How Long Does It Take to Build: Houses, Apartments and More

Completing houses, apartments and commercial buildings on time is crucial for companies that want to retain clients and develop a positive reputation in their area. Knowing the average time it takes to build residential projects can help a company compare themselves to the rest of the industry and set goals to get ahead of the competition.

Companies who take on these assignments may be interested in learning more about how long it normally takes for projects to be completed and the factors that regularly slow projects down. It can also be helpful for companies to know about the practices they can implement to finish projects faster.

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How Long Does It Take to Build a House?

A house's construction time will differ based on the project requirements and the type of home being constructed. However, there are some averages from the Census Bureau that can give you an idea of how long it takes to complete a home project. In the Census Bureau's 2019 Survey of Construction, they discovered that on average, it takes about seven months for a single-family home to be built.

In this survey, the Census Bureau differentiates between built for sale homes, otherwise known as production homes, and contractor built homes, which are sometimes referred to as custom homes. A production home is a type of house designed to be constructed multiple times from the same plans. You'll often see production homes in neighborhoods developed by large-volume builders. In contrast, a custom home is a house built from scratch that features a unique design. Unlike production homes, buyers have a great deal of input on a custom home's design and construction.

Given a production home's replicability, it's no surprise they're usually completed before custom homes. In 2019, production homes were built in 6.1 months on average. During the same period, the Census Bureau found that custom homes took an average of 8.9 months to finish.

The region in which the construction is taking place can affect a project's construction time as well. The Census Bureau found that the average construction time for the Northeast was 11.1 months, while the South only had an average construction time of 6.1 months. In the middle were the West and the Midwest, which both had average build times of 7.7 months.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Modular Home?

A modular home is even faster to build than production and custom homes. It's a type of home constructed in a factory before being delivered to a site. Once the house has been built in the factory, it's sent to a build site, where the builder assembles it.

It's essential to distinguish that modular homes are not manufactured homes or mobile homes. Mobile homes and manufactured homes are designed to be moved, while modular homes stay put after being placed on their intended site. As such, manufactured and mobile homes aren't put on permanent foundations, while modular homes are installed on them.

The timeline for modular homes differs based on manufacturers. It can take as little as six weeks to prepare the land site, build the foundation and construct the modules. After these parts are completed, it can take as little as four weeks to install and set modules. In total, building and installing modular homes can take as little as two and a half months.

However, it can take six to nine weeks for the buyer to purchase land and receive the required permits at the beginning of the process. Another area that might increase the build time is if a buyer chooses to design a modular home or changes to it rather than selecting a pre-designed option. The design process for modular homes can end up taking 12 weeks. For those that go with a stock option, the design process is done immediately.

When you factor in the minimum time for purchasing plans and receiving permits for a stock option, the total time it takes from beginning to end to construct a modular home can be around four months.

How Long Does It Take to Build an Apartment?

In their study, the Census Bureau tracked the average time it took to complete a building with two units or more from start to finish. On average, multiunit buildings took 15.4 months to complete in 2019. This broad average may not be the most telling statistic for those looking to build apartments, since the build time increases, on average, the more units are included in the building's construction.

For smaller buildings with two to four units, the average time to completion is 12.6 months. Buildings with five to nine units take 14.6 months to complete. When structures of 10 to 19 units are constructed, it takes an average time of 16.4 months. Finally, buildings with 20 or more units take an average of 17.2 months to complete. Like with home building, the region in which an apartment is constructed can add or subtract from the average completion time.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Commercial Building?

Commercial building project lengths can vary widely depending on the building's size, location and application. Examples of a commercial building project could include:

  • Hospitals
  • Shopping centers
  • Schools
  • Sports stadiums
  • Warehouses
  • Hotels
  • Offices

Compared to residential buildings, commercial buildings can be more complex and may require longer build times. For example, according to the World Data Bank, it takes an average of 81 days to construct a warehouse in the United States. Even with timeline estimates, each project has unique elements that impact its length.

