How Prefabrication Is Helping the Hospitality Sector

Travellers expect great memories from their hotels and that involves the entire hotel experience, including the bathrooms. The design and functionality of the bathroom is a key factor in customer satisfaction, and thus it must be factored into the overall comfort and quality enjoyed in the hospitality industry, especially in the case of larger hotels or hotel chains, where large numbers of bathrooms must be constructed. Prefabricated bathrooms and other prefabricated elements, using prefabricated construction modelling, such as walls and floors, cater to this need efficiently and also proffer a cleaner, safer workplace, help reduce labour, materials, waste, cost, time and improve occupancy speed.

A favourable bathroom experience has been known to even attract customers and increase earnings. Driven by technological advancement, hotels now provide in-room Wi-Fi, advanced climate control and mirror televisions. To maintain a competitive edge, these facilities are sometimes offered in bathrooms too. Some of the bathroom features on show in luxury hotels include heated toilet seats, self-cleaning toilets, heated towel racks, directional water jets, water massage functions, dryers, deodorisers and entertainment sets.

Including these features in prefabricated bathrooms or bathroom pods for the hospitality sector is becoming increasingly popular in Western nations. Prefabrication or modular construction or a system known as Design for Manufacture & Assembly (DfMA), with DfMA modelling and drawings, are being increasingly used for bathroom design and manufacture.

In the course of prefabrication in construction, bedrooms and bathrooms can be built off site, in a climate-controlled factory for the hospitality industry. When the modules are complete, they are transferred to the construction site, where the base and frame of the structure await. Typically, a crane then stacks the units in place. At this point, workers complete electrical, plumbing and HVAC system connections. This construction process is becoming increasingly favoured by hotels because it significantly speeds up the construction schedule, resulting in faster occupancy and faster returns. Also, skilled labour shortages and difficult weather conditions become less dire factors in the process of project completion. In addition, prefabrication inside a factory environment, where all conditions are monitored, means the units are of higher quality. In fact, where rooms have been prefabricated, guests noted that they heard minimal outside noise while in their rooms. This is a direct result of sturdier modules being built in a factory, since they must be transported. These modules have better sound insulation.

So, what is a bathroom pod?

It is a custom-designed bathroom unit (or shower unit) built specifically for a particular construction project. Increasingly, the preferred software tools used are Revit and AutoCAD in a BIM (Building Information Modelling) environment. The fabrication process involves the creation of 3D models created with tools such as Revit and modular construction drawings and then created to allow manufacturing teams to manufacture based on the drawing detail. Deploying bathroom pods in construction eliminates the traditional process of piece-by-piece assembly of bathroom units on site. In effect, there is no need to coordinate and schedule different trade workers in the small space of bathrooms. The pods arrive in a ready-for-installation state at the construction site, saving money and time that would be spent on multi-unit development. There is minimal worker congestion on site, thus making it safer. Clients have claimed that the use of bathroom pods saved almost 8 weeks of prime construction time, not to mention the cost savings that are also realised.

Therefore, the prime reasons for using bathroom or shower pods are:

  • Savings on time and insurance costs
  • Safer jobsite
  • Less worker traffic
  • Less waste
  • Reduction of on-site building time by up to 80%, compared to construction of a traditional bathroom
  • Single supplier for design, production, delivery, installation and after-sales service
  • High quality guaranteed by stringent testing, capable of being repeated in large numbers
  • Creation of a tailor-made product, factory produced but with detailed finishing by experts
  • Lower cost of component production

How are these advantages achieved?

In prefabricated modular construction, a product can be transported under strict controls with tight inventory and project schedules. Wastage is reduced and there is minimum site impact with careful delivery under site constraints. Prefabricated elements have fewer defects. Bathroom pod manufacturers can research and practice aesthetic and functional innovations, improving quality. Traditional construction of bathrooms consisted of the coordination of trades, which would require greater supervision and management on site so that plumbers, electricians, tilers, floor layers, sealant applicators, decorators, glaziers, carpenters and other specialists worked in the correct sequence and with the requisite quality. Bathroom pods take care of these issues. Importantly, shorter construction time means faster income generation from the project.

Many builders are currently palletizing mechanical equipment (complex mechanical equipment permanently mounted on a skid) and bringing it into a building, increasing efficiency in low profile building areas.

Considerations for Bathroom Pods

Repeatable Components: Hospitals, hotels and housing can benefit from prefabricated building components, such as bathrooms, kitchens and headwalls.

Size: Bathroom pods must be transferred to the job site, therefore size is important.

Stacking: Stacked components increase installation efficiency.

