People first started building complex structures over 10,000 years ago, working with whatever materials they could find — stone, mammoth bones, and animal hides, among others. Since then, the construction industry has come a long way. If you want to know more about the major types of construction used today, you first have to ask yourself how you’re dividing the different categories. Let’s explore!

What Are the Major Types of Construction?

Major Types of Construction by Purpose

When professionals in the construction industry talk about different types of construction, they’re more likely to be referring to the type of building being erected. That is, they are dividing the types of construction according to the intended purpose of the finished building.

When types of construction are divided in this way, there are four different categories:

  • Residential buildings
  • Commercial buildings
  • Industrial buildings
  • Infrastructure construction

Some buildings are designed to serve more than one purpose; these are so-called mixed-purpose buildings.


Residential buildings include single-family homes and multi-family homes ranging from duplexes and condos to apartment buildings and skyscrapers. These types of buildings are designed for people to live in.


Commercial buildings include retail facilities, shopping malls, office buildings, medical facilities, hotels, and restaurants. Not all commercial buildings neatly fall into any of these sub-categories, however. Casinos and airports are two examples, as they can fall under multiple sub-categories.


Industrial buildings may be commercial in nature but are in a class of their own. Some people may be surprised that light and heavy manufacturing facilities (factories) are not the only type of industrial construction. Warehouses may be considered commercial or industrial buildings, while data centers and cold storage facilities fall under industrial construction.


Infrastructure projects include bridges, cellphone towers, roads and railroads, ports and airports (which can also fall under the commercial category), and waterworks.

Projects that fall into multiple categories can be referred to as mixed construction. The most obvious example is a building that combines a hotel with retail facilities or residential units with office space.

Major Types of Construction by Materials and Their Ability to Resist Fire

While construction projects are often categorized depending on the purpose of the finished project, this isn’t the only way to divide the types of construction. All construction projects incorporate many different kinds of materials, with some playing more important roles. Because of this, construction projects can also be categorized depending on a building’s level of fire resistance:

  • Fire-resistive
  • Non-combustible
  • Ordinary
  • Heavy timber
  • Wood frame

Fire Resistive

Fire-resistive buildings are built to last — no matter what happens. The structural elements remain intact in the face of a severe fire because the structural materials are heavily fire-resistant. All skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings fall into this category.


Non-combustible buildings aren’t as tall and don’t require the same level of fire resistance as skyscrapers — but they are still built to withstand catastrophes. Shopping malls, hospitals, and other large public buildings fall into this category.


Ordinary buildings include single-family homes, restaurants, and smaller retail facilities. These buildings incorporate both combustible and non-combustible materials.

Heavy Timber

The category of heavy timber buildings includes most homes built before 1960, as well as many buildings used for non-residential purposes — including older schools, churches, and industrial facilities. While non-combustible materials were used in the construction of these buildings, they contain significant amounts of heavy timber.

Wood Frame

Wood frame buildings are usually single-family homes, although other types of buildings can fall into this category as well. Important structural components are constructed from wood in these buildings, which is a special concern among firefighters. This is because with wood frame buildings there is little fire protection and it is hard to keep fires from spreading.

Fire-resistive, non-combustible, and ordinary construction further fall under type A, meaning the building’s design has safeguards to protect against fire damage. Type B buildings, classed as heavy timber or wood frame buildings, are unprotected.

Types of Construction: Summary

Anyone looking to gain a general overview of the major types of construction should first look at the purpose of the building. Construction projects can be undertaken for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. They may also serve to improve a region’s infrastructure.

Considering that every construction project utilizes a wide variety of building materials, you can also classify a building based on its fire resistance. Fire-resistive and non-combustible buildings can come out of major fires still standing, while heavy timber and wood frame buildings will almost certainly collapse.

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