What Can Affect a Building's Timeline?

There are some common factors that can delay the building process. Some of these factors are uncontrollable, but you can predict many of them and take steps to manage them. By being aware of common factors influencing a building's construction time, you can better schedule your project and prevent slowdowns.

The following are some of the common factors that regularly slow a building's construction:

  • Soil type: When building a house or apartment on a piece of land, the type of soil the foundation is going to be placed on will affect the timeline. If you're building on top of high-quality soil, your foundation may be simple and not require any special construction practices. If the soil condition isn't ideal, a house's timeline can be slowed down as a special foundation may need to be drawn up and then constructed.
  • Site typography: Before a project can be built, the architect and design team must consider the topographical conditions. They'll look for the ground conditions, site slopes and stormwater runoff. If there are challenging conditions, such as a steep slope, obstructions on the ground and increased stormwater runoff on the building site, the build time is likely to increase.
  • Environmental dangers: Based on the location of your building site, you may have to deal with certain environmental dangers. For instance, if a company builds a facility in an area prone to flooding or earthquakes, they will have to install specialty features to ensure the building is safe. Building extra structural components that better protect the facility from environmental dangers can make the construction process longer.
  • Contractor skill: An inexperienced contractor may be more prone to making mistakes and engaging in inefficient practices. An experienced contractor can usually increase the speed of a building's construction and reduce errors that can slow down the project.
  • Weather: One of the more uncontrollable factors that can delay build time is the weather. For example, if you're laying concrete, you don't want a lot of precipitation or dramatic shifts in temperature. Concrete needs to harden before it's exposed to freezing temperatures, while framing needs to be completed when it's dry. Rainstorms or sudden freezing conditions can significantly delay a project.
  • Owner decisions: At times during the design and construction process, owners might change their mind about the construction of their building. When an owner requests major changes after the building process has already begun, it can create significant delays in the construction timeline. While changes can be a good thing for the overall quality of the project and the owner's satisfaction, any construction company and building owner can expect these changes to delay a project.
  • Labor force availability: If a home is being built in an area that faces a subcontractor or laborer shortage, a company may not have enough staff available to complete a job quickly. Since more workers often equal faster building times, a diminished labor force will usually slow completion. Labor force shortages can also occur when real estate markets are booming and there's a higher demand for building homes.
  • Lack of proper equipment and supplies: When a construction team has to use outdated equipment prone to damage, the build time is likely going to be affected. Having to repair equipment or use machines that can't handle the job efficiently can slow a project significantly. Supply shortages can also slow the build process down as a company waits for the appropriate equipment.

How Can a Building Time Be Shortened?

Shortening a building's construction timeline allows your company to take on more projects, improve client satisfaction and increase profitability. As your company looks to reduce building times, you can take a few actions that help you get through the project faster. Check out some of the top tips for shortening your building times below:

1. Set a Reasonable Schedule

Before a construction project begins, it's crucial to set an achievable schedule that keeps your team on track and gives them reasonable targets to hit. Sometimes, companies believe setting overly ambitious timelines — such as scheduling for five months of work when they know the building should take seven months — will make their staff work faster and finish the project sooner. This approach can actually cause the project to take longer. Unachievable goals can cause your staff to grow demoralized and overwhelmed by the amount of work given to them. Working at breakneck speeds can also lead to sloppy work and damaged equipment.

The great thing about setting a reasonable schedule is it can prevent the dangers of working too fast. It also helps staff hit their goals and maintain high morale throughout a project. In order for your company to craft a realistic schedule, it's vital to get the input of your different teams and understand what their limits are. In the end, it's more likely a team will complete a project faster than the original schedule when the goals are realistic rather than ambitious.

2. Consistently Update the Building's Status

During a home or apartment building's construction, you can improve the project's speed by getting your team to provide daily updates on the project. At the end of the day, members of your field team can go through the building and record notes on its status. These notes should be readily available to managers so they can see when their crews need to be at a work site to complete the project on time.

