Chilly Temperature's Impact the Worker's, Their Equipment and the Building Materials
Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 — I was walking by the construction of the new "El Paso Chihuahuas" baseball stadium and I started to think how this cold front today affects their building efforts. Hopefully, by April the cold air will be just a memory and we will hear the umpire exclaim, “Play Ball!” In today’s “Weather Talk” I will talk about how cold weather impacts the worker’s, the equipment and the building materials.
When the temperatures are cold, the worker’s must wear layers of bulky clothing. Bulky clothing restricts their movement and increases the risks of accidents. Also, the body’s muscles and joints are less flexible in the cold and are more susceptible to injury. Some cold morning’s dew or frost can form on smooth surfaces such as smooth concrete, structural steel, metal or single ply roofs, which can lead to slips and falls. I would imagine this danger is doubled when there is ice and snow! Even during the winter months workers must drink extra water. This water has a tendency to freeze when the temperatures are extra chilly. Worker’s who are exposed for long periods of time to the cold, have the risk of frost bite or even worse, hypothermia. Hypothermia is when you body cannot replace the heat it has lost and the body’s core temperature falls causing continuous shivering and mental confusion. The person needs immediate medical care, not fun.
Cold temperatures affect building materials such as concrete and paint. When the temperature is cold the carriers in paint, water in the water based and solvents in the solvent based to freeze or thicken. This really slows down the time the paint takes to dry. When the temperature falls close to or matches the dew point temperature, Read my “Weather Talk”; “Our Friend the Dew Point” http://www.ktsm.com/weather/weather-talk/our-friend-”dew-point”  , condensation forms on surfaces. The “dew point” temperature is the temperature in which the air is saturated or 100% relative humidity and the extra water vapor condense into a liquid. If this liquid freezes we call it frost. Dew or frost leads to premature paint failure.
The colder temperatures do affect concrete and masonry. Cold weather can cause ice crystals to form and retain moisture. Cool temperatures can also slow the curing, which may affect concrete strength, promote spalling (breaks, chips or crumbling), and can ruin the finish.
In my reading I found out that foundations have to be set below the frost line, to prevent heaving or structural movement. If the foundation is placed above the frost line, the freezing/thawing cycles can cause excessive structural movement. When are work site freezes water is retained in the earth which keeps the work site muddy longer. Mud has many different challenges, such as equipment or trucks getting stuck in it.
Equipment just like the worker’s is slowed down by the cold. Water cooled engines must be winterized and protected from the cold temperatures. Equipment can act sluggish, especially when temperatures are down around or below freezing. Lubricants become less effective in the cold and operating equipment with inadequate lubrication can cause accelerated wear of parts. Construction worker’s have to be patient in allowing sufficient enough time for equipment and engines to warm up in the cold.
Weather presents so many challenges to the construction worker’s, the contractors the engineers. In future “Weather Talk” articles I will tell you how heat, dust and thunderstorms impact a work site. Cold weather definitely presents enough challenges when it comes to the equipment, the building materials and the worker’s themselves. I have a whole new respect for the worker’s and the construction business. The worker’s are working around the clock to finish the “El Paso Chihuahuas” stadium by opening day for the Chihuahuas which is scheduled for April 11, 2014. That is just 78 days away! Let’s hope there are not too many more cold fronts and hope for not too many high wind or dust storm days to slow them down.