Is a Commercial Construction Company Different than a Residential Builder?

The answer to the above question is an indisputable “yes.

If you’re considering developing a commercial property of any size – small-, mid- or large-scale – it is important to know the difference between a home builder and a commercial builder.

Silvia & Silvia LLC was founded in 1970 as a residential building company. Within in a year or two, we took on our first commercial building project; redeveloping Centerville Corners which we then retained ownership of and managed. We continued purchasing and developing commercial property – one or two a year – always retaining ownership and managing the properties. It wasn’t long before other commercial property owners were reaching out, asking us to build or remodel their properties. By the 1980s, Silvia and Silvia was handling large-scale projects, including the redevelopment of a mall in Bourne.

An outdoor discount shopping center, located on MacArthur Boulevard in Bourne, had gone out of business during a recession in the 1980s.  After purchasing the site, Onset Computer asked us to design and build a new facility for them. It continues to serve as their headquarters.

More recently, we built a complex for New York Life on what was an undeveloped lot we own on Route 132 in Hyannis. Seven years ago, NY Life, one of our long-time commercial tenants, decided to create a regional headquarters on the Cape. With the land we already owned ideally located – the first commercial property south of Route 6, and across the street from their original location – we were able to build a new headquarters to meet their needs. The 21,000-s.f. building continues to serve as their Cape Cod headquarters. In 2020, we completed an additional professional building on the adjacent lot (find info on leasing opportunities here).

So, what are the differences between commercial and residential construction?

cape cod building firms
Oyster Harbors Marine, one of our commercial construction projects on Cape Cod.

Permitting & Codes (We do off Cape too)

Every construction project needs to attain the proper permits and adhere to building codes, but the permits and codes associated with commercial construction are far more stringent than those associated with residential building.

Although the rules vary by town, both the lot coverage and setbacks are different for commercial properties. And generally speaking, aesthetics for commercial projects are given more consideration on the Cape than in other regions. Show up at a planning board meeting with a design for a commercial building on a main thoroughfare that isn’t reflective of the Cape’s vernacular, or doesn’t meet setback and coverage codes, and you’ll be headed back to the drawing board. If you’re planning a commercial building that is more than 10,000 sq. ft., a Cape Cod Commission review is also a concern.

A commercial building’s systems – its electrical, plumbing and HVAC aspects –  are more complex than that of most homes, and have a more rigorous permitting and approval process. Depending on the size and intended use of a commercial building, ADA compliance must also be considered. Available parking and traffic flow will also need to be addressed.

Working with an experienced commercial builder means that all of these facets are reflected in your initial plans. A streamlined approval process means you’re open for business, and making money, as quickly as possible.

cape cod commercial builders
A professional complex in the Hyannis Financial District; we completed the building in the foreground last year. Click here for info on leasing opportunities.

Time IS Money

Every day that your project is under construction is one less day it’s housing your business and/or generating rental income. Once your plans are approved, you want your project to proceed at an efficient pace.

An experienced commercial contractor will have an understanding of the steps required – in both the actual construction and the ongoing approval processes – to have the systems, and employees and subcontractors, in place to move as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality and safety. When it comes to commercial construction, the two-man electrical or plumbing crew utilized by a residential builder simply won’t cut it.

cape cod builders

Located on Main Street in Osterville, this Silvia-and-Silvia-built professional complex has a residential appearance from the street.

Equipment & Materials

A residential builder may have access to a front-end loader, but will it be large enough to handle a project of significant size? What about cranes, or scaffolding? Without commercial building experience, a contractor may not realize the limitations of the equipment they typically use until your project is underway. A delay in securing the appropriate equipment interrupts the workflow and slows down the project.

And while larger homes may utilize some steel-beam construction, most homes rely on a traditional wood-beam framing. The time to realize the intricacies of working primarily with steel beams is not mid-construction. Understanding the intricacies of working with siding and roofing materials that are used in commercial rather than residential construction is another of many concerns.

With more than five decades of experience in Cape Cod commercial construction, when we say we understand what it takes to get the job done on time and on budget, we mean it.