Use of bathroom pods can result in benefits in purchasing, design, production, quality control and shortened completion times for the highly competitive hospitality sector. Here’s how:

  • Purchasing: The pod manufacturing purchasing agent can purchase in bulk or custom manufacture components – useful for repetitive clients who wish to discuss details only once. Thus, time, cost and frustration are minimised for the client.
  • Design: Buildings with bathroom pods need changes in framing and dimensions. With repeated units, these initial expenses are minimal. Sample pods can be presented for client comments and acceptance, before the process of ordering them.
  • Quality Control: Quality is produced by best practices in a controlled factory environment, where functions are monitored for consistency.
  • Shortened Completion Time: The pod manufacturer can finish a bathroom while work has just begun on site. The units can be quickly installed in the building.
  • Overhead Savings: Building on site needs coordination between 5 specialty trades. Damages can occur. Prefabrication helps minimise time and effort, enabling site supervisors to be more effective. Pods reduce site waste, electricity, material handling equipment and other resources used.
  • Labour Shortage: In remote sites and urban areas, where skilled labour is in short supply, prefabrication can be a useful alternative.
  • Sustainability: Prefabrication produces less waste than traditional construction and waste recycling is better controlled. Studies have shown that 90-percent waste reduction can occur with off-site construction.

Along with labour on-site, on-site coordination is also reduced with the process of prefabrication, since multiple trades are typically coordinated on site. A brief overview of the procedure can be seen as follows:

  • Installation Process – Installation of bathroom pods may be executed in a variety of ways, but the different methods are still simple and repetitive.

  • Inspection – Pod manufacturers review shop drawings with inspectors during the design process. Logistics for delivery and installation are discussed at this point and an inspection strategy is evolved.

  • Delivery – Bathroom pods will be delivered on trucks and set in the building structure before erecting the exterior facade.

  • Phases – Bathroom pods are usually offloaded with cranes and hoisted into the building for complete installation in phases, floor by floor. Pod manufacturers generally provide specialised equipment required for installation.

  • Final Connections – Partition walls and HVAC elements are installed before the bathroom pods slide into place. These final connections concern waste, mechanical, water and electrical systems.

  • Quality Assurance/Quality Control – After the bathroom pod is installed and connected to all building systems, a final inspection takes place to ensure all requirements are met.

Who benefits from bathroom pods?

Developers: Working under tight deadlines, developers benefit from faster completion of work, especially when involved with projects that need large numbers of repetitive elements, such as bathrooms for a hotel. Using bathroom pods, there is no need to delegate to multiple trades.

Contractors: Prefabricated bathrooms for the hospitality sector minimises delays and rework, enabling hotels to function as normal on schedule.

Inspectors: Bathroom pods are built to meet local codes and are delivered to pass the final on-site inspection, facilitating project delivery on time.

Along with bathroom pods, prefabricated walls and flooring are also changing the construction landscape for the hospitality sector. Panellised timber prefabrication units have been in play for several years in both North America and Europe. These units have significantly contributed to efficient and cost-effective residential and multi-storey buildings. Residential construction has seen a rise in prefabricated wood panel systems, directly impacting the hospitality industry. New systems involve using complete timber floor cassettes and panellised walls, which are precast and installed with the help of a mobile crane.

Other prefabricated wall panels are typically made of concrete and fabricated in a factory, helping make construction easier. It reduces labour and material cost. A wall panel can be decorative, custom-made to suit the hotel’s theme and also enable insulation and sound-proofing. It is easily replaceable, the finishing is easy, it resists the effects of weather, needs less maintenance and saves time and effort.

Some of the advantages of prefabricated wall panels are that:

1. Costs are competitive compared to other materials

2. There is high efficiency

3. Providing joints in precast construction is unnecessary

4. With precast units, work can be finished quickly

5. These panels are easy to install

6. The amount of scaffolding is reduced

7. Concrete is strong enough to withstand explosions, vehicle crashes and projectiles

8. They can endure different kinds of weather

9. Little or no maintenance is required

Getting Floored with Lighter, Stronger Options

Prefabricated floors are frequently cast as hollow core slabs. The more popular types are regular hollow core slabs, cassette floors and a combination of the two. Large, square-shaped hollows or alcoves are a feature of cassette floors. Though they are lightweight, longitudinal and transverse ribs support the load-bearing strength and rigidity of these cassette floors.

For many years, wood, concrete and ceramics have been used to build floors and floor slabs. Timber floor joists were once popular. Reinforced concrete soon replaced them. Creating cast-in-situ concrete floors became tedious and costly. At this point, prefabricated flooring started to become popular. These systems involved hollow core slabs and beam-and-block floor systems. Lightweight concrete, reinforced concrete, pre-stressed concrete, ceramics, and combinations of these are the materials used.

For construction using precast floors, the floor cassette system is relatively lightweight and can span the same lengths as reinforced concrete, thus allowing mobile cranes to install them. Both the erection process and the cost of skilled labour benefit from this. Other areas of construction that benefit from such panels are building site productivity, health, safety, build speed and build quality.

Factors taken into consideration for prefabricated floors are:

  • Ease of construction
  • Adequate load-bearing capacity
  • Thermal insulating properties
  • Low weight

To conclude, bathroom pods, wall panels and floors are prime examples of how prefabricated modular construction can improve various parameters of hotel construction and benefit developers, inspectors, contractors and ultimately ready hotels for occupation with consistent design throughout. Prefabricated construction modelling and modular construction drawings ensure accurate design details. Thus, prefabrication in construction is helping the hospitality sector complete projects quickly, safely, at less cost and with high quality.