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5 Types of Construction and Why They Matter

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For most people, a building is just a building.

But if you’re a contractor, you view every building through a different lens.

Contractors are all about the details.

They know that understanding the types of construction is a matter of safety for their clients.

This guide will outline building construction types and why they matter.

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First Things First: 4 Basic Types of Construction

There are four major types of construction, with each one having its own characteristics and requirements. They include:

  • Residential building
  • Institutional and commercial building
  • Specialized industrial construction
  • Infrastructure and heavy construction

Basic Type #1: Residential Building

The first of the building construction types, residential building, involves …

  • Building
  • Remodeling; and
  • Repairing

… structures for the purpose of housing:

  • People
  • Equipment; or
  • Supplies

This building construction type includes structures such as:

  • Apartments
  • Condos
  • Townhomes
  • Nursing homes
  • Dormitories
  • Garages
  • Outbuildings

Basic Type #2: Institutional and Commercial Building

Institutional and commercial building construction includes structures such as:

  • Sporting arenas
  • Shopping centers
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Retail stores
  • Skyscrapers

Basic Type #3: Specialized Industrial Construction

The next of the building construction types is specialized industrial construction.

This includes projects such as:

  • Oil refineries
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Hydroelectric power plants

Basic Type #4: Infrastructure and Heavy Construction

The last of the 4 building construction types is infrastructure and heavy construction and includes the building and upgrading of:

  • Roads
  • Railways
  • Communications
  • Tunnels
  • Bridges
  • Transit systems
  • Pipelines
  • Drainage systems

Types of Construction Get More Detailed for Safety: International Building Code (IBC)

The International Building Code (IBC) was created to “preserve public health and safety that provides a safeguard from hazards associated with the built environment.”

The IBC identifies 5 different types of construction including:

  • Type 1: Fire-Resistive
  • Type 2: Non-Combustible
  • Type 3: Ordinary Construction
  • Type 4: Heavy Timber
  • Type 5: Wood Frame Construction

Each of the building construction types gets more detailed in regard to public safety.

History of Types of Construction: Going From UBC to IBC

The Uniform Building Code, or UBC, was a building code that was primarily used in the Western United States.

Initially published in 1927, its intent was to promote and protect public safety and to provide a list of standardized requirements for safe construction that would not vary from city to city as was previously the case.

Until 1997, updated editions of the code were published approximately every 3 years.

In the year 2000, the UBC was replaced by the International Building Code (IBC).

The most common code used in the United States, the International Building Code has 10 classifications for buildings:

  1. Assembly (Group A)
  2. Business (Group B)
  3. Educational (Group E)
  4. Factory (Group F)
  5. High Hazard (Group H)
  6. Institutional (Group I)
  7. Mercantile (Group M)
  8. Residential (Group R)
  9. Storage (Group S)
  10. Utility and Miscellaneous (Group U)

According to the IBC, What Are the 5 Types of Construction?

The International Building Code outlines five types of construction.  They include:

  • Type 1: Fire-Resistive
  • Type 2: Non-Combustible
  • Type 3: Ordinary Construction
  • Type 4: Heavy Timber
  • Type 5: Wood Frame Construction

Fire-Resistive Type I (IA and IB)

In a Fire-Resistive Type I building, the …

  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Partitions
  • Columns; and
  • Roof

… are all made of fire-resistive, noncombustible materials.

Standing over 75 feet tall, Type I buildings are easy to pick out of a skyline.

These buildings are made of …

  • Poured concrete
  • Masonry; and
  • Protective steel

… all of which are able to withstand the effects of fire for 3 to 4 hours.

Ventilation is not an option in this type of structure since the roof must also be composed of non-combustible materials.

Type I Examples

Fire-Resistive Type I construction is usually found in:

  • High-rise buildings
  • Hospitals
  • Commercial projects

Non-Combustible Type II (IIA and IIB)

Non-Combustible Type II buildings are similar to Fire-Resistive Type I in that the …

  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Partitions
  • Columns; and
  • Roofs

… are noncombustible.

The big difference between the two is that Non-Combustible Type II buildings provide less fire resistance and do not have the ability to withstand the effects or possible spreading of fire as well as Fire-Resistive Type I buildings do.

The name noncombustible refers to the type of fuel the building contributes if a fire were to occur.

These buildings generally have a metal floor and a metal roof with tilt slab or masonry walls, and they are the least stable in terms of potential for collapse when exposed to fire.

Type II Examples

Non-Combustible Type II construction is generally used in:

  • Mid-rise office buildings
  • Schools
  • Hotels

Ordinary Type III

Ordinary Type III buildings are also known as brick and joist structures.

In this type of construction, the exterior walls are constructed out of non-combustible materials such as brick or cement block, with the interior structure elements being made of wood or other combustible material.

Ordinary Type III construction usually provides 0 to 2 hours of resistance to fire.

While the exterior walls are constructed out of non-combustible materials such as brick or cement block, all interior structural elements, including the …

  • Floors
  • Frame; and
  • Ceilings

… are combustible.

Type III Examples

Ordinary Type III construction is generally found in warehouses, as well as some residential homes.

Heavy Timber Type IV

Heavy Timber Type IV buildings are made of non-combustible exterior walls and interior elements such as solid wood or wood laminate.

All wooden components must meet dimensional requirements including:

A minimum of 8 inches thick for:

  • Columns
  • Girders
  • Beams

A minimum of 6 inches thick for:

  • Floors
  • Roof planks

While large volumes of water are required to extinguish these types of buildings should they catch fire, they hold up well and do not collapse easily due to their structural mass.

Heavy Timber Type 4 buildings generally provide 2 hours of fire resistance.

Type IV Examples

Heavy Timber Type IV construction is often used in:

  • Churches
  • Small commercial buildings
  • Warehouses

Wood Framed Type V

In Wood Framed Type V buildings, the most combustible of all the building construction types, the  …

  • Walls
  • Floors; and
  • Roof

… are made of wood.

Due to this, they provide little to no fire resistance.

This type of structure will ignite significantly but is fairly resistant to collapse. The exception to this is a lightweight construction, in which instance the building will collapse within minutes.

Type V Examples

Wood Framed Type V construction is commonly found in modern residential homes.

The Purpose of Classifying by Types of Construction

Why do building construction types matter?

Classification of types of construction is essential in order to know the response a building will have should a fire occur.

It is also crucial for the construction companies creating the structure in order to ensure that they meet the contract requirements.

Why Is it Important to Classify by Type of Construction Correctly?

It’s critical to be aware of the type of construction project you are working on since it determines the type of …

  • Contract
  • Materials; and
  • Specifications

… that will be required for the completion of the project.

Failure to follow the correct codes and safety requirements for different types of construction results in a red flag for building inspectors and can lead to the issuing of a correction or rejection.

Were this to occur, it has the potential to draw out the project’s completion and delay payment to all involved.

In addition, if a building is not classified correctly, it will affect the overall cost of construction.

And if a contractor should accidentally substitute unapproved materials they could end up in breach of contract.

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