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(What’s Been Your Biggest Winter Construction Challenge? Let us know in the comments below!)

Picture of winter construction site with heavy equipment in foreground and a construction tent in the backgroundMaterials and Equipment Affected by Winter Weather

Warm weather is the best time of year for construction, but, for budgetary, deadlines, damage repair, or other reasons, some projects must go forward in winter. Cold weather affects nearly every aspect of a construction project. Making adjustments for the weather is vital to delivering a successful project. The challenges of cold weather construction are many but with planning and adjustments to the process, the winter job can go forward. A lot of common cold weather construction problems are solved with the use of temporary construction shelters

Dealing with Frozen Ground

Ground freeze is a serious problem when it comes to digging and laying a concrete foundation. With frozen soil reaching as much as twelve inches deep, frozen ground is not only hard to dig , but it can affect other stages of construction and create project delays. For example, utilities need to be in before the ground freezes. Special equipment such as an excavator may be needed to break through frozen soil, but the issues with frozen ground and freezing temperatures don’t disappear after digging is complete.

Picture of construction site showing concrete pours and equipment protected by a winter construction tentLaying Concrete

Frozen ground presents a challenge when laying concrete. In addition to making digging difficult, temperatures below 40 degrees can affect the concrete curing process. Concrete that is not properly cured is subject to failure. While less than ideal, there are workarounds for laying concrete in winter, such as treating wet concrete with calcium chloride or other additives, or use of a ground thaw machine to melt the soil. Contractors may also use insulated concrete blankets during the curing process which use the heat naturally emitted by the curing concrete to keep it warm as it dries.

Concrete that does not cure correctly in winter will need to be torn up and relaid, or if left, will warp and crack as the weather warms. This is a serious problem that can result in severe damage to the new building. Laying concrete at the proper temperature is a key factor in avoiding future issues with the building foundation.

Operating Tools and Equipment

Many tools require a warm-up period before use in winter. Tools with lubricants, fuels, and pneumatics can be damaged in cold weather. Manufacturer operating manuals generally include guidelines for proper operating temperatures. Crews should be sure to warm tools up before starting them up. Ideally, tools and equipment, such as ladders, should be stored in heated facilities, or at least under cover at night to avoid ice and snow accumulation, warping, or rusting. Teams need to allocate extra time during shifts to properly warm up tools that have been stored in cold temperatures.

Protecting Construction Materials

Other materials that may not perform properly in cold weather include mortar, grout, and other adhesives. Freezing causes the water in these substances to form ice crystals, weakening their ability to bond and rendering them useless. For this reason, interior work should take place above 50 degrees, usually with the use of space heaters. These materials must be stored in warm temperatures as well when not in use, which means the storage area should be heated 24/7 to protect them.

Drywall is also temperature sensitive. If installed at temperatures below 50 degrees, it is subject to cracking. Paint, wiring, and plastics also may change properties and not perform to spec if subjected to cold temperatures at the construction site.

Worker Safety in Cold Weather

Working in extreme cold, snow, or ice increases the risk to construction worker safety. Workers who face these conditions are subject to hypothermia and frostbite. The wind chill factor adds to the danger of low temperatures. And of course, slippery and icy surfaces may result in falls and injury.

Before starting winter projects, workers should be trained to recognize symptoms of hypothermia and to understand other safety measures for winter work. On the job, they need appropriate clothing that includes insulated gloves, lined hard hats, insulated waterproof boots, thermal socks, and layered clothing, including waterproof outerwear.

In low temperatures or windy conditions, worker exposure to the elements must be limited. This means frequent breaks and shorter shifts. Work should be done in teams or a buddy system so that no worker is left alone in case of hypothermia or a slip-and-fall accident. OSHA provides safety guidelines for working in winter weather that helps construction crews stay safe in winter conditions.

Regardless of the available workarounds, when work takes place outdoors the types of work that can be completed in winter are limited and some, like roofing projects, must be deferred until spring.

Time Delays Cost Money

Weather events, high winds, snow and snow removal activity, impacted materials, tools, and equipment, frozen ground, worker safety, and the slower pace of work may all cause delays in a winter construction project. Contractors must plan extra time in a winter construction schedule for weather and unforeseen events. Even with planning, extra costs are inevitable, from paying for snow removal at the site to specialized equipment and longer work hours for workers who must take frequent breaks and deal with bulky layers of clothing that hinder their ability to work efficiently.

Cold Weather Construction Shelters

Like all projects, winter construction projects go forward on a strict budget and a timeline that must be met to meet customer expectations. In order to keep the project on track, many contractors opt to use a construction shelter. A construction shelter covers the work area, which stops snow and rain from damaging the building in progress. A covered shelter protects the materials, tools, and equipment at the site. It also allows work to proceed even during driving rain, wind, and snow, despite harsh conditions outside. And, a sturdy, reliable construction shelter reduces health and safety concerns related to winter construction.

A construction shelter allows work to happen at a faster pace. There is less disruption for weather events, snow removal and extended worker breaks to warm up or change clothing. With interior light and heating, workers can wear fewer layers of clothing for more comfort and efficiency. Tools operate normally and materials are protected against damage from freezing temperatures.

If the builder needs to lay concrete in cold weather, where frozen ground and concrete curing are issues, a heated construction shelter is a great solution. Enclosing the site with a heated construction shelter lets the builder warm the interior with space heaters to thaw frozen ground so that digging can proceed normally. The crew can pour concrete at appropriate temperatures, and the warmth of the shelter allows it to cure properly, preventing the possibility of damage to the foundation and structure.

Picture of winter tension fabric shelter being erected at construction job siteAllsite Structures are Built for Winter

Allsite’s tension fabric structures (TFS) are favored by many general contractors for their sturdy, spacious construction. Supported by a highly engineered, rust and corrosion-free aluminum alloy frame, and covered by a strong, industrial-grade PVC fabric that is mold, bacteria, chemical, and fire resistant, the Allsite construction shelter protects their projects and lets the job go forward in safer conditions and on schedule.

Allsite construction structures help contractors deal with issues from laying concrete foundations to completing roofing jobs in winter. Structures are high clearance and can be sized to cover large or small project work areas. Lighting, doors, and ventilation options are available to fit the customer’s needs. The sloped, aerodynamic design of the TFS allows the structure to shed snow and rain and resist high winds.

Lightweight and modular, the Allsite construction shelter can be delivered and installed at virtually any worksite. With a number of anchoring systems available, the structure can be installed on any surface, wet or dry, frozen, rocky, or muddy. Allsite’s wheel system allows the structure to be easily moved into place over the work area and can move around the worksite at customer request to complete other phases of work.

Allsite structures can be open-ended and used to protect vulnerable project sites from snow and rain. These are often used for home renovations, roofing, and other projects, such as utility or road work.

Alternatively, structures may be fully enclosed to allow for maximum use of heating to warm the project from the ground up and keep workers, materials, tools, and equipment warm. As demonstrated by its performance for this Colorado winter construction project, Snow, ice, and cold are no match for the high-strength, sturdy tension fabric structure.

Winter projects will always be a special challenge. Still, with solutions like an Allsite tension fabric construction shelter, project managers can be sure their project can go forward safely, on time, and on budget. Talk to our experienced project staff and don’t let the weather slow down your construction projects this winter.

Author Peter Milligan

Peter Milligan is Allsite's Director of Business Development, with degree in Psychology from Lafayette College and 14 years experience in matching customers with Tension Fabric Structure solutions. Read more about Peter and the rest of our team at https://allsitestructures.com/about/

More posts by Peter Milligan

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