Technical Notes: Modules and Materials  /  19 Dec 2020

Modules. Conventional single-family homes are usually built with an all-wooden frame; wood construction is inexpensive, low-skill, and requires less preparation to join and reshape on site. But building cheaply with wood also risks the effects of condensation, often leading to mold issues that deteriorate the quality of indoor air. While properly insulated wooden framed buildings reduce or even prevent this risk, code requirements for insulation have been historically insufficient, and it is still common to use insulation materials that are low quality or that are more difficult to install without gaps. Additionally, any breaches in the exterior wall for utility services that are usually insufficiently sealed create opportunities for water and condensation to find their way into the exterior wall envelope.

With modular construction, most of the construction process moves off the lot to an indoor facility, protecting the structure from exposure to the elements while it is being built. The challenge with modular construction is transporting the completed modules to the site, since transportation costs increase very rapidly for moving oversized cargo. Our modules take advantage of international shipping standards to altogether avoid oversized load permitting, delays, and potential issues with local transportation restrictions.

Our first design uses five modules for a gross total of 1,600 square feet. We also offer an optional three-module detached garage, which can accommodate three cars and ample storage. Each module is 8’ x 40’ in footprint and, while that is the same size per module as standard shipping containers, using actual shipping containers as raw material for architectural projects presents a myriad of problems. Instead, our manufactured steel-frame modules are built from the ground up so that we can oversee construction in the Chicago area for a home that may end up anywhere in the US.

The critical concern with modular construction is making sure everything comes together perfectly on site. The majority of the site and foundation work is done before the completed modules arrive, so adequate construction tolerances and proper planning are a must, especially since we partner with local contractors to do the foundations and site work. We’re currently in the process of detailing a custom joint fitting and foundation attachments to minimize our site work and ensure a durable, watertight connection between modules.

Materials. Building a long-lasting home and protecting the quality of indoor air is so central to our home design, that we have built those priorities into every decision we made. We’ve chosen materials throughout our home that have little to no outgassing and are resistant to spills and mold.

For better environmental performance and a more durable building, we’ve designed our wall systems with commercial-grade materials and assemblies. That means light gauge steel studs and aluminum-frame windows and doors. All the exterior and interior wall finishes are corten steel and anodized aluminum.

To consolidate the interior functional elements, two rectangular core units are finished with natural maple plywood. One core showcases the kitchen appliances and cabinetry, while hiding the laundry station, a half bath, closet storage, and a small mechanical room. A second core houses the master bathroom and extensive closet space. Both bathrooms flaunt marble slab finishes and basins in a stunning matte black ceramic. Access panels at critical locations in the cores give quick and easy access to plumbing when maintenance is needed.

The ceiling of the home is dressed in the same natural maple plywood we have used for the cores, installed in large sections and housing recessed warm lighting. The panels can be easily opened by the homeowner to access wiring when needed or to inspect the module seals. For flooring, we’ve selected charcoal porcelain tile that mimics a rich industrial concrete finish and runs throughout the entire house.

See how all the materials come together ➔

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