What is Grey Shell Construction?

In commercial construction, it is common to hear terms such as “grey shell” and “vanilla shell.” There are also some synonyms for these terms - grey shell can also be referred to as a “cold shell,” and vanilla shell can be referred to as a “white box” or “warm shell.” These represent states of interior commercial construction prior to “TIs” or “tenant improvements.” What is Grey Shell Construction?Tenant improvements are important because they represent what commercial tenants want for move-in ready construction - to make their commercial interiors ready for day-to-day business. TIs are part of tenant negotiations with landlords, prior to finished contracts and moving in. They represent what occupants want in their commercial space, and what landlords will allow and contribute to; often TI allowances are included as part of what landlords will reduce in lease fees to incentivize tenants to move in and stay with them. Sometimes to prepare for these leasing arrangements, landlords have their available commercial space prepared to the point of a vanilla shell. This means that everything in the interior is ready for occupant customization or TIs:

  • Walls are finished and painted white
  • Floors are finished or at least concrete
  • HVAC and electrical are in place
  • Bathrooms are finished and accessible
  • Fire escapes are in place
  • Ceilings are finished with basic lighting
All of this allows for agreed-upon TIs to quickly be executed for tenants to be open for business. An alternative to vanilla shell or white box construction is the grey shell (or cold shell). The grey shell requires less construction work upfront but more to get ready for tenants. The advantage of grey shell construction is that it allows the tenant much more freedom in terms of what they want to do for TIs. Grey shells include:
  • Unfinished floors
  • Unfinished/unpainted walls
  • HVAC in place but no finished duct work
  • Ceilings are not dropped (exposing unfinished ceilings with no tiles in place)
  • No electrical or plumbing
  • Sprinkler system not dropped to final ceiling height
  • Existing point of connection for sewer
This explains the differences and pros and cons of vanilla shell and grey shell construction and TIs in commercial building. Want more? Read about Buildrite Construction’s renovation services.