Status updates also allow you to reduce downtime on projects and make sure you have the right crews available as soon as they're needed. Additionally, keeping the project's status updated and distributed to key members on a project fosters greater collaboration. By encouraging more cooperation between the different teams, you can lower the chance of downtime due to miscommunication.

3. Keep a Record of Empty-House Days

Empty-house days refer to days when a building doesn't have any workers in it. During empty-house days, nothing productive is occurring at your project's site. This lack of productivity slows a project down and can stretch out the timeline when these days go unchecked. Keeping a record of empty-house days allows you to spot patterns and track how many days are going by without any work being done. With this information, you can identify why you're having empty-house days and take action to reduce them.

4. Track Progress of All Projects Under Construction

Construction companies are often working on several different homes at one time. Monitoring all the projects under construction is one of the most important actions you can do to ensure a project stays on track. Companies that are building multiple housing projects often give more focus on buildings that are almost near completion, especially when these projects have fallen behind. This over-focus can cause projects in earlier stages to be deprioritized. As a result, many projects in their earlier stages end up running behind schedule while the company is catching up with their later-stage projects.

To prevent this from happening to your company, it's a great idea to generate a weekly report that shows the progress of all your projects. You can color-code this report to show which projects are running on schedule, those that are a few days behind and those that are excessively behind.

In a weekly meeting with superintendents, you can go over the report and make sure they focus on all homes, rather than overcorrecting with too many resources or staff for late-stage projects. In the report, your team can see any early or mid-stage projects falling behind and make corrections as needed to get them back on track.

5. Implement a No Late Changes Policy

One of the major factors that slows down construction companies is home buyers who consistently request changes after the construction process begins. These changes can make the project and other buildings the company is handling take longer than originally scheduled.

While changes are expected in a project — especially in the early stages of construction — it's likely best for a company to institute policies that prevent late-stage changes. Some companies may think they need to allow these changes for the buyer's satisfaction, but they can harm other client relations. For example, consistently making changes to projects can end up delaying other projects, leading to those buyers becoming dissatisfied.

To ensure you give buyers a consistent, fast construction process, you can implement a policy that prevents buyers from requesting changes to a project at a certain point in the construction timeline. You may also want to make sure buyers have completed all their selections for a home before your company agrees to begin construction.

6. Monitor Crews

During the construction process, you may want to consider the size of your crews and the practices they're engaging in. Some contractors will regularly take on more work than they can handle and send crews that are too small to a work site. When the contractor doesn't have enough crew members to get the job done efficiently, the project will likely be delayed. Monitoring crew sizes helps a company spot contractors who may not hold up their end of the bargain. With this information, your company can hire more reliable contractors and ensure your contractors send appropriately sized crews to the work site.

To make up for smaller crews, a contractor may also hire subcontractors to accomplish the job for them. The decision to hire subcontractors can also slow a project down. Many subcontractors won't know the project well enough to complete the job without errors or in a time-efficient way. Keeping track of a contractor's hiring practices can help you limit the number of subcontractors used and make sure your projects are receiving high-quality workers.

7. Choose Better Quality Construction Equipment

One of the best ways you can improve the speed of your construction project is to make sure you're working with an experienced construction equipment supplier. With this supplier, you can choose equipment that's updated and has the appropriate capabilities to meet a project's needs.

Updated or well-maintained equipment helps you prevent spending time repairing machines or having to replace broken-down machinery. New machinery is much less likely to require repairs, helping your project stay on track without needing downtime to perform maintenance. Older machinery that's been well-maintained is also less likely to require repairs and gives you the reliability you need to hit your project's goals.

You can set your project up for success by selecting equipment that's able to handle tasks in the most efficient way possible. For example, machinery designed to transport materials must have a high enough load capacity to complete its tasks efficiently. By choosing equipment that has the required features and specs for your project, you can reduce the chances a project gets slowed down due to equipment not having the ability to finish jobs quickly.

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