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October 26, 2016

When Does Off-site Construction Make Sense?

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When does off-site construction make sense? It’s a question we believe general contractors should always ask early on in the project planning and pre-construction stages.

Off-site construction offers a unique, complementary alternative to conventional construction but it does require greater collaboration between all parties, since the planning and design of the project needs to be figured out in advance. Ultimately, it often leads to greater productivity and can improve the overall success of a project.

If it looks as though a project has a number of standardized components that can be designed to be repeated, then the use of off-site construction should definitely be considered. Based on our experience, we’ve found there are several benefits associated with doing so:

  • The time needed for on-site construction is shortened considerably – often by at least 30 percent. This allows for a reduction in monthly general requirements and financing costs and can improve speed-to-market time as well.
  • It’s a safer working environment as there are more rigorous controls put in place in a manufacturing environment. Much of the work is at ground level, too.
  • There are lower material handling costs and better use of materials, since materials are pre-measured and fabricated into the production works. (Side benefit: less shrinkage of materials through theft.)
  • The carbon footprint is reduced because there are fewer people and trucks traveling to and from a project site.
  • Quality control is higher in a controlled, manufacturing environment. Repeatability ensures that methods are done to a uniform standard, which can also assist in the airtightness of a building. (This was an important factor in meeting Passive House standards.)
  • There can be associated benefits to the current skills shortage as typically greater than 50 percent of the work is being manufactured off-site.
  • During construction, the impact on the local area can be significantly reduced in terms of noise, traffic and period of work on-site.
  • There is more certainty of delivery and timelines because there is lower project risk due to weather and other external factors.

In some cases, though, we know it may not always be the right fit for a particular project. We tell our clients this is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach and we recommend careful evaluation to determine where the integration of off-site construction makes the most sense. Some factors to keep in mind:

  • On-site construction allows for later design changes, but with off-site construction, this is nearly impossible to do. We’ve found this can often be addressed at the start of a project by making sure other team member are aware of this limitation.
  • Local traffic and road restrictions will typically determine what kind of product can be allowed to travel from the manufacturing facility to the project site. We work within these parameters and, in many cases, can tailor projects accordingly.
  • Before projects begin, site suitability must be considered to ensure that access and lifting equipment can get modules in place. In some cases, roads may need to be built to accommodate this.
  • While the cost of site framing can be less than that of off-site construction (more materials are required in the modular components that that of site-built counterparts), we’ve found the structure of the building is usually more substantial and there can be increased noise attenuation between suites.
  • There are reduced overhead costs since there’s no equipment or land when operating on a construction site.

We’ve found that when contractors have all the information they need up-front, they can then consider all the factors first and make an informed decision. It’s been our experience that the most successful projects combine the advantages of both on-site and off-site construction. This is where real value is achieved for our clients.


Craig Mitchell
Director, Sales



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