Winter Building Limitations and Opportunities

By Jerome Graber,
December 7, 2019
Home | Winter Building Limitations and Opportunities

Here in the Midwest, winters can be both brutal and unpredictable! Cold, then warm, then cold again, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, it all contributes to a season that can make outdoor projects, and especially construction projects, challenging. But it can also come with a unique set of benefits for the consumer.

In this post, we will take a look at both the limitations of winter construction projects, and some of the opportunities that may benefit you. Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision about the best time to tackle your project.

Winter Building Limitations

There are some fairly obvious weather related limitations, but also some that might not be easily recognized. Here are the major areas to consider.

  1. Replacing windows and exterior doors in the winter is not a problem for your contractor. However, removing a window from your home will make it cold! If your home is typically empty during business hours, this can be a good winter project. But if people are home during the day, this can be an unpleasant experience because of all the cold air and drafts that will be let into your home.
  2. Roofing repair or replacement in the winter can be a real challenge, some years more than others. Certain types of shingles do not seal down well below 45 degrees and can be more prone to blow-offs for a few months if installed in the winter. But snow on your roof will also add additional expense, as this will have to be removed before any work can be done. I always recommend that if there is any question about whether your roof will last the winter, get it done in the fall. Emergency winter roofing can be done, but due to the increased labor costs and risk of blow-offs, should be avoided if possible.
  3. Exterior concrete patios and sidewalks is very difficult to successfully complete in the winter months. In the winter, the ground will almost always either be frozen or muddy, and both conditions make for a poor base for your new concrete. In addition, even if you are able to strip all the frozen or muddy ground out and build up the site with dry stone, you run the risk of your new concrete freezing before it has cured, which will ruin the surface. Concrete can be covered with insulated blankets, but this often can cosmetically blemished the surface finish. In general, exterior concrete flatwork should be avoided in the winter whenever possible.
  4. New building starts can begin in the winter time, but this also comes with challenges to consider. Frozen or muddy ground can be difficult to prepare properly. Interestingly, years where it is consistently cold but there is heavy snow cover are the best years for winter building starts, because the surface of the ground is firm, but the snow keeps the frost from setting too deeply into the ground. Because foundation concrete is poured in the ground and is not exposed like flatwork, it can often be successfully protected from the cold with proper planning.

Winter Building Opportunities

With all the limitations to winter time building, you might be tempted to just put your project off entirely until spring. However, there are some potential opportunities and benefits to winter for the consumer. Consider the following:

  1. Because so many types of work are limited by winter weather, contractors are usually able to get to the projects that they can do much more quickly. If your project is indoors (or not of a type that the cold will negatively impact) the lead times might be significantly shorter in the winter than in the spring or summer. For many people, this can be a big plus.
  2. Related to the first point, because the price is driven by supply and demand, contractors that are short on work in the winter months may be willing to give you a discount in order to win your business in the winter months. As you are soliciting quotes, don’t be afraid to ask your contractor if they will give you any discounts for work that can be performed in the winter months. You very well might be pleasantly surprised to see savings of 5-10% for certain types of winter work. If you’re interested in more information on soliciting bids for your project, check out our soliciting bids blog post.
  3. Because spring is typically the busiest season for construction project starts, this is the time of year to expect price increases. However, even if you cannot start your project in the winter, you could potentially still lock in current prices in the winter for spring builds. Many contractors offer you the option to sign a contract in the winter months for a spring build, and guarantee the price to remain the same so long as the work can be performed by a specified period of time. For example, MidAmerican Construction Management will sign contracts starting in December for March and April builds and guarantee the price so long as the customer puts down their down payment at the time of signing. This can be a great way to lock in savings, as price increases of 5% or more in the spring are not uncommon in the construction industry.

Winter Work

So what kind of jobs can be readily done in the winter months? More than you might think!

  1. Pouring concrete and finishing the interior of a barn or outbuilding. If you have an outbuilding that you have been considering finishing off the interior, the winter months can be perfect for this. Your contractor will likely be grateful for the opportunity to work out of the wind and worst of the cold, and just might give you the above mentioned price break to have the opportunity for this type of work in winter. And because it is sheltered, usually pretty much any work you may want done can be performed even over the coldest months.
  2. Kitchen remodeling or basement finishing. Interior finish contractors are not impacted by the cold weather and can work year ‘round. But some homeowners don’t want the inconvenience of having their homes worked on during the time of year when they are not able to spend as much time outside. So if you are willing to put up with this, you can frequently have your pick of contractors and timeframes.
  3. Deck refinishing and siding replacement. Replacing old deck boards or vinyl siding can be done in all but the very worst weather. Because this kind of work does not require putting a foundation into the frozen ground or needs to seal in the heat, the winter months can often be a good time to get this kind of work done.

Armed with this information, you can guard yourself against the pitfalls of winter construction projects, as well as take advantage of the potential opportunities that the winter months in the Midwest bring.

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