Work smarter, not harder – a fitting phrase for a market booming with millions of square feet of commercial and residential real estate currently under development around Dallas-Fort Worth with no slowdown in sight. To meet the demand, innovation is the name of the game, and modular construction, an off-site building method gaining popularity across the globe, is a growing trend we must leverage to meet our exponential growth here in North Texas. It offers numerous benefits related to cost, time, sustainability, labor, and safety.
Terminal C at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a great example of how this innovative construction technique is already impacting our region. In fact, the six modules used to create the new High C Gates at the airport were the first use of modular construction at any U.S. airport. The five months saved on the project’s schedule are reason to believe it won’t be the last time a project in North Texas takes the modular approach.
It’s also the perfect fit for capitalizing on two of our region’s hottest segments – hospitality and multifamily – that also are two of the fastest-growing types of modular construction. Over the last four quarters, Dallas has outnumbered other top cities in terms of hotel development, with over 20,000 hotel rooms across 173 properties underway. Additionally, according to a report by CBRE, Dallas-Fort Worth led all metros for multifamily investment over the past four quarters with $29.2 billion in volume.
For both multifamily and hospitality, the uniform, pod-like design that comes with this type of construction can offer a perfect fit that is faster to design and build, requires less onsite space, and offers a number of green-friendly features. The technique allows builders to quickly construct a variety of similar rooms or apartments that can be connected like building blocks to create floorplans and then stacked on top of one another to construct multi-story buildings. Whether developers want modest efficiency or high-design luxury, modular construction offers a blank canvas for high-quality construction.
For many of us in construction and anyone working in the commercial real estate world, modular construction is a solution to two of the biggest challenges we often face – extensive project timelines and a reduced workforce. It accounts for both of these challenges with the capability to complete off-site manufacturing and on-site preparation simultaneously with fewer workers.
For example, at our millwork and fixtures company, Rodgers Wade Manufacturing, we’re able to complete as many as ten modular kitchens, bathrooms, and utility rooms in a day with only twenty workers versus 30-plus on-site workers. This is crucial given that more than fifty percent of Texas construction firms have been forced to raise prices in the last few years because of labor shortages, while more than forty percent reported numerous project delays because of the lack of qualified workers, according to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. Fewer on-site workers also make for a safer work environment.
Project delays caused by weather, supply chain disruptions and material damages are also minimized thanks to the off-site building method. When time is money, and speed to market is everything in a booming North Texas market, high-quality modular construction could be a difference maker for everyone involved in bringing a building to life.
In addition, modular construction cuts back on the amount of waste generated by the industry, which reached an estimated 600 million tons in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The process also allows for easy disassembly and reuse, cutting back on the amount of construction and demolition waste the commercial construction segment as a whole produces.
Not to mention, the use of things like webbed panels during the building process makes for a more durable structure compared to traditional builds. The use of these panels allows structures to absorb heat and withstand strong winds due to the interconnectedness of the panels. Of course, this bodes well for hotels and other commercial buildings in North Texas that are susceptible to harsh weather conditions like tornados and extreme heat.
Like most things, the implementation of modular construction isn’t without its fair share of challenges. The construction industry likes to stick to what it knows, hindering its ability to innovate and improve. Combine that with an overall lack of education surrounding this innovative technique, the stigma associated with mobile homes, and outdated construction codes, and it’s clear to see why modular construction hasn’t taken off here in the same way it has overseas. The fact is, the industry can’t and won’t move forward if developers and builders aren’t willing to consider an evolution from traditional building techniques. That said, cost effectiveness, greater overall efficiency, and sustainability are attributes that shouldn’t be ignored. Modular construction’s implementation into regular construction practices isn’t just a smart choice, it’s an obvious one, and it just could be the next big step in the development of North Texas.
Holland Harper is the chief development officer of McKinney-based construction and industrial services company Harrison, Walker and Harper.