What are the Different Types of Construction?

April 6, 2021

If you’ve ever spent a night in the city and woken up to the sounds of screeching metal, then you’ve encountered construction. To those outside the industry, the process blurs together an intimidating collection of machines and parts. But those working within it know the industry remains highly organized, broken down into specific types of construction and processes.

Construction refers to the process of building, assembling, or creating something, typically a physical structure or infrastructure. It involves the use of materials, tools, and skilled labor to transform an idea or plan into a tangible product. Construction is a crucial aspect of modern society as it shapes our built environment, providing us with the infrastructure we need to live, work, and thrive.

From homes and office buildings to roads and bridges, construction is an essential part of our daily lives. It plays a vital role in driving economic growth, creating jobs, and improving the quality of life for people worldwide. Without construction, we wouldn’t have the schools, hospitals, airports, and other essential structures that we rely on every day.

In this blog, we’ll explore the different types of construction, ranging from residential and commercial buildings to heavy civil engineering and industrial construction. By understanding the different types of construction, we can appreciate the vast array of skills, knowledge, and expertise required to bring our built environment to life.

The 5 Types of Building Construction

There are lots of different ways to classify construction projects and categorize buildings. Construction projects and buildings can be classified according to the owners, materials used, or types of structures. But there’s another way to divvy things up, and it is based on the required level of fire resistance in a building.

This list is called the 5 Types of Building Construction, with the first following the most stringent fire resistance requirements and the fifth following the least.

Construction typesSalient Features
Fire Resistive·        Fire Resistive construction refers to building materials and techniques used to minimize the spread of fire and maintain the structural integrity of a building during a fire.·        These constructions are designed to resist fire for a specified period; usually one to four hours, giving occupants enough time to evacuate and firefighters time to extinguish the fire.·        Fire Resistive construction often uses fire-resistant concrete, brick, and steel materials.
Non-Combustible·       Non-Combustible construction refers to building materials and techniques that do not ignite, burn, or contribute fuel to a fire.·        These constructions reduce fire risk and limit its spread within a building.·        Non-Combustible construction typically involves using materials such as steel, concrete, and masonry, which have a high resistance to fire and do not release harmful fumes or gases when exposed to fire.
Ordinary·        Ordinary construction refers to building materials and techniques commonly used in buildings that are not classified as fire-resistive or non-combustible.·        These constructions are designed to be functional and economical, but they may not offer the same level of fire resistance as more advanced building techniques.·        Ordinary construction may use wood framing, plaster, and brick veneer.·        Buildings constructed with ordinary construction methods may require additional fire safety measures, such as sprinkler systems or fire-resistant coatings.
Heavy Timber·        Heavy Timber construction refers to building materials and techniques that use large dimensional timber as the main structural element.·        This type of construction is known for its strength, durability, and resistance to fire.·        Heavy Timber construction typically uses large wooden beams, columns, and decking to create a solid and sturdy structure. The thickness of the timber provides natural fire resistance, as it chars on the outside and slows the spread of flames.·        Heavy Timber construction is commonly used in churches, schools, and historic structures.
Wood Frame·        Wood Frame Construction refers to building materials and techniques that use wood as the main structural element.·        This type of construction is popular in residential and light commercial buildings due to its cost-effectiveness and ease of construction.·        Wood Frame Construction typically involves using dimensional lumber, engineered wood products, or wood panels to create the framing of the building.·        While wood is a combustible material, Wood Frame construction can be made more fire-resistant through fire-retardant treatments, sprinkler systems, and other fire safety measures.

Type I Construction: Fire Resistive

This category applies to any building that stands over 75 feet tall. This applies to all high-rise housing and commercial space. That includes apartment buildings, offices, and hotels.

These buildings are designed to withstand high temperatures for a long time without collapsing. Beyond that, all structural materials are non-combustible. Walls, floors, and roofs are constructed with reinforced concrete and protected steel. While these features make these buildings extremely durable, it also increases construction costs.

Some Type 1 buildings have HVAC systems and self-pressurizing stairwells to prevent fires from spreading. These building elements make it easier for firefighters to access and extinguish fires. When entering a Type 1 building, their main objective revolves around securing stairwells to ensure a safe evacuation.

