Construction and Human Resources

Mitigating financial risk during winter construction

March 31, 2019
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Only 39 weeks until we begin the 2019-2020 winter season! Too soon? Cruel, I know. But for pre-construction and project management teams, now is the time to plan and budget for projects that are scheduled to extend through our next winter season.

As an example, our team is currently finalizing plans for a local senior living project scheduled to break ground in November and be completed in approximately 18 months. Our ability to plan ahead and to anticipate the conditions and challenges that we will work through will directly affect our profit margin, and ultimately our success on the project.

So, what steps are can we take to ensure we are ready for the next Michigan winter? Here are a few.

Scheduling, production and efficiency

Pre-plan work to better understand what activities might occur during cold weather, as production rates for exterior or exposed work will be reduced. Consider what activity durations might need to be extended on the project schedule (i.e., placement and removal of thermal blankets, pre-heating of welding rods or other materials, etc). Build in down-time normal to the area for typical weather conditions.

When planning winter construction, consider cure times for concrete, which may be extended beyond those typically expected under "normal" working conditions. Review options for admixtures, blankets and other measures which may help accelerate this process without compromising the strength, quality, or integrity of the finished product.

If temporary heat will be required, consider the type of heat source used, and monitor indicators such as temperature, relative humidity, etc to ensure quality of finishes and avoid material failure. Precautions for safe use within an enclosed area must also be considered. 

Always engage trade contractors, the engineer of record and the material testing company in an early discussion (before work starts) to understand and communicate requirements for placement of temperature sensitive systems in cold-weather conditions.

Pre-plan site logistics and material/equipment storage

When possible, store material, equipment, etc. indoors. If indoor storage is not an option, keep outdoor storage areas as close to the main area of work as possible.

Organize, mark and/or cover stored material and equipment to make it easier to find once it is snow-covered. Provide clear, compacted and accessible paths to material and equipment. During freeze and thaw conditions, outlying areas can become difficult to access as the ground becomes soft. Also, understand and follow storage limitations or requirements for certain materials (must be covered, can't be stored below a certain temp, etc.).

Critical winter services to plan and budget for

Consider the factors listed above, and then include financial provisions for each in your project budgets (lowered production, storage and logistics considerations, etc)

Remember to take temporary heat into account. There are several things to consider when determining what to include in the budget for temporary heat. How big is the space? Will you use propane, natural gas or electricity, and who is responsible for the equipment and for fuel consumption? Who will monitor air quality?

With an average snowfall of almost 75 inches per year in Grand Rapids, the need for snow removal will be inevitable. Will you need to budget for a plow service? How will doorways and sidewalks be addressed? Is there a place for snow onsite, or will it need to go elsewhere?

You also will need to keep the snow out and the heat in, so what will be your enclosure system? Will you use wood or plastic; will the enclosures be removable or fixed?

Communication to trades

Remember your trade partners when developing your plan as well. Communicate as much as possible to them prior to the bidding phase so provisions can be included in their proposals, and labor hours can be accurately projected. This should be a point of discussion during any pre-bid meeting and post-bid interview to ensure the integrity of the bid.

It is important to maintain open lines of communication throughout the project and discuss weather provisions during weekly coordination meetings. This will ensure everyone understands the weather impact and can adjust to changing needs.

So what will next winter bring? Who knows (polar vortex 3.0? I hope not!), but with proper planning and good communication between all project stakeholders both early in the project and throughout the course of construction, we can be well positioned to mitigate risk for everyone involved.