By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
As soon as the holidays are over, we will all pack up the tree and decorations, and thoughts will turn to the promises of a new year. Starting that first week in January, architects around Utah will start meeting with new clients, and the request will inevitably be the same: “We want to build in the spring.”
We will sit across the conference room table and listen intently before we dash their hopes: If you wanted to build in the spring, you should have visited us last fall. Unfortunately, the design process takes time.
Encased in plastic sheeting, this construction project is proceeding right through winter. “Tenting” is one way to protect a project from the elements and control temperatures, particularly during winter construction.
But the good news is, the construction industry in Utah goes year round, even in our cold climate. So your project may not be completed this spring, but it won’t have to be put on hold. Building into the late fall and winter is a viable option and for some projects even a great option.
So let’s talk about managing construction projects in winter conditions. The first thing to note is that it is easier to shovel snow than rain. By this, we mean controlling moisture on a project may actually be easier during the winter than in the spring. And controlling moisture is key to any construction project.
Most projects do get wet one way or another during the time the construction is not “dried in” — before the roof, walls, and windows are installed to keep the weather out. Plywood sheathing and wood studs will dry without any permanent damage unless they are exposed for an unusually long period of time.
However, if moisture should get trapped in any portion of a building, it can lead to serious mold problems. Thus, minimizing a project’s exposure to the weather is important, either through quickly drying it in or by using tarps and plastic as temporary barriers.
The concept of temporary barriers is often called “tenting.” Tenting can help keep moisture away from the structure altogether and help control the conditions for construction. Some materials require a specific temperature range for optimal installation.
Exterior finishes like stucco, concrete and paint all have minimum temperatures below which they should not be used. It is possible to create a tent of plastic over the affected area and use a portable heating source to keep the space warm enough to proceed with construction. Flat concrete work can be covered with blankets, which will maintain a temperature to allow for optimal curing of a slab.
Blankets keep concrete the right temperature for proper curing. With the right protections, pouring concrete and other steps in construction can continue during winter so projects don’t have to wait.
It is important that your contractor or subcontractor is knowledgeable about the materials they are using to ensure a good installation. Be sure to select a well-established company that has plenty of experience building in all Utah conditions. Also note that the costs of winterizing a project are passed on to the homeowner.
Some remodeling projects are almost completely focused on the inside of the home, like gutting and refinishing a basement. With inside projects, the outside weather will have minimal impact on construction.
This type of project is actually a contractor’s dream for the cold weather months. If you are considering a project of this type, you may want to schedule it for the winter months to avoid competing with projects more suited to warm weather, like a second-story addition. And working in a warm, dry environment is quite a carrot to dangle in front of any contractor during the winter! As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.