We don’t need to tell you that this winter has been the most frigid winter Chicagoland has experienced in more than 10 years. We’ve lived through the most days of below-freezing temperatures of any winter (the previous record-holding season for most below-freezing days, in case you were wondering, was 1884/1885, which had 25 subzero days and none right at zero, according to the Weather Channel).
When the winters get this cold, how does it affect new construction? Jeff Meyer, production manager for William Ryan Homes, and Debbie Beaver, vice president of the company, shared with Chicago Agent the new construction rules when it comes to the weather.
• Let’s start with all the equipment needed to build a home. That equipment shouldn’t run if temperatures dip below 20 degrees; not only is that bad for the equipment, Meyer says, but the ground can freeze, and it becomes difficult to form the home’s foundation.
• In almost every municipality, it needs to be 28 degrees and rising to pour concrete. Meyer specifies “and rising,” because the high for the day can’t occur at 10 a.m. – the temperature needs to keep rising through the afternoon. “It takes four days’ time to pour concrete and protect the ground after digging, which has been nearly impossible this winter,” Meyer says. “We haven’t had four consecutive days since Jan. 1 with 28 degrees and rising temperatures. You don’t want to risk opening foundations if the ground will freeze. The timing hasn’t worked in our favor this year, and there have been too many gap days before we’ve been able to hit the right temperature.”
• There are several inspections that new homes need to pass before the buyers can even have their own inspection, but those earlier inspections have a temperature requirement, too. In order to pass the plumbing inspection, for example, pipes need to be pressurized, and that can’t be done if it’s 10 degrees or below – the water will freeze. There needs to be heat in the house; if temperatures are too low, contractors will need to insulate the home to keep heat in the house, then install the drywall and walls to complete the inspections and tests, which brings venders in twice; normally, the builder would only bring them in once, but if the temperatures are too low for too many consecutive days, home can’t be heated and the drywall can’t be installed, and everything is delayed.
• While some winters don’t have much snow, this winter, snow was a common occurrence. When it snows, it affects more than just not being able to set up scaffolding and safety equipment; brick and mortar can’t be laid down. The ground could freeze and risk the home’s foundation, and vendors probably won’t even send contractors to work on the home, depending on how many inches of snow are on the roads. “A lot of these guys travel 45 minutes to an hour to a job site, which is a very long commute,” Meyer says. “In construction, it’s either a work day or not – you can’t just start late. So if it snows, sometimes that means it’s not a work day.” The one positive side of snow that starts on a Friday or Saturday? Hopefully, it will melt by Monday, when the contractors go back to work.
• Winter weather also delays utility companies, like ComEd and Nicor Gas; they can be limited in what they can do. “We had a house ready to close back in October; all it needed was utilities, and otherwise, it was 100 percent ready,” Beaver says. “The buyers ended up waiting for ComEd for four months before they could move in.” Utility companies have a hard time digging to find gas lines even when there’s a little frost on the ground, and again, heavy equipment doesn’t work very well when the temperatures dip too low.