6th International Network of Tropical Architecture Conference
Tropical Storms as a Setting for Adaptive Development and Architecture
University of Florida, USA December 1-3, 2017
A Review of Prefabrication Benefits for Sustainable and Resilient
Andriel Evandro Fenner
Powell Center for Construction&Environment, Rinker School of Construction Management, UF
342 Rinker Hall Gainesville FL 32611, PH (352) 273-1174; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mohamad Ahmadzade Razkenari
Powell Center for Construction&Environment, Rinker School of Construction Management, UF
342 Rinker Hall Gainesville FL 32611, PH (352) 273-1174
Powell Center for Construction&Environment, Rinker School of Construction Management, UF
342 Rinker Hall Gainesville FL 32611, PH (352) 273-1174
Charles J. Kibert
Powell Center for Construction&Environment, Rinker School of Construction Management, UF
342 Rinker Hall Gainesville FL 32611, PH (352) 273-1189
Prefabricated construction is widely known for employing construction techniques that minimize
construction time and project costs. This construction method is defined as “A factory-produced pre-
engineered building unit that is delivered to the project site and assembled as a building component.” In
addition to their construction benefits, prefabricated modules are also recognized as having superior
environmental and social benefits. In times of climate change and intensified natural disasters,
prefabrication has emerged as an alternative method of construction and an example of resilient design. In
the past few years, the use of prefabricated homes has increased substantially along coastal areas
devastated by hurricanes or tropical storms. Owners and construction companies have found that
prefabricated construction allows the rebuilding of homes affordably, efficiently, and quickly. In addition,
new prefabricated units can be as wind- or earthquake-resistant as site-built buildings, minimizing the
effects of strong climate events. With that in mind, the main goal of this paper is to review resilient
prefabricated construction practices and analyze their role in the development of a sustainable and
resilient built environment. Based on the analysis, prefabricated construction techniques will be shown to
offer an affordable and durable alternative for replacing damaged buildings more rapidly while providing
environmental benefits, improving community resilience, and incentivizing innovation.
Keywords: modular construction; sustainable practices; coastal resilience; adaptability to climate change
The unknown and unpredictable consequences of natural disasters have stimulated academia, the public sector,
and stakeholders to find ways to adjust and succeed under the rapidly changing circumstances we are facing today.
As noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1 report, natural events such as typhoons and
hurricanes will become more frequent and more severe in the following years. Sea Level Rise (SLR) is one of the
most evident effects of the gradual climate change process. The impacts of SLR on the vulnerable built and natural
environment includes storm surge, infrastructure damage, coastal erosion, insurance premiums, negative impacts on
fishing and recreation, to name a few. These changes will pose serious threats to urban infrastructure, quality of life,
and entire urban systems.
The problems of natural disasters are more critical for the millions of residents living in coastal areas located less
than 10 feet above sea level and are at constant risk of sea level rise and coastal surges. In the US, 39% of the
population currently reside along the coastal shoreline where the population is expected to increase by 8% from
2010 to 20202 (Fig.1). From the 22 North-American coastal states, the State of Florida ranks first in the area located
in the 100-year coastal floodplain and in the number of people potentially affected by flooding. Currently, 3.5
million Floridians live with the constant risk of coastal flooding, areas in which the population is expected to
increase 30% by 2050. Florida also earned an “F” score on coastal flood preparedness, the lowest among all states
being evaluated 3. This is particularly due to its insufficient level of readiness in the face of enormous current and
Figure 1 - U.S. National Population Report 1970-2010. Source: Crossett et al. 2014.
As noted by Kamali and Hewage 4, the process of selecting a construction method is still based on anecdotal
evidence rather than on addressing the life cycle impacts of each option. Designers and people rarely integrate risks
into the decision-making process for the building. For example, a study on the performance of wood-frame
residential buildings after Hurricane Katrina showed that most residential buildings were built based on the
International Residential Code (IRC) without complying with requirements for high-risk locations 5. The most
common problem was the clear lack of a continuous load path from the roof to the foundation. Hurricane Katrina,
1 IPCC 2015.
2 CROSSETT 2014.
3 CENTRAL CLIMATE AND ICF 2015.
4 KAMALI AND HEWAGE 2017.
5 VAN DE LINDT ET AL. 2007.
which was one of the most destructive, costly, and deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, landed on the Louisiana-
Mississippi border in 2005 and damaged/destroyed over 200,000 homes and displaced more than 800,000 citizens.
