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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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