Residiential Tilt Up Construction

Tilt-Up Construction 101

If you are going to be building a concrete structure, one method worth thinking about is tilt-up construction, also sometimes known as “tilt-wall” or “tilt-slab” construction.

This method of building offers quite a few benefits with respect to project time, labor requirements, and more.

In this post, we are going to explore the advantages of tilt-up construction for concrete homes and commercial structures. We will also tell you more about how the process works. But let’s begin with the basics.

What is Tilt-Up Construction?

Tilt-up construction is precisely what you might guess from the name. Various components are built in a horizontal configuration. These might include supports, columns, walls, and so forth. Once they are completed, the builders then literally tilt them up with the help of a craneinto their final vertical orientation.

At that point, these components might need temporary support, as work may need to be done on other building components before everything is fully assembled.

Indeed, work may be taking place on those other elements while the tilt-up components are being constructed. Project stages can overlap, which makes for a fast, efficient process.

Flat areas are best for tilt-up projects, but even if your worksite is not totally level, you may still be able to use tilt-up construction.

Key Point: In tilt-up construction, walls and other vertical elements are built in a horizontal orientation, and then raised into place.

What Types of Structures are Built Using the Tilt-Up Method?

Tilt-up concrete walls and supports can be used to build:

  • Retail buildings
  • Schools
  • Homes
  • Office buildings
  • Churches
  • … And more

What are the Benefits of Tilt-Up Construction?

tilt up concrete house
Completed Tilt-Up Concrete House in Canada © Tilt-Up.org

There are quite a few advantages to using tilt-up construction for a residential or commercial structure. Some of these include the following.

1. Speed up construction.

One of the most outstanding benefits of tilt-up construction is just how fast it is. With work crews able to complete multiple stages simultaneously, they can significantly cut down project time over traditional methods. Instead of taking 6-12 months to build a home, they can complete construction in 3-4 months.

2. Keep the costs of construction down.

Tilt-up construction is not only faster, but also cheaper. The required man hours are fewer, given the rapid process, and the amount of skilled labor required also is reduced.

3. Reduce environmental impact.

Building a concrete structure of any kind ultimately is good for the environment. This is not a benefit specifically of tilt-up construction, but it is applicable in any case because the finished product can passively maintain a comfortable interior because of concrete’s thermal mass.

This is not to say that you will never need to run a heater or air conditioner in a concrete home. But you probably will be running them less and spending less money to keep your home temperate throughout the year.

4. There are benefits for work crews.

It takes less time to build an enclosed structure using tilt-up construction than other methods, which means that work crews are sheltered sooner by the walls. This makes for better work conditions.

5. You can construct spacious, open buildings with the tilt-up method.

If you want a large concrete home or commercial structure that is wide open inside, tilt-up construction is the way to go.

6. Tilt-up construction supports diverse styles and finishes.

It is true that tilt-up construction is most suitable for large, box-shaped structures. But that does not mean you are limited to just building a big rectangle.

In fact, you may be surprised by just how much architectural nuance can be brought to the layouts of tilt-up concrete buildings. In fact, this building technique is even compatible with curved surfaces.

Those surfaces can also be finished in just about any way you imagine. So, you have complete flexibility with the final aesthetic appearance of your structure.

Key Point: You can save considerable time and money with tilt-up construction, and produce a spacious structure with an aesthetic that suits your needs.

Are there Any Drawbacks to Tilt-Up?

While the advantages of tilt-up construction are many, there are some drawbacks associated with this method as well. Some of these include:

  • Design limitations: If your building is more or less a rectangle, you will find tilt-up construction very suitable. But if you want something elaborate, this method of building may or may not be the right one.
  • If the terrain at the worksite is not relatively level, a lot more work and expense may need to go into getting it ready. And if your worksite is pretty cramped in general, you might not be able to do tilt-up construction at all.
  • Tilt-up construction is used mainly for large structures, and is not as suitable if you just want to build something small.

It is very important when you are selecting personnel for your project to make sure they all know how tilt-up construction works. Otherwise, you could run into snags.

