February 7, 2009
Crews work through the cold
Winter has not stopped work on construction projects in the county
By HOLDEN B. SLATTERY
When Jim Reeners began building his new student housing building on Tompkins Street in Cortland, temperatures rose to around 50 degrees for about 24 hours on Dec. 1.
That was just long enough for Reeners and his son Michael to pour a slab of concrete onto the ground.
Since the concrete was cured, the low temperatures have not affected the other aspects of construction, except for their comfort levels, Reeners said.
This student housing project is one of several large construction projects in progress this winter. Some of the others are the clock tower building on Main Street, another student housing building on Tompkins Street Extension in Cortlandville and a Marvin Windows office and warehouse in Polkville.
“At this particular juncture there seems to be more construction in Cortland than would typically be going on in winter,” said Cortland Code Enforcement Officer Charles Glover.
“It’s not uncommon to do construction during winter,” Glover said. “It’s just a little more difficult and a little less comfortable for those doing the work.”
The biggest challenge of doing construction during winter is pouring concrete, as the ground and the concrete need to be kept above freezing.
Glover said one common solution is to build a temporary enclosure using plastic to hold heat into the structure. He said this tactic was used to make facade improvements in the back of Gilda’s, a restaurant on Main Street in Cortland.
Construction workers from Cortland-based Contento Contractors working under Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt are excavating at the site of the future clock tower building on Main Street. Workers from Hayner Hoyt are building a new facility for Marvin Windows.
On Friday afternoon, it was just below 30 degrees outside. Inside Reeners’ student housing building it was 20 degrees. Reeners said this is because heaters have not been installed yet, and the insulation in the ground just below the concrete slab is preventing the warm air from rising into the building.
Reeners and his son Michael, the only two workers on the project, said after awhile their bodies become somewhat acclimated to the cold. Reeners wears ear muffs and insulated coveralls to stay as warm as possible.
Heating the building would not be effective until the insulation in the roof is installed, Reeners said.
“If you put any heat in this building you’re heating Cortland, not the building,” Reeners said.
Reeners said they had planned to pour the concrete around Oct. 1, but in order to meet some building requirements, they had to wait until Dec. 1. He said he was sure that temperatures would rise at some point, so if it had not warmed he would have continued setting up the structure and waited for a warmer day.
Reeners said he thinks the strategy of using plastic covers on a structure and using heaters to warm the ground enough to pour concrete is very inefficient.
“You have to introduce enormous amounts of heat into the building to actually make it work,” he said.
Hayner Hoyt’s work on the clock tower building just began at the end of January.
“The technology for winter construction has not changed a whole lot over the years,” Jeremy Thurston, president of Hayner Hoyt, said in an e-mail.
“The extent of what has to be done varies as temperatures do, but essentially the concrete needs to be kept above 40 degrees. This is done through insulated blankets, building enclosures and using temporary heaters.”
Thurston said the biggest concern when doing construction during winter is keeping workers safe from cold weather. He said they need to be dressed in proper attire, have a warm place to take periodic breaks and keep work areas free of ice.
Ben Curtis, code enforcement officer for the village of Lansing, said there has been no earth-shattering technology or new technique to allow construction workers to build more effectively in cold weather. Construction is driven more by timelines the businesses that own the facilities have for completing the work, he said.
Curtis also teaches construction classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College, including “construction methods and materials,” “estimating” and “construction management.”
He said certain additives have been created to make concrete easier to pour in cold weather, but that “it’s not appreciably easier than it ever was.”
Curtis said workers can put insulation blankets over concrete to keep it warm because concrete generates its own heat. If water freezes in concrete, it can permanently decrease the concrete’s strength, he said.
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