7 Measurable Benefits of Offsite Construction

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Have you heard the buzz about sustainable construction? What about offsite construction? Prefab construction? Or even manufactured construction? These days, there are many techniques that help us build better. Today, we’ll check out offsite construction.

When you’re looking at your next big build out, it’s worth your time to consider the benefits of offsite construction. Whether you have high-end fit and finish, sustainability, or cost certainty as your main project requirement, offsite construction offers solutions. Maybe you’re facing a challenging delivery schedule, or a labor shortage. Your problems can be solved offsite.

At GRIT headquarters here in Portland, we’ve been building our own space—a new Green Learning Center. As a DIRTT company, we have the advantage of using DIRTT offsite solutions throughout the process.

As with any build, offsite construction projects also have their special moments. I remember how excited we all were about the open space with 10-foot ceilings for our Green Learning Center. We could have giant walls in our giant downtown space. We were over the moon.

But...when you’re pre-assembling walls offsite, you have to take a step back into reality and ask: How in the heck are we going to fit a 10-foot wall in our elevator? 

The answer is that we went with walls that were 9 foot 2. By using software to customize the dimensions to a tee beforehand, we avoided a Three Stooges scene involving a wall and an elevator.

Such is the beauty of offsite construction for interiors, along with these benefits:

  • Production Efficiency
  • Reduced Onsite Construction Schedule
  • Safer Working Conditions
  • Predictable Cost
  • Improved Finished Quality
  • Decreased Carbon Emissions
  • Reduced Material Waste

We’ll look at those benefits in more detail in a minute, but first let’s explore some offsite construction basics.

What is Offsite Construction Anyway?

And now it’s time for a very brief history of offsite construction…

Offsite construction has been around for centuries and has slowly been adopted to newer methods and interiors. Steel structures like the northwest Space Needle is an iconic example of how offsite construction benefitted a record 8-month delivery to completion. 

In fact, all steel and concrete structures like the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, even our local Sellwood Bridge were ALL made possible due to the benefits of offsite construction. 

Offsite construction is the technology-driven intersection of design, fabrication, pre-planning, building, and transporting elements for rapid, precise, and high-quality onsite assembly. 

Moving construction off site adds the benefit of a clean, warm, highly controlled environment, where measurements are executed to the 100th of an inch. This guarantees size, shape, and finish quality with exacting precision. Offsite construction also brings freedom from fifteen other onsite trades creating impediments and any number of compromising short cuts.

On the other hand, onsite construction is a process involving tape measures, pencils, and papers—literally, pulling a tape measure and snapping a line—all while facing the challenges of fifteen sub-trades all competing for the same space, at the same time.

Hours of labor are lost due to fatigue and wasting time wandering around on job sites in search of a tool, ladder, or role of cabling. This is exacerbated by a number of uncontrollable site conditions like lighting, elevators, and power, markedly impacting schedule and quality of results.

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Considering Offsite Construction for Your Next Project

When considering offsite construction for your project, you’ll notice there are a lot of modular components. Modular is typically fast and cheap, but sometimes it can be limiting. 

You may only have the options of walls that are 8’, 9’ or 10’ tall, and in specific widths. Basically, you’re shopping from a catalog. The “one-size-fits-all” approach can work in many situations, but it requires compromise.

Like almost every other industry in the world, technology has revolutionized offsite construction. In fact, a single software solution like ICE software can drive multiple facets of the offsite process.

Now you can go completely custom. Every wall and component is built specifically for the site. Components are designed, specs are sent to the factory for fabrication, and drawings are produced for onsite assembly. 

The coolest part? Virtual reality visualizations allow the end-user customer to experience the space and make informed design choices—all before the project fabrication even starts.

Like everything else that has become more efficient through computing power and software, technology-driven construction brings numerous benefits.

Measurable Benefits of Offsite Construction

1. Production Efficiency

Think for a moment about the efficiency of one labor hour on a site. Someone is looking for their screw gun. Or maybe they left a ladder they need on the back of the truck, eight floors below. How much of their time is truly productive?

