Two European developers are planning a mixed-use development that could include up to 20,000 modular homes on the former site of a U.S. Steel plant in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
A division of Irish firm WElink Group and Spain-based Barcelona Housing Systems (BHS) made a deal to purchase the 440-acre site. They have five months to close on it. WElink builds energy-efficient modular housing, and BHS uses solar power and recycled materials in its homes.
The development would likely include low- and mid-rise buildings, parks and a marina. Earlier attempts to redevelop the industrial site, which is surrounded by lower-income neighborhoods, have been unsuccessful.
Modular and offsite construction are increasingly being viewed as ways to speed up construction and overcome the current skilled-labor shortage. Modular factories, in particular, offer the advantage of assembly line-like efficiency to produce either whole rooms or room segments in parallel to site work and other operations. That stands to reduce the construction schedule.
In the commercial space, a handful of companies, including hotelier Marriott, have made public commitments to use modular construction, mainly in the name of reduced costs and overall efficiency. The hotel giant announced in May that it would strive to incorporate modular in approximately 13% of its total North American hotel deals this year. That translates to about 50 hotels that will include some element of modular building.
Google's parent company, Alphabet, is turning to modular to aid employees who are having trouble finding affordable housing near work. The company has said it plans to buy 300 modular apartment units, worth about $30 million in all, from local modular-housing fabricator Factory OS. The units are expected to serve as short-term housing for workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Modular construction has the potential to shave 20% to 50% off of construction costs on projects in the Bay Area, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although most of the growth in modular in the U.S. has come from the multifamily and hospitality sector, a growing group of single-family builders are also using the method. Entekra, an Irish newcomer to the U.S., is going after the volume homebuilding business, saying its model can produce the components for a 2,500-square-foot house in four hours and assemble them on site over the course of four to five days.
Green builders like Maine-based Ecocor are using the method for the control that factory-based building affords over site conditions. The company is using offsite panelized construction to build large components for its homes, which meet Passive House standards.