We recently caught up with Chris Tilton to learn about a building process called TILT UP CONSTRUCTION. Here’s what we learned…
What are the basics of TILT UP CONSTRUCTION?
"Tilt Up Construction is typically used for construction of warehouses and is going to provide more security than a standard pre-engineered metal building. The way that it works is that you form and stand up wall panels out of concrete. First, you pour the slab out of concrete and then you actually form up panels that are specific sizes, depending on the height and width of the building. Once those panels have cured, a crane is used to tilt them up and they become the walls of the warehouse."
So, TILT UP CONSTRUCTION is used primarily for commercial warehouse construction rather than residential or other types of commercial construction?
“A lot of the warehouses, especially in Savannah, when you get near the ports, they need that security because if you look at a pre-engineered metal building, basically all you’ve got from someone who wants to get in there and take stuff is a sheet of metal that can be cut. With a tilt up panel wall, you have 8 inches of concrete wall and there’s no way you’re getting in through that. It’s like a vault.”
"The versatility of tilt up construction is another reason it’s the go-to process for warehouse builds. The great thing about the tilt up panels are that you can do anything you want, you can do doors and windows; basically what you do is when you design your building, you have a sheet for each panel, so when you’re forming each different panel you’ll have a specific cut-out for a door or a window or you can put scores in there to make them look like doors and windows. You see those on the very, very large warehouses. And then when you’re finished with it, you’ll paint the exterior and a lot of times you’ll have some striping or some accent colors, so you can really do a lot of things to spice up the exterior veneer of that.”
Are the panels reinforced with steel, such as rebar?
“Yes, it’s got rebar in the slabs and rebar in the walls, and then also what’s part of the tilt up construction are structural steel columns - because the structural steel columns actually carry the load of the roof, which are typically steel bar joists. However, we’re having a lot of issues right now with shortages of steel, so a lot of the things we have to kind of figure out and figure out what’s best for lead times and for costs. A lot of times we’ll go to “W” steel members instead of bar joists, because bar joists - two or three months ago, they were NINE MONTHS OUT if you ordered them. Nine months out is a difficult thing to work around when you’re in the construction world.”
Advantages vs. drawbacks of Tilt Up Construction?
“Well, obviously, it’s gonna cost more, but the longevity and the security of it - and a lot of times for insurance purposes, your insurance rates are going to be better. If you're storing specific goods from the port that require special security, you’ll meet all those needs. So in the arena where the tilt up comes into play, it’s a game changer because it gives you all of those benefits that any requirement can have.”
How long has this process been around?
“Tilt up has been around for a WHILE. Back in the day, back in the 80’s and 90’s, that’s really the premier way of building warehouses in Savannah. The pre-engineered metal building kinda came in and took away some of the market because it’s a lot more efficient cost-wise to do a pre-engineered metal building, but you do lose the security. But there are a lot of situations where you simply don’t need it. It’s significantly more money than a pre-engineered metal building.”
"In the Savannah area, tilt up is the premier construction design in big warehouses. If you go around and look at all of the big warehouses, they’re all going to be tilt up construction. Mainly because of the security, the strength and the longevity of those buildings. They’re significantly greater than the pre-engineered metal buildings.”
Then, the great advantage of using Tilt Up Construction vs. PEM buildings is their strength and longevity?
“Yes, a tilt up panel warehouse will be around forever. It’s kinda like the (wolf in the) Three (Little) Pigs, it huffs and puffs, but it’s not gonna blow down…the tilt up. You know, the pre-engineered metal panels, they rust, they fade, they deteriorate. There’s a lot of issues that after so many years that can happen with the pre-engineered metal buildings that you’re not gonna have that with the tilt up panel warehouse construction.”
So, a Tilt Up Construction warehouse is going to stand the test of time better?
“Yes, it’s going to stand the test of time way better. I mean, there’s literally warehouses in Savannah from the eighties that are tilt up that are standing as strong as they were the day that they were built. While there’s a lot of pre-engineered metal buildings from the eighties that aren’t holding up so well. In fact, we just remodeled one on Ogeechee Road. It was built in like ‘79, a pre-engineered metal building, and we had to replace ALL of the roof panels, ALL of the wall panels and we had to go in and remedy a lot of the framing members that had rusted out. BUT, the problem you have now in Savannah is that there’s just not a whole lot of land available for this industrial-type use, so people are having to think it through and go find properties that are older properties and renovate them.”
