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Construction in the Arctic: Challenges of Building in a Frozen World

4 Minute Read
Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
December 10, 2021

When you think about construction projects, where do you picture them? Busy highways and interstates across the US? Urban centers and high rise buildings in large cities like Toronto, New York or Los Angeles? Large shopping malls, houses and commercial buildings in your own hometown? In reality, construction is happening all over the world, in all types of areas and working conditions. One type of construction that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the construction that takes place in the Arctic and way up north.

Projects in the Arctic

There are many different types of projects that take place up north. Mines and pipeline projects, building military bases and research stations as well as residential construction in certain areas all take place up north. Arctic highways are valuable to northern communities for moving goods, people, and connecting arctic communities to each other. In 2016, a Canadian Arctic highway project was completed after 4 years of on and off seasonal construction work.

Some of these projects can be more remote than others.  Some are temporary structures and others must be permanent. All of them require construction.

5 Challenges of Building in Remote Environments

Construction up north isn’t just challenging because of the cold. Many northern construction projects are also incredibly remote. Whidden Construction Group is an Alberta-based construction company that works in Alberta, BC, the Yukon and Ontario. Their CEO shared with us some of the most challenging aspects of Arctic and remote construction projects.

1. Project Location In Relation to the Closest City Center

Being far away from city centers impacts material delivery, emergency response plans and access to equipment. Prices of construction projects can be much higher because spending on materials and equipment can be much more expensive. 

construction equipment tires wrapped in chains for winter work
Image borrowed from Mining Magazine.

The danger of remote work can be heightened in a winter storm or in extreme weather too. Emergency preparedness is really important when working in remote areas. Construction projects in remote locations should communicate with emergency services in the closest city or town for safety reasons. 

2. Concrete Prep

Concrete prep and pouring are really difficult when building in remote locations. Ready-mix concrete may not be able to be used because travel distances could be beyond the mix design parameter. Having access to a concrete batch plant for projects that require large amounts of concrete pour can be challenging because of location. This is the same for access to aggregates and other time-sensitive materials. 

On-site concrete mixes need to be sent for testing. This can take a while as well and impact the project as a whole. Remote construction sites have many steps to take in order to prepare and pour concrete for jobs.

3. Arranging On-Site Inspections and Testing

Any type of building or project inspection, or soil and ecological testing can take a long time to schedule and execute. Engineering firms may need to fly out a member of their team in order to get them to remote locations. If not planned properly, this can slow down a project or impact project timelines. 

4. On-Site Work Station Utilities and Storage

Heating, plumbing, electricity and storage can be really challenging to set up in Arctic construction projects and remote. Generators can be used in certain situations but then gas or fuel delivery needs to be organized. Depending on the location of the project, protecting tools, machinery and storage locations from nosy animals or extreme weather also needs to be considered. 

rented dozer and rock truck constructing road in arctic weather
Image borrowed from Canadian Manufacturing.

5. Labor

The construction industry has been facing a labor shortage for years. It can be extra challenging to hire people for remote work in far-off locations. Arctic and northern construction projects often pay high wages and offer “remote” pay to entice workers. A northern working site can make for difficulty in housing all employees. Modular construction has actually helped to solve this problem. Transportable structures to create living spaces for construction workers have helped to improve living conditions for workers in remote locations. Still, labor is always a challenge.

The Importance of Planning

All of these challenges highlight the importance of planning when it comes to remote work.  Project planning and timelines are super important when setting up material delivery and renting equipment. Planning also means setting up an emergency plan and thinking of all the small things like heat, water and utilities. At the end of the day, still, all of this planning can be thrown off by the unpredictability of Arctic and northern weather.


excavator parked by snowy mountain

Arctic Weather

Arctic weather doesn’t just encompass high winds, fridged air and snow. Extreme darkness and ice can also make projects very challenging. Certain construction projects can only take place during the summer months. If the main structure of a project is built during the summer with interior construction continuing into the fall or winter, then material delivery needs to be coordinated properly. Additional equipment like construction lights may be needed. 

Technology for Remote Building

Modern technology can help with remote construction. BIm technologies can help with ordering timelines. Weather monitoring can predict any major storms and give crews plenty of time to prepare. Technology can also help keep workers in contact with friends and family, keeping morale up throughout a project. 

Equipment technology has also advanced, making machines as powerful as possible. They can be programmed for specific tasks and can maximize efficiency to keep projects moving on time. Because planning is so important for arctic construction, having reliable machines is key.

Building in the Arctic

Whether it’s a large mining site, pipeline, military or residential or commercial project, construction in remote areas has its own challenges. Proper planning, powerful machines and leaning on technology can help keep projects moving smoothly and safely. 

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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