What Is Horizontal Construction? Development 101

By Senior WriterPublished On: March 31, 20223.4 min read

When it comes to commercial real estate construction, there are generally two major types of construction: vertical and horizontal construction. While these two types of construction can encompass many types of buildings, horizontal buildings are usually built in industrial zones.

What Is Horizontal Construction?

Horizontal construction refers to a type of construction that is wide, rather than tall. Structures that are considered horizontal construction “grow out from the center, making them much wider projects,” said Tomas Sulichin, President of the Commercial Division at Miami real estate brokerage RelatedISG Realty. Horizontal construction is also sometimes called “civil construction.”

“Horizontal construction is going to be your unit roads, your bridges, your warehousing — just kind of your industrialized necessities,” said Josh Thompson, Founder and CEO of Thompson Touch, a New York-based construction service company.

What Is the Difference Between Horizontal vs Vertical Construction?

The main difference between horizontal and vertical construction is how the two types of structures exist spatially. While horizontal construction is typically wider and lower to the ground, vertical construction is higher. Vertical construction projects include skyscrapers and high rises.

Horizontal construction “requires more land availability than its counterpart to account for the square footage needed to expand,” Sulichin explained.

Another difference between horizontal and vertical construction is that for vertical construction projects, you’ll usually need to hire an architect to design the building. With horizontal construction projects, there is a structural engineer that manages the project.

In terms of funding, vertical and horizontal projects have different financing trends. Vertical construction is usually funded by investors, investment groups and other sources of private money or construction takeout loans. Horizontal construction can be privately-funded as well, but it is often government-funded.

What Is a Horizontal Construction Engineer, and When Do You Need One?

A horizontal construction engineer is someone who works in excavation and construction for horizontal projects. These include “roads, sidewalks, parks, driveways, railways, bridges, pipelines, water lines and sewers” said Barry Wurzel, President of Wurzel Builders in Texas.

Oftentimes, the government and even the military will hire horizontal construction engineers and other heavy civil construction contractors to work on government-backed buildings and infrastructure.

How Is Horizontal Construction Financed?

Many horizontal construction projects are funded through government, state or township money, as horizontal construction projects are often for public use. Biden’s Infrastructure Law, for instance, is an example of horizontal construction financing.

“The majority of Biden’s infrastructure bill is probably going to be spent on horizontal construction,” said Thompson. “It’s not going to be spent on building a skyscraper with luxury condominiums overlooking the Hudson Yards.”

Of course, there are always exceptions in which a horizontal project may be funded by private money, but for the most part, horizontal projects are government-funded.

Examples of Horizontal Construction

There are a vast number of buildings and pieces of infrastructure that fall under the category of horizontal construction. Some examples include:

Public Infrastructure

Roads, bridges, sidewalks and railways all fall under the category of horizontal construction. They are usually backed by government funding and built by horizontal construction engineers.

Public Buildings

Buildings like schools and libraries are also considered horizontal construction. They usually don’t have multiple floors (or if they do, it’s rarely more than three floors), and they are also funded by government money.

Warehouses

Large warehouses that are wide rather than tall are considered horizontal construction projects. In many cases, warehouses are an exception to the norm when it comes to funding. Many warehouses, especially those belonging to large companies, are funded privately by the company or outside investors.

“Amazon uses horizontal for space,” Thompson said, referring to Amazon warehouses.

Understanding Horizontal Construction

When a building is wide rather than tall, you can safely assume it is a horizontal construction project. Much of our infrastructure, such as the roads and bridges we drive over, are considered horizontal construction, funded by government, state or township money. While there are exceptions to the funding rule, as is the case with Amazon warehouses, most horizontal construction is publicly financed and built by horizontal construction engineers.

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