U.S. contractors in the commercial construction industry are exploring off-site construction as a means to address labor shortages, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences Off-Site Construction Council. Following a 2018 survey, about 54% of respondents said they were utilizing off-site construction, which the council as "the planning, design, fabrication and assembly of building elements at a location other than their final point of assembly onsite."
The council has monitored off-site construction use among contractors over the past five years—its 2014 survey finding 57% of commercial construction contractors pursuing the process. Although those numbers declined slightly in 2018, respondents said off-site construction has reduced the time of construction as well as improved product quality and cost effectiveness. Yet, where there are benefits, there are also challenges.
"One of the most significant barriers is transportation, specifically how far away the factory is located from the construction site," the council states in its 2018 Off-Site Construction Industry Survey. "In addition, respondents in both surveys qualitatively noted that some projects, particularly those with long spans, may not be suited for utilizing pre-fabricated elements and that each project has unique requirements that must be met through an appropriate technical solution."
The majority of respondents said construction managers or general contractors were responsible for either requesting or requiring the use of off-site construction (47.7%), with clients not far behind at 42%. However, subcontractors rarely had input—a mere 16% responsible for the decision to use off-site construction.
A third of respondents anticipate more off-site construction in the next year. Florida and Washington State currently hold the largest number of off-site construction projects at 34 and 30, respectively.
—Andrew Michaels, editorial associate