With offsite fabrication, assembly of components happens in a controlled environment—so, efficiencies are amplified. A workstation in a factory can crank out consistent quality in volumes that simply cannot be replicated onsite.

2. Reduced Onsite Construction Schedule

Offsite fabrication runs parallel with the onsite construction schedule. Meaning, factory assembly happens at the same time the building structure and core is being built. The controlled environment in the factory makes production and on site installation hyper-efficient.

Once the product arrives on site, installers begin immediately erecting walls, installing casework, and running power and data. The entire portion of the interior build is completed by a single trade, installation, and PM team. This equals time savings, shortens project schedule, and removes the impediments of competing sub-trades late in a build out.

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3. Safer Working Conditions

Because products arrive to the site nearly fully assembled, they require very limited machinery, tools or equipment to install, and are installed by a single team. Onsite construction, however, requires several sub-trades to perform the same work in the same space and time. This makes for a very crowded, messy, disorganized, and dangerous work site. 

By reducing or eliminating most of these trades during this phase, and all of their equipment, you secure a much safer, cleaner, and more efficient work environment for all trades.


Want to see how offsite construction comes together?

Join us for our Open House...DIRTT in the Rough!

4. Predictable Cost

Conventional onsite builders spend the majority of the budget on labor, contingencies, fees and conditions. What remains is spent on materials. 

Offsite reverses that equation. Roughly 70% of the project cost covers materials and only 30% is budgeted for labor. You net a much more predictable outcome, with guaranteed pricing for materials from pre-design through delivery and build out.

Labor cost can fluctuate, but at only 30% of the budget, the impact is minimized. Most importantly, you get cost certainty on the 70% of your budget which is allocated for materials, netting you a higher quality product.

Pricing of offsite construction is consistent from the beginning to the end of the process—you get precise pricing during the design process with no costly surprises later on. ICE software calculates the exact cost of the entire project. All changes made throughout the design process are instantly calculated and reflect exact revised pricing.

There is no need to buy  any "contingency" amounts of wood, metal, gyp board, paint or hardware. You only pay for exactly what you need to complete the job. This automatically reduces conventional costs that go to contingency, waste removal, and disposal charges. Much less labor is required on site, adding even greater predictability and cost certainty.

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5. Improved Finished Quality

When components are finished in a factory setting, the level of finish is more consistent and durable (i.e. factory finished hardwood floors). A controlled offsite manufacturing facility produces products that are cut to the perfect size, rigorously tested, and ready for the install.

Wall finishes are not applied until the very end of the installation process, eliminating potential trade damage. After the other contractors are done, the blemish-free wall finishes get snapped in place.

6. Decreased Carbon Emissions

Since most of the magic of offsite construction happens in a factory, fewer people are going to the site. Less transportation translates to a decrease in carbon emissions. 

When you picture a traditional construction project, congestion and pollution are the norm as crews transport materials back and forth to the site. Minimizing the carbon footprint is made possible with offsite construction projects. 

7. Reduced Material Waste

A typical construction site wastes materials as they are cut to fit onsite. On the flipside, ICE software software brain calculates how to utilize any extra material somewhere else in the specification. 

Let’s say of that 4’x8’ board, you only need to use 3’x8’. Software tells you where to use the rest of that material in the project. The drastically reduced material waste is software driven so that 85% of all material is utilized.

Offsite Construction Gets You More

With the three-legged stool of construction—quality, price, speed—one leg usually gets sawed off. And, the project loses its balance. Something usually gets sacrificed for the other two.

Because people need a build to be done at a certain price and speed, 75% of the time the leg of the stool that gets cut off is quality. The other 25% of the time, quality is required no matter how long a project takes.

With offsite construction, all three legs of the stool remain intact. You get more with this highly sustainable solution, while keeping the process affordable, efficient, and predictable—with a high-quality result.

Ready to enjoy some of these offsite construction benefits? The GRIT team is here to help.

Angela Glatz