Pre-Cast vs. Tilt-Up: Pros and Cons of Each Construction Method

SGA Design Group is an experienced architectural firm that designs for some of the nation’s largest retailers. We know that understanding your options can help you make more educated decisions about the methods and materials used in your upcoming building plans. Our firm has won many awards throughout our 29 years in business, including being awarded as a “Top 300 Design Firm” in 2024. If you are trying to decide between tilt-up concrete and pre-cast concrete construction methods for your next project, we are here to help!

Let’s start with the basic definitions. Tilt-up panels are poured and cast on-site. After the panels are cured, they are lifted into position using cranes. Typically, these panels are poured and cured on top of the finished floor slab. If the slab area is small, the panels can be fabricated by pouring them on top of each other. This process takes longer because you must wait for the first panel to cure before the second panel can be poured. You can also pour a sacrificial slab in the parking lot if there isn’t enough floor slab area for all the panels.

Pre-cast concrete panels on the other hand, are fabricated off-site and then transported to the construction area. The size and weight of pre-cast panels can be a limiting factor in transporting the panels to your worksite. The department of transportation limits the panels to 12’ wide or 14’ wide if they have a vehicle escort. Limiting the size of the panels can also impact the design of the building. The location of the fabrication plant will impact the overall cost of transportation and should be included in the decision process.

Concrete used for tilt-up panels must adequate strength for the panel erection requirements. The greatest load on the panels is during the erection process. A minimum 28-day strength of 3500 psi is typical for these panels. While tilt-up panels save you the cost of transportation to the work site, fabrication on-site requires more labor and takes up a significant amount of the job site area while the panels cure. There is also a higher risk of delays due to weather conditions.

Cold temperatures and rainy conditions can delay the onsite construction of concrete panels. The time of year the panels are needed should also be considered in the decision process. Concrete in cold temperatures requires concrete additives and curing blankets. Precast concrete panels are most often poured and cured indoors, which eliminates these issues and ensures that your components can be completed and delivered despite the job site weather conditions. Some precast manufacturers produce panels in an assembly line fashion using lasers to locate openings and embeds. This increases production time and reduces costs.

Both concrete systems can also be produced with an insulated core to add energy efficiency to the building. This added insulation can boost energy efficiency reducing the cost of operation of the building and assist in meeting the energy code requirements. The larger size of on-site tilt-up panels can reduce the number of joints needed in the outer walls of your building. This can reduce the number of areas of possible air infiltration and the loss of energy due to conduction at the joints.

An established architectural design firm like SGA Design Group can guide you with expert knowledge and help you determine the most effective way to make the right decisions for your upcoming retail or distribution center project. Not only did we pioneer the prototype, but our experienced architects are licensed in all 50 U.S. states and can determine the best solutions for your building needs. If you have any questions about your upcoming project, please reach out to: