There are many ways to classify the different types of construction: by sector, owner, occupancy, and fire resistance. All of these different categories give important information about the kind of construction required as well as the laws that govern the construction process.
The four key types of construction include residential, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure, which covers nearly every construction project. That said, there are still important details about the type of construction, like whether the project is publicly or privately funded. Read on for more details about how to identify which kind of project you’re working on.
The 4 main types of construction
For many folks in the construction industry, the type of construction project refers to the actual facility being constructed. These are simply:
- Residential buildings, like single and multi-family homes
- Commercial buildings, such as offices or warehouses
- Industrial facilities, like factories or large-scale production facilities
- Infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, airports, or sewer systems
Classifying projects this way gives you a sense of the function of the facility as well as the techniques and equipment that may be required for construction. These main types of construction cover the vast majority of projects, and many companies and contractors are specialized to work on a specific sector.
Other types of construction
While classification by building type can be useful in understanding a project’s ultimate goal, other systems of classification offer more insight into the legal requirements and risks of construction. There are several other common ways to classify the various types of construction, including:
- Fire resistance
- Building occupancy
- Project owner
We have details about all of these different classifications below.
Buildings are often classified by their fire resistance rating, which is a safety measure used to calculate the structure’s ability to withstand a fire. These standards are found in the Building Construction and Safety Code produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fire resistance rating can be applied to specific materials or building elements, or to buildings as a whole based on the materials used.
The fire resistance ratings apply to structural building materials, including those used on exterior and interior bearing walls, columns, beams, girders, trusses, and arches, as well as floor, ceiling, and roof assemblies. Here are the main types of buildings according to fire resistance rating:
- Type I: Fire resistive. All building materials are non-combustible, providing 3-4 hours of resistance to fire. This type of construction is typically found in high-rise buildings, commercial projects, and hospitals.
- Type II: Non-Combustible. All building materials are non-combustible, providing 1-2 hours of fire resistance. This construction is used in mid-rise office buildings, hotels, and schools.
- Type III: Ordinary. Ordinary construction provides 0-2 hours of resistance to fire. Exterior walls are constructed of non-combustible materials, like brick, while the interior structural elements may be combustible. This is typically found in warehouses and some residential homes.
- Type IV: Heavy Timber. Heavy timber construction requires exterior walls to be non-combustible, providing 2 hours of fire resistance, with the interior made of solid or laminated wood without concealed spaces. This is often used in churches, small commercial buildings, and warehouses.
- Type V: Wood Framed. Wood framed buildings have walls, floors, and roofs made of wood, providing little to no fire resistance. This type of construction is common in residential homes.
Apart from the obvious safety concern for public officials, property owners, and occupants of the building, compliance with fire resistance codes will also affect the construction companies actually creating the structure.
In a building project, the material fire resistance requirements will typically be found in the construction specifications provided in the contract documents. As a result, these classifications are important for contractors and suppliers to understand and follow to ensure they meet the contract requirements. If a contractor substitutes unapproved materials, whether for cost savings or ease of use, they could end up breaching their contract, having to correct their work, and even paying damages.
Construction projects are often categorized by their occupancy, which refers both to their use and the number of people allowed to occupy the facility.
While local jurisdictions set their own building codes, they often choose to adopt a standard set of accepted codes. The most common in the US is The International Building Code (IBC), which has 10 broad classifications for buildings:
- Assembly (Group A): Facilities where people gather in large groups. Includes churches, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, etc.
- Business (Group B): Facilities where commercial services (not retail products) are provided. Includes government buildings, universities, hair salons, doctors’ offices, banks, etc.
- Educational (Group E): Facilities for youth education. Includes elementary schools, high schools, day care centers, etc.
- Factory (Group F): Facilities designed for manufacture, assembly, fabrication, or repair of goods. Includes cabinetmakers, furniture shops, paper mills, auto mechanics, etc.
- High-Hazard (Group H): Facilities for production or storage of flammable or toxic materials, like fireworks, explosives, combustible liquids, etc.
- Institutional (Group I): Facilities where occupants require physical assistance or are detained. Includes nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, etc.
- Mercantile (Group M): Facilities for display or retail of goods. Includes grocery stores, department stores, drug stores, gas stations, etc.
- Residential (Group R): Facilities for overnight stay. Includes houses, apartment buildings, hotels, motels, etc.
- Storage (Group S): Facilities where non-hazardous items are stored. Includes warehouses, parking garages, etc.
- Utility and Miscellaneous (Group U): Facilities for other uses not included in other categories. Includes water towers, carports, barns, greenhouses, sheds, etc.
Occupancy is important for architects, contractors, and property owners when it comes to both zoning and building codes. Failure to comply with zoning and code requirements will cause problems during the building inspection, which can push back project closeout, cause a breach of contract, and delay payments to contractors on the job.
Perhaps the most important way to categorize construction is based on who owns the project or property. Why is that? Because state and federal laws care about who owns the project when it comes to contracts, payments, and the amount of risk that contractors and suppliers will carry on the project.
Laws aren’t concerned with the facility you’re working on and whether it’s industrial or heavy civil. Instead, they set requirements based on who owns the project. Just look at prompt payment laws, mechanics liens, and bond claim rights, and pretty much any other law that affects a contractor’s right to payment on a job.
Broadly speaking, construction project are either public or private, but those are further broken down into 4 types:
- Private residential projects involve single-family dwellings or residential facilities with several units.
- Private commercial projects include restaurants, grocery stores, skyscrapers, shopping centers, sports facilities, hospitals, as well as private schools and universities.
- State construction projects are government-funded projects that are not owned by the federal government, potentially including public schools, civic buildings, highways, or bridges.
- Federal construction projects are government-funded projects that are owned by the federal government. Like state projects, the actual construction work is often on government buildings and infrastructure projects.
These categories are determined by who owns the property where the construction project is taking place. This is important because the property owner will determine what type of payment security contractors and suppliers have on the job.
On private projects, a mechanics lien provides construction professionals with a security interest in the property itself. If they are not paid, they can file a lien claim and encumber the property, making it difficult for the owner to sell or refinance until the contractor’s debt is paid.
Public land, whether state or federal, cannot be subjected to a lien claim from a contractor. Instead, payments on these projects are secured by the general contractor’s payment bond. The bond essentially takes the place of the property—if a construction business is not paid, they can file a bond claim with the surety that provided the GC’s bond.
Why do you need to know who owns a project? The differences are very important because the laws governing your construction project are significantly different depending on the owner.
First of all, the type of payment security available to contractors and suppliers on a project is different. On private projects (residential or commercial), unpaid construction businesses can file a mechanics lien.
But on public projects, the federal or state government that owns it doesn’t allow contractors to lien their property. Instead, the Miller Act (at the federal level) or Little Miller Acts (at the state level) typically require the general contractor to put up a payment bond to provide payment security to those working on it. If they’re unpaid, they can make a bond claim to recover the money.
But payment laws are not the only laws that are different. Labor laws and contracting rules are different depending on your project type, and more.
These legal differences are why the traditional classification system – based on the building type – are largely irrelevant. While the character of the underlying work is important to some degree, the big legal differences hinge on the private or public nature of the work.
Know your project type
The type of project you’re working on will often determine the type of contract, materials, and specifications required. If any construction participant fails to follow the code and safety requirements required for that building type, it can cause a building inspector to issue a correction or rejection that drags out the project completion and delays payment to everyone on the project.
But no matter what type of building you’re constructing, it’s critical to know the type of project owner—whether the project is a private, state, or federal project. This will determine the rules for getting paid, including the actions that contractors and suppliers must take if payment doesn’t come through.