How modular building can benefit the education sector in a post-COVID world by Dan Smith, Corporate Business Development Executive, Mitsubishi
Coronavirus has had a dramatic effect on the education sector – prompting millions of students to learn from home and causing untold disruption to key moments in the educational lives of students across the country, including exams. While UK academic institutions are tentatively starting to re-open their doors to students again, the sector at large is still nowhere near returning to pre-lockdown normality.
One of the core issues facing schools and universities is the challenge of physically accommodating returning students while being conscious of the social distancing rules that are in place.
Rising to meet this challenge is the burgeoning modular building market. Below we have a look at why the modular building market is an ideal alternative to traditional methods of construction, and how it can help to address both the capacity Challenges associated with welcoming students back, and the need to make campuses as environmentally friendly as possible.
Universities and the drive for sustainability
With students sent home and campuses empty for months after the coronavirus pandemic hit, universities were well-placed to plan for and execute on improvements to campus buildings, ready to welcome students back for the new year.
One area of focus must be the environmental credentials of a campus. With universities now ranked on their environmental and sustainability credentials, and with students continuing to voice their keen interest in a Green Recovery following the pandemic, ways of reducing the carbon footprint of educational spaces are a priority.
And promising changes have already been made by many universities. For example, The University of Nottingham is making use of a range of renewable technologies across its estate to provide heating and hot water, including air and ground source heat pumps, solar electricity and biomass boilers. Meanwhile, the University of Hertfordshire secured a BREEAM Outstanding rating for their zero-carbon accredited student accommodation site. The student halls utilise a biomass-fuelled energy centre in order to generate energy for a large part of the campus.
How modular can help the education sector achieve Green Recovery
Beyond these ongoing initiatives, one way to improve green credentials has often been overlooked – modular building. The ongoing challenge of social distancing as a result of the pandemic as brought this type of construction to front of mind, and it is well poised to meet both students and the governments appetite for a Green Recovery.
Before the pandemic hit, the global modular build market was set to be worth over £165bn by the middle of the next decade. Now with schools, universities and all manner of campus facilities looking to return to some kind of normality, while doubling or tripling its existing space requirements, the modular building market is poised to step in. This is primarily because it offers easy, cost-effective, and an environmentally-friendly way to rapidly expand square-footage to meet the needs of a market impacted by social distancing.
Support for the long-running Climate challenge
It’s not just the pandemic that is acting as a driver for the growth in the modular buildings space. As citizens –particularly students– become more climate conscious and are being exposed to greater awareness of our carbon footprint on a near daily basis, traditional construction and it’s impact on the environment is firmly under the microscope. Cement alone is a source of about 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions, accounting for nearly 6% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cement has such a large carbon footprint, if it were a country, it would be the third largest emissions producer, behind China and the US.
In comparison, the modular building market is much more efficient. Modular buildings are constructed offsite which means they can reduce 90% of the waste generated from traditional construction methods, while using 67% less energy to produce a modular building. Modular buildings are also built to the higher sustainability standards such as BREEAM, or PassivHaus.
A rapid solution
The virtue of being built off-site and then assembled when ready means that construction time is also significantly reduced, often by as much as 50%. This means that everything from the heating, cooling and ventilation systems, to the lighting requirements and the windows can all be installed in modules off-site, ready to be fitted together once required. It can all be done to deliver a more energy efficient building as well.
This means that modular buildings erected on school and university grounds can be readily equipped with the most advanced technologies whether that is air conditioning with the latest, lower global warming potential refrigerants (R32), renewable heating through modern air source heat pumps such as the advanced Ecodan range, or heat recovery ventilation units such as the Lossnay system to deliver energy efficient fresh air.
Of course, this will be particularly valuable during the pandemic, as new spaces for students to work and live in must be constructed rapidly to ensure that students are able to return to campuses in a way which prioritises their safety and wellbeing. Beyond that, this speedy style of building will also allow campuses to complete expansion or refurbishment of spaces during holidays, and make the most of the quiet periods throughout the year that students return home.
A high quality, long-term solution
Modular buildings can address a lot of concerns in the current environment and offer a viable, sustainable long-term future for academic institutions, especially as they juggle the return of pupils and students in the context of social distancing.
Modular buildings adhere to the same building regulations and standards as traditionally constructed buildings. This means adhering to building regulations such as thermal performance (U Value), fire safety, sustainability and acoustics. Being built off-site means the modular panels are constructed in a covered, controlled environment which brings precision and quality control.
The way the world works has changed dramatically over the last few months – not least in the education sector. Despite this, one thing is for certain – things won’t go back to the way they were for the foreseeable future. With the UK population – and especially students – pushing for a green focused economic recovery from the pandemic, modular buildings can go a long way to helping achieve that reality. Modular is also well positioned to quickly and conveniently create the space that schools, colleges and universities require to adhere to social distancing. The benefits are clear to see. Isn’t it time to start making modular mainstream?
Call to Action – For further information on the advanced range of heating, cooling and ventilation systems available for modular construction visit https://les.mitsubishielectric.co.uk/end-users/application-by-sector/modular-buildings