As a deck builder and dedicated outdoor living company, every year about Christmas the annual battle with mother nature commences. Snow, wind, ice, slick roads, delays, school closings, freezing temperatures, materials delays, can and do all affect building. It’s important to keep this in mind when you start scheduling projects back in September and October that won’t start until winter.
“Do you build decks in the winter?” Living and building in the Pittsburgh area that is one of the most common questions I get and the answer is “yes”. The show must go on as they say and it is no different in the construction world. Now there are some outdoor companies that transition into things like snow plowing or simply close up shot until Spring but we have found that as long as you understand how the weather will affect you and plan accordingly it’s not too bad. Here’s some tips:
1. Gear – This is one the areas you don’t want to skimp on, spend the money and get the best cold weather gear you can find…it makes a difference. I personally have Under Armour base layers and long sleeve T’s from Patagonia and North Face. Yes it cost me several hundred dollars up front but I’ve had the same stuff for years because I wear it maybe 10-15 times a year is all. This sounds counter intuitive but you only want to wear 1 pair of socks, and make sure they’re a good pair of wool socks. Your feet to be able to breath and the last thing you want is your feet sweating and then that sweat freezing on your feet. Gloves are also super important. It’s been hard for me to find the ‘perfect’ pair of winter gloves because keeping warm while maintaining dexterity isn’t the greatest combination ever. I think right now my go to are a pair of Youngstown gloves I found on Amazon for about $25…and I’ve tried a lot, trust me.
2. Materials – Outdoor materials perform much differently than their interior counterparts. I know of no outdoor material that doesn’t in some way move, shift, shrink, or expand due to changes in weather. You’ve got to understand this if you’re going to be working with stuff like PVC, Boral, & composite decking. For example, Trex decking even outlines in their manual how much you need to space your gaps if the temperature is below a certain degrees. Why? Because when the deck boards are cold they are essentially at their shortest length, and if you as an installer are unaware of this and you don’t allow for that thermal expansion when the weather turns then you might have a situation where your boards don’t have room to expand and they start buckling. I’ve seen it a few times, not a good situation.
3. Scheduling – Timelines and labor are certainly not immune to the obstacles created by the cold. Material deliveries can be pushed back because distributors/manufacturers can’t get their trucks out. Icy roads can make getting to the jobsite unsafe, difficult, and sometimes impossible. Closed schools mean sometimes a team member has to stay at home with their kids because there’s no other option. All these things affect the build and you need to account for and be prepared…which leads to the last and most important point.
4. Communication – You have got to keep your team and client updated on what to expect. During the winter we try to sit down on Monday morning and take a look at the forecast and plan for the days that might give us some issues. If it looks like Tuesday it’s going to be -10 w/ 3″ of snow we’ll go ahead and let the customer know that and make us that day on a weekend if possible. My experience has been that as long as I keep the homeowner informed of what’s going on and what the solution is they are totally understanding. I’m talking emails/calls/texts almost daily if that’s what it takes. What you don’t want to do is just disappear for a few days and assume the client understands why you haven’t been on the jobsite. I’ve made that mistake, and trust me a quick email or text goes a long way.
Good luck out there and stay warm.