Modular Apartment Building Projects Gaining Momentum


At first glance, that “wide load” rolling down the road might not garner much attention from apartment building developers. But look again.

Apartment units that are essentially complete down to the appliances are rolling along highways to job sites where they are being hoisted into place like building blocks. One by one, new apartment communities are taking a fast track with lower construction costs and quicker build times, and developers are buying into it.

Modulare Apartment Section Being Delivered on a Truck

This could be your next apartment construction project. Image source:

One property is currently under construction in California, and in Seattle a pair of modular apartment projects should break ground soon, if they haven’t already. Others have already sprouted up as far east as Philadelphia.

Modular, pre-fabricated apartments can be constructed to almost any specifications off site and shipped to the development. Cranes lift units into place, and after a few finishing touches, the apartment is essentially ready to occupy even though the rest of the development may be far from complete.

In May, A Seattle design review board gave a thumbs-up for construction of a five-story, 75-unit studio apartment building in the University District that will be one of the first modular apartment construction projects to be built in the region.

Triad Capital Partners is developing the 7th Avenue NE Studios, which were designed by NK Architects. OneBuild is constructing the modules at its Klamath Falls, Ore., facility. The units are expected to attract University of Washington students and young professionals.

Once modules are complete, the total build-out on site is expected to take at least half the time of a typical 9- to 12-month window for traditional wood frame construction. About three to four weeks will be needed to stack modules once OneBuild delivers them to the site; another two or three months will be spent on landscaping and finishing work.

Even more, the apartment building is designed with green in mind. Several features intended to improve energy efficiency and performance include a green roof, exterior walkways and hydronic forced-air wall fans that draw heat from the central hot water system.

The building is designed to meet Built Green 4-star standards, and will have several features intended to improve energy efficiency and performance. These include a green roof, exterior walkways and hydronic forced-air wall fans that draw heat from the central hot-water system.

Also, R.D. Merrill Co. plans to begin construction by the end of the year a six-story, 124-unit building in Seattle.

Elsewhere, a New York real estate developer is planning to build a 32-story modular residential tower in Brooklyn, which would be the tallest in the world.

Modular Construction is Gaining Popularity

Modular construction has been around for decades but is gaining popularity because developers are looking for ways to erect buildings faster and cut costs. Structural engineer David Farnsworth told CNN earlier this year that he believes modular apartment construction can cut costs by 20 percent.

Image of a modular apartment unit being lifted by a giant crane

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About 60 percent of the work is done in a factory, where a nearly complete unit is constructed. The frame is built, walls are dried in, floors laid, and fixtures installed. The modules are trucked to the construction site and hoisted in place by cranes.

As the units are nudged into position, the apartment building takes shape. When half of the modules are placed on a steel support structure, the property can be literally half-finished: Units can be fully furnished with appliances, yet on the other side of the wall there may be only a maze of steel girders that look like that erector set you had as a kid.

Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners, Inc., which specializes in apartment design, currently has a 1,000-unit modular project being constructed in two phases in San Jose, Calif. During the company’s August webinar, Mid-Year Update for the Apartment Industry, principal Mark Humphreys demonstrated a time lapse of construction.

The sequence starts with the podium or base of the apartment building in place on July 10, and within about a month’s time half of the project is complete.

“So the other apartment developers in the area are looking at this project and they’re going, ‘Wow, this is really moving fast all of the sudden.’ What they don’t realize is that the insides are done, all the way down to the appliances, the paint is done, the wall switches are done. Everything is done.”

Some developers believe that modular apartment construction could revolutionize the industry, because costs can be better controlled and the project has a better chance of staying on schedule because unforeseen circumstances like weather won’t be an inhibitor at the factory.

That next over-sized load that you see on the interstate just might be headed for a modular apartment construction project.

What do you think? Is modular apartment construction the wave of the future?



Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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