Type II Construction: Non-Combustible

Like Type 1 buildings, Type 2 buildings contain non-combustible walls, partitions, columns, floors, and roofs. Though these structures typically contain fire suppression systems, they are not often protected with fire-resistive coatings and are prone to collapse. They typically contain metal floors and metal roofs with masonry or tilt-slab walls.

Newer school buildings, shopping malls, and recently renovated commercial buildings typically fall under this construction type. If firefighters are called to a Type 2 building, their main priority will be to ventilate the building to prevent a dangerous rise in temperature.

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Type III Construction: Ordinary

Also known as brick-and-joist structures, Type III buildings consist of either tilt-slap or reinforced masonry walls. These materials are non-combustible. That is to say, some of the interior structural elements (frames, floor, ceilings, etc.) are made with wood or combustible materials.

This kind of construction can apply to both old and new buildings. Old buildings generally contain conventionally framed roofs, while newer units are typically built with lightweight roof systems.

Schools, buildings, and houses can all fall under this construction type. One of the perks associated with this construction type is that ventilation is possible. That said, many Type III buildings contain connected attics or horizontal void spaces, making fire extensions more likely.

Type IV Construction: Heavy Timber

Type IV buildings are largely constructed using large pieces of lumber connected using metal plates and bolts. This was a common practice before 1960, making heavy timber construction easy to spot. Old churches, factories, and barns typically fall under this category.

This building type demands that all wooden members meet specific dimensional requirements. Structural wood supports such as columns, beams, and girders must be at least 8 inches thick. Heavy planks for roofs and floors must be at least 6 inches thick. Type IV buildings have noncombustible exterior walls and interior elements.

Though these buildings contain combustible materials, they generally fare well when exposed to fire. Their structural mass also makes them more resilient against collapse. Still, firefighters will require large volumes of water to extinguish a fire in this type of building. Metal joint connections can also lead to a rapid increase in fire severity.

Type V Construction: Wood-Frame

Type V buildings are the most combustible construction type on this list. It is the only category of construction that allows combustible exterior walls as well as combustible structural members on the interior walls.

The frames, walls, floors, and roofs are made entirely or partly out of wood. These building elements are cheaper to develop and increasingly common in the construction of single-family homes and garages.

These structural elements can be particularly worrisome to firefighters, as exposed wood offers no fire resistance. If a  fire starts, the building will ignite significantly. These buildings may be somewhat resistant to collapse unless it is a lightweight construction. In that case, it will collapse within minutes of a fire breaking out.

What Is the International Building Code?

The International Building Code (IBC) governs the materials, systems, and assemblies used for structural fire resistance and fire-resistance-related construction. This is the resource we use to determine fire resistance ratings.

Each rating is measured in terms of the time a structural element can be exposed to fire before it collapses. So, for instance, a beam may be assigned a 2-hour fire rating. That means it can be exposed to fire for at least two hours. Materials with a fire rating of 0 will typically fail after less than an hour.

Fire Resistance Ratings, Defined

Each type of building construction is associated with different building elements, each of which varies in terms of fire resistance. The structural members associated with Type I construction generally receive three- to four-hour fire protection.

The fire-resistance rating assigned to wood and other materials associated with Type IV and Type V construction often varies based on thickness. The American Wood Council’s National Design Specification for Wood Construction gives a nominal char rate of 1.5 inches of wood thickness per hour of fire resistance.

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The Future of the Construction Industry

The future of construction is an exciting and rapidly evolving field. Advances in technology, materials, and construction techniques are driving innovation and changing the way buildings are designed, constructed, and operated.

The use of 3D printing, drones, and artificial intelligence is making construction faster, safer, and more efficient. Developing new materials, such as self-healing concrete and ultra-strong composites, makes buildings more resilient and durable. The use of sustainable and energy-efficient materials is also becoming increasingly popular.

Furthermore, the shift towards modular and prefabricated construction methods reduces waste and speeds up construction timelines. As the demand for sustainable, affordable, and adaptable buildings increases, the future of construction looks bright, promising to bring transformative changes to the industry.

