Trivia question: what is the most frequently used app for men and women working in the construction industry? Our guess is a weather app.
For general contractors planning out their projects – especially during the winter months – weather needs to be respected and considered for everything from installation to materials to labor.
While weather can cause delays and extra costs, planning ahead can mitigate the risks. For example, you might hear a general contractor say “we’re looking to get under roof” before the cold weather comes. What does this mean? Here the GC is trying to avoid harsh winter conditions; once it gets too cold not only is it unsafe for people to be working outside but many materials cannot be installed.
That doesn’t mean construction comes to a halt due to weather – but it takes some planning, and sometimes some budget.
Let’s look at some examples.
For concrete, temperature needs to be taken into consideration not only for the pour but also for the curing process (where the concrete hardens), which takes a few days. What if you are ready to pour concrete but it’s too cold outside? Well, you have a few options. The first of course is to wait it out, assuming that you have that luxury with your project timeline. The second is to make some adjustments for the temperature. That could include covering the ground with weather blankets or heating the ground before you pour. You might also have the option of including an additive in the concrete so you don’t lose time on the job – talk to your general contractor about your options.
Here in the Midwest, asphalt plants shut down for the winter – the exact timing will depend on the first snow. If the ground is too cold, not only can you not lay asphalt but in the Midwest you won’t be able to source it. There are several reasons for this – the asphalt could bubble, crack or even give way and create a pothole if there is water underneath. There aren’t workarounds here, so you’ll need to switch out materials or plan your project timeline accordingly.
Different types of flooring, but especially wood flooring, need to be acclimated to the temperature before installation. This has a few ramifications. First, you’ll need your HVAC turned on in the building, and set to approximately the temperature it will be in upon move in. Also, the flooring materials need to be stored in the building for about a week so they are acclimated. This will prevent materials from expanding and contracting due to temperature changes. You want to avoid moving materials in on a cold day and installing those materials the next day – that’s a recipe for problems. Note this is not the case for flooring like tile- your team can move tile in the cold the day before installation – but the mortar needs to be the right temperature, which leads us to our next topic.
Fillers and Adhesives
Fillers and adhesives such as mortar, glue, grout, mud and tape need to be at the right temperature to set properly. For example, with glue – which is used for everything from wood paneling to stainless steel – cold weather will impact its tackiness. Mud and tape will expand and contract too much and show cracking on the walls if the weather is too cold. Talk to your general contractor about workarounds in these situations. It might involve temporarily warming up your jobsite or waiting for better weather.
Installing materials outside of the manufacturer’s recommendations will void the warranty. Your general contractor and their subcontractors are responsible for ensuring they follow manufacturer’s instructions as they relate to weather conditions. If for example, the mortar used was not at the recommended temperature and begins failing it will not be covered under the warranty. Your general contractor is responsible for planning and decision making around weather conditions.
Skilled tradespeople are used to working in the elements – they are prepared to work in all types of weather. However there are some conditions that are unsafe, for instance if the temperature dips below or reaches above a certain number, or if rain or snow are causing slick conditions. In those cases, work will either need to stop or move indoors for everyone’s safety.
Preparing for Winter Conditions
First, it’s important to know that almost all materials are impacted by weather in some way but at different levels; wood is going to expand and contract more than metal for example. Your roof is going to be impacted by weather as well but not in the same way as your interior paint. So what can you do to prepare your construction project for unforeseen weather conditions?
In a previous blog post about when to hire a general contractor versus doing it yourself, we talked about risk. Preparing for weather involves risk as well, and you as the client can make decisions about your level of risk tolerance. There are costs associated with winter conditions – you might need to pay to store materials for a longer period of time because you can’t move them during a rainy week for example, or you might need to pay for overtime to get a certain aspect of the project done in good weather. The question is, how are those extra costs covered?
You as the client can put aside a “rainy day fund” for winter conditions and dip into it on an as-needed basis. For example, if you have a week of bad weather, you can choose to pay extra for overtime to keep the project on schedule or you can choose to delay the project a week and wait for weather conditions to improve. The benefit of this approach is that you only pay for what you decide is necessary. If you’re willing to take on some risk, a mild winter could save you money.
You can also ask your general contractor to take on the risk – and your GC will include winter conditions in the project budget. This means that you as the client are not taking any risk if it’s a bad winter – the general contractor is responsible for any extra costs. If your risk tolerance is low, it might be worth paying extra money upfront so you don’t have to worry about weather-related overages. Talk to your general contractor about your options.
Weather is a reality that no one can control. But a combination of planning ahead and understanding how weather conditions could affect your end result certainly helps.