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Is Prefrabrication In Construction Just Another Job-Killer in Cost-Cutter’s Clothing?

There is movement in the construction industry toward prefabrication, sometimes referred to as “modular construction.” But supporters of prefabrication are concerned with one thing and one thing only: cutting costs.

In Connecticut, construction officials are urging contractors to use the practice. But workers should beware, because the savings that come from prefabrication are often the result of fewer man hours. The long-term effects of the recession are causing sudden interest in this arguably anti-worker approach:

Modular construction is hundreds of years old, dating back to when the English moved to Australia and shipped entire buildings across the globe, said Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Buildings Institute, based in Virginia. The method was popular in the early 1900s when Sears Corp. would ship home kits to customers.

The concept is gaining popularity in pockets across the nation yet again as property owners and construction managers find ways to build more with less money.

“The downturn of the construction economy has made people look to be more efficient, more productive,” Hardiman said. “We are getting a lot more interest in the past two years than in my previous six years combined.”

Pro-prefab groups note successful implementation in the UK and consider the U.S. to be rather slow-moving on this front. The afore-linked Hartford Business Journal article offers an example of an Ohio hospital that “saved 2 percent off its $152 million construction costs by prefabricating the patient rooms and overhead utility racks.”

Coming in under budget is certainly nothing to frown at, but one cannot help but question the reliability of inspection standards at offsite prefabrication locations. Further, the impact of eliminating the economic stimulus that comes with a construction project full of local hires must be addressed.


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