Moving North For A Lucrative Construction Job? What Practical Differences Should You Expect?

If you've been working as a contractor or construction laborer in a warm-weather climate for longer than you care to remember, you likely have your routine fairly well set. You're familiar with the equipment necessary to excavate, frame walls, and pour concrete, and know how to quickly cool down an overheating engine without suffering steam burns. Unfortunately, the employment market in areas where warm weather allows construction to take place year-round can be ultra-competitive, and you may find yourself looking longingly at some of the posted pay rates for construction jobs in the rural Northern Midwest. Because the climate and weather differences can have a major impact on how you work, you will likely need to do some research before submitting your first bid. Read on to learn more about the different construction processes and equipment needs for contractors working in cold climates. 

What are some of the primary differences between cold weather and warm weather construction?

Other than the obvious change in required apparel to help protect against frostbite, construction processes in cold weather can be quite different than those that take place in warmer climates. For example, you'll often be using different adhesives, cement, and asphalt formulations to help prevent loss of heat between the time these substances are applied or poured and the time they are compacted into their final form. You may find yourself applying thick layers of insulation to underground pipes or protective layers of concrete around steel beams to prevent them from freezing. 

While these differences may seem like extra work on the cold-weather end, they can sometimes boost productivity -- because construction workers in this area are already familiar with ways to protect their work-in-progress from snow, sleet, and ice, they're less liable to suffer setbacks or delays due to inclement weather. While someone planning to pour a concrete foundation on a sunny day in the South may need to postpone construction if it begins to rain, a northern construction worker should be able to simply erect a tent or windbreak until the process is finished.

What equipment will you need to become familiar with if working in cold-weather construction?

The tangible differences between cold-mix and warm-mix asphalt (or insulated and uninsulated pipes) usually don't require much of an adjustment period. However, there are a few pieces of equipment frequently used on cold weather construction projects that you may have never previously encountered and will need to learn to use.

  • Tank heaters or concrete blankets

These versatile heating blankets help provide a constant level of warmth to tanks holding water, chemicals, or viscous substances like propane, oil, or diesel fuel. These heaters are often important in the construction context, as it can be much cheaper to keep a holding tank with gasoline or diesel on-site rather than truck off your equipment to a central fill station each time you run low on fuel. Tank heating or concrete blankets can also be used to quickly dry cement or asphalt during especially cold or wet weather conditions, reducing the amount of time you spend on a project and helping you put more money back into your pocket. 

These heaters have a relatively simple design and essentially look like vinyl winter coats for large holding tanks. Warm air is circulated between the layers of vinyl surrounding the tank, helping its contents maintain any temperature you choose.

  • Ground thaw heaters

In some parts of the upper Midwest, ground temperatures will only remain above freezing for a few short months, making excavation difficult. By using ground thaw heaters, construction crews can minimize wear and tear on their equipment while achieving the same final result they would hope to attain in warmer weather. 

These heaters generally operate using a low-toxicity or non-toxic antifreeze, which is heated and pumped through hoses to immediately defrost the surrounding ground. If you're conducting a shallow excavation on soil with a temperature at or near the freezing level, you may need to perform this process only once -- for highly frozen tundra or a deep excavation, you'll likely need to excavate one layer at a time and continue to apply antifreeze as it slowly seeps into the soil.

Talk with tank heater suppliers or click here for info about different cold-weather construction supplies.