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Rise of Recycled Buildings

posted: 13th Oct 2010

As budget cuts begin to bite, local authorities are looking for every way possible to save money on build and construction costs. Laura Sharman finds out why recycled modular buildings may offer a cost-effective solution, but should be specified carefully.

For years, local authorities have been switched on to how modular buildings can dramatically cut the cost of building projects. However, by specifying pre-owned modular buildings - a practice that has gained popularity over the past five years - these costs can be reduced even further.

With every element of public sector budgets being slashed, these extra savings may soon go from a bonus to a necessity.

Recycled modular buildings are much cheaper and more sustainable than new-build projectsForemans Relocatable Building Systems has seen a considerable increase in the demand for recycled modular buildings, which are not only much cheaper than new- builds but are one of the most sustainable methods of construction. They can reduce carbon emissions by up to 10% and send less waste to landfill.

As Kevin Jones, managing director of Foremans Relocatable Building Systems, explains: ‘Firstly, it is essential to understand that only the steel structure of the building is recycled - all fixtures and fittings, from doors and windows to wall linings and cladding, are new. Many of our customers tell us that you would never know our buildings are modular - let alone recycled.

‘But the recycling means we can offer a highly cost-effective alternative to both new manufacture and traditional site- based construction that is also up to 70% faster. This speed of delivery is very important to customers working to tight time-lines, for example, to a school needing additional teaching accommodation for the start of the new academic year.

‘And the approach is very sustainable. We give organisations an environmentally sound alternative to disposing of surplus modular accommodation in landfill sites. By re-using a modular building, we are generating 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 construction clients, particularly in the public sector.’

Despite these clear benefits, Jones warns that not all suppliers are the same so specifiers should look out for the ‘common pitfalls’ associated with recycled modular buildings.

To ensure modular building projects are completed on time and to budget, Foremans has produced a new technical paper, How to select a pre-owned modular building.

‘The main purpose of the report was to add value to our building services by sharing some of our knowledge and experience, to help customers specify recycled modular buildings,’ Jones said.

‘There are some distinct advantages to choosing this approach - but specifiers need to be aware that, as in other sectors, not all suppliers are the same, and not all will be able to provide the services required for a particular project.

‘We have provided some guidance with this report to help building customers choose a supplier and highlighted key areas they should consider - such as independent approvals for the building, the supplier’s purchasing criteria, Building Regulations compliance, and service commitments that should be expected as a minimum.’

The report offers practical tips to help the public sector avoid common mistakes when procuring a recycled modular building.

Here are Jones’ top 15:

  1. Recycled modular buildings need not be restrictive in design

    Try to ensure the building can be tailored to meet your specific project requirements. The supplier should be able to accommodate large open plan areas, heavily- serviced facilities and change the layout, or extend and reduce the building in size at a later date, providing complete flexibility to meet an organisation’s ongoing needs.

    If the building is for permanent rather than interim use, some suppliers will offer a range of external options, such as claddings, finishes, colours and glazing.

  2. Look at other applications of pre-owned modular buildings

    This will help you to see what’s possible. Do not limit the assessment to your own sector - look at how other sectors have used recycled modular buildings - from education, transport and utilities to healthcare.

    Visit a recently completed project in your area. This will allow you to assess the quality of the supplier’s buildings and services.

  3. What services will be provided?

    Some modular suppliers can provide a complete turn-key solution. This means that every element of the project can be delivered from one source, minimising project management time.

  4. Check the supplier’s service commitments

    A reputable supplier will clearly outline its service commitments:

    • Check the supplier has the knowledge and expertise to advise on the most suitable buildings for the project.
    • Will the supplier work with your team to meet specific project requirements?
    • Will they appoint a dedicated project manager?
    • How fast can the building be delivered?
    • What assurance is there that the project will be delivered on budget?
    • Does the supplier have the resources to visit the site and will there be a charge for additional site visits?
    • What levels of repeat business does the supplier achieve? A good score will be above 50%.
  5. Check the supplier’s purchasing criteria

    What criteria does the supplier use for selecting stock to purchase?

    Wherever possible, the supplier should only source buildings manufactured by organisations that are certified to ISO 9001. This ensures the modules are of a sufficiently high quality.

  6. Find out if the supplier has a dedicated acquisitions team

    Some suppliers will have a dedicated buying department which means they are continually replenishing stock and will be able to assure you of continuity of supply. This is important if you need to expand the building at a later date.

  7. Health and safety commitments

    The modules should be delivered and installed in accordance with stringent health and safety standards.

    Some suppliers have site staff and managers who are trained and accredited in line with current best practice such as the Construction Skills Certification Scheme.

  8. Check how robust the buildings are

    Check that the supplier uses only steel-framed modules as they are generally more durable than timber systems, and will have more longevity.

    Also ensure that the buildings are, as a minimum, compliant with 1995 Building Regulations as anything before that date could cause problems.

  9. Assess the level of refurbishment

    A good supplier will completely refurbish and clad the modules off-site, whereas other providers may only clean or redecorate the modules before relocating them.

  10. Consider the long-term

    Some suppliers offer a buy-back option if the building becomes surplus to requirements. Having a disposal strategy in place for when the building is no longer required, can give the client further peace of mind.

  11. Check out stock availability

    Find out which buildings are available from stock and how many can be supplied. If there isn’t a large enough supply, it may limit or delay your project.

  12. Look for independent approvals

    Either the supplier or the original manufacturer of the pre-owned modular building should have independent endorsements for quality, fire safety, thermal performance, acoustics, and insurance.

    Check for Local Authority Building Control approval (LABC) or British Board of Agrément (BBA) certification.

  13. Consider on time and on budget performance

    Find out if the supplier will commit to cost and time certainty and check its track record for delivering projects on programme and on budget. The figures should be well in excess of 90%.

  14. Look into financial stability and assess value

    In challenging economic times, it is imperative any supplier can demonstrate strong financial stability. You should also check you are comparing cost estimates that are like-for-like and that you are looking for best value for the project and the client - reduced risk, faster completion, increased efficiency, safety, quality, consistency of specification, reduced project time, and minimal disruption.

  15. Monitor and evaluate

    After handover, collect data on running costs, how the space is used, and the quality of fitting out. Was the project delivered on time and to budget? If not, why not?

    This data will be invaluable for setting the specification for your next modular, or indeed, traditional project.

Article by Laura Sharman for Built Environment