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Making the most of modular builds

Making the most of modular builds
Steve Thornton

Published by Steve Thornton - Technical Manager - Wall and Floor

Steve Thornton has almost 30 years of experience in the flooring industry. Starting out as an apprentice floor-layer, Steve acquired a wide range of installation expertise over two decades. He moved on to project management, followed by several years as a National Technical Manager before joining Bostik as a Technical Consultant.

Modular building is an increasingly popular method of construction these days, and there is no sign of its popularity slowing down. But why is the modular building process becoming more attractive? And what actually is a modular build?

Modular construction is a form of building which utilises off-site manufacturing for the individual components of a buildings’ structure. When complete, these modules are transported to site to be assembled. The modules that form the building are produced to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities, and they can be designed to reflect even the most complex and sophisticated site-built architectural specifications.

Their popularity is growing for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are fast – really fast. The modules can be constructed in advance and to coincide with the site requirements, i.e. when the site is ready for them. They are delivered and assembled on average 30-50% quicker than traditional construction methods. This time saving makes modular builds cheaper. Construction of building modules off-site in a factory environment also virtually eliminates the risk of delay to the construction due to adverse weather conditions.

Secondly, they are greener because the modules create less waste in the production cycle. The factory environment allows for inventory control, recycling of materials and protection of the building products, virtually eliminating waste or damage.

Thirdly, they are modular! By design, the building components can be dismantled, relocated and then rebuilt or repurposed for an alternative project. The modules can also be refurbished, minimising the reliance upon new raw materials and significantly reducing the energy demand required to create a new building, vastly reducing the overall carbon footprint.

Preparation for a modular build is not so different from that of a conventional build. The land is cleared and levelled, the building dimensions marked out, and then the foundations are formed in readiness for the base to be poured. Once the base is poured, you are ready for the modular build to begin.

Despite its advantages, a modular build can still throw up issues for the flooring contractors, so when assessing a modular building prior to installing any flooring products there are a few things to consider.

Due to its quick drying times and flowing qualities, the floor modules can often be made up of calcium sulphate or cement-based floor screeds. Identification of the floor screed composition is crucial prior to any work commencing so that a suitable system can used.  It is not uncommon for cracking to occur in the floor modules during transit and placement. Any cracks will always require treatment, usually with a repair resin, by resin stitching to stabilise the crack and resist the potential for any further movement to take place.

Speed is frequently a priority on modular builds. They have become an ideal choice for new construction in city centres and other compact areas where space is at a premium. There is usually minimal storage on these sites too and the project needs its various contractors in and out quickly to minimise the number of people and the amount of equipment onsite. As a result, you may find the pressure is on with tighter deadlines than usual and will want to consider fast drying floor preparation products. While some will be specifically sold as such, you should also compare walk-on times and drying times to identify the best product for your needs. You can also find some products, such as liquid damp proof membranes, that can have their cure rate sped up with the addition of an accelerator.

The one thing you will always find in a modular build is joints – the point at which one module is connected to another module. Joints need to be considered wherever and whenever they are present. The movement of the building, the individual modules and the loads exerted through the usage of the building all have the potential to cause a failure in any flooring installation. Careful understanding of how to control the movement and minimise any aesthetic impact that the control method will have is critical to the final appearance and integrity of the installation. Movement profiles and solutions should be selected that meet these requirements whilst maintaining a minimal visual presence. The use of flexible products, which will move unaffected in tandem with the building and its individual modules, will also increase the likelihood of a long lasting and integral installation. Consultation with manufacturer technical support will provide the best opportunity to provide the correct product selection for modular build projects.

Modular builds are here to stay and their numerous advantages means their popularity doesn’t look likely to waver any time soon. Work closely together with the main contractors to gain an understanding of the products and methods being used to construct the modules and how they will be connected together. Utilise the expertise provided by manufacturer technical departments to identify the solutions and products best placed to provide the correct installation methods. Together, we work as a team to provide the end user the flooring they want installed the way it should be.