Business Tips

The contractor’s guide to winter project planning

Planning for winter projects often means gazing into a crystal ball, and then building separate schedules for multiple cold weather scenarios. Wintertime project planning also means deciding how early to start, and even whether to start at all. Here’s how to add some certainty, remove risk, and even make wintertime building a competitive advantage.

Think Again

Review your assumptions about everything. Cold weather brings multiple risks to all of your resources. So, if you’ve assumed your front end loader will start every day, think again. If you haven’t factored in plumbing freeze ups, think again.  And if you’ve estimated labor productivity as the same as when it’s 70 degrees out, think again.

Here are realities to focus on:

— Machine efficiency goes down in cold weather due to longer warm up times, skidding, sliding and needing to move more slowly

— Frozen soil is either unworkable, or will need extraordinary expense

— Snow removal and space heating equipment might be less available because of increased demand

— Structures under construction might be more prone to snow load stresses

— People will be less productive (at 20 degrees F a worker is 20% less efficient, while at 0 degrees F a worker is 40% less efficient, according to “Change and the Loss of Productivity in Construction

— Increased likelihood of accidents

— Increased likelihood of absenteeism

Plan For It, Like This

If you are in the bid stages of a project, go back over your estimates and see where you need to add more cost to account for cold weather construction. Try to find a balance. Yes, maybe you’d like to plan for snow clearing weekly, but that might be unrealistic given all the other contingencies for cold weather. So, look back at the average snow record for the area and plan for that. You might also increase your contingency and general conditions budgets.

If your project is already underway, keep good records. Many contracts don’t allow you to collect damages or get time extensions unless those delays are unforeseeable. Your records of daily highs and lows, snowfall amounts and jobsite conditions will help to sort out the foreseeable from the unforeseeable. Act quickly if delays and weather related incidents are overrunning your budget line items. Try reordering work, substituting or beefing up resources, or improving working conditions to boost productivity. And, keep good records of your efforts and money spent to overcome cold weather issues.

Make it a Competitive Advantage

As long as you build projects in cold climates, you might as well make your abilities a competitive advantage. Instead of practically closing down for the winter to wait for the spring thaw, or only taking on indoor projects, you might consider getting aggressive about cold weather building. The more you do it well, the better your reputation and profitability. If you manage your wintertime projects as a portfolio, good profits from some projects will balance low profits on others, improving your firm’s finances.

Get really good at estimating and scheduling cold weather projects.

Some owners are willing to pay a premium to get their projects off the ground right away, even in winter. If you can do it, and you have experience at it that reduces your risks, you can make winter building a competitive advantage.

Get really good at estimating and scheduling cold weather projects. It’s very important to pay attention to the details and to consider alternative scenarios for activities that are heavily exposed to weather. Once you do this enough, and track results, you’ll build a portfolio of best practices for cold weather construction.

Then, become a cold weather contract expert. Work with your legal counsel to make your wintertime project contracts more fair for you in relation to the risks you take on.

Finally, partner with other builders who don’t mind dealing with winter’s challenges so your bids are turnkey. This puts more certainty into winter building while tapping cold weather talents and ideas your partners have discovered. You might even find that with the right approach, talent and skills, wintertime building is less stressful with higher profit potential.