Since most owners are generally interested in acquiring only a specific type of constructed facility, they should be aware of the common industrial practices for the type of construction pertinent to them. Likewise, the construction industry is a conglomeration of quite diverse segments and products. Some owners may procure a constructed facility only once in a long while and tend to look for short term advantages. However, many owners require periodic acquisition of new facilities and/or rehabilitation of existing facilities. It is to their advantage to keep the construction industry healthy and productive. Collectively, the owners have more power to influence the construction industry than they realize because, by their individual actions, they can provide incentives or disincentives for innovation, efficiency and quality in construction. It is to the interest of all parties that the owners take an active interest in the construction and exercise beneficial influence on the performance of the industry.
In planning for various types of construction, the methods of procuring professional services, awarding construction contracts, and financing the constructed facility can be quite different. For the purpose of discussion, the broad spectrum of constructed facilities may be classified into four major categories, each with its own characteristics.
Residential Housing Construction
Residential housing construction includes single-family houses, multi-family dwellings, and high-rise apartments. During the development and construction of such projects, the developers or sponsors who are familiar with the construction industry usually serve as surrogate owners and take charge, making necessary contractual agreements for design and construction, and arranging the financing and sale of the completed structures. Residential housing designs are usually performed by architects and engineers, and the construction executed by builders who hire subcontractors for the structural, mechanical, electrical and other specialty work. An exception to this pattern is for single-family houses which may be designed by the builders as well.
The residential housing market is heavily affected by general economic conditions, tax laws, and the monetary and fiscal policies of the government. Often, a slight increase in total demand will cause a substantial investment in construction, since many housing projects can be started at different locations by different individuals and developers at the same time. Because of the relative ease of entry, at least at the lower end of the market, many new builders are attracted to the residential housing construction. Hence, this market is highly competitive, with potentially high risks as well as high rewards.
Figure 1: Residential Housing Construction (courtesy of Caterpillar, Inc.)
Institutional and Commercial Building Construction
Institutional and commercial building construction encompasses a great variety of project types and sizes, such as schools and universities, medical clinics and hospitals, recreational facilities and sports stadiums, retail chain stores and large shopping centers, warehouses and light manufacturing plants, and skyscrapers for offices and hotels. The owners of such buildings may or may not be familiar with construction industry practices, but they usually are able to select competent professional consultants and arrange the financing of the constructed facilities themselves. Specialty architects and engineers are often engaged for designing a specific type of building, while the builders or general contractors undertaking such projects may also be specialized in only that type of building.
Because of the higher costs and greater sophistication of institutional and commercial buildings in comparison with residential housing, this market segment is shared by fewer competitors. Since the construction of some of these buildings is a long process which once started will take some time to proceed until completion, the demand is less sensitive to general economic conditions than that for speculative housing. Consequently, the owners may confront an oligopoly of general contractors who compete in the same market. In an oligopoly situation, only a limited number of competitors exist, and a firm’s price for services may be based in part on its competitive strategies in the local market.
Figure 2: Construction of the
Specialized Industrial Construction
Specialized industrial construction usually involves very large scale projects with a high degree of technological complexity, such as oil refineries, steel mills, chemical processing plants and coal-fired or nuclear power plants. The owners usually are deeply involved in the development of a project, and prefer to work with designers-builders such that the total time for the completion of the project can be shortened. They also want to pick a team of designers and builders with whom the owner has developed good working relations over the years.
Although the initiation of such projects is also affected by the state of the economy, long range demand forecasting is the most important factor since such projects are capital intensive and require considerable amount of planning and construction time. Governmental regulation such as the rulings of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the
Figure 3: Construction of a Benzene Plant in
Infrastructure and Heavy Construction
Infrastructure and heavy construction includes projects such as highways, mass transit systems, tunnels, bridges, pipelines, drainage systems and sewage treatment plants. Most of these projects are publicly owned and therefore financed either through bonds or taxes. This category of construction is characterized by a high degree of mechanization, which has gradually replaced some labour intensive operations.
The engineers and builders engaged in infrastructure construction are usually highly specialized since each segment of the market requires different types of skills. However, demands for different segments of infrastructure and heavy construction may shift with saturation in some segments. For example, as the available highway construction projects are declining, some heavy construction contractors quickly move their work force and equipment into the field of mining where jobs are available.
Figure 4: Construction of the