Out in the Cold
Gearing up for cold-weather construction.
Synopsis: A builder who works year-round in Alaska shares tips on how to stay warm while working in very cold weather. He details the gear that keeps frostbite away. He also has some advice about tools and equipment.
In Fairbanks, Alaska, where I build custom houses year around, the winters are long and frigid. Trees shed their leaves in mid-September and the snow starts to stick early in October. Temperatures can plunge below zero by Halloween and can linger around -30° F to -40° F anytime before mid-April.
There are plenty of good reasons to go into hibernation until the spring thaw, but there are compelling reasons to keep working. A steady income is one of them. If you’re an employer, you’ll also want to keep your crew busy year around or risk losing them to builders who will. You can also avoid running double shifts and paying overtime in the summer to finish up projects before cold weather arrives. Lastly, some projects are done more easily and efficiently in the winter, such as the transporting of materials to remote sites over frozen ground instead of mud.
If you’re planning to work in this kind of weather, though, you’ll need to winterize your tools and your body first.
Winterizing your power tools
My power tools usually ride to work on the floor of my truck while the heater blows on them. Once my worm-drive saw is warm, it will do fine as long as it’s being used. If I allow it to sit for an hour or two, though, it will need to be warmed up again. A dead-cold saw at -20° F can take at least a half hour to work properly, so plan ahead and try to do as much cutting at one time…