December 8, 2022

Overcome the Challenges of Construction in the Cold

A heater warms a cold room

As someone who’s spent much of his adult life pouring concrete across the Midwest, David Hammond can tell some horror stories about working in the winter. The memory of one job from 2016 still makes him shiver.

A state facility in northwest Missouri had a damaged parking lot that had to be fixed immediately. It would have been a one-day job to tear out and replace a 30- by 60-foot section of concrete, but zero-degree temperatures had frozen the ground solid. 

“We were hitting the ground with the teeth of the loader, and it was coming up like curlicues, like shavings off a Hershey bar that’s been in a freezer,” said Hammond, who is now a construction superintendent for EquipmentShare. “We had to get down below the frost line and get it out and then fill it back with gravel, because you can’t pour concrete on frozen ground and we didn’t have any way of heating it. After we poured it, while it was still wet, we were afraid it was going to freeze, so we were building bridges with two-by-fours and walking across them holding insulated blankets up so they wouldn’t touch the concrete.”

He and his crew members took turns working outside and thawing out in a truck with the heater on full blast. It was not a pleasant — or profitable — experience.

“It took us triple the time it would have taken us in better weather,” Hammond said. “We didn’t make any money off that job.”

That job would have been a little less miserable if Hammond’s team had access to the technologically advanced heaters widely available now. EquipmentShare has a big selection of heaters to help you get work done more quickly, comfortably and safely in the cold. 

Ground Heaters

Concrete poured on frozen ground can crack when the turf thaws and settles. Concrete that freezes before it’s cured loses up to half its strength. Hydronic surface heaters can solve both problems by softening the ground before excavation and protecting concrete from the cold air while it cures.

The heaters come with up to 3,000 feet of hose, which is spread over the ground to cover a surface area of up to 6,000 square feet. A boiler — fueled by diesel, natural gas or propane — heats antifreeze liquid, which is pumped through the hoses. Insulated blankets are placed over the hoses to trap the heat.  

Space Heaters

Cold and damp weather can affect your ability to install drywall and paint in unfinished indoor spaces. For the drywall joint-finishing compound to set properly, the temperature should be at least 55 degrees. For painting, the temperature should be at least 50. 

“You’ve got to have a controlled environment,” Hammond said. “Drywall won’t set up in the cold, and paint won’t stick. You’ve got to have heaters and air movers to control the temperature.”

Heaters are also important for any construction project’s most valuable resource — its workers. People working for long periods in extreme cold are less productive and risk their own safety.

A variety of heaters are available depending on the size and ventilation of your workspace. These range from electrical heaters for smaller and fully enclosed spaces to larger direct-fired (open flame) or indirect-fired (no open flame) heaters that are usually located outside and can blow hot air indoors through duct work. 

Find heaters available for rent at an EquipmentShare branch near you.

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