Back when I was a cub reporter right out of journalism school, I covered a lawsuit concerning the construction of a modular home. The lawsuit aside, today I look back and recall how interested I was in the concept of a modularly constructed home.

Inside it felt just like any other house I’d ever been in, except this one had come together through the assembly of prefabricated units that were built off-site instead of being built from the ground up.

Fast-forward to today as I spend my days immersed in the healthcare design and construction industry, watching the concept of prefabrication and modularization take hold of how facilities across the country are being built.

In a recent blog, I recapped the judging for our sister magazine HEALTHCARE DESIGN’s Annual Architectural and Interior Design Showcase, mentioning that our jury of industry experts sounded off on how among the most innovative approaches they saw taken on the more than 100 projects submitted for the program, the use of prefabricated elements—beyond MEP systems and onward to entire headwalls and toilet rooms—stood out.

However, it’s not just impressive that this can simply be accomplished at all in healthcare, but that the use of prefabrication and modular building components can shave time off schedule, reduce cost, and eliminate waste.

In a recent white paper, “Modularization and Prefabrication – Role Development and Evolution," engineering and construction consulting firm FMI responds to a statement from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that targeted prefabrication, preassembly, modularization, and off-site fabrication techniques and processes as one of the primary ways the construction industry could improve productivity and become more efficient over the next 20 years.

FMI backs up that statement in the white paper and relates findings from several surveys it conducted in 2010 on modularization and prefabrication, including 49% of respondents to its 2010 Fourth Quarter Nonresidential Construction Index Report reporting that they “fully expected growth in this area to exceed 5%.”

Also surveyed by FMI were more than 1,000 mechanical and electrical contractors, of which 80% reported they "saved more than 5% in labor in the prior year due to the use of prefabrication, and 93% expected they could save more than 16% in labor costs in the coming years.”

With the ever-present push from ownership for a "better, faster, cheaper" approach to construction, is this the answer?

Despite a favorable outlook for the use of prefabrication and modularization in construction reported in the surveys, as well as the aforementioned benefits of doing so, FMI says that one obstacle its potential growing popularity may face is in the delivery methods being used on projects.

“Modularization and prefabrication are not easily used in traditional design-bid-build projects, where each phase of the project is executed separately and apart from the following phase. Prefabrication and modularization are much more easily used in projects that use integrated project delivery or in design-build projects, where design and construction decisions are made with a view toward maximizing cost and schedule efficiencies and where all participants share in the risks and the rewards of project execution,” the paper states.

FMI also says that there must be a top-down approach in introducing more prefabrication and modularization to construction projects, with buy-in from ownership coming first. However, beyond that, architects, engineers, and manufacturers, too, will need to be on board to make projects run as smoothly as possible and look to creative solutions, like different delivery methods.

How have you been using prefabrication and modularization on construction projects? Do you think adoption should/will increase? What challenges do you anticipate encountering? Comment below or email me directly at