How to Build in the Winter

 
A Winter build requires a calculated approach of the additional expenses

A Winter build requires a calculated approach of the additional expenses

 

Here in Canada, we’re finally hitting some positive temperatures in the middle of March. Some have asked whether you can build in the winter months or not and the short answer is yes, but be prepared for some additional costs as you fight through the elements of nature. Here are some due diligence items for you to consider when you have to build over winter.

1) Foundation

Have the foundation footings and walls poured before the first frost as best as you can. Even as temperature approaches the freezing mark, the foundation can still be poured. There are ways your foundation company can ensure the integrity of the concrete even at cold temperatures, such as using hot water in the concrete mix and adding an accelerator chemical like calcium chloride to decrease the concrete set time. Once your foundation is poured and you get ready for the winter build, you will still need to winterize your foundation; water that gets in between the footings and the foundation wall will freeze and compromise the integrity of your structure. You will therefore want to insulate your footings with insulation blankets or hay. We went with hay in our build to minimize cost but a consideration for you is that removing the hay takes quite a bit of time and if you leave too much hay in the basement when the floor is poured, it will leave a stinky smell.

 
Hay as insulator for the foundation footings

Hay as insulator for the foundation footings

 

2) Water Control

Once your foundation is poured, you will want to quickly enclose the basement so it is not exposed to the elements (the same goes for a Summer build). Water that gets into the basement can freeze in winter, making the plumbing rough-in extremely hard as your plumber will have to get through a thick layer of ice. Have your framer lined up once your foundation is poured and even if your framer cannot finish the entire framing, build at least what is called a knee-high wall to enclose the basement. In our build, we unfortunately did end up with a flooded basement before my framer can get to it. We had an extremely warm and wet December in Southern Ontario and resulted in a lot of rain. As you can see in the picture, we had a pool of water in the basement.

 
A flooded basement when the foundation is no enclosed

A flooded basement when the foundation is no enclosed

 

If you unfortunately come across this situation, do everything you can to drain that basement before the temperature dives and you have to fight the ice. I started simply using a bucket and scooping out the water. After a few hours and a very sore arm, I realize I was not getting anywhere with the bucket. What I did in the end was made a few drain holes in the sanitary sewer pipe and let the water passively drain out. In a few days most of the water was gone.

 
Drilling holes into the sanitary sewer pipe to drain the flooded basement (you will need a long drill bit)

Drilling holes into the sanitary sewer pipe to drain the flooded basement (you will need a long drill bit)

 

3) Wood Protection

Certain types of wood can withstand the weather while others cannot. If you have lumber in your construction site, try to tarp it and protect it from rain or snow. Excessive exposure to water can cause your lumber to swell and bow. When you are selecting your roof and consider between OSB and plywood, be mindful that while plywood costs more, it can however withstand rain a lot better than OSB. OSB tends to swell when it is wet and if your roofer is not coming out right after trusses are in place, exposing your roof sheaths to water can cause it to sag in between your trusses. The subfloor you use will also have to tough out a fair amount of the winter and you will either want to tarp it to protect it from the elements or choose a subfloor with a wax coating that can withstand the elements.

 
The tapered and wax sealed edges of of these OSB boards (the purple line) ensures the subfloor can be wet and rained/snowed on

The tapered and wax sealed edges of of these OSB boards (the purple line) ensures the subfloor can be wet and rained/snowed on

 

4) Heating

Heating may or may not be required. A heating source will be required if you are doing any of the following activities in the wintertime: mudding and taping drywall, brick laying the outside, and pouring the basement floor. You may not necessary need heating when you are doing your plumbing rough-in but you will need to calculate whether it is more costly to supply heat so your plumber can dig through your frozen basement ground quickly or not supply heat and recognize your plumber will not be as efficient when doing your basement floor rough-in. Speaking of plumbing, if you don’t have centralized heat yet, you will need to be aware of any frozen pipes if your water supply is turned on.

