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Differences Between Commercial and Residential Construction

To those not in the know, it may seem like commercial and residential construction practices must be more or less the same. After all, both result in high-quality buildings designed to meet exacting specifications. Beyond that, though, the differences are far greater in number than the similarities. This article will discuss both residential and commercial construction and what property owners or project managers should expect from the contractors that provide these vital services.

Why It Matters

First, let’s get one common question out of the way by discussing why the differences between residential and commercial construction even matter. Practically speaking, the answer is simple. Commercial contractors typically specialize in constructing large-scale buildings for use as offices, retail spaces, storage units, restaurants, or other businesses, while residential contractors generally build only single-family homes and small multi-family structures.

Project managers need to find contractors who have the capabilities and experience required to complete commercial jobs on time and up to specifications. If they plan on building large-scale housing developments, the best solution may be to find a company that specializes in commercial construction but also provides residential services. Developers in the Chicago area can learn about CCI Corporate Contractors online to get the search started on the right foot.

CCI Corporate Contractors

The Key Differences

The most obvious differences between commercial and residential buildings are their sizes and intended uses. Those two factors also influence every aspect of building construction, from the design phase through project completion. Here’s how:

Building Materials

Most residential homes are built using wood framing techniques that feature two-by-fours. Commercial buildings tend to be framed with steel and concrete. Of course, some of the most common building materials can be found in both homes and residential projects, but even then, their uses differ.

Concrete, for example, is usually used to lay foundations for single-family homes. In this context, it’s common for contractors to require up to 200 tons of concrete. Large commercial buildings, on the other hand, can contain up to 200,000 tons of concrete, not just in their foundations but throughout their structures.

In some cases, commercial buildings use materials not found in residential homes. These include flat roofing systems with EDPM membranes, structural steel girders, and other specialized materials.

Project Scope and Scale

Part of the reason that commercial structures feature different materials from residential buildings is that these projects must be completed on a much grander scale. Commercial buildings must be large enough to accommodate many people at once, plus all of the infrastructure required to maintain a comfortable indoor environment for customers and keep the business running.

Commercial buildings aren’t just larger. Every component must be scaled up, from lights and ballasts to HVAC equipment, and construction contractors have to accommodate those changes in scale from the very beginning, which can substantially increase the complexity of the project. For commercial buildings with very specific uses, complications can be even more significant.

Required Equipment

Completing construction projects on a larger scale using specialized building materials requires access to different types of equipment than the small tools typically used by residential contractors. Commercial construction firms typically have access to all kinds of heavy equipment for use in demolition or site clearing, excavation, and the construction process, itself, which may require lifting heavy components into place with cranes.

Residential contractors don’t generally need much heavy equipment. Stick-framed houses featuring asphalt shingle roofs are relatively easy to build by hand, and many general contractors work with subcontractors for excavation and site preparation work.

Permits, Zoning, and Building Codes

In most places, both commercial and residential buildings must be built up-to-code after obtaining a permit from the local building authority. However, the building codes and standards for commercial construction are different from residential codes, and these larger buildings typically require more expensive permits.

To complicate matters further, local zoning may permit only one type of construction, but not the other. Local contractors are familiar with zoning regulations, building codes, and permitting requirements and can help their clients navigate the bureaucracy surrounding new construction.

Project Timelines and Costs

Building a commercial structure is usually more expensive than constructing a residential home, and the process tends to take longer. The differences in cost aren’t just about paying for specialized construction services. The building materials used in large-scale structures are often more expensive, as well, and there are greater overhead costs associated with running a commercial construction firm.

Both the scale and complexity of commercial buildings contribute to longer project timelines. A new home can be completed in just three to six months under ideal circumstances. The largest commercial buildings often take years to complete, even though commercial projects tend to be faster-paced than residential ones.

How to Choose the Right Type of Contractor

Sometimes, it’s obvious which type of contractor is the best fit for a project. For a single-family, detached home, choose a residential contractor. For a massive industrial building, find a commercial firm. There’s also some middle ground between the two extremes, though.

Commercial contractors are generally the go-to choice for large-scale, multi-family housing developments, for example. Residential contractors may be able to complete duplexes, triplexes, and even some housing co-operatives. The best way to determine which contractor will be the best fit for the job is to look at each one separately. Check local construction firms’ portfolios, ask for references from similar clients, and request quotes from multiple contractors.

Start the Search on the Right Foot

Since it takes time and patience to find the right contractor for a job, property owners should start the search as soon as they know what kind of building, they want to construct. Every project has different needs, so be sure to work with a company that offers a full range of services. A good commercial contractor will be able to handle projects at all scales, work with local architects and engineers to complete complex design tasks and provide a full range of related services such as demolition and excavation. Start the search on the right foot by making a list of priorities and using it to begin evaluating local firms today.

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