A Tilt-Up Construction Primer

Staff | September 28, 2010

The basic principle behind tilt-up construction — constructing walls horizontally, on the ground, and then lifting them into place — is not a new idea. Evidence exists that some buildings constructed during the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages used this approach. More recently, American settlers in the 1800s gathered for "barn raisings" where they constructed the wood walls for their buildings and tipped them up into place.

The 20th century marked the true beginnings of modern tilt-up construction. The development of concrete reinforced with rebar in the early 1900s allows builders to create tilt-up commercial structures as we think of them today: one- to two-story structures built with walls comparable in width to those created with other methods of construction.

Even with this innovation, tilt-up construction did not gain wide acceptance until after World War II, when the mobile crane was first developed. The mobile crane allowed builders far greater ability to lift the massive panels into place, regardless where the job site happened to be. At about this time, ready-mix concrete was introduced to the industry, making tilt-up an even more viable alternative.

Just In time

These new technologies occurred at precisely the right time. The late 1940s brought about a post-war boom in the construction of manufacturing and industrial facilities across the United States. Innovation, timing, and the need for large, warehouse-styled buildings opened the door for tilt-up construction. The three factors combined to encourage general contractors to embrace tilt-up as an economical means of delivering quality projects that meet even the most demanding specifications and schedules.

Over the years, industry experts have continued to refine and enhance the tilt-up process, allowing general contractors and design-build construction managers to drive greater capabilities and creativity in its use. In 1986 the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA) was created to establish processes and standards to ensure continued growth in quality and acceptance for this method of construction.

Tilt-up has since been used in buildings as large as 1.7 million square feet, with individual panels reaching as high as 91 feet and weighing 150 tons. The TCA reports that 15 percent of all industrial buildings in the United States were created using tilt-up construction. It is growing at an annual rate of almost 20 percent and is used in over 650 million square feet of new building construction each year. In Texas and other Sunbelt states, tilt-up accounts for as much as 75 percent of new one-story commercial building construction. Builders in Mexico, Canada and Australia are also using tilt-up construction on an increasingly frequent basis.

Tilt-Up Refresher

As you know, tilt-up construction is an innovative building method that allows office buildings, retail centers, warehouses, distribution centers, call centers, manufacturing facilities, and other commercial/industrial structures to appear to spring into place, almost overnight, with amazing speed, safety and cost benefits.

In traditional forms of wall construction, the walls can be built with concrete masonry unit (CMU) blocks or blocks faced with brick. For some types of buildings, the exterior wall is made up of structural steel columns with heavy gauge metal studs covered with gypsum sheathing, which is then faced with brick or stucco. Regardless which traditional approach is used, building the exterior walls is a time-consuming, multi-stepped process.

A tilt-up building's walls are created horizontally in large slabs of concrete called panels. The panels are then lifted, or tilted up, into position around the building's slab. This means the tilt-up structure's exterior wall is virtually finished when it is tilted into place.

As already noted tilt-up construction (also called tiltwall or tilt wall construction) has a long history, but its widespread use could be called a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, tilt-up construction is considered the method of choice by many contractors, for a wide variety of construction challenges.

Editor's note: Information courtesy of Tiltupnews.com , an informational website, intended to educate our readers on tilt-up construction and various general contractor and construction-related issues. Photos were taken by Jeff Schaefer, information manager for Bob Moore Construction, and provided by www.constructionphotographs.com.