As the temperature drops and snow starts to fly, many people wonder what happens in the construction industry. Spring, summer and fall are notorious for road work because it’s almost impossible to fix roads with snow covering them. But what about other construction projects? Does all construction have to stop when the snow flies? It may surprise you to know that the answer is no!
Cold weather is determined by the air temperature. When the air temperature has fallen – or is expected to fall – below 40℉ (5℃) for more than 3 days in a row. Winter is often not as technical, often talked about when the season officially starts or when the snow falls. It’s important to note, however, that “cold weather” is very important for changing seasons in construction.
If a foundation isn’t poured or a roof isn’t finished, some projects may stop for the winter season. Some private projects may decide to just wait it out. Many projects work on-and-off throughout the season. Breaks are taken during really cold days or when a blizzard or winter storm is expected.
On the other side, however, many projects don’t have the ability to put a project on hold for the season. Employees want to continue to work as much as the project owner wants it to continue on schedule. Stopping for winter just isn’t always possible.
Visibility, warmth and mobility are three ways that safety on construction sites can be challenged during the winter season.
Visibility not only refers to blowing snow and potential snowfalls but also to the shorter days that often accompany winter. While portable lights can help provide a solution, it can be expensive to rent and hook up lights for a large construction site. With people moving around, as well, adequate lighting is necessary when working in the dark.
Winter season is obviously cold. While operators have the benefit of being in a – hopefully – heated cab, contractors will be out working in the cold. PPE must still be worn, meaning that they will need additional accessories such as fleece hardhat liners, winter steel-toed boots and a warm reflective jacket. It can be a hard balance to find gloves that are fine enough for work but warm enough to keep your hands comfortable. If the building isn’t enclosed, wind tunnels and blowing snow can make it feel colder than it is.
The COVID-19 pandemic will challenge this further as restrictions on break times or how many people can be in a site trailer at a single time.
Ice and snow can be slippery on concrete and unfinished wood. Wearing extra layers can make contractors feel bulky, causing them to move a little slower around site. Losing feeling in hands or toes due to the cold weather can impact a contractor’s ability to hold tools or complete tasks safely.
All of these points aside, there are still many projects that can continue in the winter. Commercial or residential buildings that already have a foundation laid or walls and a roof built can continue to have interior work done throughout the season. Depending on if a foundation is laid, structural builds can also continue – as long as winter safety practices are in place.
While you can pour a foundation while it’s cooler out, it cannot be poured in winter or during “cold weather”. As defined above, “cold weather” is when the air temperature has fallen – or is expected to fall – below 40℉ (5℃). Concrete should not be poured if it’s going to get colder than this because if it freezes before it hardens fully, the chemical makeup of the concrete can be damaged.
Even if a company could use heaters or thermal coverings to maintain the temperature of the concrete in the winter, there is still a big challenge to pouring concrete when it’s cold out. This is because the ground actually freezes in winter and you cannot pour concrete on frozen ground. Come springtime when the ground thaws, excess moisture and heat would escape up through the concrete, the earth can shift during this time, causing the winter-poured concrete to crack. Everyone knows that a building is only as good as its foundation so this would be especially troublesome.
So when it comes to foundation pouring in “cold weather” and winter, the temperature makes a big difference.
Although you may not see as much road work being done or cement trucks pouring foundations, many construction workers will continue to work all winter long. Building frames and interior construction will continue for many projects all season long.