May 9, 2018

Tilt-Up or Precast? Determining the Best Choice

When it comes to tilt-up versus precast construction, the best approach is not set in stone.

Both methods provide the durability of a low-maintenance exterior and a hard-wall interior. Both methods can also support an array of creative and even daring architectural features and finishes. But from there, a host of factors come into play that can tip the balance in favor of one method over the other, including:

  • Location
  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Panel height and width
  • Building footprint
  • Site constraints
  • Size and number of openings in the panels
  • Interior conditioning and insulation requirements

There are strong advocates for tilt-up and precast construction. But building owners are best served by allowing each project’s unique needs determine which is the better approach. And that starts with understanding the benefits and limitations of both methods.

Tilt-up: On-Site Flexibility

Tilt-up walls are poured on site—typically on the floor slab or using a casting bed—and then tilted up into position. There is no limit to the width or height of the panels, provided the building footprint or project site has enough space for the casting beds. The walls are load bearing, reducing the need for perimeter supports and roof beams. And because there is no limit to panel size, tilt-up construction offers more options in terms of the size and number of openings in the exterior. It also provides for continuous insulation and has fewer joints and seams to caulk and maintain.

However, because tilt-up must be cast and cured in the field, it is dependent on the season, weather, and local manpower. Tilt-up can be a preferred option in isolated markets where precast is not available or where the travel distance is unconventional.

Precast: Year-Round Production

Precast is made in a manufacturing setting, offering less dependence on the weather and greater control over the schedule. It can be cast at any time of the year, providing more flexibility for construction start times, especially in colder or wetter climates. Precast is a solid choice for projects that have a small footprint or a very tight sight. Ideally, the walls arrive just in time for installation. Precast may also be the better choice in markets where labor or tilt-up subcontractor expertise is lacking.

However, because the panels are made off-site, lead time must be built into the schedule for plan approval, production, and transportation. In addition, the need for transportation limits the size of the panels (typically to 12 feet in width), and it can add costs and time to panel erection. The panels must be ordered very early in the design process, offering less latitude for last-minute design changes.

A Tale of Two Facilities

Miller-Valentine Construction has two industrial projects in the Columbia, South Carolina area that illustrate how different project needs inform the choice between tilt-up and precast.

Midway Logistics III is a 200,000 square foot speculative building located in the Lexington County Industrial Park. The tilt-up, hard wall multi-tenant building is designed for Class “A” distribution and light manufacturing tenants. The facility will feature a clear height of 30’, 21 dock doors, two drive-ins, and entries for tenant offices.

For this project, exterior insulation was not a priority. However, it was essential that the team keep costs down while meeting an aggressive 30-week schedule. In this case, tilt-up was a natural choice for construction.

In February, Miller-Valentine Construction broke ground on a 153,000 square foot facility for The Ritedose Corporation (TRC). The majority of the fully conditioned, class “A” facility will be dedicated to packaging, with space allocated for light assembly, warehousing, and administrative offices.

TRC specializes in the production of inhalation products, eye drops, ear drops, and oral liquids. The product lines are highly sensitive, requiring that the facility maintain strict conditioning requirements. In this case, the precast method provided the level of insulation required to maintain conditioning while also providing a hard wall interior to help achieve the required pharmaceutical-grade finishes.

Working with the Right Partner

There are several factors that building owners need to consider before choosing tilt-up or precast, some of which are summarized in the table below. The good news is that both methods are proven and dependable.

For building owners, it comes down to working with a design/build firm that understands the advantages and limitations of both methods. At Miller-Valentine Construction, we enjoy taking our customers through the decision-making process to determine which method will best serve their needs, their budgets, and their time frames.

For more information on determining which option will best suit your needs, contact 803-798-3800.



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