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Recycling modular buildings

Mike Williams, MD of Foremans, looks at why demand for recycled modular buildings is rising, and its place in the education sector

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 27, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

The sustainability features of advanced off-site construction solutions have been well documented – significantly less waste, improved thermal efficiency and life cycle costing benefits. But recycled and refurbished modular buildings take sustainable construction to a completely new level.

Why is the Approach so Sustainable?

Our approach is to recycle the steel structure of the building. The bulk of the embodied energy in any modular building is in the steel structure and steel components used in its manufacture. By preserving these elements, you can create a building without manufacturing new steel or a new building structure, which is vastly more sustainable. It reduces carbon emissions and is an environmentally-sound alternative to demolishing and disposing of buildings in landfill sites when the facilities are no longer required.

When we re-use a modular building, we generate less than 10 per cent of the carbon emissions compared to a newly manufactured building of equivalent size.  This dramatically improves a building’s carbon footprint which is increasingly important to many schools and academies.  After all, we must all do more to reduce emissions for the health of our children and next generations.

We then refurbish the recycled building with new fixtures and fittings, doors, windows, wall linings and cladding.  Many teaching professionals tell us that you would never know our buildings are modular – let alone recycled. The result is a highly thermally-efficient school building with lower running costs.

Cost-effective Construction and up to 70 Per Cent Faster

Recycling also means we can offer exceptional cost efficiency. This can allow independent schools to benefit from larger buildings or a higher specification for the same budget as new build. And with ever increasing competition for child places in the independent sector, providing high specification, attractive and welcoming educational environments is critical to increasing parental appeal when choosing new schools.

The refurbished modular approach is also up to 70 per cent faster than site-based construction and lead times are reduced by up to 30 per cent compared to new modular construction.  This speed of delivery is very important for schools which need to work to even shorter programmes than other building solutions can offer for permanent facilities. It is also more reassuring for parents if there is less on-site construction taking place during term time.

The other benefits of modular construction still apply – less time on site so there is less disruption to teaching; constrained and inaccessible sites can be developed with ease, and site safety is improved because work off site is maximised.

Investment to Meet Demand

We have invested £1.5 million in our building stocks to meet the increasing demand for our services.  Foremans buildings are widely used in the education sector – from sixth form centres to primary and secondary facilities and for both state and independent schools and academies.

As budgets become ever tighter, specifiers need to look for alternative education building solutions that provide best value and yet maintain quality. This is an area we really excel in, with the resources and on time, on budget, quality and service commitments from being part of market leader as strong as Portakabin. It is a very compelling offer but it is not without its challenges.

A Hugely Disparate Market

The challenge for schools – whether state or independent – is that the construction market is hugely disparate. This is a very diverse sector of the modular industry and the extent of refurbishment and the level of quality and service offered lacks consistency and is very varied.  

Schools should take the time to understand the differences between suppliers – will the recycled building have just a coat of paint to freshen up the interior or will it be completely refurbished to create a high quality, highly energy-efficient scheme?  We strongly advise customers considering a recycled solution to:

  • Visit completed buildings
  • Talk to other school customers
  • Meet the suppliers – never make a buying decision just on the basis of a tender or quotation
  • Visit production facilities to assess the level of ‘refurbishment’.

The Perception Issue

We still have to respond to preconceptions about recycled modular buildings. The reality is that a refurbished modular school building can be better quality than a new build modular solution in terms of building performance and the quality of internal fixtures and fittings – depending on the supplier.  This goes back to the huge disparity of modular companies and not all offer technically advanced, highly engineered solutions, as for example, Portakabin does. 

The focus should always be on the quality of the finished building – and not whether it is new or recycled.  That is why it is so important to encourage education professionals to visit completed buildings to assess quality at first hand. But we are in no doubt that there is room in the modular market for another type of solution and which takes sustainable construction to a new level whilst offering independent schools exceptional speed, quality and value.

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