does commercial construction stop during the winter?
Not much stops in Minnesota during the winter months. Instead of fishing on open water, we set up our fish houses on the lake. We have our outdoor carnivals where ice palaces are built and admired by many. Downhill skiing, snow tubing, and snowmobiling are other ways we embrace our environment.
We also continue to build through the winter months. It presents challenges, but we can usually find a way to keep the project moving forward. Believe it or not, we are thinking about cold weather construction when our projects start in the summer months. There are many issues to consider for projects that will go into the winter.
In order to keep projects going through the winter, here are some of the questions that we discuss during the preconstruction phase:
What state will the project be in around the end of October?
We never know when the temperatures will drop, or even when the first snowfall will occur. How far along the project will be at that point is critical in determining what will be required to complete the building.
Can we get the parking lot in before the asphalt plants close?
Most cities and municipalities will not allow businesses to open without the first lift of asphalt placed. Our rule of thumb is that the asphalt plants close around Thanksgiving. Yes, there are years that we're able to get asphalt into the beginning of December, but that is not a common occurrence so we really should not plan on getting asphalt beyond November.
If asphalt is not feasible, we discuss whether an all concrete parking lot is an option. There are additional costs associated with this; frost blankets will be needed to cover the fresh concrete, and the ground may need to be thawed prior to concrete being placed. There will be additional costs for the concrete itself, as it will need additives included to keep it from freezing. However, if the move-in date is critical, this is a viable option.
Will all the site-related work be completed before frost settles in?
Sometimes, we do not have time to get all the sidewalks or site concrete placed before the ground freezes. At times, we use concrete blankets to cover the ground to prevent the frost from penetrating the ground. Other times, we have used ground thaw heaters to thaw the area that needs concrete. One type of ground heater can thaw up to 3,000 square feet of frozen ground at a rate of up to one foot per day.
Will we have permanent heat in the building in time or do we need to consider renting portable heaters?
This leads to another set of questions:
Will the building need to be enclosed?
There are times that windows and doors have not been installed. We can enclose these with reinforced poly sheeting or plywood.
Will we have natural gas, or will we need to have a liquid propane (LP) tank brought to the site?
Ideally, we like to run the temporary heaters off natural gas, as it is more efficient. However, if natural gas is not available, we can bring liquid propane in to provide fuel to the heaters. This is usually a more expensive option, and we need to ensure the tanks are monitored and kept full.
What is the finish material on the exterior of the building?
Most siding material can be installed in cold temperatures. However, masonry products need to be installed in a heated environment. This requires the scaffolding to be set as normal, but then it will be “bagged,” meaning that reinforced poly sheeting is draped over the side of the building, enclosing both the building and the scaffolding. At that point, a heater will be placed in the enclosure and brought to the correct temperature for the masons to do their installation.
It is also important to remember that there are days when exterior work will not happen. Our first priority is safety. There are risks associated with people working outside at certain cold temperatures. On these days, the crew may start later in the day when, hopefully, the temperatures are rising. On a rare occasion, the exterior work does not happen for that day.
Questions that the building owner really needs to ask are: 1. when they need to occupy the building and 2. what is the cost to make that happen. Determining the winter construction cost is very project-specific and should be discussed with your builder. It is not an exact science to identify what these costs will be, as we cannot predict what the winter will be like. We have had very mild winters and very harsh winters, so normally a range of costs can be established and monitored as the project progresses.
We enjoy our winters here in Minnesota and, for the most part, construction projects can continue through even the harshest winters. It just requires some advance planning! Consider the items above and consult with your design and construction teams to determine the best options when a project will be built during the winter months.
Ready to talk about your project? Let's chat.