From Precast Concrete – Prefab Walls & Trusses: What are Builders Using & Why Not More?
Prefabricated building elements include precast concrete slabs, roof and floor trusses, insulated and non-insulated wall panels, prefabricated staircases and elevators, as well as volumetric modules such as bathroom or kitchen pods or complete modular rooms or units. There’s certainly lots of variety of prefabricated structures for builders to use.
The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Off-Site Construction Council conducted surveys in 2014 and 2018 and asked respondents whether they’d used prefabricated components in the previous 12 months. In both surveys, around 90% of respondents indicated they’d used off-site fabricated components on at least one project in the previous 12 months, and around 80% expected to use the same or more off-site construction in the next 12 months. (p. 2, Report of the Results of the 2018 Off-Site Construction Industry Survey)
The graph below is from that report. It shows the number of respondents in 2018 (from a total of 205) who had used particular types of prefab components in the previous 12 months. (Note that the graph shows the number of respondents, not a percentage of respondents. So, 95 respondents — not 95% of respondents — said they’d used a ‘precast concrete structure’ in the previous 12 months. 95 out of 205 respondents is about 46%.)
That particular survey didn’t ask on how many of their projects (or on what percentage of their projects) builders had used prefab components. We can’t tell from this data whether most respondents used prefabricated elements on almost every project in the previous year, or whether most had used them on only one project.
Whether builders are using prefab occasionally or often, in July 2021, Home Innovation Research Labs asked them why they aren’t using it more. The most commonly given reason was that on-site construction works fine, so there’s no need to change. Almost half the respondents gave this answer as one of their top three reasons:
A large number of builders might currently be reluctant to fix what they don’t see as broken, but they’re nevertheless intending to increase their use of off-site construction in the future.
Even if builders are hesitant to switch to using more prefab, McKinsey shares their view that, nevertheless — like it or not — they will be using it more in the future. In their report, The Next Normal in Construction, McKinsey predicts:
“In the future, a large share of construction projects will be built using customizable, modularized elements and components produced using standardized processes in off-site factories. The modules and elements will be shipped and assembled on site. Production will consist of assembly line-like processes in safe, nonhostile environments with a large degree of repeatability. In addition, common, industry-wide standards for elements and components may emerge. There will likely be a balance between simple elements and components (manufactured according to common, industry-wide standards) and tailored, customizable ones (such as exteriors) to fit bespoke customer needs.” (p.30 The Next Normal In Construction)
Another common reason given for not using prefab components more is that “We have no reliable provider of offsite solutions.” You can see in the graph above that 32% of respondents made this claim. As the industry grows, that will of course change. For a current look at the number of providers of prefab components, the Housing Innovation Alliance has provided a map of off-site construction manufacturers and installers of products such as roof and floor trusses, wall panels, and volumetric modules. You can see it here: Housing Innovation Alliance Off-Site Heat Map
Let us know in the comments. How much — if at all — you use prefab components in your construction business? How much are you planning to use them in the future?
If you know someone in the construction industry who might find this information about prefabricated components interesting, please feel free to share it with them.
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