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Keep Construction Projects on Track in Frigid Conditions

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Thornbury

Winter is coming. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the United States is in store for another cold, snowy winter this year. Before the temperature drops, construction companies should look for heating solutions that increase operational efficiencies and improve worker safety.

Heating solutions such as electric- and natural gas-powered heaters and boilers provide significant benefits, including allowing construction companies to avoid project delays and improve their balance sheet by avoiding high-cost capital expenditure (CAPEX) commitments on short- to mid-term duration needs.

When considering a heating system, it is important that the equipment matches the specific demands of the environment. Each construction project is unique and has different needs, so there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, it is critical to work with an experienced third-party HVAC provider that understands how to design a system that seamlessly ties into a construction process. This ensures continuity along the entire life cycle of a new or existing construction project, whether the heating is for site preparation, worker comfort or finishing issues.

Below is an example of how a heating solution was deployed in the construction industry to maintain productivity from an economical and operational standpoint—even when conditions were frigid in nature.

Sustained Construction in Subzero Weather

The need to heat the interior of a building in the construction phase is driven by concerns about temperatures dropping to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the Canadian winter—a typical challenge to contractors working in the province of Manitoba. These heating challenges are seen during the construction of both industrial and commercial structures, such as with expansion to the multi-story institutional building in Winnipeg.

Similar to other projects requiring construction to continue in subzero weather, fuel sources, cost, equipment reliability, turnkey service and worker efficiency factor into costs incurred during construction. For the various trades involved in the facility’s construction spanning over the winter from 2016 to 2019, maintaining building temperature above 53 degrees Fahrenheit allowed all trades to work through the cold, therefore keeping the project on track.

Two 1.2 million British thermal unit natural gas boilers were delivered with 12 points of radiant heat dispersed throughout the project area. All hoses connecting the boilers with the fumeless, radiant heaters were run under crawl spaces, essentially making the floors function like a huge radiator to keep the building temperature above 53 degrees Fahrenheit. While much of the building was only covered by tarps, a heating airflow rate of 7,020 cubic feet per minute at static pressure was maintained to balance heat flow loss.

Temperatures up to 194 degrees Fahrenheit can be delivered with these high-efficiency boilers but, in this case, the ability to remotely monitor heat flux to keep the construction contractor at ease was more of a concern in controlling total envelope losses per surface area. The client was concerned about the different trades introducing cold building materials and equipment previously stored in the open air. Cold objects add internal loads that the heating system must overcome, further justifying remote monitoring to better control temperature differentials.

Compared to conventional heating typically employed during the construction phase of commercial buildings, radiant systems transmit heat on average 15 percent more efficiently than conventional radiators and are an ideal strategy when space is limited. Use of crawl spaces to run the hoses linking the boilers with the dozen radiant heat points created room to work on the main floors, while only being protected by tarps until the structure was completely built out.

The optimal space heating envelope was developed after the contractor collaborated with a third-party HVAC expert. They listened, designed, and then delivered a tailored plan that defined an inclusive total cost of operation for each of the unique caveats, such as the expansion that included preserving a three-story historic warehouse to blend in with the new four-story structure. During this phase, much of the structure exposed to cold air infiltration was successfully heated.

To keep projects on track during the upcoming cold months, contractors—especially those working in the northern parts of the country—must take proper heating precautions.

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