The Environmental Benefits of Pre-fabrication & Modular Construction

Written by Mathew MacDonald

Pre-fabrication and modular construction are often highlighted as part of the solution to the housing crisis. While this is true, they also deliver benefits in terms of sustainability.

Australia is experiencing a housing crisis. Beyond the issue of affordability, we have come to a point where we simply do not have enough homes to accommodate our ever-increasing population.

Solutions to the Shortage

“To solve this shortage, we need to build houses faster – in the order of 200,000 per year – and more efficiently, just to keep up with demand from the population that is surging at historically high levels,” says Paolo Lavisci, Manager of the Resilient Timber Homes Program at Woodsolutions, an independent provider of timber industry-related information.

“Considering how soaring construction costs, material shortages and a lack of skilled workers affect the building industry, the housing supply pipeline has decreased to alarming levels, with the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation predicting that the deficit may be in the range of 100,000 units between 2023 and 2027.”

One way to address this challenge, according to Lavisci, is to increase the use of prefabrication and modular construction methods.

“Traditional onsite building methods take much longer to build, costs tend to blow out, and delays are quite common, which hurts both sides of the supply and demand chain, as we have recently experienced,” he says.

Sustainability of Pre-fabrication

Beyond cutting costs, this increased efficiency also means pre-fabrication and modular construction options tend to be more sustainable.

“In comparison to tradition building methods, prefab and modular construction provides an efficient design and build option, while still delivering the same high quality, architecturally designed outcomes. This is achieved through standardisation of materials, controlled construction environments, and cutting-edge technology,” says Christine McCorkell, Communications & Design Manager, Arkular

“Prefabrication and modular construction methods also minimise waste production due to controlled environments and streamlining of resources, with off-site construction assisting in reducing noise and air pollution.” View Arkular completed projects here.

According to McCorkell, the company is dedicated to designing sustainable and innovative modular spaces customized to individual properties and environments.

“We established Arkular to provide us the opportunity of partnering with selected high-quality modular manufacturers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, ACT and South Australia,” she says.

These partnerships are intended to broaden the reach for the supplier’s volumetric modular approach and ensures it can design, manufacture, and deliver sustainable buildings with certainty throughout most parts of Australia.

“Our philosophy centres on designing projects where sustainability, efficiency, and innovative thinking merge to create smarter designs that are mindfully made for the Australian climate and landscape,” says McCorkell.

The Latest Developments

Though the environmental benefits of pre-fabrication and modular construction vary depending upon several factors including the nature of the individual project, materials used, methods and so forth, the potential is significant.

Pointing to what’s possible, the Legacy Living Lab (L3), a modular circular economy building at Curtin University has been designed to cut carbon emissions by 88 per cent.

A partner with the university on the L3 project, Fleetwood Australia has a long-standing commitment to modular construction. It has delivered tailored building solutions across several sectors, including community and social housing, retirement living, education, mining and resources, sport and recreation, defence, and government.

The best way to understand the sustainability of the company’s solutions is to consider them at the scale in which they are delivered.

If they are delivering 100-150 modules for mine site accommodation, for example, there are leftover materials from each that can be seamlessly moved on to be used on the next one we’re building. This type of flexibility simply isn’t feasible with traditional construction.

The other thing worth noting here is that modular buildings can be reconfigured, relocated, and reused at end-of-life of their original purpose. There’s a real element of a circular and sustainable economy to that.

Manufacturing Standards

Of course, as is the case for building materials and systems of all types, evaluating the sustainability of prefabricated or modular buildings must extend to factors like embodied carbon, manufacturing processes and by-products, and product stewardship.

Ausco Modular, a supplier of portable and modular buildings for various applications, including education, sports and recreation, mining, and government, ranks such considerations amongst its top priorities.

Constructed using premium materials, Ausco buildings adhere to stringent industry standards. Customisable and therefore able to meet the specific requirements of everything from single classrooms to multi-storey office buildings, these products are manufactured according to rigorous quality standards. Beyond their energy-efficient designs, they are reusable and can be assigned to different applications within their lifecycles without compromising on quality or performance.

In addition, in projects involving remote or challenging locations, modular buildings represent an environmentally friendly option simply because transporting a complete structure is preferable to the transportation of construction materials to the site over an extended period.

Image: Collingwood Installation

Engineered Timber Products 

Over recent years, we have also seen increased use of engineered timber products, such as glue laminated timber (also known as Glulam or GLT) and cross laminated timber (CLT).

As pioneered in Australia by XLam, the attraction of these products includes aesthetic benefits as well as the fact that they are much lighter than alternatives and therefore very easy to work with.

Then of course, as a natural resource, timber is a more sustainable option than the more familiar materials it replaces. Sourced from sustainable forestry operations, engineered timber products like GLT and CLT are surely set to increase in popularity in coming years.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services North Coast Regional Headquarters and Maryborough Fire and Rescue Station project, which involved the construction of three new purpose-built buildings and alterations to an existing Art Deco Fire Station, is an example of what is possible when it comes to engineered timber products and sustainability.

The project makes extensive use of XLam CLT and Hyne GLT, along with the innovative XLam CLT ‘band beam’ system. The XLam CLT and Hyne GLT used was made from 500m³ of locally grown renewable plantation pine (PEFC/Responsible Wood certified). According to XLam, this choice translated to 1,742 tonnes less carbon being used than if it were built with conventional building materials.

Beyond this, the fact that XLam CLT and Hyne GLT enable prefabrication/DfMA means their use reduces waste, enables rapid construction, and helps improve efficiency and safety.

Read the full Architecture & Design Magazine article on The Environmental Benefits of Pre-fabrication & Modular Construction.

Why Arkular? Simplicity. Certainty. Sustainability.

Why you should choose an Arkular Modular Home:

Architecturally designed. Customisable modular homes + set floorplans.

Considered architectural design tailored to you, the site and the unique landscape. We understand how needs evolve, so we provide universal design solutions that can adapt and respond to changing requirements.

Cost savings. Fixed prices + timelines.

Beautiful, affordable, sustainable modular homes at non-boutique building prices. We provide cost-effective design responses to meet your brief and budget. We deliver affordability from concept to contract with streamlined processes, shorter build times, and reduced labour costs.

Access. Regional + remote locations.

Arkular’s unique business model offers access to build in remote locations around Australia. We partner with leading modular builders in Victoria, New South Wales, ACT, Queensland, Tasmania, and SA to take Arkular’s award-winning designs and turn them into forever homes.

Contact us here to get started on your dream modular home.

Have a project
in mind?

Inspired to give prefab a go? Get in touch for more information.

Make an enquiry