What is a Modular Building?

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Modular Buildings – What They Are and Are Not


The demand for temporary office space continues to increase as businesses grow and expand in a world where space is a prized commodity. Modular buildings are a popular solution to many commercial needs. But how do you determine whether a modular building is the best (and most financially feasible) choice for your business? We’ve written this article to inform you of the benefits and limitations of a modular building so you can decide if a modular unit is right for you.

Modular Building medical center

A Modular Building IS:

  • A pre-manufactured portable building – Also known as a modular office space or prefab office. They often look similar to a permanent building, but the construction process is different. Modular buildings are manufactured in a controlled factory environment where each individual component is mass-produced on a production line. Modular units work a lot like a set of Legos. They are packaged as a set of individual parts with instructions for assembly. Each component fits together like a puzzle piece, making construction time quick and simple. not: Why Modular Construction is Faster.
  • A multi-unit office building – A modular building can have multiple rooms, adjoining units, or multiple levels (stackable). They are made of more permanent building materials such as steel, brick and hardwood.
  • Designed for long-term use – They address long-term needs (3+ years) and in some cases transition to permanent use.
  • Customizable – Similar to traditional construction, modular buildings, have almost endless design options and configurations.

A Modular Building IS NOT:

Not a storage container or mobile office


  • A mobile office trailer – Many people confuse modular buildings with mobile offices (and understandably so, as these terms are often used interchangeably). The difference: a mobile office is a one-unit temporary office space that sits on a wheel-and-chassis trailer base. They are generally made of wooden siding, vinyl flooring, and metal roofing.

  • A cheap alternative to traditional construction – Some modular designs can cost as much or even MORE than traditional construction. Your total cost will be affected by intricacy of the floor plan you choose, the type of building materials you request, and the labor required for assembly. If you are looking to save money with a modular build: KEEP IT SIMPLE. The more simple the floor plan, the quicker your building will be up and running, reducing your overall cost.
  • A shipping container complex – Re-purposed shipping containers (also known as ISO containers or storage units) have become a popular raw building material for apartment complexes, shopping centers, and restaurants/bars. They are NOT modular buildings. The difference: shipping containers are made of Cor-Ten steel and come in pre-configured sizes (20-or 40-feet long, 8 feet high). Their size limits design options.

modular classroom- mod

Common Modular Uses:

  • Education – Temporary/Permanent Classroom, Cafeteria, Gym, Administrative Office
  • Medical – Healthcare Clinic, Lab, Medical Records/Document Storage Facility, Administrative Office
  • Government – Administrative Office, Record Storage
  • Recreational – Community Gymnasium, Administrative Offices
  • Religious – Corporate Worship Facility, Nursery/Childcare Facilities
  • Retail – Storefront and Office Space, Inventory Overflow


Common Modular Features:

  • Custom flooring
  • Water/sewer connection
  • Wi-Fi/data connection
  • Exterior finish-out (paint, custom awnings, windows, trim, landscaping)
  • Interior finish-out (cabinetry, furniture, etc.)
  • Stairs and/or Ramps
  • Elevators
  • Parking Space
  • Covered Outdoor Corridors

Note: Available features will vary per supplier. Be sure to ask in advance if you have specific requirements.

Still Have Questions? Read our Mobile Vs. Modular article or our Modular Building Buyer’s Guide.

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