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Modular Goes Green—and Greener

A modular building provider introduces three sustainable office units for general contractors to green their jobsites.

November 01, 2008 |
Modular office floor plans are flexible and green. Williams Scotsman developed a wall panel system that allows interiors to be reconfigured without having to tear down walls and fill dumpsters with construction waste.

For more than two years, Williams Scotsman had tried bringing much-needed green modular units to market for the K-12 sector, but the company realized that the schools sector didn't have the money to support their effort. “We captured their hearts and minds, but not their wallets,” says Michele Cunningham, VP of marketing and business development for the Baltimore, Md.-based modular provider.

Updated exteriors will feature skins with a choice of green graphics that promote the new modular offices as sustainable products.

Undaunted, the company turned its attention to the commercial sector, enlisting the Baltimore-based architecture firm Hord Coplan Macht to help create a line of sustainable office modules. The effort resulted in the new reMod lineup of three sustainable products—informally referred to as light, medium, and dark green—that are just now coming to market. “We wanted to spur mainstream adoption, and we had a bit of a hook with commercial because a green modular office on a jobsite can help a project get LEED certification,” says Cunningham.

While modular units themselves can't be LEED certified (they're considered products rather than buildings, and the USGBC doesn't have a product certification category), the units may contribute at least one Innovation Credit. “Our best way of aligning with the green movement and enabling LEED projects is to offer a temporary solution that's part of a larger strategy for achieving LEED certification of the permanent structure,” says Cunningham.

Williams Scotsman's strategy for going green led to the manufacturer's three-model lineup:

  • Light-green units utilize an existing chassis (single-wide, 12x60-foot, or double-wide, 24x60-foot) that is recycled and retrofit with green products and energy-saving systems, including programmable thermostats, motion-sensor lighting, T-8 lighting, and upgraded weather stripping.

  • Medium-green units also recycle existing modular chassis in either single- or double-wide configurations, and include all the green upgrades offered in the light-green units, but add new energy-efficient HVAC systems, Greenguard-certified insulation, a white EPDM roof, recycling stations, dual-flush toilets, larger windows for enhanced daylighting, and low-VOC floor, ceiling, and wall materials and finishes. Both light- and medium-green units will be built on a factory's existing assembly line.

  • The dark-green model is a highly customized unit built off the assembly line and tailored to a specific customer's need and jobsite. These sustainable modular units, which can be installed horizontally or stacked, include all of the manufacturer's eco-offerings, plus the possibility of adding such elements as photovoltaics, rain screens, and light sills.

Light- and medium-green units are positioned as Williams Scotsman's core sustainable products, and will be added to the firm's lease fleet (approximately 75% of the firm's units are leased), while dark-green units are expected to be purchased. All units have an updated exterior appearance with special skins or building wraps that will publicize the modular offices as being green.

Cunningham's expectations for the sustainable products are conservative. “These are niche offerings and we know they're never going to replace our fleet,” she says. “I think if they account for 5% of our installations over the next few years that would be incredibly ambitious.” She sees the green units appealing to a subset of the giant GC firms that place an importance on building green or who have clients who do so, and are willing to pay a slight premium (approximately 10%, depending on model and length of lease) for the sustainable units.

Cunningham hopes the green modular market takes off and creates a trickle-down effect that helps other modular markets go green—including the schools sector.

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