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  • ACM | Kathryn Ineck

BUILDER BASICS: Commercial & Residential Construction Are Not Interchangeable

Updated: Feb 28

ACM | SWITC demo work in the afternoon

“You’re a builder, right? Can you build my home?”

It’s an understandable question, especially in today’s market: there don’t seem to be enough residential construction companies to meet the demand for housing. Compounding that scarcity, the residential building process is notoriously slow: homeowners and homeowners-to-be are anxious to get the ball rolling toward their forever after.


At their core, Commercial Construction and Residential Construction differ in many ways. Building codes, rules, and regulations; building materials; labor force; and even sources of funding all demand unique approaches to completing a construction project. Design professionals, too, differ: commercial construction requires professional, licensed architects and engineers whereas residential construction has more leeway regarding design qualifications. Today, we will narrow our focus to two differences: building materials and labor force.

construction worker at work on metal concrete frame

Building Materials

Residential buildings are largely made up of single-family homes, duplexes (and the like), townhomes, and sometimes condos or small retail buildings. These structures are smaller in scale than commercial buildings and are typically constructed with materials like wood and concrete—wood because it gets the job done and is less expensive than steel frames, and concrete because it’s rising in popularity as a durable product.

The hardware—from nails and screws to door hinges and doorknobs—is also less expensive because the components aren’t as sturdy as steel materials command, and because the tools required to maneuver them are also less hefty. Home building occasionally requires some heavy equipment, but not on a large scale.

Commercial building materials, on the other hand, are more robust. They must support large apartment buildings, warehouses, retail centers, and even sky scrapers, factories, and industrial plants.

Construction workers using heavy equipment to dig

The steel frames and concrete necessary for these giant projects are more expensive than timber, and they require very different hardware and equipment in the building process.

Heavy equipment is necessary to lift joists, move earth, and perform other specialized tasks on the jobsite, and the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing components are heftier as well.

For example, a home fire alarm system is very different than a sprinkler fire suppression system in a multi-level office complex. A home HVAC system is going to have very different functions than one suited for a hotel or a state capitol building.

Welding specialist at work

Labor Force

As a result of the different building materials, each construction type requires laborers who are specialized in each field. A plumber specializing in home construction is going to use materials and techniques different than a plumber specializing in high-rise, multi-use office buildings. An electrical panel in a home will operate on a different scale than one in a hospital—and the electrical contractors who work with these systems have specialized skill sets, as well.

Commercial construction laborers are not only more specialized, but their work is completed faster because they are able to be more streamlined, and there are simply more of them working at once.

Because the nature of homeownership is more individualized, so are the skilled trades that participate in their completion: they can pivot from one design plan to another per direction of a homeowner who is interested in adjusting their vision as the work progresses. This pivoting for individualized work plays into the longer construction times for residential construction.

ACM Superintendents and Support Staff

The ACM Advantage

ACM specializes in commercial construction. We have a dedicated workforce made up of skilled workers who are adept at most areas of commercial construction—beginning to end—and they are especially good at finish work.

For some tasks, we prefer to hire subcontractors from our curated list of commercial construction professionals: electrical, mechanical, and plumbing specialists work alongside us and share our passion and drive to construct your commercial, government, healthcare, and hospitality projects.


As for residential work? We leave that to the home-building pros.


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