A few years ago I designed a large house for a client in Bedford, New York.
The client was a real estate developer who, given his profession, found the square foot costs of a custom stick-built house excessive. I assumed the project was abandoned until I got a call one rainy Saturday afternoon. What did I think of the idea of modular construction? Not only did I not have any problem with the concept, I was an enthusiastic proponent. Most people don’t realize that an architect should be comfortable working with any legitimate construction technique. Going modular doesn’t mean having to settle for vinyl windows and siding, and standard eave details. The system is simply one more option for any house no matter how special.
I spent a day at the modular company learning all their standard details, conventions, and general parameters of the modular units. I wanted to play by their rules if possible – not create problems. All went well.
With a knowledge of the most efficient sizes and standard guidelines for the units, I worked with my clients to develop a plan for the new house. The units were limited to 15’- 10’ wide, 60 long, and 11 ' high. So we evolved a plan mindful of the dimensions of the modular components. Every detail had to be planned – centerlines of every plumbing fixture, the precise layout of the kitchen and bathrooms. The same was true of the electrical layout and the basic HVAC system. The efficiency of construction came with the time saved in producing the units complete with electrical wiring and rough plumbing with the drywall complete in every unit.
It was interesting that the factory could produce all twelve units and deliver them to the job site as soon as the William A. Kelly Company could have the foundation ready. The window supplier couldn’t fulfill their order in time to have them installed in the modular factory. The trucks started coming about 4:00 o’clock in the morning. The crane was on the job and as soon as a flatbed arrived the crane would lift the “box” and lower it to its appropriate place. I believe they were all in place in one day!
Of course, the windows were yet to be delivered and installed and there was no siding or roof - that was all done on-site. So technically the house is a hybrid – both factory and site-built. However, the time saved was considerable and the efficiency of modular construction shortened the construction period and naturally netted savings in costs as well.
There are many benefits to modular construction. The work is all done within a controlled factory environment. No missed days because of weather and the materials are stored under controlled conditions. One extra bonus is the deadening of sound from the second floor to the ground floor. Each “box” has a floor construction of 2x10 joists and a “top” of ceiling joists that are 2 x 8s. The nominal distance from the ceiling of the lower floor to the upper floor depth is therefore 19 1/2” with a 1 ½” dead air space between the boxes. Little Johnny can bang away on his drum set and there is no direct transfer of the sound carried to the sheet-rocked ceiling of the lower floor.
The house was put on the market and got considerable attention in the press because of the prospective buyers – a couple who enjoyed considerable “celebrity status.” I saw an aerial view of the house in the New York Post and I thought “At last someone finally got the roof planes right!” Then I realized why – I was the architect.