The days are growing shorter and there is already a chill in the air. As New Englanders, we know what this means, we are sliding down that slippery hill towards winter. While it would be nice to think we could stock our larders and close the doors to ride out the season, we know this is not realistic or fiscally responsible. The question for those of us in Commercial Real Estate becomes, start a project now or wait until the spring thaw has arrived?
Here are the six thoughts I consider when navigating winter construction decisions here in New England:
Start At The Bottom. What is your building structure? If you have a load bearing masonry building, be weary of high tenting and heating costs. If you have conventional steel with stud infill or a pre-engineered building, you can work through the winter without much interruption (unless we get over 100 inches again! Keep your finger’s crossed though as The Farmer’s Almanac says the northeast is in for a relatively mild winter!).
“Finish”-ing Touches. Costs to finish the interior or exterior of the building in the heart of the winter will kill you. Temporary heat and fuel costs add up dramatically, and hit you unsuspectedly over a short period of time. Single digits temperatures can exponentially increase costs to heat the building to complete finish construction. In January & February of 2014 it got so cold for a 3-4 week stretch that it cost New England Construction over $250,000 between two projects (Ouch!). The majority of those winter conditions costs were for fuel. You CAN time your construction through the winter to start your finishes in early spring, to greatly reduce the magnitude of any potential additional costs.
Utilities Included. Plan your project appropriately so that all the permanent utilities (gas, electrical) are available and functioning by the time the cold weather comes. You WILL save a ton of money if you can heat the building with your RTU’s for example. The monthly gas and electrical bill from your local utility will pale in comparison to temporarily heating.
Know Your Phases. Depending on the scope of your project, schedule a de-mobilization period during the cold months. For instance, engage the site contractor to clear and grub, get underground utilities and drainage work completed, get close to sub-grade, and even get some asphalt binder down by the end the year. (Asphalt plants usually close between Thanksgiving and Christmas). There won’t be any significant frost in most of New England (sorry Maine!) until late January or February. Remobilize once the winter breaks and get started on your building construction, well ahead of the game.
Discourage Downsizing To Save. Most site contractors downsize during the winter months in New England. If you have a large enough site project starting in late Fall, certain site contractors will be more aggressive with their pricing in order to keep their equipment and crews busy during this time. Go find them.
Don’t Cross The Bottom Line. You may decide the costs and risks are too much and to start the project in the spring. In this case, I would recommend hiring your General Contractor by late January. Your GC will negotiate and hire all the subcontractors, get the shop drawing process going, release all long lead time items (steel, hvac, elevators, etc…) and be prepared to hit the ground running as soon as the winter breaks.
It is important to remember that every project is unique and will possess its own timelines, priorities, goals and objectives, and complexities. Examining these varied aspects during your decision making process will provide the best perspective on when to start your project. With efficiency and overall cost in mind, the more prepared and detailed you are during the early stages of your project planning, the easier it will be for you to make the best decision possible for your business.
Skip the fine points or wait too long to get started, and you just might find yourself left out in the cold.