Modular Construction: The Sustainable Solution for Affordable Housing

VBC Team

8 min read


Modular construction has a lot going for it, especially when you compare it to traditional construction: time savings (which leads to reduced carrying costs), a superior product, and design ease to name a few.  

Here’s our head-to-head comparison of traditional construction vs. modular.  

However, there is a lesser-known benefit of modular construction that is becoming ever more important as climate change shows no signs of slowing down: sustainability. 

Volumetric Building Companies (VBC) recognizes the importance of sustainable construction, which is why we’ve devoted time and research towards refining our processes and factories to be as energy-efficient as possible. You can learn more about our sustainability efforts and projects here.


What is Modular Construction? 

Before we dive into the sustainability benefits of modular construction, it’s important to understand what exactly modular construction entails. 

Most people envision small copy/paste single-family homes, but technology has evolved modular construction to be possible for much larger and more complex projects like ultra-modern apartment buildings, and sky-scraping hotels in high-density cities. 

When we use the term “Modular” we mean volumetric modular construction which means the entire unit is built in our factory. When that module leaves our factory the kitchen, bathroom, floor, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and fire sprinklers are all fully installed.  

The modules are then shipped, either via semi-truck or ship, to the job site where the foundation and podium have already been poured and built. Then, not dissimilar to a massive Lego project, each module is craned into place. The VBC team can set a module approximately every 30 minutes, which means small buildings go up in days and large buildings go up in weeks.  

Once the modules are installed the exterior cladding and final construction work will begin to make sure the building is watertight and connected to the electrical grid and sewer system. Once the building is completed, it would be challenging to tell it apart from any traditional build.  

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How is Modular Construction More Sustainable than Traditional Construction? 

A large part of the success of modular construction with sustainability is the utilization of a centralized location: the factory. Using a factory for the majority of construction allows for better control and organization of processes, materials, and resources. 

This results in heightened efficiency, reduced waste, and accelerated project timelines. 

Lower Carbon Emissions 

Modular construction uses up to 74% less carbon emissions than traditional on-site construction, based on a streamlined Lifecycle Assessment. 

This impressive feat is largely attributed to the factory’s controlled environment, where processes are optimized and materials are efficiently managed. These factories can have materials for multiple projects delivered to this centralized location as opposed to on-site construction. 

With on-site construction, materials have to be delivered on a just-in-time basis, leading to a higher risk of over ordering and unnecessary transportation emissions. Since traditional construction doesn’t normally utilize a storage facility, it’s either impossible or too costly to store these items. Sadly these materials, which are usually in good condition, have to be sent to the landfill. This leads us to our next point.  

Reduced Waste 

Not only does a factory of modular construction allow for efficient storage of materials, but this also allows for the unique opportunity to recycle materials that were once deemed unusable. 

“Since a large portion of our waste is in a centralized location, we can collect it all and sort it. We have streamlined the floor layout of our factories in such a way that all of the materials c (1)

For example, in VBC’s Pennsylvania factory, 100% of drywall is recycled. In construction, to fit corners and around windows and doors, drywall is often cut into odd scrap pieces that are usually tossed. However, since VBC’s factory setting allows for waste storage, these scraps can be ground and reprocessed into new sheets of drywall. 

In 2023 alone, 281 tons of drywall were saved from the landfill and reprocessed from this factory alone. 

Solar Energy 

Having a centralized location also allows for the utilization of solar panels, which is not possible in traditional construction. 

VBC’s factory in Tracy, California, is 100% powered by solar panels, which is a big feat for a facility of its size and functions. 

The factory houses 3,200 solar panels which generate 1,700 megawatt hours annually. This is enough electricity to power 900 homes per year, or rather, build homes! 

Tracy Factory Solar Panels

Low Voltage Electricity 

Beyond the efficiency of solar panels, modular companies have been working to upgrade machinery and LEDs to keep energy use to a minimum. 

Building the modules in a factory allows for this centralized location to utilize direct current (DC) electric power which refers to the flow of electric charge in a constant direction maintaining a consistent flow. 

DC electric power allows for a longer lifespan of lighting and components, more efficient power supply to home systems, and more efficiency when paired with solar panels. 

With VBC, this sustainability goes beyond the construction phase. VBC uses energy-efficient appliances and fixtures in all finished projects where requested to ensure the savings get passed onto the occupants long after construction has finished. 


Sustainability Research: Paving the Way to New Solutions 

Modular is already leagues ahead of other construction methods when it comes to sustainability, but the research and development toward new solutions continue on a fast trajectory. 


VBC is currently researching the possibility of using bamboo to replace traditional lumber in construction. Not only could this result in more cost savings, but using bamboo can also help ease the demand and strain in the lumber industry. 

Trees traditionally cut down to be used in construction like oak and pine can take at least 30 years to reach maturity. Bamboo takes only three years to reach a stage where it’s usable. 

VBC is working to test the feasibility of using timber bamboo to ensure the quality and durability that we strive for in all of our projects. 


VBC is leading the pack in sustainable construction

VBC has multiple energy-efficient factories in places like Poland, Pennsylvania, and the Bay Area in California, making us one of the top players in modular construction. 

Clients trust our construction to not only meet energy efficiency requests but also save them up to 50% in time when compared to traditional construction. Talk to a VBC representative to see if modular construction is right for your next large-scale project. 

Download a sample test fit today.