Modular Construction: My Trip to the Factory!

Today I woke up bright and early at 6am, downed a cup of coffee and dry waffle with fruit, and hopped in my car.  I’m getting the factory tour today!  Finally, I get to see the nitty gritty of how a modular house is constructed.  It was raining really hard, but I didn’t care since this was the fun part of the process.A_Colorful_Cartoon_Woman_Drving_a_Nice_Sports_Car_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_101016-156584-687053

I arrived about an hour and a half later in South Fayette, PA, where the factory is located.  The tour began right away.  The factory was in the process of constructing a 36 module hotel to be shipped to Vermont, so only these modules were on the assembly line (alas, no residential homes on the assembly line, but the process is still the same).  Although it was raining very hard outside, I was pleased to see construction proceeding in full force within the factory (so yes, it’s true, there are no weather-related delays).

Inside, the process begins with construction of the floor.  There were 6 floors on the assembly line being worked on simultaneously by contractors.  “These guys only do floors, every day all day,” the tour guide-in-training who was tagging along whispers to me.  “Really?  I tap the actual tour guide — is it true that the same guys do just floors day in and day out?”  “Yes, it is.  They get really good at what they do.”   Once the flooring is framed, it gets wheeled down to a different area where the in-floor plumbing is installed.   The apparatus that the floor is constructed upon is calibrated to ensure the floor remains level as it’s moved to each station.

Several floors being assembled in the factory

Several floors being assembled in the factory

In-floor plumbing installation

In-floor plumbing installation

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Next step:  wall assembly.  There’s a different crew working on the walls.  The walls are braced with steel reinforcements which I’m told site-built counterparts don’t have because they don’t need to withstand the jolts of transportation.   I also see insulation going up here, holes for ductwork being created, interior walls going up.

Note the steel bracing at the bottom of the wall

Note the steel bracing at the bottom of the wall

The modular unit being wheeled down the assembly line.  The wheeling apparatus seen under the unit is calibrated to keep the house level at each step of assembly.

The modular unit being wheeled down the assembly line. The wheeling apparatus seen under the unit is calibrated to keep the house level at each step of assembly.

The roof is next, and this part is interesting — at this station there is the largest-work-table-I’ve ever-seen.

The largest work table I've ever seen.

The largest work table I’ve ever seen.

The ceiling is being assembled very comfortably by roofing contractors on this table.  They are most definitely not climbing up on walls, doing a balancing act 60 ft above ground.   After they’re done, a large crane grabs this roof off the table, hoists it upward and sets it on top of the unit you see to its left.  It’s secured and this unit (which now resembles a house with a floor, 4 walls and a roof) gets moved to the finishing area — this is where the drywall, windows, doors, finishes, etc, etc. etc. are installed.

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Once the house is completely finished, it goes through a quality control measure that is done by a third party.  This is where they do blower testing to make sure air ducts are sealed, along with other basic checks.  Once it passes quality control, it’s ready to be shipped.  I’m sure I missed many steps along the way (like when does the house get wired?), but I think I got the overall big picture.  Interesting, eh?

It was nice to see in live action what I already knew:  modular construction is faster because of no weather related delays and ability to work on multiple floors of the house simultaneously.  It is more precise due to the factory controlled environment.  The surplus building materials are easily stored and reused in the same factory.  There is an independent 3rd party quality control assessment.  Other nice surprises include the area-specific contractors and the ingenious roof assembly process.  Nice!

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