You have a few options if you do need to supply heat. You can use propane. Depending on your area, you may need a licensed operator to to use the propane for heating. You can also heat using an electric source, most electric heating source will require a 220V outlet (the one for your dryer or stove) so when preparing for a winter build, have your electrician install this if you have a nearby outlet like your neighbour. Lastly, you can also try to see if you can install your natural gas meter ahead of time and use that as a source of heat.

5) Wind

Your lumber cost may be slightly higher compared to a Summer build because in the winter months, the wind can be strong and you will be spending a bit more on lumber to stabilize your framing. During the framing process, try to get your trusses in as quickly as possible to stabilize your structure. You also want to put in your doors or windows in the last step of your framing because if one of the walls blow down, you wouldn’t want all your windows to break as well.

6) Expected Completion Dates

Your trades are going to move and work a lot slower during the winter months so expect delays. If there is a snow or icestorm, your framer is going to spend part of the day clearing the snow. The day light time during the is also shorter and by 2-3pm, your trades are going to have to start wrapping things up before it gets too dark. There will also be delays because of extreme weather and holidays over the winter build

 
Clearing the snow while framing

Clearing the snow while framing

 

How is the Foundation Built?

The foundation, as the name suggests, is what your entire house sits on. For the most part, you will be hands-off with the foundation and there isn’t much to coordinate or customize. It is however important to take note of the steps in pouring the foundation so as a developer, you understand the timeline and have a basic talking language of what is happening. Here are the steps in high level overview.

1) Initial Survey

Before you officially break ground, you need your surveyor to stake out where where your dwelling is going. A developer tip is that you have probably used your surveyor a few times by now with the soft cost of construction and you will continue to use your surveyor for the foundation. With this in mind, see if you can negotiate with your surveyor for some type of developer package to lower his/her price.

2) Breaking ground

In this part, there will be an excavator which will be digging into the ground. If your construction site is large enough, the soil may be left onsite. But if your lot size is limited, you will need to arrange for a remote site to dump the soil. Be aware of the dumping fee. Make sure you clearly ask your excavation company on ways to minimize the dumping fee. You will unlikely get a straight forward number on what that dumping fee is depending on how many truckloads are needed. This is an important step during your design and may tag on significant cost (depending on your build and dump site distance, this can cost thousands). For example, if you are building a simple bungalow home, a raised bungalow has the advantage of only going 4 feet deep into the ground rather than the full 8 feet like a conventional bungalow. In addition to the dumping fee, you may also require traffic control each time a dump run is made and these costs are hard to precisely pinpoint. Another developer tip here is make sure you get a nice and ceremonious photo of the unofficial breaking ground to celebrate.

 
Lichee and I breaking ground, we didn’t get too far with our exaction on this day and waited until the big machines came.

Lichee and I breaking ground, we didn’t get too far with our exaction on this day and waited until the big machines came.

 
 
The excavator at work.

The excavator at work.

 

3) Second Survey

Your surveyor will now need to come back and precisely stake out where the corners of the house are so the forms for the footings can be made. You may have never seen a footing before and that is because these are underground.

4) Footings

Your foundation company will now come back and create forms for the footings. Forms are essentially containers that will hold the concrete once it is poured. Forms are temporarily and will be removed (or stripped in concrete lingo) once the concrete dries. The footings are generally wider than the foundation walls and go directly on the undisturbed ground.

 
The wood are the concrete forms for the eventual footings.

The wood are the concrete forms for the eventual footings.

 
 
Concrete for footings poured.

Concrete for footings poured.

 

5) Foundation Walls

When the footings are dried, the foundation walls can be poured. At this stage, gravel is usually first added in the centre of you bare dwelling. Similar to the footings, forms are placed to guide where the foundation walls will go. You may see metal wires coming out from the foundation walls and these are called rebar. Concrete is extremely strong but doesn’t do too well when under tension. The rebars are there to reinforce the concrete under tension to give it additional strength. A developer tip here is when the foundation wall dries, you may see what are called spider cracks (small cracks) and as long as these do go deep into your drainage system, you should be ok.

 
Foundation wall forms - These guide the concrete walls to be poured and sit on top of the footings.

Foundation wall forms - These guide the concrete walls to be poured and sit on top of the footings.

