Prefabrication (also referred to as modular construction in instances), is a form of offsite construction where certain construction activities occur at an offsite manufacturing facility or location. Construction components or units are preassembled (prefabricated) at this offsite location prior to being delivered to the project site and then integrated into the project.
When preparing a prefabrication contract (including a prefabrication subcontract), there are a number of complex considerations that need to be weighed, and these considerations are bullet-pointed below. The purpose of these bullet-points is to give you considerations to discuss and vet when preparing, negotiating, and agreeing to a prefabrication contract or subcontract.
- UCC or Common Law. Article II of the Uniform Commercial Code applies to the sale of goods where common law applies to the sale of services. As mentioned here, hybrid contracts involving both the sale of goods and services deal with the predominant test to see if the Uniform Commercial Code or common law applies. Oftentimes, prefabricators are considered subcontractors, particularly if they are installing the prefabricated units, where the common law would apply because of the predominant services component involved in their subcontracts.
- Responsibility for Integration of Prefabricated Units into Project. There needs to be consideration for how prefabricated units get installed or integrated to work-in-place at the project. Of importance is how to build or integrate allowable tolerances with the prefabricated units and the substrate or work-in-place. This would require an understanding of any allowable tolerances associated with the substrate or work-in-place to ensure there is not an issue with integration.
- Insurance. There needs to be strong consideration as to what insurance applies to the prefabricated units during the offsite fabrication process, transport, storage, integration into the project, and for defects. (This involves an understanding of builder’s risk property insurance coverage, commercial general liability coverage, professional liability coverage, the master’s policy that covers property and liability at the manufacturing facility/location, inland marine insurance, etc., in order to maximize insurance coverage in the event of a loss.)
- Risk of Transportation. There needs to be consideration how the prefabricated units get transported from the offsite manufacturing location to the project. Transportation is significant risk from a cost standpoint, loss standpoint, and logistics standpoint when transporting loads (e.g., will escorts be required with the transportation), particularly if they are being transported from out of the state where the project is located. Understanding the transportation of the loads including jurisdictional requirements and travel routes–anticipated highways / roads, etc. used to deliver the units–will be important from a cost and timing standpoint. This would also include an understanding of the vendors used to transport or deliver the prefabricated units since you will want a quality / reputable company doing the transportation and handling.
- Risk of Loss Post-Delivery to Project. There should be a protocol or plan for inspection or survey procedures when prefabricated components arrive to the project site and get signed-off, or otherwise accepted in writing (not orally), prior to installation. This includes consideration for damage that may occur post-delivery at the project site and may depend on whether the prefabricator is also serving as the contractor that installs the prefabricated units at the project.
- Storage. There needs to be consideration as to storage of prefabricated units if they cannot be stored at the project site or the manufacturing location needs offsite storage to store prefabricated units to achieve a production schedule.
- Quality Control and Quality Assurance. There needs be a protocol that discusses quality control and assurance, particularly during the offsite fabrication process. This should include input from the prefabricator and an understanding as to whether any third-party testing will be required. This includes the consideration of access to the offsite manufacturing location so units can be inspected during the fabrication process. This also includes the consideration of preservation of certain trade secrets that may be involved in the offsite fabrication process. And, there should be a system that labels or marks the prefabricated units to allow for efficient storage and installation/integration of these units into the project. Further, the protocol should establish the quality control and assurance procedure before prefabricated units are provided to a transporter for delivery to the project site (i.e., a pre-transportation sign-off).
- Warranties. There needs to be consideration for warranties provided by the prefabricator and when those warranties commence.
- Scope Issues. There needs to be consideration for any scope of work issues and gaps to ensure the full scope of work of the prefabricator is clearly delineated in the contract. This also involves scope issues involving the integration of the prefabricated units into the project to ensure that scope is appropriately detailed. Further, this would involve any lead time associated with the prefabrication, allowable tolerances that need to be factored in, and any requirements associated with commissioning or third-party testing.
- Legal Issues. There needs to be consideration if there are any licensing issues, OSHA issues, or state law issues that may come into play (such as a state law issue that impacts any statute of limitations or statute of repose associated with construction defects). You want to make sure all necessary licenses are current and the safety protocols being used at the prefabrication facility (and you make want the safety protocols to be greater than required).
- Flow Down Provisions. There needs to be a contractual responsibility that the prefabricated units comport with the contract documents (plans and specifications) so appropriate language, whether flow down provisions in the prime contract or otherwise (such as specific warranty language), needs to be incorporated.
- Liquidated Damages and Consequential Damages. Exposure to damage needs to be considered in the event there are delays in delivery or production. Exposure to damage needs to be considered if there are defects or quality control issues with the prefabricated units. In this manner, consideration should involve whether the contract includes a waiver of consequential damages which may depend on whether the prime contractor is exposed to consequential damages with the owner and the type of insurance available to cover consequential damages (i.e., a party may want to limit recovery of such damages to the extent covered by insurance so as not to deprive itself of otherwise available insurance).
- Bond Requirements. There needs to be consideration as to whether the prefabricator will be required to be bonded with a payment and performance bond. If not, is there subcontractor default insurance the prefabricator will be enrolled in to cover more catastrophic losses.
- Crane Operations. Oftentimes, prefabricated units are incorporated through the utilization of a crane so there should be consideration for any complex crane operations that may be utilized for purposes of offloading or integration in the project. This would include understanding the companies furnishing the crane (again, you want a quality / reputable company) to ensure there are proper crane inspections, certifications, and safety requirements. This would also include an understanding of the crane path for ingress to the project site and where the crane will be situated to determine whether any geotechnical or other testing may need to be conducted.
- Hoisting or Loading Platforms. If a loading platform or a hoisting platform will be used, there needs to be an understanding so that the appropriate engineering can be performed for the platform and there is the appropriate inspections for the platform.
- Technology. There needs to be consideration for using building information modeling (BIM) and any protocols associated with using BIM. Certain considerations include who is going to take ownership of the model (to ensure there is uniformity in the model and parties are operating under same model) and the level of modeling (details in the modeling).
- Governing Building Department. Finally, there should be an initial understanding as to any requirement from the governing building department so that any concerns they may have with prefabricated assemblies / units are determined on the front-end. This way any required inspections or code requirements that are raised can be appropriately addressed and this is known before the prefabrication, not after.
These are some of the main considerations that should be touched upon in any prefabrication contract or subcontract. There are many positives to prefabrication but those positives also come with risk factors that need to be assessed and considered.
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