The Challenges Faced by the Construction Industry

The construction industry faces several challenges that affect its productivity, profitability, and growth. One of the main challenges is a shortage of skilled labor, which can lead to delays and cost overruns.

Another challenge is the rising cost of materials and equipment, which can impact the overall project budget.

Additionally, the industry faces challenges related to safety and regulatory compliance, as well as environmental concerns such as reducing waste and carbon emissions. The highly fragmented nature of the industry, with many small and medium-sized firms, can also lead to issues with coordination and communication.

Finally, the construction industry has been slow to adopt new technologies and processes, hindering its ability to innovate and improve productivity. Addressing these challenges requires collaboration between industry stakeholders, investment in training and technology, and a focus on sustainability and safety.


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Understanding the differences between the five types of building construction is a necessary step toward a successful career in the field. The knowledge of these building types can help professionals make informed decisions about building materials, design, and safety practices to ensure the successful completion of construction projects.

Whether you are an architect, engineer, contractor, or building inspector, having a clear understanding of the various types of construction will allow you to navigate the construction process more efficiently and effectively, leading to better outcomes for clients and stakeholders.

If you’re interested in breaking into the construction industry, think about earning your degree from the New England Institution of Technology.

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What tactics should ladder crews apply to the different types of construction?

Ladder crews have different procedures in place for different building types. When it comes to Type I construction, firefighters must be aggressive in securing stairwells and evacuating victims from the structure. With Type II construction, firefighters may consider opening skylights or resorting to natural ventilation. Depending on the roof system, they may also rely on similar ventilation operations for Type III and Type IV construction. Type V construction requires other alternatives, including but not limited to positive-pressure attacks.

What is the difference between Type A and Type B construction?

With the exception of Type IV construction, all tiers are divided into two subcategories: Type A and Type B. Type A refers to “protected” constructions, whereas Type B exists in reference to “unprotected” constructions. That is to say, Type A constructions offer more fire-resistant properties than Type B constructions.

What are the main types of construction?

In addition to the 5 types of building construction, there are different types of construction projects. These include residential building construction, industrial construction, commercial building construction, and heavy civil construction.

What is the difference between traditional and modern construction methods?

Traditional construction methods refer to building techniques that have been used for centuries, using materials such as stone, brick, and timber. These methods often require a high degree of craftsmanship and manual labor and may take longer to complete than modern construction methods.

In contrast, modern construction methods use advanced technologies and materials such as prefabricated panels, steel, and concrete to streamline the construction process and reduce the time and labor required to build a structure. These methods can include the use of 3D printing, Building Information Modeling (BIM), and other digital tools to design, plan, and construct buildings more efficiently.

What are the advantages of green construction methods?

Green construction methods, also known as sustainable or eco-friendly construction, offer several advantages over traditional construction methods:

  • Energy efficiency: Green buildings are designed to use less energy, resulting in lower energy bills and a reduced carbon footprint.
  • Reduced environmental impact: Sustainable building practices help to reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of the construction process, including reducing the use of fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Healthier living and working spaces: Green buildings often use non-toxic materials and improve indoor air quality through improved ventilation and air filtration systems.
  • Long-term cost savings: Although initial costs may be higher, green buildings can offer long-term cost savings through reduced energy consumption, lower maintenance costs, and improved productivity for occupants.
  • Positive branding and market appeal: As consumers become more environmentally conscious, green buildings can offer a competitive advantage in the market and enhance a company’s brand image.

Can high-tech construction methods reduce construction time and costs?

Yes, high-tech construction methods have the potential to reduce construction time and cost significantly. Building Information Modeling (BIM), drones, robots, and prefabrication techniques can help streamline the construction process, reduce waste, and improve productivity.

BIM allows architects and engineers to create detailed 3D models of buildings that can be used to optimize designs and identify potential issues before construction begins. This can help to reduce the time and cost of rework and change orders during construction.

Drones can be used to survey sites, monitor construction progress, and inspect hard-to-reach areas, reducing the need for manual labor and improving safety.

Robots can be used for tasks such as bricklaying, which can be completed more efficiently and accurately than manual labor. Prefabrication techniques, such as modular construction, can also reduce construction time and costs by allowing building components to be manufactured off-site and assembled quickly on-site.

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