Prefab developers have no shortage of questions to ask potential suppliers. Here's the most important yet overlooked.
There are tens of thousands of prefab manufacturers worldwide. In China alone, there are over 7,000. There’s no shortage of questions a developer looking to build with modular needs to ask potential suppliers. They range from product quality to factory conditions to financing options. But before we go over some of the relevant queries you need to know, let’s highlight the most important:
Does the prefab manufacturer have experience building in your region?
Prefab construction is distinct from traditional building in many ways. The materials builders use are often different, project timelines are drastically shorter, and much less labor is needed. One thing both methods have in common is they have to meet local building codes and regulations. In the US, codes not only differ from state to state but can also vary between municipalities.
A building code is a standardized list of specifications and features a new building must meet to get an occupancy permit. Let’s take volumetric modular shipping containers as an example.
The good news is shipping container homes have been assembled across America, from New York City to California. The bad news is building codes can be complicated, and the only way to make sure your project will get a permit is to speak with local authorities. For shipping containers, zoning laws are often the biggest hurdle. And while load bearing capacity is higher for shipping containers than conventional homes, their unique insulation needs are a potential complication that can arise.
Regulatory issues are entirely avoidable with adequate planning. Developers should seek out manufacturers with experience in their country (or even better — their state or province) to minimize risk.
Remember: Different prefab materials each have unique benefits but can have different regulatory requirements.
After you have found prefab manufacturers with local project experience, there are other important factors to narrow your pool of possible partners. Some aspects, like material quality, expertise, and project costs are obvious, so there’s no need to reiterate them. However, many developers overlook
– Communication capabilities
Most prefab projects start in China. It’s already the leading prefab manufacturer of the world and set to play an even more significant role in the industry. However, many able and highly-experienced Chinese prefab manufacturers lack to ability to communicate with partners in the English-speaking world.
While a developer might have met an English-speaking representative when researching the company initially, that’s no guarantee he will always be able to contact someone with whom he can communicate. When searching for a prefab manufacturer, make sure to ask about the scope of their English-speaking staff, their hours (noting time-zone differences), and preferred channels of communication (e.g. email, phone, WeChat, QQ, and others).
– In-factory inspections
Building codes in many jurisdictions require local government inspections. Government-approved third party agencies can often handle the checks at the site and in the factory. Ask whether the manufacturer has worked with inspection agencies on previous projects, and research them thoroughly before committing to any supplier.
Also inquire whether the manufacturer will cover the costs of any necessary visits, which can come to tens of thousands of dollars. You might additionally wish to see the factory and building process yourself, so ask about the availability of arranging in-person tours.