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Winter construction

Jobsite skills: 6 Tips to thrive in winter construction

Winter is here…

Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re in the middle of it — Daylight Savings Time is over (if that’s your thing), leaf piles and holiday decor has come and gone, and tower cranes are getting more festive. Winter. Yuletide. The Dark Months.

Interest charges don’t stop when the snow starts to fly, so neither does construction. Yet the coming of winter does bring a rippling slew of challenges related to weather conditions. Since a lot of highly energy-efficient projects are located in the northern climes, where the benefit of well-crafted insulation and air-barriers make a great impact, we have some tips for keeping winter construction rolling.

1. Think (a few months) ahead

Plan for winter construction conditions

Granted, this is a broad one, but a little preparation goes a long way! It starts in summer when managing project schedules. Getting dried-in (that is, the drainage plane and maybe even windows installed) before winter hits makes the job infinitely easier for all the trades. If you have the flexibility to ‘head winter off at the pass’, it’s worth the effort.

In spite of our best efforts, delays or hiccups are still going to happen. Tap into a Work Wish List to make snow-days productive, and maybe even fun and fulfilling. Keep a running tally throughout the year of things that can make your work go more smoothly. Sort out the junk screw box? Build a crosscut sled for your table saw? Update your website? Check.

2. Make a warm zone

There are a couple methods here, but find a way to raise the temperature on the job site. A warm zone will allow workers a place to physically recharge, and it’s also helpful to keep drinking water and sealants thawed and tool batteries warmed up. It could be as simple as a plastic-walled, pop-up tent with a few incandescent light bulbs inside, or as complex as building a canopy over a portion of the project. Torpedo heaters on-site can raise the ambient temperature. Even blocking the wind with a tarp can be enough to make winter construction more sustainable.

Fumes and flammability are two very real safety concerns when creating temporary heated spaces — make sure heating elements are kept away from flammable materials and that contained areas are properly ventilated.

3. Glove up

Wear gloves during winter construction

This one goes for working in wet weather in addition to cold — and it can be applied to socks as well. Keep 2-3 extra pairs of gloves in the truck (or Warm Zone) and change them regularly as they get damp or when your digits need a warm-up. Wearing multiple gloves at once (especially using a liner glove) also helps keep your hands dry longer, though can impact dexterity.

4. Mind the moisture

Wet construction during winter

Precipitation and freeze/thaw cycles can wreak havoc on a job site, from damaging components to creating safety hazards while working. Take advantage of the sunshine and above-freezing temperatures to broom off surfaces and reduce areas of standing water.

5. Work “modular”

Off-site construction processes can be 20-50% more efficient than those done in the field. This benefit is even greater during winter when construction during inclement weather is guaranteed to happen at some point.

You could configure your entire project to conform to pre-built boxes if you happen to have a good modular builder nearby. Or more simply: cultivate whatever garage or warehouse space at your disposal to parse out smaller components like framed walls or cabinetry. The major consideration for modular components is transportation: trailers, strapping and extra-long loads are required to move larger components from point A to point B. Dense urban environments and mountainous or remote locations may even make this option unfeasible. 

6. Optimize tools and materials

When you are actually out in the elements, winter cold and moisture can adversely affect physical materials on a job site. Paint and sealants will freeze or not solidify when applied. Bitumen tapes will fall right off the wall. Batteries of all types have reduced battery life. Motors (and oil viscosity) need to be warmed up before stressing them.

Choose construction tools and products with better low-temperature track records. Acrylic SIGA Wigluv sticks well even when the tape and surfaces are cold. Lithium-ion batteries work noticeably better than alkaline (it’s also not a bad idea to keep a trusty corded backup around). Ditch the nylon Speed Square for the steel one.

Conclusion

Though winter construction work still relies on having some thick-skinned resistance to the cold, working smarter will yield dividends in productivity and maybe even save you from a case of frostbite. What other adaptations have you done to keep your work thriving in winter?

Avatar for Jessica Kumor

Jessica Kumor

Jessica is SIGA North America's Marketing Director. It's her job to deliver you the latest research and practical tips for building air and weathertight buildings. When she's not interviewing customers and posting about building science you can find her refinishing furniture.

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