“Our definition of sustainable design differs from that of mainstream architecture,” says Mike Iannone, a manufacturer’s representative for modular interior walls. “The design community focuses on energy conservation and recycled content, but to sustain means to stay in use. Conventional interiors have a limited life cycle and are, by definition, the antithesis of sustainability.”

The average life cycle for a standard commercial building interior is 54 months and for retail, 20 months, according to Iannone. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that for every square foot of sheet rock installed in new construction, one pound of drywall ends up as garbage. Roughly 28 to 30 percent of landfills consist of construction, demolition and renovation waste.

Conventional drywall construction is an environmentally damaging cycle of building, demolition, disposal and rebuilding. Modular interior wall companies redefine sustainable building interiors by manufacturing cutting-edge, environmentally friendly solutions that are built to last.

“Reducing and reusing are the best ways to maximize sustainability,” says Iannone. “Recycling actually has a large carbon footprint. You need fuel to transport the existing materials and convert them into something new.”

Along with their distribution partners, modular wall companies create customized, productive spaces as long-term solutions for a client’s continually evolving needs. Many modular wall solutions are an adaptable kit of parts that reconfigure easily and efficiently. A wide range of standard and custom options gives individuals exactly what they want while maintaining a consistent overall look and feel.

“Designers love modular interior walls because they can control the aesthetic as well as the ever-changing function,” says Taylor Finlay of Environments in Portland, a modular wall distribution partner. “They love giving clients the ability to change any wall into what it needs to be five years from now.”

Conventional construction often forces tenants to lease more square footage than necessary to accommodate inevitable future changes. The adaptability of modular walls allows clients to maximize their existing space, integrating freely with the base building.

Select modular walls are freely compatible with other manufacturers’ furniture, mill-work, electrical and plumbing. By using a modular interior solution, building managers don’t have to worry about disrupting asbestos or compromising aesthetics and function.

Revolutionary technology helps modular wall companies achieve some of the shortest lead times in the industry. One company uses an advanced design platform, an object oriented software loaded with specific product information. It streamlines the order process, increases productivity and drastically reduces error margin

“When I’m designing a project, the design platform gives me comprehensive pricing, shop drawings, AutoCAD files and a bill of materials for sign-off and order entry,” says Finlay. “When I complete the design work, I send the electronic files to the manufacturer, and it’s a pretty quick turnaround to get my order acknowledged with a ship date. They use the electronic information to immediately start manufacturing the parts in their factory.”

Designing in software automatically creates an interactive 3D interface, a powerful communication tool. Using patented video game technology, the program creates graphic, real-time elevations that give clients a detailed visual mock-up of their interior solution. Changes are easily made and submitted for review. Because the image is the order, clients don’t have to wait for custom product engineering.

“The manufacturer automatically generates a list of parts and installation drawings when the order ships,” says Finlay. “It saves so much time. I don’t have to spend three days updating floor plans and tagging each tile. The installers get the drawings, we’re all looking at the same thing, and we know it’s accurate.”

Though potential clients see the environmental benefits of modular walls, they often assume the cost is significantly higher, which isn’t the case. Additionally, modular walls offer a huge tax savings over traditional drywall construction, as they fall into the same category as office furniture. Furniture depreciates over a seven-year schedule as opposed to conventionally constructed interiors, which depreciate over a 39-year schedule. Recent tax laws currently allow for 100 percent of first-year depreciation.

Traditional construction might seem like the cheapest way to build a wall, but not when you look at the big picture. Conventional construction projects often exceed the initial budget and deliver late. With a modular interior solution, the cost is the same from the start of the project to the end, and they often help reduce construction lead time by two to three weeks.

“Time is money, and the sooner a business can get up and running, the more productive they’ll be in the long run,” says Iannone.

Amanda Gilchrist

Amanda Gilchrist is a project manager at Environments, a distribution partner for DIRTT modular solutions. She can be reached at 503.963.6205 or amandag@environmentsnw.com.