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Key Differences Between Residential and Commercial Construction

Though many people may not realize it, there is a huge difference between residential and commercial trades, especially when it comes to construction, renovation, and maintenance. A residential construction worker wouldn’t build an office building, just like commercial roofers wouldn’t build a roof for your home.

You may think, isn’t all construction the same? Well, simply, no. There are key differences between residential and commercial workers, and if you are interested in entering any type of construction profession, it is important to understand those differences.

First, you should know what each profession is. Then, you should know some of the key differences between the two. Lastly, you may want to know how the two types vary within individual professions, such as how each one deals with curb appeal. So today, let’s look at all of that information.

Residential workers

In all fields, from plumbing to maintaining curb appeal, residential construction workers share similar characteristics. The biggest part of their profession is that they work on buildings designed for people to live in, such as apartments, single homes, and family homes.

This can mean a variety of things, from working on the plumbing in these buildings to building the homes themselves. What’s important to remember is that residential workers work with residential buildings, places where people are meant to live. This means their focus is on personal comfort and safety, and less on the needs of an entire group.

Commercial workers

Commercial workers exist on the other side of the spectrum. They work on buildings that are meant to be workspaces, such as office buildings, stores, and even hospitals.

The commercial profession can often involve a lot more unique jobs because larger and more complicated buildings require a lot more details and maintenance. Commercial workers can work on small things such as interior decorations or installing air dryers, or they can do much larger projects like building an office space or designing a storefront to maximize curb appeal.

Again, this profession involves working on commercial buildings. This means there is less focus on living amenities, and more on accommodating the needs of large groups of people, usually only during the day and with people going in and out. It requires a huge focus on safety and regulations, and allows for more maintenance and work to be done in the off-hours at night.

Some key differences

There are many differences between the two types of professions, but there are a few that stick out. One is building materials: most commercial construction involves steel and metal, while a lot of residential work will involve working with wood.

Another is regulations. While there are certainly regulations that must be followed for residential buildings, there are a lot more for commercial ones. This means having a good knowledge of these regulations, and figuring out how to work with them.

The two types also approach curb appeal and exterior design differently. Residential work is focused on making something look attractive and clean, to draw in prospective buyers. Commercial work, on the other hand, will focus on attracting customers or clients, and try to make a building seem like a good place to buy from.

One last key difference is the number of workers. People in residential fields can usually get work done by themselves or with small teams. With commercial work, though, it often requires a lot of workers, and sometimes multiple different companies working together.

Now that you know more about commercial and residential construction in general, you may have a better idea of which field you’d like to join. But if you’re interested in a specific field, like plumbing, you’re probably wondering what the differences are within that area. So let’s take a look at some common areas of work, and how they differ between residential and commercial.


In the field of plumbing, the difference between residential and commercial work is huge. Basically, residential work is going to be a lot simpler here.

Residential plumbing work involves fixing the plumbing systems of homes, or installing new ones. Usually, residential buildings are fairly small or average size, and their plumbing systems are comparatively simple. So jobs like this can be done quickly and easily, and without too much help.

Commercial plumbing, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated. Commercial buildings are usually bigger and have public restrooms, food courts, drinking fountains, and other systems that all need plumbing. So commercial plumbing jobs will be a lot larger, usually take longer, and possibly need the help of many different people or companies.

Again, commercial plumbing will have more regulations to worry about than residential will. You have to create and maintain a system that will provide water to a large building without any damage, which can be difficult. If you want to work alone, residential plumbing might be better for you, as commercial work will probably involve a team.

General building maintenance

This area can involve things like maintaining doors, windows, elevators, stairs, and other parts of buildings. Again, the type of work will vary massively between residential and commercial.

Residential building maintenance will involve a lot of smaller, less complicated jobs. Replacing windows or doors, fixing drafts, installing new garage doors, and replacing stair railings are all things that a residential repair worker could do. It won’t involve things like elevator repair or wheelchair ramps, most of the time. Once again, this is a job that can be done by just one person or a small team, and you could find yourself doing multiple of these jobs in one day.

On the other side, commercial repairs will usually be bigger projects. They can have similar jobs, like a commercial garage door company for a mechanic shop or going to businesses for commercial glass door installation. They also involve more complex jobs like repairing elevators, replacing a whole building’s worth of windows,  and installing wheelchair ramps.

General construction

When it comes to the actual construction of buildings, the two areas differ widely. Residential construction workers will be focused more on individual needs, while commercial workers will have to consider a lot of people.

