Architects, general contractors and developers still steeped in traditional methods turn to Boise’s Prefab Logic for guidance in building multi-story modular structures such as hotels, apartments and offices.
Prefab Logic is one of only about a half dozen companies in the country that help the construction sector get modular projects off the ground. Prefab, founded in 2015 by Rick Murdock and Curtis Fletcher, has been integrally involved in seven hotel and affordable housing projects in Nampa; the California cities of Oakland, Fremont and Truckee; Seattle; and Vail, Colorado.
Modular construction is when rooms – or modulars – are built, outfitted and sometimes even furnished as individual units at a factory and then assembled as a building on a construction site. Two prominent modular factories are in Boise: Nashua Homes and Guerdon Enterprises. The latter is one of the largest modular builders in the country, said Rick Murdock, COO at Prefab Logic.
Murdock previously was co-founder and chief operating officer at Guerdon.
“We make a project modular-friendly,” Murdock said. “You’re taking a design and breaking it down into segments for a manufactured product that can easily be assembled on site.”
Prefab Logic has 15 employees, including six design engineers. Murdock said so far Prefab Logic has been involved in projects from the outset about 40 percent of the time. Otherwise, it’s been a matter of converting traditional designs for modular production.
“When you build modular, every unit has a floor and ceiling,” Murdock continued. “You have an extra layer. Mechanical has to be designed so everything flows to connect box-to-box and how to connect to the main service.”
Prefab Logic assists architects in “tweaking” designs to make them ideal for modular manufacturing – and also to shave costs. Prefab also assists with permitting and serving as the representative for architects, general contractors and developers at modular manufacturing plants.
“It would be like wanting to buy a new car and buying all the parts and building it in a garage,” said Steve Collins, chief estimator at Dianda Construction in Reno, Nevada. “We haven’t worked with modular manufacturers. That’s what Prefab brings to my world.”
Dianda is the general contractor for the five-story, 138-unit Coburn Crossing affordable housing apartments in Truckee, California, a modular construction project near Lake Tahoe on which Prefab Logic collaborated. Site work is starting in May but the assembly of nearly 180 modulars into five buildings will go quickly from the end of September to early November.
“It’s really good to build in the mountains,” Collins said. “In the mountains we can’t dig in the ground until May and you can’t dig in the ground after October.”
Nampa motel opts for modular
Modular construction is still in the low single digit percentages for single-family homes and also multi-story structures, which is Prefab Logic’s specialty. But the construction industry is taking increasing note of modular because it costs less to erect and is typically completed faster.
The 56-room Silver Creek Hotel, built by Greg Anderson in 2017 in Bellevue, is one Idaho modular hotel already in operation. It was produced by Nashua Homes in Boise.
Modular construction will conceivably give Alkesh Patel an extra summer season of room revenue for his 80-room Cottonwood Suites next to Nampa Gateway Center. He expects to open in May 2019 rather than the October 2019 he would have had to settle for with traditional construction.
“Modular is new for us,” said Patel, CEO of Evergreen Hospitality Management in Battle Ground, Washington. The company has more than a dozen hotels under construction or in permitting along the Interstate 5 corridor in Washington and Oregon near Portland, with three others in Nampa, Reno and Austin, Texas. “We hear from industry guys we talk to that coordinating is always challenging. (Prefab) looks over what the factory is doing to meet the needs of the owner and brand (Intercontinental). For us to negotiate this would have to be a full-time position. ”
Patel thinks site work will start in summer with assembly of the modular at the end of the year.
Shift to modular construction
New construction starts for modular projects are around $6 billion annually and growing, said Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a Charlottesville, Virginia, non-profit trade association.
“Overall across all markets we’ve moved up from 2.3 percent of all new construction starts in 2015 to 3.1 percent last year,” Hardiman said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but percentage-wise, it’s a pretty big jump for our industry. The goal is to get it to 5 percent of all new construction starts by 2020.”
Modular construction is new enough that Denver architect Will Henschel said one city thought he was proposing trailers when he sought approval for modular townhomes. At the same time, Murdock said, even modular manufacturers are still on a learning curve with multi-story modular. Modular projects in London are reaching 29, 38 and 44 stories.
“We use the same materials (in modular),” Murdock said. “It’s the same materials as if built on site. We get wood, sheet rock, windows, doors from the same suppliers.”
Henschel, owner of 359 Design, is collaborating with Prefab Logic on the 32-unit Chamonix Townhomes in Vail, Colorado, priced at $499,000, $549,000 and $599,000. This development chose modular in seeking to provide “attainable” housing, essentially affordable housing for attorneys and doctors who can’t afford resort home prices, he said.
“We now have 10 or more projects that are modular and we are working with Prefab Logic on all of them,” Henschel said.
Henschel hands over his schematic designs to Prefab, which tailors them for modular construction. Later, Henschel hands the design development documents to Prefab Logic for final adjustments.
“They can tweak (our designs) to focus on the best prices,” Henschel said.”We will give them our designs. They say: ‘You’re doing 100 townhomes. This is the best modular group for that.’ They suggest: ‘What if we do this? That gets us a better price.’ Let’s say I had a townhome that is 20 feet by 30 feet. ‘What if you shift to 18 by 35 feet?. (Manufacturers) can do that (easier).’”