Five stories high & rising: Why building up is better than building out

By Bob Schieler

It’s well known that most podium buildings are typically 4-over-1, meaning they can only have four stories of wood over a concrete/steel podium or crawlspace. But what you might not know is that our approach to volumetric modular construction allows for one additional floor, or 5-over-1. And when you build up, you can save more (and make more) than when you build out.

How do we build five stories and still meet all building code requirements? By using fire-retardant treated (FRT) wood for exterior framing and sheeting, as well as adding additional structural engineering elements. This results in three-hour fire-rated walls thanks to the use of thicker building materials. In addition to meeting fire code requirements, our approach also meets or exceeds structural codes, sound transmission codes, and load bearing codes.

One perfect example of 5-over-1 volumetric modular building is the John Street Apartments in Champaign, IL. Built as an off-campus apartment for students at the University of Illinois, this project was originally designed to be a traditional build. But working with Sub4 Development and Mode 3 Architecture, we transformed the plans into a modular project and saved both on construction costs and build time.


John Street Apartments in Champaign-Urbana, IL

John Street Apartments

Student Housing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
5 Stories | 39,415 sq ft | 65 living units

View Project


“We started the project as a traditional building, but we talked to Bob at Homeway early on because we’d worked with him on another successful modular project many years before,” said Jacob Unzicker, AP Vice President and Architect at Mode 3 Architecture. “Bob and his team are great about figuring out ways to get builders what they want and need. You can do a lot more with modular than I thought when I started.”

While there are obvious costs associated with going from four to five stories, if you’re basically copying a level, then building up is a lot easier than expanding laterally.

“When you go taller than four, you are allowed to use FRT wood and I was able to help them understand where it was needed for code purposes,” said Uzincker. “And they took it from there. This allowed us to build one more floor resulting in an increase in the amount of revenue on the same piece of ground. If you can simplify your building in any way possible, it’s going to be a benefit because of the cost. If more of it can be stacked vertically, that’s even better.”

That doesn’t mean that the project doesn’t have any character in terms of design and style. Our approach to modular building can accommodate certain architectural enhancements as well.

“We did introduce design features like special windows and projected elements and did things to make it look interesting,” added Unzicker. “But making sure the building is straightforward and logical is the goal.”

So, what are the biggest benefits of our approach to 5-over-1 building? For the John Street Apartments projects there were many.

“The biggest benefit was that it just went together really smoothly and quickly at the site,” said Unzicker. “And then there’s the attention to the design process. The entire project worked very well because more attention is paid at the beginning to getting it right. Another big advantage is there weren’t any weather delays because of Homeway’s building facility. And finally fewer safety concerns because people aren’t working up on lifts outside.”

Building up is a lot easier (and more cost effective) than building out. And with our unique approach to volumetric modular construction now you can build up to five stories – and build up even more revenue.

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Bob Schieler
Vice President of Sales | Principal

100 Homeway Court
Deer Creek, IL 61733

(309) 208-4418


Bob Schieler - Regional Sales Manager, Homeway Commercial
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