How do you prepare for construction in the winter? Working through the winter months can be tough as the temperatures drop below freezing. Additional preparation is required with cold and wet conditions, and a lot could go wrong. But does construction have to stop in cold weather conditions? The answer is “No”. In this article, we walk you through some tips and strategies to help you prepare for working through the winter. These tips have helped LaRosa Groups create an effective construction environment and work through winter while keeping our job sites safe and projects running on time.
Things to Know Beforehand
How to Heat the Building
Construction slows down in winter. Cold temperatures and wet weather cause increased preparation time before building on a site. Winter can sometimes make it impossible to build due to materials deteriorating and the ground freezing. When the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, there are some workarounds to overcome these obstacles.
First and foremost, it’s important to read all of your product requirements and make sure materials are stored at the right temperatures and installed at the right temperature, or it can be costly. This includes making sure your foundation is placed, the walls are up, and the roof is finished before the cold front hits. If you want your projects to continue, we recommend bringing in temporary heating equipment and installing temporary window coverings to keep the temperature between 50-60 degrees while working.
Winter Gear for Workers
Workers need to wear cold-weather gear, such as jackets with a hat or hood that covers their ears and neck, and waterproof gloves and boots with insulation to keep them warm and dry. We recommend workers wear layers that are synthetic or polypropylene long johns, light fleece or wool sweater tops and socks, and avoid cotton fabrics, which do not work as well to trap heat in the body.
Most construction slows down in winter for safety reasons. OSHA standards generally advise that when temperatures hit –30 to –34 degrees Fahrenheit or below with more than 10-20 mph winds, non-emergency construction work should cease. In Connecticut, we don’t get to that temperature (thank goodness). LaRosa Groups will typically temporarily shut down when it gets to 10 degrees and lower. It’s too tough on our workers, and production slows way down. We’ve found that it’s better to shut down and keep our team safe.
Prepping for a Blizzard
You must prepare the site for heavy snow and mobility. Snow and ice can cause slippery conditions on unfinished wood, steel, and concrete. We also recommend removing products and machinery off the ground, so it doesn’t get damaged when clearing the snow. Have a plan for where the snow will be moved, so it doesn’t cover the worksite, materials, and machinery.
Best Times for Construction Projects
The ideal construction window is April to November to get your buildings enclosed before winter hits. Get as much work done as you can in that amount of time, so by December to March, you are doing interior work. We’ve found this strategy to be the most effective to stick to timelines and budget. Of course, unforeseen circumstances can get in the way, but be as prepared as possible to work heavily from April through November to put yourself in the best position.
Budgets are easily thrown off when timelines are delayed through winter. It’s so hard to budget for winter conditions. For example, it could be a mild winter that stays in the 30’s, or it can be a tough winter where it goes lower and snows frequently. How to operate and how to budget for it are totally different. The location of the project needs to be factored in too.
Keep in mind that it can take several weeks to prepare for cold winters and inclement weather. If you don’t prepare adequately, there could be a lot of wasted manhours and money on this alone.
Construction in Winter Examples
Planning for winter projects requires following “winter conditions.” Winter conditions refer to specific budget line items added to construction contracts to accommodate increased material, fuel, machinery, and labor expenses related to activities during the coldest months of the year. In this section, we’ll go over a few materials that need to be considered when working construction in the winter.
Contractors must schedule projects around weather conditions. We’ll give you an example of how concrete can be affected in the winter. Recently, we had a project that was delayed from starting and now had to place the concrete during December, January, and February. Doing concrete in winter is the worst time to do it because it can easily fail structurally and aesthetically. Construction jobs that deal with concrete can still be done in winter with the help of insulated blankets, cold weather concrete additives, or ground-thaw heating machines. However, these solutions can add more costs to the construction project. That said, most construction contractors will always try to work in warmer times.
Another example is roofing. Be sure to read product manufacturers' requirements for winter construction. For example, some roofs can be placed during the cold weather winter months, but the adhesives can only be installed when the weather is above certain temperatures. Otherwise, the adhesives can crack, not adhere properly, and can generally fail. Not only that, but freezing temperatures can make roofs icy, slippery, and risky to work on. Provide construction workers with the proper tools to work in these conditions, such as fall protection equipment.
Although working through the winter isn’t ideal, there are a few things you can do to best prepare yourself and your team to make the best of it. If you can, work on the exterior of the building from April to November so you can do interior work during the winter months. Also, have a contingency plan for unexpected adverse weather conditions, how to heat the building, and keeping your workers safe and warm. We understand that things get in the way of construction projects but being as prepared as possible for all situations is the best course of action.