 

6) Drainage system

Dimple boards and weeping tiles are added to waterproof your basement. The dimple boards goo along the side of the foundation walls and channels the water into the weeping tile drainage system. The weeping tiles, contrary to its name, is not actually a square tile but rather a tubing system to that collects and drains the water. This drainage system helps to keep your basement dry and your foundation from the erosive effects of the water.

 
Weeping tiles to be installed.

Weeping tiles to be installed.

 

7) Backfill

Soil is now placed back on the side against the foundation walls for the backfill stage. You may want to leave some excess soil behind because you will need it for your final grading.

Weather

Weather does play a role when concrete is poured, especially here in Canada. Ideally, you want to pour your concrete on a hot and dry day for the concrete to dry nice and strong. Wet days are not good days to pour. Cold, especially in Canada is something that can be managed and not a hard reason not to build in the winter time. Calcium can be added to the concrete when pouring on a cold day for the concrete to dry faster but be aware there is likely an added cost to adding the calcium and once the concrete is poured on a cold day, it will need some type of insulation to keep it from freezing.

 
The final foundation with the drainage system

The final foundation with the drainage system

 

What are the "Soft Costs" of Construction?

Soft cost for construction and development

Soft cost for construction and development

You may have heard of the term “soft costs” in construction or development but what does that actually mean?

By definition, your soft costs are all your expenses before the shovel can literally hit the ground and start your build. After you have closed on your piece of land (or existing structure for demolition), your soft costs may typically take you a few months. During this stage, you are going through planning, drawings, and getting ready for your permit application. Here is a high level overview of each of these stages in your soft costs (in no particular order):

1) Review your zoning bylaws

Each city will have a zoning bylaw which determines what you can or cannot build in your area. For example, if you are looking to build a duplex but the zoning bylaw is R1 and only allows a single family use, you are not allowed to build a legal duplex. The bylaws are the gold standard and there is no grey area. The bylaws can be quite confusing and if you are not aware of what you need to look for, it is easy to get blindsided with thinking you can build something but in reality you cannot. In addition to the residential use from the zoning bylaws, you will want to take note of items like your lot size (frontage and depth), parking, yard space, and building setbacks. There is actually no financial cost to looking up on the zoning bylaws. If you would like some help with navigating the zoning bylaws, you may want to consider hiring an urban planner, especially if you require slight alterations like a minor variance to fit within the bylaws.

Zoning By-law of St. Catharines

Zoning By-law of St. Catharines

2) Survey

A survey will help you identify exactly where you boundary lines are. Just because there is a physical fence dividing your property and your neighbour, doesn’t actually mean the physical fence is located on the boundary line. You would not want to be in a situation where you start building only to find out you started building on your neighbour’s side-yard and having to start all over again.

3) Grading

Your surveyor will also need to do a grading plan. A grading plan enables rain water or snowmelt to safely divert away from the foundation of your house and into a storm-drain system. Without a grading plan, water may pool inappropriately at your foundation causing structural damage and foundation cracks. The grading plan determines the landscaping of your finished build to divert water safety away using slope swales to direct water to storm-drain systems.

Survey and grading

Survey and grading

4) Architect or BCIN designers

You will need construction drawings to lay down on paper your vision of your new build. Your designer or architect should have a good understanding of the building code. You may not need to decide all the details of your finishing and trims at this stage but you will need to have a solid idea what the structural layout will be. You will get a site plan which is a bird’s-eye view of where your dwelling is going to be, also called the box within a box. Then you will have your actual floor plans. Make sure you have each room or living area labelled. You will also have a set of elevation drawings or what the house looks like from the ground level as it you were standing in front of it. Lastly, you will have a cross section of the house.

Construction Drawings

Construction Drawings

5) Engineering

You will need an engineer to provide you HVAC and truss plans. Not much to be said about this but at this point, you will need your construction drawings in order for your engineers to provide you this. Trust you professionals on this and no need to question them.

6) Development Fees

Now that you’ve completed all the above stages, congratulations! You are also about to pay a hefty development and permit fee when you submit for your permit application.