Tilt-up Growth Continues Due to Speed of Delivery, Cost-Effectiveness and Increased Acceptance
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Kimberly Izenson, CPSM
In our increasingly cost-conscious, highly educated, global society - not to mention a slower economy - "How much does it cost?" appears in conversations earlier and earlier in the negotiation process. Design and construction professionals alike are challenged to present hard dollar figures for their concepts, and oftentimes, an explanation of how their choice of building materials and methods compares to alternative options. As one of the fastest growing construction methods in the United States, tilt-up concrete is certainly approached by architects and owners with many questions about the method's ability to deliver an attractive and functional facility in a cost-effective manner.
Often looked upon as the 'new kid on the block,' tilt-up construction, a method in which concrete wall panels are cast on-site and tilted into place, actually traces its roots to the early 1900s. And although tilt-up has been dominant in the West and Southeast for decades, the method is fast gaining advocates in the Midwest, New England and Canada for everything from the traditional warehouse and industrial facilities that are the main-stay of the medium, to office buildings, schools and recreation centers. Combining the advantages of low maintenance, durability, speed, minimal capital investment, and architectural appeal, more than 10,000 buildings, enclosing more than 650 million square feet of structure, are constructed each year using this construction method. Still, as the 'newcomer,' owners and designers alike are consistent in asking for some hard pricing.
"As you can well imagine," said Ed Sauter, Executive Director of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA), "comparing one building method to another is not easy to do because you aren't comparing apples to apples. Even if you compare similar size and shape buildings, the materials, energy, maintenance, etc. always vary."
Although publishing hard numbers would be meaningless due to the variables not only in the building specifications but also in material and labor prices across the country, one only has to look at the method's growth to see that it obviously offers time and cost savings to owners.
In a recent report, TCA announced 10-percent growth in the use of tilt-up construction from 1999 to 2000. The growth rate from 1995-1998 averaged 33-percent per year, and while stagnant in 1999 with 0.6 percent increase, the total growth from 1995 now totals 111-percent.
According to Sauter, the tilt-up construction method continues to gain market share because it offers speed of construction and a cost-effective delivery system. Acceptance of tilt-up, in terms of new markets and by designers and specifiers, has also helped the medium gain strides in today's marketplace. While tilt-up was once labeled the perfect medium for gray, square boxes, it is now being applied to even the most challenging and sophisticated design applications. The architectural expression of tilt-up is limited only by the creativity of the architect, and the options available today vary greatly. Acceptance is largely due to some creative architects, and the constant factor of tilt-up being able to provide a cost-effective solution.
RMW architecture & interiors, a 160-employee, 31-year-old firm with four offices in the Northern California and a new office in Denver, is a good example of a traditional architecture firm accepting tilt-up as a new design medium. With a great deal of commercial experience focused on the design of industrial, manufacturing, office and technology facilities, the firm had many misconceptions about tilt-up, especially in terms of design limitations.
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"Tilt-up construction has everyone's attention because of its cost-effectiveness," said Stephen Guest, RMW's design principal in Sacramento. "When we came to the Central Valley 11 years ago, we realized that we had to learn tilt-up. My clientele were developers and they demanded a more efficient construction system than the steel frame we were accustomed to in San Francisco."
According to Guest, architects, including himself, have long fought tilt-up because of their misconception of what it can do. But, when the economy is tightening and market is changing, tilt-up is often the answer. Based on his experience and extensive cost analysis comparing wood or steel frame structures, Guest says that tilt-up is a more cost-effective solution.
"As a general rule," said Guest, "you can build a 25,000- to 500,000-square-footprint structure utilizing tilt-up concrete construction for five to 10-pecent below any other system."
Guest believes that tilt-up will continue to gain momentum because in today's global economy, competition is fierce. He said everyone is looking for the most economical and efficient ways to build in order to get their product to the marketplace as quickly as possibly.
"The advantage of tilt-up is that it is a cost-effective structural system," said Guest. "We predicted two years ago that tilt-up would continue to grow due to globalization, and it has. My colleagues, who once paid little attention to our use of tilt-up, have recently asked me to teach them the system because their clients are starting to consider it as a smart business strategy in order to spend their dollars more wisely."
Even if you are designing a box, said Guest, you have the opportunity to think outside the box, and tilt-up allows you to do this despite the misconception that it confines you to the box. For example, even with a big box industrial application, tilt-up allows the design team to leverage building elements graphically with color, textures and designs.
A good example of the medium's cost-savings is as simple as an interesting down spout. On a 400,0000-square-foot-building, such an upgraded design element can cost as little as 1 cent per square foot. Tilt-up allows developers to incorporate interesting design elements economically into their structure, providing them with a unique leasing edge in the marketplace.
In a recent survey of design and construction professionals conducted by FMI, management consultants to the construction industry, 65-percent of respondents had designed or constructed using tilt-up construction and 75 percent of designers felt that speed and cost were the biggest advantages of the tilt-up system, Twenty-four percent of contractors chose these advantages but also had durability and low maintenance at the top of their lists. Interestingly, a whopping 83 percent of architects surveyed indicated that lack of knowledge and information about tilt-up was the biggest obstacle to the medium's growth.
The same survey was conducted with a group of owners, 50-percent of whom also identify themselves as developers, and the results of this survey also showed a growing acceptance of the tilt-up medium. More than 87-percent of respondents were familiar with tilt-up construction, and 75-percent had used the system for their own projects. More than half - 58-percent of these owners - picked cost as the number one attribute for choosing tilt-up, with speed of construction carrying 38-percent of the vote.
While the surveys indicate that architects, contractors and owners are inclined to use tilt-up construction, the best endorsement comes from looking at what the big developers are utilizing as their building method of choice. Jeff Raduechel, vice president and general manager for Opus North, one of the largest development companies in the country with offices in 28 cities and $1.5 billion in annual revenue, stated that tilt-up is gaining acceptance in non-traditional market areas.
"In our Southern and Western regions, tilt-up is used almost exclusively," said Raduechel, "but the method is beginning to make inroads in the Midwest because we see how well it works."
Raduechel added that perceptions about tilt-up not working well in colder climates have hindered the method's growth in these regions. Still, he decided to go with tilt-up recently for a 320,000-square-foot facility at Opus Business Center at Rickenbacker International Airport in Groveport, Ohio.
"We were willing to look at tilt-up as the building method because we are familiar with how competitive the method is in terms of schedule and cost," said Raduechel. "And, even though we started the project late last fall and we ended up casting panels in November and tilting in December, the project went just fine. We ended up with a building we are happy with and it was very well received by the investment community."
Opus North plans to evaluate tilt-up for future projects in areas of the country traditionally slated for other building methods, including several more in the Columbus area. As for a hard cost comparison, Raduechel said developers wouldn't be selecting the method if it didn't compare so favorably to other methods.
TCA was founded in 1986 to improve the quality and acceptance of tilt-up construction, a construction method in which concrete wall panels are cast on-site and tilted into place.
TCA is doing its part to educate design, contractor and development professionals about tilt-up and its attributes through national seminars, publications, and a Supervisor's Certification program cosponsored by ACI.