What Is the Difference between Commercial and Industrial Construction?

Did you watch the air cargo building go up on Huron Street out by the London airport?

It’s now home to Airshow London and other businesses and a great example of industrial construction.

But wait — it’s not a factory or warehouse, so shouldn’t it be called a commercial project? What is the difference between commercial and industrial construction, anyway?

The terms commercial and industrial get used interchangeably at times. However, the types of construction serve different purposes and thus have unique challenges. As such, it’s important to grasp the difference between commercial and industrial construction and properly define a project before it starts.

The main differences fall into the buckets of site location, project design, and permitting.

It boils down to the fact that commercial serves people while industrial relates to goods.

Let’s take a closer look at how the differences break down.

The Different Sectors Of Construction

For many people, building projects fall into two types — residential and commercial.

While that is a reasonable division, the actual breakdown gets a bit more granular and includes the following:

  • New housing
  • Residential renovation and maintenance
  • Heavy industrial
  • Commercial and light industrial
  • Institutional
  • Engineering
  • Non-residential renovation and maintenance

Here in Canada, industrial, commercial, and institutional are often combined in industry reports as ICI, but they do differ. Commercial construction means projects built to serve the public while making a profit, and these might include restaurants, retail, grocery stores, or office buildings.

Industrial covers buildings meant for manufacturing, warehousing, or distribution purposes. They typically aren’t visited by the general public, for example, factories, power plants, and refineries.

Engineering projects include some you might expect to count as ICI, including big infrastructure jobs. Some of the biggest dollar projects planned for Ontario in the next few years fall in this category.

Site Planning

The chief difference in these types of construction falls right at the beginning of the process with choosing the location. The site needs vary because of what it will be eventually used for.

Industrial

Industrial is about making and moving goods around the clock, and as a result, these projects sit near hubs like airports, highway networks, or seaports.

The level of noise along with pollution force them away from residential areas. Also, the size of the facilities tends to require larger lots than commercial ones.

Commercial

Commercial projects serve people so you want them to be where people are, so they can easily get to your building. They tend to be located close to residential areas and focus on making their sites accessible and presentable. They need easy access, plenty of parking, and pedestrian amenities.

Permits & Legal Aspects

All big projects must pull a long list of permits for a build. This is in addition to following the various laws and regulations covering everything from zoning to general safety. The key difference here is which rules the projects have to worry about.

Commercial

Commercial projects have to worry about issues such as occupancy rules and focus more on codes defined by local standards. These include city zoning laws and parking rules. Occasionally, this might even involve a license from the health department.

Industrial

While industrial projects have to consider the same local rules, they often have to deal with more compliance factors. This is especially true when building a site that will handle, store, or make hazardous material. Extra permits and inspections become necessary as well.

These jobs often end up having to comply with federal and provincial building codes along with local zoning laws, and the additional rules can add weeks to a project.

Building Design & Infrastructure

Form and function play huge roles in any building project. However, the priorities vary for industrial and commercial since they serve different functions. At the core, they both focus on traffic flow, just different types and to differing purposes.

Commercial

Commercial buildings need layouts that are attractive and allow for easy access and movement through the space. To do this, the floor plan prioritizes traffic flow to keep people in spaces and encourage lingering.

General aesthetics play a major role in promoting foot traffic and tenant satisfaction, so a lot of attention is given to those details. Incoming traffic involves a lot of cars and thus the need for a lot of parking.

Industrial

For industrial projects, basic functionality reigns with a focus on efficiency and safety. A good floor plan prioritizes keeping things moving and discouraging lingering. Traffic coming in needs to have goods loaded, so there needs to be more space for large trucks to maneuver rather than parking space.

Both project types have infrastructures such as plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems, but industrial sites have to account for power use and waste management at a greater scale than commercial ones.

Project Management

Many projects involve a lot of moving parts and deadlines to juggle, but the types of materials can vary and require different management styles.

Commercial

Managing a commercial construction project involves similar work to larger residential projects. This involves coordinating subcontractors and suppliers, along with stocking appropriate supplies.

The necessary materials and work skills tend to repeat from project to project. While they are a bit more than what you might find at a local hardware store, the list involves standard and ordinary materials.

Industrial

Given what industrial construction is, each project builds a unique facility for a specific use. As a result, they often need materials and skills above and beyond that of ordinary buildings. When the materials are hazardous, they then also have to meet various regulations as well.

Industrial projects often involve larger-scale installations, which call for oversized loads and equipment. The materials can also involve a lot of custom fabrication, which requires pulling in suppliers who might only work one job for you.

Looking For A Commercial Or Industrial Construction Company?

Commercial and industrial construction factor into the constantly changing skylines here in Southern Ontario. While the two types have strong differences, most of them are fairly subtle to those not in the industry. The design, planning, and management of the project are impacted by its ultimate purpose.

If you’re planning a building project, contact us to discuss the details and tap into our expertise. We specialize in commercial and industrial construction in Brampton, London and throughout the Greater Toronto area.

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