Tilt Up

jill's picture

This blog is a continuing discussion about building types, and how they respond to earthquakes. Today’s blog is about tilt up buildings. (Once all the most common building types are explained, I’ll move on to translating peak ground acceleration and “g” forces, and the term probability.)

What’s a tilt up?

Whether you live in a large city or a small town, chances are you see (and do business in) these types of buildings. Industrial warehouses or manufacturing plants, storage facilities, “big box” stores, modern indoor shopping malls, multi-story apartment buildings, and concrete parking structures are some of the types of buildings that use tilt up technology.

Tilt ups got their name from the process builders use to create the structures. Concrete walls, columns and other types of supports for the building are formed and cured at the building site, usually right on the building floor. Concrete is made from commonly available materials, is affordable, and therefore the most popular building material in the world. Tilt ups are used throughout North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and are becoming much more common in western Europe and Asia. 

To make the tilt up,  carpenters design and construct forms for the walls of the building on site. They can include door and window openings, and hardware to connect the concrete slabs. Cost in construction is usually low, since no special labor talent is needed for this work, and no extra finishing work is necessary. Sometimes, the concrete elements for the building are formed at factories off site. Either way, tilt up forms are usually designed for a specific building and not reused, which distinguishes them from prefabricated concrete structures.

Tilt ups are generally thought to be relatively safe, even in earthquake-prone areas. But the quality of workmanship at the construction site seems to be key. If the tilt up is poorly constructed, anyone using or occupying such a building at risk, since the walls or columns may deform or even fall in a large enough event. We saw dramatic examples of this occurring when several parking structures and other types of tilt ups collapsed during the magnitude 6.7 Northridge, California earthquake in 1994. (In contrast, other tilt ups with better construction methods performed adequately.) In Kobe, Japan, tilt up construction fared very well in the very damaging Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. Inspectors think the reason these buildings performed well is that there is generally good quality control, and better cooperation between designers and builders at new building sites.

Tilt up technology hasn’t been around all that long, so designers are still learning what works and what doesn’t. For example, if the building anchors or connectors aren’t properly installed, are of poor quality, or have corroded over time, they may fail in a strong earthquake. Also, many tilt ups are shaped irregularly (instead of the box or rectangle), or feature components (floors, columns, or walls) that are too stiff or too flexible.

If you live or work in a tilt up building, you should learn more about the potential for earthquake activity in the building’s vicinity. If the earthquake hazard is significant, you’ll want to put together a safety plan that includes memorizing steps you should take to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of a large, damaging earthquake. Start by reading this site’s section called OpenHazards Tips. The Hazard Viewer and Home Response tools will be useful for figuring out the level of risk you face in your region.

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