The Contrast Between Residential and Commercial Contractors

Written by  //  August 17, 2020  //  Building Contractors  //  Comments Off on The Contrast Between Residential and Commercial Contractors

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A builder’s a builder, right? It’s not that simple. First, a builder may not necessarily be a general contractor that hires specialized trades like plumbers and electricians as subcontractors. Moreover, general contractors typically specialize in either residential or commercial construction. While some may do both, it is important to understand the contrast between residential and commercial contractors.

Residential vs. Commercial Buildings

Residential buildings can be single-family homes, duplexes and other multifamily homes, townhomes, smaller apartment buildings with no business space incorporated, co-ops, and condominiums. They are built exclusively as places to live.

Commercial buildings are usually much larger and include everything from shopping centers, warehouses, and other industrial buildings to office buildings, theaters, hospitals, and even stadiums.


Single-family homes and some smaller “plexes” are made with timber framing. It is cheaper than other materials, and the loads and stresses it must bear don’t require stronger and more expensive steel framing. Commercial buildings are framed with steel. Their design often requires it, as steel allows for greater spans between walls, greater loads on those walls, and more wind resistance, as it can shift a little without failing to support the building.

Codes and Permits

Building codes for commercial buildings are far more complex than those for residential construction. Materials, HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems, fire safety, and even the number of bathroom stalls may be mandated by state and local codes for commercial buildings.

These buildings may have elevators and must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for accessibility,
While residential construction is still subject to building codes, there is greater flexibility in design and materials than can be found with commercial construction.


Building a house doesn’t typically require a crane or forklift on the premises. Heavy equipment requires trained operators and additional safety precautions. While you may see an excavator or bulldozer in residential construction to clear the property of trees and other vegetation or to dig for a foundation, heavy equipment won’t be on-site every day as it usually is for commercial construction.

Subcontractors and Suppliers

A general contractor who specializes in commercial construction will know what questions to ask of commercial subcontractors like plumbers and HVAC companies to identify if they are qualified and experienced for the project. They will maintain relationships with suppliers to keep costs under control. Commercial projects require more workers and greater speed.

Residential contractors can be more flexible with materials and often have teams of subcontractors who have worked with them for some time. Because they have smaller workforces and must often spread them over several jobs at once, the timeline for completing a residential project may be longer than that of a commercial project that must move at the pace of business.

Erecting a commercial building takes a different skillset and workforce than creating a custom home. Residential contractors, however, can provide much greater flexibility in design and materials for a home that will express the lifestyle and taste of its owner.

The contrast between commercial and residential contractors is best expressed by the finished building: a custom home with detailed and personally selected appliances comes together through the experience and flexibility offered by a residential contractor, whereas an office building, mixed-use high-rise, manufacturing plant, hospital, or warehouse exists because of the expertise, larger labor force, and accelerated timeline a commercial contractor can provide.

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