Precast Construction vs. Tilt-Up Construction for Commercial Projects

Modern commercial construction relies on a combination of skilled craftsmanship and the right tools and technology. Increasingly, construction teams leverage prefabricated components to streamline the construction process and deliver the functionality the project owner needs.

Precast construction and tilt-up construction are two common examples of prefabricated commercial construction products. Where should each be used and is one more desirable than the other? Here’s our perspective.

The Difference Between Precast vs. Tilt-up Construction

Precast and tilt-up panels are types of walls constructed from concrete. They both serve as structures that provide durable interior and exterior walls that can support multiple floors.

The difference comes in how and where each is produced: 

  • Precast walls are engineered, fabricated, and cured in a factory setting and transported to a construction site where they are erected and assembled 
  • Tilt-up panels are made using forms built on the construction site which are filled with concrete and cured, then tipped up into place with a crane

What are the Advantages of Precast Concrete Construction?

There is a time and place for tilt-up construction. However, in the Upper Midwest, including Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, precast construction is the method of choice.

Tilt-up construction requires proper environmental conditions to adequately cure the concrete. Humidity, varying temperatures, and inclement weather can impact the curing process and diminish the quality of tilt-up concrete walls. Not surprisingly, this method is impractical during the winter months in northern climates. As such, tilt-up construction is more commonly used in southern states.

Precast panels, on the other hand, are produced in a controlled environment in a factory. The manufacturing and curing process are the same from one panel to the next, ensuring consistent quality.

Another reason to use precast construction is space. Building tilt-up walls in the field requires a much larger footprint and not all construction sites can accommodate the extra space required. On-site casting requires additional time at the job site and can disrupt operations or surrounding businesses.

Precast Construction vs. Traditional Masonry

At Samuels Group, we’re increasingly leveraging precast construction for larger commercial construction projects. At some point, economies of scale make precast walls more cost-effective than traditional block and brick masonry. In particular, we often use precast walls in correctional facilities that have tall walls because it is less costly than traditional masonry.

Similarly to tilt-up construction, traditional masonry is difficult during the winter months. A mason will need to put up scaffolding with sheeting and heat the block wall to bring it up to an adequate temperature for the mortar to be the right consistency and set up properly.

RELATED: Top 7 Winter Construction Challenges and Considerations

Precast construction also saves considerable time and has a better chance of staying on schedule since the process is more controlled. 

Precast Construction vs. Metal Buildings

Metal-paneled buildings are an option for some facilities like manufacturing, warehousing, or retail. While metal buildings may have a smaller price tag initially, their long-term value and total cost of ownership is often negligible. 

Metal buildings are prone to fading and easily get dented or punctured by delivery trucks, forklifts, or weather events, requiring repairs, panel replacement, and maintenance. The structural integrity of metal buildings is also inadequate for some applications, making them less secure than precast construction. For correctional facilities, for example, precast construction is a standard due to its structural integrity and security. 

Major retailers and big box stores often use precast wall panels. They provide long-term benefits compared to metal-clad buildings due to their lower maintenance, durability, sustainability over time, and better resale value.

Misconceptions About Precast Construction

A concern for some is that precast construction takes jobs away from masons and traditional construction professionals. The reality is that there’s currently a labor shortage that makes it difficult to find enough skilled workers to complete large-scale projects like jails and correctional facilities in a timely manner. The use of precast construction materials means a construction company can use a smaller crew and still meet timelines, quality requirements, and budgets.

READ MORE: Guide to Jail Construction Planning

Another misconception is that precast construction lacks aesthetics and looks boring. Quite the contrary; precast can look like the “real thing” with brick inlays, limestone, and other architectural design finishes in an array of colors. Our team built a precast structure that butted up to a traditional limestone courthouse and it beautifully complemented the canvas. 

Precast can also include architectural components like sills and window frames which wear better over time. Some view precast construction as only being a big gray box, but it can be an innovative way to produce an attractive facility that saves time and dollars.

Flexibility is another concern for some. At first glance, precast construction might not seem conducive to future expansion. This misconception stresses the importance of working with a construction manager who can assist with developing a master plan. Panel systems can be designed to accommodate future building expansions using strategically placed doorways and knockout panels. 

Samuels Group works with project owners to develop a master plan to mitigate scope creep and other issues in the future. We look at projects holistically, being cognizant of a master plan and understanding a client’s needs now and into the future. During the design and planning phase, we ensure a project owner gets it right the first time and doesn’t regret their decision down the road. 

If you’re looking to build or renovate a correctional facility, manufacturing plant, hospital or other commercial structure, contact the experts at Samuels Group. We’ll help you determine whether precast construction is right for your project. Learn other construction terms that can help you navigate the process by downloading our helpful glossary below.

Commercial Construction Terminology

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