Key Point: Although tilt-up construction is versatile, some designs may be too small or complex for it to be viable. You also need a large space in which to work.

Are Tilt-Up Buildings Unsafe?

You may have heard the prominent story of the Home Depot that was destroyed by the 2011 Joplin tornado. As reported here, engineers initially blamed tilt-up construction for the devastation.

The article continues, “Supporters of tilt-up wall construction said the building was designed to exceed code requirements in that it was capable of withstanding a wind load of 90 mph. They said no building could survive a nearly direct hit from an EF-5 tornado with winds of 200 mph.”

The full findings of a report released by the Tilt-Up Concrete Association revealed that “Tilt-Up concrete panels performed very well and survived the extreme loads of the EF-5 event only to collapse after the roof failed due to lack of bracing mechanism.” The report concluded, “Tilt-Up construction methods played no role in the failure.”

Key Point: Tilt-up construction is not inherently unsafe. In fact, it can perform very well even in harsh weather, so long as the rest of the structure is not compromised.

What is the Tilt-Up Construction Process?

Below, we go over the basic steps in the tilt-up construction process. Please note that this is a simplified explanation, and does not include each and every step in full detail (plus, exact steps may vary from project to project).

1. Planning

Significant, in-depth planning is required before commencing with tilt-up construction. To some extent, this is always the case with any form of construction, but with tilt-up construction, special attention has to be paid to the site itself and how to make the most effective use of the workspace available.

That way, workers will be able to navigate around each other with multiple stages in progress at once, and there will not be any issues with positioning and operating the crane.

2. The casting surface for the panels is prepared.

The next step in concrete tilt-panel construction is to get the casting surface ready. 

The nature of the surface can vary. Options include the permanent slab for the building or a temporary slab that can later be recycled. Sometimes, the casting surface may consist of both of these elements.

Either way, the quality of the panels will be significantly affected by the quality of the casting surface. If it is uneven, those imperfections will translate into the finished panels. So, attention to detail is key. Ride-on trowels help workers to achieve the flawless flatness they are looking for before they start creating the panels.

3. Next, it is time to lay out the tilt-up panels.

Workers use chalk lines for guidance when they set out the tilt-up panels. The edges are made of dimensional lumber panels. Then, workers take care of texturing and external features. They also put in the steel grid and insulation. Finally, the concrete is poured. The workers then have to finish the interior surfaces. After that, curing takes place overnight.

4. Workers prepare to lift the panels.

At this point, there is no further use for the lumber forms that workers used to shape the panels, so they discard them. After that, they handle the installation of braces.

5. It is time to lift the panels in place.

There will now be an assembly of workers to discuss the procedure for lifting up the panels and any safety concerns that may come up. The next step is to mark a safety perimeter.

To lift up the panels, workers rig them to the crane, which they then use to raise them. During the erection process, no other type of work is performed on-site. This is essential for safety reasons, and also to make sure that the crane can lift the concrete panels into place without encountering any obstructions.

6. The panels are released.

Before the crane releases each individual panel, the work crew attaches it to the slab and footing using its braces and embeds.

How are tilt-up walls connected to one another? Different options for connecting tilt-up panels include tube sections, chord bar connections, or a ledger angle.

Ed Sauter at the Tilt-Up Concrete Association adds, “The width of most Tilt-Up panels allows buildings to be constructed where adjacent panels can stand independent of one another in many regions of the country. This allows the respective panels to expand and contract relative to one another.”

7. Finally, finishing steps take place.

Now the work team is able to take care of sandblasting, painting, and other finishing steps for the walls. To stop water from getting through, they caulk the joints. It is then onto putting on the roof and working on incorporating utility systems.

Key Point: Tilt-up construction truly is a fascinating process. If you watch videos of the steps, you will get a good feel for how it works.

You are now familiar with the tilt-up method of pre-cast concrete construction for concrete homes and commercial buildings.

Are you ready to explore tilt-up concrete home designs or contact a builder for a consult?