Chicagoans often joke that there are two seasons: winter and construction seasons. This humorous observation isn’t ubiquitous, as we work with many contractors starting and continuing projects through Chicagoland’s harsh winter months, but it takes grit and a little know-how to make progress on projects through some of Mother Nature’s worst tantrums.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
With temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to more than -20 below zero Fahrenheit, contractors throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana encounter unique material performance—and worker performance—issues which are foreign to much of North America. As the mercury drops, material ranging from concrete to wiring, plastics to paint, all change properties. From increased drying/curing times to brittle raw materials, sub-freezing temperatures significantly affect your materials, but can also wreak havoc on your tools and team.
Pneumatic and gas-powered tools—anything with lubricant or fuel really—can experience greater friction and even stiction with low temperatures. Many tools will have operating temperatures listed somewhere on a label or stamped where the serial number and any certifications (UL listing, for example) are listed, otherwise it’s in the operator’s manual. A good rule to follow is if it’s going to be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time, it’s best to allow the tools to warm up in a climate-controlled environment such as in the cab of a truck or van, or indoors where the temperature is likely above 50 degrees.
Setting a Solid Foundation
Concrete is designed to set on unfrozen ground, so while you can slowly cure concrete below freezing, another concern is the ground you’re setting the concrete on. As the earth thaws in the spring, it will shrink and shift, causing an unstable base for your foundation, and potentially lead to cracks and seepage. One way to combat this is with a ground heater also known as a ground thaw machine. Ground thaw machines are available for rent from larger rental companies, and generally are a trailer-mounted unit. While building another rental into your cost isn’t ideal, the alternative—a cracked foundation—is much more costly.
Plan Time For Night Prep
It’s no longer a matter of closing the job site gate and heading home for the evening, when temperatures drop or snow is expected overnight, all material should be covered to protect against warping, rust, or even getting lost in the white snow. This includes larger tools such as ladders, shovels, wheelbarrows, as well as stacks of lumber, steel, and cases of fasteners.