While rebuilding the urban areas was a gradual and steady process, several homes are still damaged years after the
It is evident from the damage incurred by coastal communities during extreme hurricane events that coastal areas
must become more resilient to extreme conditions, especially considering that the population in those areas will
continue to increase. Well-known strategies that can mitigate the impact of floods are changing the base elevation of
structures, using environmental flood control practices, acquiring flood insurance, or simple relocating the
population outside the floodplain 6. However, a broader view considering environmental and social impacts must be
integrated into the construction process. In this context, prefabrication has emerged as an alternative construction
method and an example of resilient design. In the past few years, the use of prefabricated homes has increased
substantially along coastal areas devastated by hurricanes or tropical storms. Owners and construction companies
found this method a way to rebuild homes affordably, efficiently, and quickly. With that in mind, the main goal of
this paper is to review resilient prefabricated construction practices and analyze their role in the development of a
sustainable and resilient built environment.
2.0. A review of resilient building environment
Derived from the Latin “ver resilire”, the word “resilience” was first introduced into the English language in the
early 17th century as the ability to rebound or recoil. It was only in 1970’s that Holling 7 introduced resilience into
the ecological literature to explain the non-linear dynamics observed in ecosystems and the amount of disturbance
that an ecosystem could withstand without changing self-organized processes and structures. In the subsequent
years, the term entered the mainstream academic discourse and proliferated in many different fields. Currently, the
definition of resilience depends on the context in which it is being applied.
In the built environment, “resilience” has been widely adopted by the academia and policy makers to describe
ways to reduce susceptibility to the threats posed by natural, human and technical hazards. The main objective of
building resilience is to maximize the capacity to adapt to complex situations and return to the original state after a
disturbance. Buckle et al. 8 also stated that resilience does not refer merely to the absence of vulnerability, but to the
ability to mitigate losses before they occur and to successfully manage recovery after the damage. Community
resilience is determined, in part, by “the degree to which the social system can organize itself to increase its capacity
for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures” 9.
Resilience in coastal areas requires a continuous and integrated interdisciplinary disaster management approach.
Disaster mitigation is a two-phase process which comprises of pre- and post-disaster actions. Pre-disaster measures
include the continuous research to improve building and urban systems, the review of building codes, the
formulation of guidance, to name a few. On the other hand, post-disaster recovery phase is associated with the
reconstruction of the disturbed environment 10. Emergency shelters, temporary units, and permanent houses are three
distinct forms of post-disaster interventions in the residential sector. Emergency shelters are less sophisticated and
attempt to deal with the particularly hostile post-disaster conditions, but are uncomfortable and expensive options
for the long-term. Temporary housing is often an expensive investment that generally delays the construction of
permanent homes. In addition, temporary structures may be incorporated into the permanent construction and
actually increase the vulnerability of the urban fabric. Permanent housing is often the third step in the process,
mostly because of its associated costs 11.
6 OKMYUNG BIN AND JAMIE BROWN KRUSE 2006.
7 HOLLING 1973.
8 BUCKLE, MARS AND SMALE 2000.
9 UNISDR 2009.
10 HAIGH AND AMARATUNGA 2010.
11 FAYAZI AND LIZARRALDE 2013.
However, as noted by Grayson and Pang 12, the current coastal community paradigm of “build-disaster-rebuild”
is no longer viable as natural events could potentially increase in frequency and intensity in the future. A “build-
event-recover” model must be introduced so that communities could exhibit enough resilience to endure the
consequences of a natural disaster 13. Mirhadi Fard et al. 14 also suggested that avoidance, transference, mitigation,
and acceptance should be considered the four long-term strategies for SLR. Examples of effective solutions include
the adoption of construction methods that can resist and adapt to natural events, the identification of existing
buildings that lack resistance to hazards and promote retrofits, and the relocation of threatened buildings that are
ecologically and financially sustainable before the occurrence of a disaster. The construction of prefabricated
buildings in vulnerable coastal areas is a risk response strategy that includes proactive risk acceptance in the short-
term and can avoid further long-term risks considering the possibility to relocate them.
