Fortunately, the weather cooperated and three prebuilt structures were hoisted by crane the next morning and assembled into a second story within the day. The new 900-square-foot level adds a bedroom, a bathroom and a walk-in closet for the homeowners, and a pair of bedrooms and a bathroom for their daughter Charlotte and son William. “Our kids were thrilled when they could look into their rooms on the ground before they were lifted into place,” said Swezey.
This type of construction, made off-site and transported to a property, is still a rare sight in D.C. neighborhoods. Called modular, manufactured or systems-built, it accounts for only about 1 or 2 percent of the national residential and commercial construction markets, according to Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a trade association based in Charlottesville.
But pre-made modules, once considered formulaic and flimsy, are becoming more common as a faster, cheaper and less wasteful alternative to conventional stick-built construction, experts say.
“Perhaps because of the recession and certainly as a result of heightened awareness of sustainability, many owners, developers and architects are demanding more efficiency from their contractors,” said Hardiman. “This, in turn, is forcing contractors to reexamine previously ignored methods such as modular.”
Proving his point is Case Design/Remodeling Inc., the Bethesda-based company responsible for designing the Swezeys’ addition. “This was our first modular project,” said Bill Millholland, a Case executive vice president. “We got into this type of remodeling to do it in a less expensive and faster way.”
Once the addition was designed, Case tapped Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes LLC of Selinsgrove, Pa., to fabricate the structures. Windows, wallboard, crown and base moldings, bedroom carpeting, bathroom vanities, mirrors, toilets and tub were already set into place when the structures arrived on a flatbed truck. Roof rafters and sheathing were pre-built and hoisted into place, and roof shingles were installed by the end of the day.
The control over construction quality in the factory and accelerated construction schedule convinced the homeowners to try the modular method. “It’s a very efficient process. We were able to get the square footage we were looking for in a shorter period of time — six months of design and construction versus the nine to 12 months it would have taken to stick-build the second floor,” said Catherine Swezey, who works for HotelMe.com, a hotel review Web site.