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4 Ways Commercial General Contracting Is Different

When working with commercial general contractors, it's important to understand how the process differs from residential work. Here are four things folks dealing with commercial contractors can expect to be different.

Materials and Skills

Generally, businesses don't use the same materials that homeowners use on their construction and renovation projects. There usually is less wood involved, and many jobs require more concrete.

Businesses often require more wiring to provide electricity and internet, too. Likewise, a company may need an unusual type of electricity, such as three-phase power.

The net effect is that commercial general contractors often end up dealing with different people because the business applications of certain trades are different. For example, the roofers for many commercial projects specialize in flat roofs rather than shingles.

Engineering Challenges

Buildings that stand more than two stories often present some odd challenges, and many commercial structures are taller than the typical house. One of the reasons most houses only have two main floors is due to how water pressure works. Due to how gravity and air pressure work to prevent water from pushing higher, people in a building without a water pump usually can only depend on getting water to the second floor. If you require water on the top floor of a 5-story office building, for example, you're going to need an engineered solution.

Engineering concerns also frequently appear when foundations go in during construction. The bigger the building, the more pressure it applies to the ground. Consequently, the dirt underneath a commercial structure may need some attention. Also, the foundation will have to support the additional weight.


Most jurisdictions have different and often stricter codes for commercial buildings. While it will be the architects and engineers on the project who have to solve these issues, it's usually the commercial general contractors who have to coordinate compliance. That often means touching base with code compliance officers, obtaining permits, relaying requirements, hiring independent inspectors, and submitting compliance reports.


Every difference in the process has a compounding effect, and that affects coordination among the subcontractors. Something fairly simple, such as not putting in the drywall before the wiring work is finished, is compounded by the size of the building and its sophistication.

Commercial contractors also tend to answer to more people. On a residential project, they might only have to answer to, at most, a couple. With commercial work, there may be investors, lenders, and other stakeholders who all expect to have a say.