This week Minnesota is in the deep freeze, with dangerous windchills and actual temps on the wrong side of zero. If you’re a Twin Cities employee working between the holidays, you may be dashing through the skyways to your office; or even choosing to telecommute. Those aren’t options when you work on a construction site, however. So how do superintendents, trades and laborers manage working through the harshest days of winter? Here’s a look at some of the ways construction teams cope with the extreme cold.
Wrapping it Up
When it’s cold outside, working inside is the ideal, but that’s not always possible. On projects that are only partially enclosed, temporary poly enclosures and temp heating are an effective means of warming things up; and not only for the comfort of the construction team.
Wrapping and heating an enclosure can also facilitate the use of water-based construction materials such as brick mortar or mud for sheetrock finishing, which need to be kept above freezing temperature to work.
“Anything needing water is a challenge,” said Project Superintendent Terry Coleman, at work on the KA Block. “Most jobs heat barrels of water because it is challenging to keep a hose from freezing. I have a laborer who fills barrels with water each morning and puts them in Finnegans for the drywall and tile people to use.”
Stocking Up at the KA Yard
Having the right tools and equipment on hand is always vital in construction, especially when the weather is uncooperative. The KA Yard furnishes a vast array of equipment, materials and supplies to KA jobsites; and when the temperature plunges, demand heats up for items like heaters, blankets for covering concrete forms, ground thaw equipment, reinforcement poly, tape, fans to move around the air. Other popular Yard items include cold-weather personal protective equipment such as hardhat liners and ninja ice gloves (cold weather gloves ANSI rated for protection from cuts, abrasion and puncture injuries.
The KA Yard also maintains cold-weather care of equipment. Making sure equipment is plugged in at night and using the right blend of fuel for different temperatures can make the difference in getting started on a frigid morning, says Senior Yard Manager Eric Domino.
Dressing in Layers
Even with well-cared for equipment, people can outperform materials and machines when it comes to cold weather endurance.
“Workers are highly motivated to work even when it’s very cold out,” said KA Safety Director Jay Vander leest. “They are masters at dressing in layers, wearing long underwear, lightweight thermal wear, gearing up for whatever their job entails.”
As construction manager, KA works with numerous trades on any given stage of construction, each with its own parameters, and go-no go conditions, for working in extreme weather.
“We do have crews working during the cold,” said Chris Davies, working on the Ironclad jobsite on a below zero morning. “I would expect to see workers here as long as it’s warmer than -10°.”
Heavy-duty equipment is also challenged in frigid temps.
“The cold temperature affects our hydraulic equipment, so our contractors that use forklifts or earth moving equipment are limited to what they can do,” Davies said.
“The forklift has started well, but the hydronic fluid gels below zero,” stated Coleman. “We start it early and exercise the moving parts to force the warmer fluid out to the cylinders before we can use it normally. At the end of the day, special attention is paid toward making sure each piece of equipment is plugged in. This powers a fluid heater built into the engine. Any equipment that does not get plugged in will not run in the morning.”
“Some of the subs have a policy that if it is -5° at 5:00 AM, they do not start their equipment,” noted Senior Project Manager James Ericson, working on a parking ramp for the future STEM Tech incubator at Viking Lakes in Eagan. “Based on our long experience working in this climate, we do build some contingency scheduling into projects to allow for extreme weather. And we shift to Plan B.”
Shifting to Plan B
In the event of weather-related events, well-coordinated project teams shift focus to what can be accomplished.
“Today we are stripping and forming for concrete pours,” said Ericson. “It is too cold to pour today, but come 20° or so we will pour again. We cover the top with blankets and heat from the bottom side.”
“We completed a large deck pour last week so we are currently stripping forms and shoring up for the next pour,” said Davies. “They will get as much done as they can without the use of equipment.”
“All work on the interior of the HQ building continues,” reported KA Superintendent Dennis Feela on the KA Block Dec. 26. “On the exterior, we are not able to weld the brick support on until the temp is above zero. We have the iron workers building the inside stair until the temp is above zero. Then we will move back to the exterior once Mother Nature warms up,” he said.
Respecting the Weather
Weather is always present on a jobsite, and smart contractors take that into account all year long.
“We are always watching the weather and do our best to plan ahead for whatever conditions might be coming,” Davies said.
Planning, adjusting, safety and teamwork make the weather workable despite its extremes. And for Minnesotans, extraordinary temperatures are really nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s just another day working with Mother Nature and Minnesota’s changing weather,” said Feela.