2.1. Building construction in coastal areas
Buildings in coastal areas require a different construction approach compared to buildings inland due to
several externalities. In general, buildings in coastal areas cost more to design, construct, maintain and insure. The
main factors that can affect the structure and require stronger engineered connections are the wind velocities, wave
action, and coastal erosion. As reported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 15, successful
buildings in coastal areas must be “capable of resisting damage from coastal hazards and coastal processes over a
period of decades”. Buildings must be “designed to withstand coastal forces and conditions, constructed as designed,
sited so that erosion does not undermine the building or render it uninhabitable, and regularly maintained or
repaired”. The statement does not imply that a coastal building should remain undamaged over its intended lifetime,
but the building structure must remain in satisfactory conditions the whole time.
The FEMA16 also specifies Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) for 100-year storm events, which are minimum
recommended floor elevations for residential buildings. BFEs are used for the National Flood Insurance Program to
establish the Design Floor Elevations (DFE) for buildings, which is based on an arbitrarily additional number of feet
added to BFE. To achieve DFE, traditional coastal construction practices place buildings on piles and elevate them
above floodwaters. However, most structures hit by the intense wave energy of storm surge at or above their lowest
floorplate are no longer structurally sound. In almost all cases, it is costly to build a structure low enough and strong
enough to withstand storm surge loads. In addition to that, a study in Grand Isle, Louisiana revealed that current
BFEs are misleadingly low, resulting in buildings far more likely to flood 17.
3.0. A review of prefabricated construction
The prefabrication in the construction industry has its roots in the years after the World War I when
prefabrication became a viable alternative for reconstruction of cities with a relatively small workforce available. In
U.S., factory-built homes were developed during the Great Recession (1929-1939) to help prime the national
economy. After World War II, Japan and Europe used manufactured housing to fill the massive rebuilding demands.
Although manufactured buildings were originally designed for low-income end-users, the construction method is
now becoming attractive to a broader market.
3.1. A review of prefabricated construction definitions
Prefabrication is defined as “the practice of manufacturing the components of a structure in a factory and
transporting complete or semi-complete assemblies to the construction site where the structure is to be located” 18.
12 GRAYSON AND PANG 2014.
13 EWING AND SYNOLAKIS 2011.
14 MIRHADI FARD ET AL. 2016.
15 FEMA 2010.
16 FEMA 2011.
17 SATTLER 2012.
18 ZHONG ET AL. 2017.
The scope of prefabrication ranges from the production of an individual component to the complete building 19.
Tatum et al. 20 suggested four basic levels of prefabrication for buildings including total building prefabrication,
system prefabrication, component prefabrication, and element prefabrication (Fig. 2).
Prefabrication can also be classified as non-volumetric or volumetric. Non-volumetric prefabrication includes
single elements or sections that are transported to project site for installation and assembly, such as precast concrete,
cold-steel panels/structures, Structured Insulated Panels (SIPs), panelized walls, and prefabricated trusses. Non-
volumetric prefabrication methods eliminate the assembly of different elements in the factory and prevent waste of
spaces in transportation, however, the process to connect the elements in the construction site increases the
complexity of the construction 21. Volumetric prefabrication includes manufacturing and assembly of free-standing
building units in a protected factory environment. In the residential sector, volumetric prefabrication is classified as
modular, manufactured, and park homes.
Modular construction has been used interchangeably among industry in the past decades. The Modular
Building Institute 22 defines modular construction as the process of design and fabrication of building
modules under controlled off-site conditions followed by the transportation of all the large volumetric
units to the site for assembly. The module should be a self-standing and structured unit that may or
may not receive finishes in the factory 23. Modular construction is mostly used for housing and small
commercial buildings, but there have been some recent applications in high-rise buildings 24. Modular
homes differ from manufactured homes because they do not have permanents axles. Also, they must
comply with all local building codes for their proposed uses just like any conventional building 25.
Manufactured housing is the process of producing building units on a permanent chassis and
transporting one or more sections to the construction site. Manufactured homes must meet the U.S.
