The leaves are changing and even falling. The air is crisp and the last remnants of summer are basically gone. For many of us in Commercial Real Estate in New England, we are poised with a simple question with not such a simple answer: Build now, or wait to the spring? Why does this happen every year? Every owner’s favorite phrase, WINTER CONDITIONS, explains a lot of the debate.
The premium to build through the winter can cripple the economics of a project. That being said, all projects are different. By carefully dissecting your project, analyzing the schedule, and understanding the timing of all aspects of the construction, you can quantify the potential cost risks and make sound business decisions for your project. Here are a few thoughts I consider when navigating a project in the winter here in New England:
- 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! The Farmer’s Almanac says we’re in for snow…).
- Finishes, Finishes, Finishes. 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.
- Permanent Utilities. 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.
- Phase your project? 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.
- Your contractors. 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.
- 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.
Every project is unique and presents its own timelines, priorities, goals and objectives, and complexities. These factors all contribute to your decision making process on when to start your project. Being proactive with detailed project planning early on will help you evaluate all potential options, their cost impacts, and make the best decision possible.
Or you can take the casino approach, roll the dice, and hope for another 65 degree day on December 25th like last year!
Stay Warm, my friends!