ne of the primary challenges of winter construction in the mountains is timing and scheduling. If you are considering building a home in the mountains, or anywhere else in snow country, planning the start of your project to avoid outside work in the winter will save you money and construction time. That's easy to say, but it is not uncommon for projects planned for spring starts to be delayed until late in the year because of such things as building department delays or funding challenges.
While it is not the ideal situation, building construction can still be done outside in the winter, even in areas with freezing temperatures and lots of snow. The best scenario for construction work to continue through the winter months is to have the roof on the building, the windows in, insulation done and enough interior work to keep crews busy through the coldest months. For those not lucky enough to be in this situation, it is still possible to keep the project moving during the winter, but expect progress to be noticeably slower and costs to be higher.
Timing construction projects to avoid working in (and sometimes on) the ground during winter is one of the most important scheduling issues. Foundation work is often not feasible in winter because of frozen ground, high groundwater levels, frost heaving, and the danger of concrete freezing before it is adequately cured. If you can't get started early enough in the fall to get the foundation in and at least partially backfilled, it is advisable to wait until spring before breaking ground.
Here are some things to consider that may help avoid having to do outside construction in the winter:
If it works out that your project will need to have framing or exterior envelope work done in the winter, it's not the end of the world. Building professionals in snow country do it all the time, and some even claim to enjoy it. A few things to keep in mind if your project is being built in the winter:
One thing I have learned from many years of being in the architecture and home building business, including several winters building homes in the mountains, is that things might take longer than we think they will. If you are planning to build a home in snow country, start the process early and plan ahead to avoid starting construction late in the summer or fall. If things don't go as planned and it is necessary for your project to continue through the winter, have realistic expectations and make sure to communicate with the contractor about what work is occurring, how it will be accomplished, and if it makes sense to do it in the winter. Most builders want to work through the winter, and tend to be stoic about the challenges it presents. There are definitely advantages to keeping the momentum of a project going, and often the best strategy is to keep working on aspects of the project that can be done efficiently in winter, and save the rest for spring.
Tom Russell, LEED AP and John Hendricks, Architect AIA, NCARB
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