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March 15, 2019

What Are Modular Buildings Made Of?

The two primary modular building materials utilized in the structural frames of most units are wood and steel, the latter possessing the advantages of superior strength, safety, durability and sustainability.

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Modular construction is an innovative approach to large-scale building projects that can significantly improve efficiencies, reduce construction time, and even cut overall costs. Not all modular buildings are created equally, however. The materials used play important roles in dictating key aspects of the build's overall scope, quality, strength, safety, durability and sustainability.

For the most part, modular buildings consist of the same materials as conventional construction projects. The composition of each modular unit's structural frame is where different elements have the most impact. Similar to other components, these are fabricated at an off-site facility.

There are two primary modular building materials utilized to construct such frames: wood and steel.

Wood

Back in the days of the very first modular buildings, wood was the construction material of choice, and nowadays, it overwhelmingly remains the most commonly used for these projects, due to its abundance and cheaper initial costs. Wood-framed modular buildings, however, have several notable limitations that might give a property developer pause and may even prove more costly in the long-term repairs.

  Strength

Wood often lacks the strength necessary to support large building projects, especially those of multiple stories. Due to this weakness, wood-framed buildings are typically no taller than a few stories—a considerable limitation for someone looking to build a hotel or apartment building, as examples.

  Safety

Wood is flammable and vulnerable to fire, which could severely damage the structural integrity of the building, requiring replacement, or even worse, leading to a total collapse.

  Durability

Wood has a tendency to warp over time, resulting in a lower quality building in the years after completion. Combined with its susceptibility to pests and mold, selecting wood for a modular structure may prove to be the more expensive choice in the long term, considering repair costs—even despite initial savings.

  Sustainability

Wood is among the most wasted materials used in modern construction. On average, 20% of construction lumber typically ends up in landfills, leaving a larger environmental footprint than other alternatives.

Steel

The other major choice of material for modular frame construction is steel, with several significant advantages over wood.

  Strength

Given its superior strength, steel modular unit frames can support structures of greater heights.

Deluxe is one of the few firms capable of building modular structures taller than 30 stories.

  Safety

Steel is a noncombustible material, making it the safer choice and reducing the risk of sustaining severe structural damage due to fire.

  Durability

Steel is resistant to warping, pests, and mold, resulting in a building that will retain its strength and quality for much longer than wood, without the need for significant repairs.

  Sustainability

Steel is among the most efficiently used building materials, with an average of only 2% wasted during the course of a project.

Choosing steel is not the end of the decision process, though, as there are multiple varieties to choose from. When it comes to steel, there are two framing system choices – structural steel, commonly known as "black iron," or light-gauge stud framing, made of cold rolled steel. The primary difference between the two structural systems is the height of the structures they can support. 

Light gauge steel framing is effectively a noncombustible steel substitute for traditional wood stud framing, which can generally be used for buildings as tall as eight stories, but not taller. To go above eight stories, one would need to use structural steel or black iron.

For decades, Deluxe Modular has chosen steel as its material of choice for all building projects, and is one of the few American firms capable of working with structural steel.

To learn more about how Deluxe Modular can simplify your next building project with steel-framed modular units, Contact Us or Request a Quote.

Topics: Modular Construction

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Modular Construction

This guide is intended to help you sort through the confusion, give you an in-depth understanding of the modular construction process, its benefits and challenges, and help you determine if modular construction is right for you.

The Ultimate Guide to Modular Construction

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