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements during both the manufacturing and construction
process 26. The Manufactured Housing Industry (MHI) is one of the major providers of affordable
housing in the United States. MHI shows that manufactured homes accounted for 14% of all new
single-family homes sold in the U.S. and homes shipped have increased by 15% in 2016 27.
Park models are a type of manufactured home built on a trailer which is much smaller than a typical
home and designed for short-term use. Park models are generally used for recreational purposes and
must be under 400 square feet.
19 KHALILI AND CHUA 2013.
20 TATUM, VANEGAS AND WILLIAMS 1987.
21 BITARAFAN ET AL. 2012.
22 MODULAR BUILDING INSTITUTE 2017.
23 CHOI, O’CONNOR AND KIM 2016.
24 LAWSON, OGDEN AND BERGIN 2012.
25 KIBERT, CHINI AND RUMPF-MONADIZADEH 2016.
26 KIBERT ET AL. 2016.
27 MANUFACTURED HOUSING INDUSTRY 2017.
Figure 2 - Four basic levels of prefabrication in construction. Source: Tatum, Vanegas, and Williams 1987
The current prefabricated construction process is not technologically advanced and relies heavily on intensive
labor. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported a research in Michigan State University on the
production process of manufactured housing and modeling of facility site layout and material. Also, the Department
of Labor has supported the development of a training program in Florida to improve the workforce in the
manufactured and modular construction industry known as Training for Manufactured Construction (TRAMCON).
Research activities and investments in the manufactured construction is increasing to enhance productivity and
move the industry forward.
3.2. Advantages and disadvantages of modular construction
The early generation of post-war prefabricated homes reflected some failure in practices and a lack of
performance which resulted in a negative perception of the housing market, architects, and designers 28. Today,
several research studies have reviewed the drivers and barriers of modular construction and revealed that this
perception is constantly changing. Pan et. al. 29 conducted research on the top 100 housebuilders in the UK and
reported that about two‐thirds agree that prefabrication should grow in the housing sector. McGraw Hill
Construction 30 published a SmartMarket Report, based on a survey of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction
(AEC) professionals in U.S., revealed that more than 60% believe the use of prefabrication and modularization will
significantly decrease project schedules, project budgets, and site waste.
The advantages and disadvantages of prefabricated construction have been widely researched. However, there
are still limited studies that measure the benefits of prefabricated construction compared to conventional
construction methods 31. As stated by several studies, the major drivers to use prefabrication is time, cost and quality
32. Prefabricated construction also explores the use of technologies and information systems which enhance
productivity, quality control, supply management, data collection, and data integration. Kamali and Hewage 33 also
emphasize that using prefabrication can lead to lower environmental impacts compared to conventional
construction. Overall, there are high expectations that the prefabrication process could potentially reduce the
environmental impacts caused by conventional construction. There are opportunities to improve sustainability in all
phases of prefabricated construction, but mainly during the design and manufacturing processes 34. Table 1
summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of prefabricated construction highlighted in some recent studies.
28 EDGE ET AL. 2002.
29 PAN, GIBB AND DAINTY 2007.
30 MGH CONSTRUCTION 2011.
31 BLISMAS, PASQUIRE AND GIBB 2006.
32 PAN, GIBB AND DAINTY 2007.
33 KAMALI AND HEWAGE 2017.
34 FENNER AND KIBERT 2017.
Table 1 - Summary of advantages and disadvantages of prefabricated construction.