Would you say that you need a larger building site to do this type of construction?
"Well, you do need room, because you need room to pour these panels, and ideally you like to pour them on the slab. But sometimes the panels are too large to form on the slab and you actually have to pour another slab…a temporary slab to lay these panels down. You do need more room in the beginning, but, technically, when you’re said and done, the building size is the building size and the parking and site work is gonna be what’s required for whatever size building you have. It’s just that you’ve got to use your space a little better because you do need room to be able to pour these panels and to tilt the panels up. But, at the end of the day, the sites are gonna be the same size because the building ends up being whatever size building you need. You have to work around your site a little, but the logistics of where you’re working become a little more into play there."
How is Dewitt Tilton Construction Group using this building process?
“We’re working on a design build now, we’re actually working on two design builds and we’ve priced out some of the big 350,000 square foot buildings and we just can’t compete with some of those bigger guys. Our niche is gonna be those 25 to 50 to 100,000 square feet that some of these bigger guys just aren’t gonna wanna mess with. To give you an example, we’re working with a client in Midway that’s built a 25,000 square foot tilt up warehouse and he’s gonna expand it to 100,000 feet. But it’s very, very sophisticated in the fact that it’s got a lot of finished space inside; it’s got nearly 15,000 square feet of office space inside this building and, typically, that’s not what the larger tilt up constructions wanna deal with. They are more concerned with building the big open warehouse; they don’t want that custom aspect of it and that’s just kinda where we jump in. When we met with the client the first time, and we spent an hour and a half talking with him about all the things that we could and couldn’t do, he said, ‘WOW, you know, I can’t get the other guys to, all they can do is just give me a price on the walls.’ So we feel like there’s a good niche in there for us…where we have more of a custom sales tool that we can use that facet of our tilt up construction to kind of carve out our own niche in this business.”
Would you call yourself a “boutique” commercial construction company, as it relates to the use of tilt up construction?
"I would say we’re more of a boutique tilt up construction, but when you go to commercial, we can do it all. But in a tilt up world, we would probably be considered a boutique tilt up commercial construction company."
We use the word “boutique” for lack of a better term…
“No, it’s not a bad term, I like that term. I wouldn’t consider us a boutique ‘commercial’ construction company because we can build. I mean, you know, we’re unlimited; we can build the next Savannah bridge, but when we get in the tilt up world, to go up against these big guys, and I mean, you know…”
“When you get into that smaller tilt up and it has more customization, and that’s the key, is those big guys… it’s kinda like a tract builder. You know, when you go to Centex or D.R. Horton, they have like three models and they don’t deviate from them. And, if you want to add three outlets over there and move a door from there to there, you can’t do it. Well, in our world, we are more of a ‘customization, we can do anything’ - when we sat down with our clients from Midway and we said, guys, we can do whatever you want… they were like, ‘Oh wow, we were told you don’t have many options.’ So, I think that’s kinda, again, where we’ve created that niche for us is that we customize. And we can do anything you want and we just do it on a little smaller scale effectively than some of the larger ones that the bigger tilt up construction companies are dealing with.”
“If you think of the buzzwords for a ‘boutique’ tilt up: customization and quality, which is a very subjective word, but, also, WE SPEND MORE TIME with our customers because this is, most of what we do is more than a warehouse. It’s a warehouse with very significant, specific uses and size. Like one of these, they’ve got a shrinkwrap room that requires positive pressure, and to put it in terms that you may understand, it’s almost like walking into that Willy Wonka factory where you have to put the white coats and the glasses on, and that’s what they need in those types of rooms, is positive pressure, clean. You know, and that’s the shrink wrap room. That’s where they wrap all of their goods and shrinkwrap them. It needs to be a specific build and designed a specific way and that’s kind of the customization that we’re able to do that a lot of the big guys just aren’t going to mess with. So…if you’re looking to build 100,000 SF (or) under, you want it specific for your needs, you want it customized, you want quality, Dewitt Tilton Group is your choice.”