untethered from the traditional linear construction critical path.

Less construction waste and fewer opportunities for on-site accidents.
Assembly line practices provide for more oversight in accounting for materials, which correlates with less construction waste. Also, fewer trade workers on-site amidst heavy machinery, cranes, and deliveries means fewer opportunities for safety related incidents on site.

Building framing and insulation with construction workers inspecting

Modular housing construction in rough stages.

Additionally, modular construction provides opportunities to optimize building energy performance and enhance occupant comfort. Since residential unit design is pre-programmed, analysis for energy code compliance can be initiated earlier in the overall design process. Outside of California, where on-site renewable energy is prescriptively required for most buildings, ascertaining energy demand early in design helps to allocate budgets and spatial layout for solar and back-up energy storage (batteries). Prioritizing energy demand and optimizing its use also augments a project team’s ability to establish performance targets for energy consumption, which is critical to success with third-party rating systems such as LEED.

Likewise, some HERS measures can be verified early on, at the factory. For example, spotted deficiencies in Quality Insulation Installation (QII) can be identified and rectified prior to the units being delivered to site for final assembly. On the other hand, final HERS verification for duct testing, refrigerant charge & airflow, and blower door tests will need to occur on-site once the units are assembled and the envelope intact. But, the process of identifying opportunities for failure and pursuing corrective action occurs sooner, which can save costs and time.

These savings are spurring developers to explore prefabricated construction methods in an effort to address the housing crisis, in particular the shortage of available affordable housing on the market. Take the Beacon Landing project as a case in point, which utilized modular construction methods to provide 89 units priced for homeless populations. VCA Green provided LEED stewardship, HERS design review and verification, building commissioning functional performance testing, and energy modeling services for the project. The project was featured on CNN as an example of how developers utilize prefabricated construction methods to battle the housing crisis.

VCA Green specializes in assisting developers with establishing their energy use targets, for individual projects and at the portfolio level to meet ESG goals. In addition to providing stewardship with third-party rating system certifications, we also provide onsite verification services for HERS, Lighting Acceptance Testing, and Building Commissioning for both affordable housing and market rate development projects. Contact a VCA Green principal for more information.

Moe Fakih, Principal

Robyn Vettraino, Principal

Contributing Writer: Rudy De La O, Senior Project Manager