Simultaneous construction work and site
Reduced disruptions due to weather
Reduced of on-site vandalism
Shorter schedule on-site
Difficulty to make changes when
product in being manufactured
Extra engineering effort during design
Higher pre-project planning time
Avoided delays due to weather or site severe
Reduced on-site labor
Increased cost certainty
Availability of knowledgeable experts
such as engineers and designers
Availability of cheap labor in the area
Larger initial investment to run
Reduced elevated work and dangerous activities
Reduced site congestion
Reduced workforce exposure to weather
Negative perception of new
Controlled manufacturing facilities
Repetitive processes and operations
Reduced material exposure to harsh weather
Product tested in factory
Difficulty to transport modules for
Time delays due to late transit permits
Dimensional constraints for
Customs delays in borders when
Potential for waste reduction and management
Reduced disturbance on-site
Easy application of energy performance and
Increased transportation emissions
Reduced community disturbance
Influence on the local economy
Need for an increased and more
detailed coordination in all stages of a
Difficulty to get full project team
3.3. Building Codes for modular construction
The vulnerability of prefabricated construction has been recognized for some years. Studies performed in the
last decade have shown that fatalities to residents in manufactured homes were 10 to 15 times higher than in site-
built homes. In 1994, Hurricane Andrew destroyed around 97% of manufactured homes in its path and only 11% of
site built homes, causing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to amend wind load requirements
to the HUD Code for high wind risk areas. In 1999, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
also implemented new requirements for anchors, tie-downs, and straps in response to tornados in 1998.
Improvements in building construction methods significantly reduced the vulnerability of manufactured homes.
Recent studies have shown that no manufactured home built with 1994 and 1999 standards had any significant
structural damage during the hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2007 35.
Currently, manufactured homes must be built in accordance with the U.S. HUD Code. The most recent versions
require buildings to provide metal hurricane straps that connect the roof, wall, and floor together to the foundation or
ground. States in zones with higher winds, such as Florida, must meet the most stringent building codes, where
buildings must withstand winds up to 180 mph, equal to a Category 5 hurricane 36.
35 GROSSKOPF 2005.
36 KUSENBACH, SIMMS AND TOBIN 2010.
On the other hand, modular units and panelized construction are subjected to the same regulations and standards
as site-built homes, meaning that they should perform as good as site built projects. They must be designed, built,
permitted and inspected to the Florida Building Code and must be installed on a permanent foundation. Most states
and local jurisdictions use national models, consensus standards or the established building codes maintained by the
International Code Council (ICC) and modified it for regional specific needs 37. The family of ICC codes include the
International Building Code (IBC) for new buildings, the International Residential Code (IRC) for new one or two
family dwellings and townhouses less than three stories in height, and the International Existing Building Code
(IEBC) for alteration, repair or change in occupancy of existing structures. For the State of Florida, the base codes of
the Fifth Edition Florida Building Code are the 2012 International Residential Code, the 2011 National Electrical
Code, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Standard (ASHRAE).
While the effectiveness of manufactured construction built with the updated HUD Code standards has been
demonstrated for hurricanes and tornados, additional research should be performed to improve building codes. This
is particularly important for the State of Florida, where fourteen coastal counties are subject to Wind Zone III
requirements (110 mph wind gusts) and the remaining counties must comply with Wind Zone II requirements (100
mph wind gusts).
4. Examples and trends for resilient prefabricated construction
Prefabrication is increasingly being used worldwide as an alternative construction method. The main reasons
are affordable and efficient construction techniques that save time and materials while formulating a strong, durable
building shell. Currently, the prefabrication industry in Japan is one of the most efficient and sophisticated industry
of its kind in the world. In addition to the highly restricted building codes for energy efficiency and human comfort,
building structures must completely resist to disasters. In 2011, modular temporary buildings were used to help
survivors of a catastrophic tsunami. Recently, a new project called “New Temporary House” was developed aiming
to install a manufacturing production line in emerging Asian Countries that can efficiently manufacture housing
units in advance of disaster strikes 38. In 2009, the Chinese government also announced the distribution of around
one million prefabricated housing units for the province of Sichuan after the region was struck by a major
earthquake. A prototype of a sustainable prefabricated Zero Energy House was developed, which combined
sustainable practices and promoted the use of regional materials for prefabrication 39.
