14 Oct 2020

How to Get Your Jobsite Ready for Winter

Aggreko equipment covered in snow

Cold weather can mean real headaches for construction teams. How do you keep workers warm enough to be comfortable and productive? How do you make sure things don’t freeze over and break down on your jobsite? What do you do if the concrete won’t pour? 

Let’s take a look at the practical steps you can take to prevent a cooldown turning into a shutdown.

Dressing for the Weather

Start with the simple stuff: making sure everyone in your crew has the clothing they need to protect themselves against the elements and the cold. 

These should include:

  • Sturdy, waterproof gloves with plenty of insulation. Make sure these fit perfectly.
  • Thermal liners for helmets 
  • Thermal socks (or two pairs of thick socks, worn over each other)
  • Thick, well-fitted, properly insulated boots
  • Insulated coveralls
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • Thermal underwear
  • Coats that extend below the waist, preventing exposure to the cold air when people need to bend, reach and lift.

It’s essential that this clothing isn’t too tight or restrictive as it will hinder blood flow. It’s also a good idea to advise your crew to layer up clothing so that they can easily remove a layer if they’re doing a high-impact task. Otherwise, they risk getting sweaty and then feeling even colder when they stop to rest or switch to a lighter job. 

Make sure you provide lockers or another secure space for your team to store extra layers, spare, dry clothing in case they get wet, and warm winter clothing year-round, in case the weather suddenly takes an unseasonable turn.

Also, try to ensure there’s a break area with, at the very least, tea and coffee making facilities and a microwave, so that your team can make plenty of warm drinks and have soup or other warm meals for lunch. This can make a surprisingly big difference on a cold day.

Comfort Heating for Your Jobsite

Warm clothing can only do so much, however. You also need to take practical steps to ensure that the jobsite simply isn’t too cold for everyone to do their jobs. This is commonly known as comfort heating.

A major hurdle for any construction site (or even an indoor jobsite) during winter is that the area or building may be partially or completely open to the elements. This could be because an actual building is still under construction, because doors have to be kept open to let machinery in and out, or simply because the nature of the project means that everything takes place outside. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: it’s very difficult to hold in any heat. What’s more, you may not yet be connected to a permanent heating system at all.

There are plenty of fuel-efficient temporary heaters, generators and HVAC units to choose from that can supply effective comfort heating. The problem, though, isn’t so much finding equipment to kick out the heat you need, but designing the space so that heat doesn’t simply escape. Keeping the temperature consistent throughout the jobsite is a significant challenge, as is trapping the warm air while at the same time making sure there’s a constant supply of fresh air into the space.

Here are some strategies you may want to consider to address this challenge:

  • Tent off or otherwise enclose key work areas and place heaters inside. This will help you to retain heat where it’s needed. Bear in mind though that any fueled heaters will need to be kept at a minimum of 10 feet away from any combustible or flammable materials, including those used to create temporary enclosures, tents, and tarps.
  • Opt for hydronic heat. This gives an even, steady dispersion of heat. It’s also simple to set up, is cost and energy-efficient, and is low-risk when it comes to potential hazards.
  • Rather than using one heater to warm a large space, scatter several spot heaters around the jobsite, close to where work is being carried out.
  • Discuss your specific requirements and the features of your jobsite with a temporary utilities provider before you rent any heating equipment. The best companies will be able to advise you on distributing heat and may even provide a free site assessment to help you make the right choice.

Stopping Your Equipment from Breaking Down

It’s not only people that stop being able to work properly when they get too chilly. Some machines will simply break down when things drop below zero. Condensation turns to ice, causing certain types of equipment to stop working. In the worst cases, the expanding ice causes parts or the whole item to crack, shatter or break down completely. This is obviously expensive to deal with, both in terms of the direct cost of replacing equipment, and in terms of the impact that downtime and delays will have on your project schedule and associated costs.

Again, this takes careful heating of the jobsite to prevent. It’s a delicate balancing act; you need to use space or spot heating effectively to lift the overall temperature, without ever exposing combustible equipment to direct heat that could cause a fire or explosion. It’s essential that you work closely with rental equipment vendors to ensure you’re properly controlling the risk.  

Meanwhile, when the temperature plummets to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees Celsius), the paraffin typically present in diesel fuel will begin to solidify. Paraffin is wax in liquid form, and when it gets cold, it starts to crystallize. The fuel tank becomes clouded and you may start seeing performance issues. By the time the temperature gets all the way down to 10-15F, the diesel will begin to gel. This then clogs both the tank and fuel filters. 

Many construction companies lack a storage area onsite that they can reliably keep warm (and safe, since diesel is flammable), making fuel gelling in the cold a big problem. The simple solution is to rent generators from a company that also offers a fuel delivery service. This ensures that you always have fuel when you need it, but don’t have to keep it lying around in the cold when you don’t. 

Alternatively, if it’s an option on your jobsite, consider using natural gas generators to supply for your heaters. Natural gas pipelines are extremely resilient to the cold and provide a reliable, constant supply of fuel.

Warming the Frozen Ground

Another common problem on jobsites is when the ground freezes over, preventing you from pouring concrete. To tackle this, you can opt for a temporary ground heating setup - for example, a portable, natural gas-fired Central Heating Unit with underground hoses pumped with hot-glycol. 

This makes it possible to thaw winter frost very quickly. Even better, as hot air is forced from your hoses, it also cures the concrete. This also speeds up your build.  

Final Thoughts: Getting Ahead of the Problem

Making sure your jobsite can cope with the cold takes careful preparation, including contingency planning. Make sure you set up and test your temporary heating set up long in advance, ensuring it works as planned and you haven’t left anything out. Even if you do have a permanent heating system, test it regularly and conduct thorough preventative and predictive maintenance.

Consider what will happen if any part of the system breaks down or isn’t up to spec. Remember that HVAC units can fail. Make sure that your supply of power is sufficient to provide the heat you need. Have you checked that your generators and heaters will also be able to withstand the cold?

You should never wait for the first frost to start thinking about how you’ll cope with winter. The more time and thought you put into preparations now, the faster you can roll out your solution when the time comes. This will lead to huge time and cost savings when the snow starts to fall.