Designing Tilt-Up

Oct 27, 2011

School boards have long understood the value and benefits of durable construction which is difficult to deliver in traditional school portables.  Tilt-Up concrete structures, however, are a cost effective solution to this problem. They offer speed, quality and durability.

To fully realize all of the benefits (speed, quality, durability) of tilt-up construction however;  the design team must educate themselves on the design and construction techniques used in this form of construction.

Far too often I see designs that include:

  • Solid sections of concrete in an insulated panel design;
  • Panels twice as thick as required;
  • Panels with steel embeds that we detailed 20 years ago, and are missing key elements;
  • Specifications that was copied from a precast project;
  • Improper concrete mix and additives;
  • Foundation designs and details that could be simplified; and
  • Connection-framing layouts that could be altered to suite and reduce framing materials.

Most often when we see these comments, we contact the architect and request a quick meeting to discuss the issues noted. Far too often this meeting never happens as the design is complete and everyone wants to keep the project moving forward, even though the concerns will add up to higher costs and schedule pressures. Simply stated, the benefits of tilt-up could quickly dissolve.

The unfortunate situation that unfolds is an overpriced design that reflects poorly on the tilt-up industry.  For instance, we don’t require steel columns to brace our panels against. We don’t require massive steel embeds to fasten components together. We do however require careful coordination between all aspects of the design.

My continued recommendation is simple. The architect, who is most times the lead, should hire a tilt-up contractor during the design stage. For a nominal fee, they would gladly participate in design meetings to help steer and guide the team through the issues that they will uncover and provide guidance to how to panelize and budget a project. This happens in every other aspect of a design process, such as with curtain wall detailing or specialized products.  By bringing in the expertise of a tilt-up contractor early on, the client’s expectations are met and the design team’s total efforts are reduced as the tilt-up contractor steers them towards an industry design… once.


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