Design competitions are also encouraging the use of modular construction. In 2014, the Urban Green Council40
partnered with the Breezy Point Green Committee for a design competition “to provide a scalable modular housing
model for resiliency in coastal communities” focusing efforts on the families that wish to rebuild their homes after
the Hurricane Sandy. Also, a year-long project sponsored by the Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability
Studio proposed a “pile grid system” for Grand Isle, Louisiana based on the concept of movable buildings. The
system was composed of long piles and a modular building structure that could move up and down on piles. After
the hurricane season, the housing units could be configured to the lower levels, while a gantry crane would lift the
modular home into their storm ready position above the BFE line during hurricane season. The system also could
allow the building to move if a storm event could potentially modify the coastline and propriety line. The adaptable
modular design capable of relocation in x,y and z-axes offers a spatial-temporal solution integrated to the built
environment and expanded architecture through the process of reconfiguration 41. While movable buildings are
designed to be easily relocated in advance of flooding or storm events, the logistics to move buildings are complex
and required advance warnings, sufficient transportation infrastructure to support the movement of people and
buildings, and the establishment of areas out of the flood zone for the movable buildings 42.
37 KIBERT ET AL. 2016.
38 SHIGERU BAN ARCHITECTS 2013.
39 STACH, KLINKHAMMER AND LI 2009.
40 URBAN GREEN COUNCIL 2013.
41 SATTLER 2012.
42 EASTERN RESEARCH GROUP AND NOAA 2013.
Floating modular architecture has also been emerging as a sustainable construction method. Floating buildings
use a system that supports the building structure and associated building systems under flood conditions. Examples
of modular floating buildings can be seen around the world with a wide range of uses 43. For example, the City of
Rotterdam developed the “Floating Pavilion” with prefabricated materials to study self-sufficient architectural
models that are less vulnerable to climate change and can generate energy and purify water. Future projects include
floating urban districts for living, shopping, working and recreation 44. The “IBA Dock” in Hamburg, Germany is
another floating structure located in a 50 x 25-meter modular concrete pontoon superstructure which allows the
building to be disassembled for transportation. The pontoon is also fastened onto dolphins, a structure that extends
above the water, which allows the building to move 3.5 meters up and down each day 45. These ideas represent an
important aspect of adaptability to nature and providing a future-oriented concept for construction in flood-prone
4.0. Conclusion and Discussion
Prefabrication could potentially be used towards the construction of a resilient building environment. The most
significant benefits for coastal areas are as follow:
Faster replacement of damaged buildings: The controlled factory-environment facilitates the construction
and assembly of components. If the design of the project is already completed, the factory can start the
construction of the components before or right after a natural disaster occurs. However, since the building
industry usually responds on a project-by-project demand, possibilities of up-front investments for
prefabrication projects should be debated.
Affordability: Prefabricated projects typically are cheaper than conventional projects. Financing is also
available for manufactured housing and can be extended to modular construction.
Resistance and durability: Prefabricated construction has specific building codes and requirements for high-
risk areas, such as hurricane-prone areas and floodplains. Building materials used for modular buildings do
not differ from conventional buildings, but the method of assembly of elements in prefabrication might
increase the resistance of the whole building. While building codes for manufactured homes have been
updated, there should be continuous research of methods to improve those buildings.
Environmental benefits: A system that combines the techniques of prefabrication with sustainable
principles has the potential to be efficient and responsive. Prefabrication has the potential to reduce waste
of materials and site disturbance. A substantial advantage would be the ability to disassemble and reuse
components at the end of the project life. For example, modules or components could also be returned to
the factory where materials could be recycled and reused for new projects.
Community resilience: Incentives for regional manufacturing can also encourage the establishment of
community-based resiliency and provide a tool to enhance participation.
Innovation: Conventional construction methods create a building that must be stable enough to resist any
external force. However, this method does not always work, especially when referring to natural disasters.
In the face of constant changing conditions, buildings should be equipped with mechanisms that allow
flexibility and reconfiguration. Recent ideas, such as movable buildings and floating architecture, allow
buildings to interact with the environment and adapt to different circumstances. The same principles that
also govern sustainable development and resilience.
43 MOON 2015.
44 ROTTERDAM CLIMATE INITIATIVE 2012.
45 ARCHDAILY 2012.
Coastal areas are much more vulnerable to the severe consequences of climate change. Those areas are at
constant risk of sea level rise, coastal surges, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and storms. It is evident that
the building environment must become more resilient to extreme conditions since the population at those areas is
expected to increase in the following years. In this context, prefabrication has emerged as an alternative way not
only to rebuild homes affordably, efficiently, and quickly, but also as a potential construction method that could
integrate sustainable and resilient principles.
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