Usually, residential construction will involve building homes of all sizes, either for a specific family or for a real estate company. These projects may take some time, but they will ultimately be smaller and quicker than commercial projects.

Residential workers may also find themselves building for a specific family. This means they can work closely with a family to accommodate the home to their wants and needs. It allows for a lot more flexibility and customization in the building process.

These types of projects will involve working mostly with wood, and materials commonly found at hardware stores. This means they will cost much less than commercial projects, and the materials might be easier to find and work with.

Residential buildings are also designed differently because they are designed with two things in mind: curb appeal on the outside, and usefulness and comfort on the inside. This means that a residential construction worker will be working to create a building that looks nice, and that works well to fit a family’s needs. They may also be working with landscaping, which can add up to 14% to the resale value of a property.

Commercial construction will be a lot different. For one, commercial land for sale is usually much more expensive, and there can be more competition in trying to get it.

Commercial materials are also much more expensive, as it usually involves working with steel and metal, and materials that may have to come from specialized suppliers. These factors all make commercial jobs much more expensive.

As a commercial construction worker, you will find yourself working with a lot of different people. One project will likely have multiple groups designing it, making sure that everything works, ensuring it meets all relevant regulations, building it, thinking about curb appeal, and so on. It involves teams of designers, builders, a truss engineer, a window installer, and many other things.

The design for commercial buildings is also much different. When it comes to curb appeal, it is approached differently. Instead of just making a building look nice and clean, you need to make someone want to come inside. This is especially true for shops and restaurants, where curb appeal can make or break their business.

Inside the building, things are designed for maximum flow. You want people to be able to navigate the building easily and find all of the important places. You also have to consider safety exits, and how to design things to make emergency evacuation as easy as possible.

So residential construction will involve mostly wood, working with small groups, and designing buildings for personal comfort. Commercial construction will involve steel and metal, large groups, lots of people, meeting regulations, and designing buildings for flow and maximum curb appeal. Which one you choose will depend on how you want to spend your time.


The base work of all electricians will be the same: they work with wires, and make sure that anything electric in the building runs smoothly. But once again, there are large differences.

Residential electricians will be working with smaller systems, usually homes that only require lights, outlets, and appliances. This means that a lot of the work can be done with very few people, and won’t require too many materials.

Commercial electricity work will be a lot more complex. It means making sure that the entire building runs on a smooth system, and that there are no issues anywhere. These buildings may need lights, outlets, appliances, vending machines, computer systems, and many more things that all require electricity.

Electricians in the commercial field also have to worry much more about regulations, and keeping the whole building safe and secure. It will involve knowledge of local, state, and federal regulations, and the ability to work with them.

Lastly, residential electricians probably won’t need to worry about curb appeal, but commercial electricians might. If a building has lights out front, especially to draw in customers, they will have to make sure that all runs smoothly as well.


The difference between residential and commercial roofers is a huge one. Residential roofers design roofs for one purpose, while commercial roofs might have many.

A residential roof usually just needs to be able to protect the house from damage, prevent leaks, and keep the air in. This means that it is fairly easy to design a roof to fit this one purpose and get it done quickly. These roofs also usually involve working with wood, shingles, and other common materials.

Commercial roofs, on the other hand, require a design with multiple purposes in mind. Not only should they protect the building, which is much larger, but they also might need to be able to have people stand on them, and even support more functions, such as dining or electric appliances.

This makes the design for commercial roofs much more complicated and involves accommodating many different needs. Commercial roofers may also have to work with government contracting to get their roof built and to comply with all safety regulations.

But commercial roofers can also have more fun since their roofs are multi-use. They may get to design a roof for outdoor dining or one that can be a beautiful garden. So even though it’s more complicated, commercial roofing can also be more varied and exciting than residential roofing.

Lots of differences, one goal

Clearly, there are a lot of differences between residential and commercial construction working. Residential work involves smaller jobs, fewer people, more personalized details, and possibly small jobs like finding a plumber or gold buyer. Commercial work involves large, complex jobs, more people, lots of regulations, and a different approach to interior design and curb appeal.

But at the end of the day, both types of work have the same goal: to create buildings that are beautiful, comfortable, and fit whatever purpose they are designed for. So which field you choose mainly depends on your own personal preferences, like what size jobs you may want, how many people you want to work with, and how many regulations you have to keep in mind.

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