Residential vs. Commercial Excavation

The excavation objectives don’t change, they just scale


The same, only smaller. It’s how a professional in the excavation industry might describe the distinction between what their tasks and responsibilities would be when working on a residential construction site versus a commercial one.


That’s because the objectives for excavators in both types of construction remain the same. The need for precision, skill, and expertise isn’t altered by the size of the project. It remains the excavator’s responsibility to ensure that the soil on the site works to support what will be built.


Comparing excavation site size


Residential buildings have smaller floor plans and generally are situated on appropriately-sized lots. If there’s not an existing structure on the construction site, land clearing is an excavator’s initial contribution. Often, the builder requires a flat lot, so the excavator will remove trees, rocks, and a certain amount of topsoil. It also might be necessary to redistribute some of the soil to grade the area, so water doesn’t pool and cause drainage problems.


The important next step is to prepare the earth on the lot to support the residence that will be built on it. This might require compacting or moving earth to bear the weight of a foundation, or digging (excavating) earth for the portion of a residence’s construction that will be below ground – such as a basement or the portion of the home’s foundation.


Now, imagine those same needs magnified by the size of a commercial building. A piece of commercial property is usually being used to its fullest potential when the land to building ratio is high. This valuation often isn’t even a consideration with residential properties, which illustrates one of the biggest differences between commercial and residential excavation. Everything is bigger.


For example, while a residential construction project might require an excavator to create the space for a basement, a commercial construction project would task the excavator to prepare the space for an underground parking garage. And in the latter scenario, each additional foot of excavation depth costs more than the previous foot.


Material weight considerations during excavation


The Seattle Times reports that an average 2,200 square foot two-story house can weigh as much as 605,000 pounds. Most residential construction projects use timber for framing. Commercial construction is more complex and larger. Steel frame construction is used to accommodate for the size, and to extend the building’s lifetime. The steel – as well as other, more resilient building material – create a structure that will weigh many times that of a residential building.


Do different regulations apply?


Commercial buildings live out their lives filled with a much larger cast of characters than a residential dwelling. Regulations for commercial building materials, construction techniques, plumbing and electrical systems, and even size, are more stringent. Excavators must adhere to both local and federal regulations when working with builders on commercial construction.


Is this any different than the specific building codes for residential construction? The codes are different, but the goal is similar. The laws of physics and geology, and the rules of engineering, still apply. It remains the excavator’s responsibility to prepare the earth on the site to support the building constructed on it. We think of excavating as digging or removing – and while that’s a huge part of the job, the objective is really creating stability.


It’s why an excavator will tell you it’s the same, only smaller. Learn more about the specialties within commercial and residential excavation services.

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