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Did the mild winter weather result in an extended construction season?

Angela Gismondi
Did the mild winter weather result in an extended construction season?
FILE PHOTO - Mild winter weather late last year and early this year has benefitted some contractors and projects, but others state the labour market and other issues supersede the warmer temperatures.

The cold weather and snow is now upon us, and while some construction projects were able to capitalize on this year’s mild winter temperatures, others says it didn’t make a difference, largely due to market conditions.

“In an area of the country that can be so negatively impacted, any extended period of reasonable temperatures is a bonus,” said Bill Black, president and COO of the Calgary Construction Association.

“We’ve gotten to the second week of January without temperatures which would require you to shut down a site. That’s six weeks or more of construction time that has allowed some folks to catch up where they may have been behind or even get a little bit of a head start on some other areas.”

It does depend on a number of factors including schedule, he pointed out.

“The reality is a lot of projects have suffered delays over the past few months, either from lack of labour availability at the right time or some supply chain issues,” he said. “Outside work, cladding and roofing benefits greatly from the warmer temperatures because it can carry on longer.”

Black said the main cost savings would be in heating.

“Buildings that are under construction have to be temporarily heated during the winter and heating bills are a lot more reasonable when you’re dealing with five degrees than -25,” he noted.

In addition, this year Calgary hasn’t had a lot of snow which means it hasn’t had to be removed from sites.

“The only thing that we’ve had to contend with is quite a bit of freeze-thaw,” said Black. “But overall, where labour is available, work has been proceeding a lot longer.”

Projects have many moving parts

The situation is a bit different in Eastern Canada.

John Mollenhauer, president and CEO of the Toronto Construction Association, said although having warmer weather longer than anticipated is always good, there are other factors to consider.

“When we have inclement weather or an early cold winter it slows things down and adds costs and so it’s a refreshing change for the industry to have a window of opportunity to move at full speed without being impacted by the cold and the snow,” he said.

“The problem isn’t that simple because there are a lot of moving parts. You can’t suddenly add five more skilled workers because you’ve got a warm week when you anticipated a cold week. We have a skilled labour shortage. Unless you have a little good luck and can get extra manpower or have the material and equipment you need to move things along, then it’s of no value.”

Major road projects in B.C. shut down until spring

Kelly Scott, president of the BC Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, said the milder weather doesn’t have much of an impact on B.C. road projects as many members who are working on major projects had already budgeted to shut down in late November and December.

“The unknown of the weather affects productivity and it was decided that most of those major projects…they shut them down and regroup and get ready to come back in the spring,” he said.

“The highway maintenance contractors who have to maintain all the roads, they’ve had a relatively good run November/December because they’re paid to maintain the roads. If they’re not putting down salt or brine or running plow trucks up and down the highways there is some savings to them.”

He explained the roadbuilding sector, which is considered horizontal construction, is not as impacted by the labour shortages.

“Our industry on the horizontal side is not seeing that labour shortage that has been seen in the vertical side,” said Scott. “Vertical has a lot more skilled trades people in it. We tend to have more of the heavy equipment operators.”

Part of that is because some of the major projects in B.C. such as Site C, pipeline work and the Kicking Horse are almost complete.

“As you peel the onion back you realize it’s all those major projects that are coming to an end,” said Scott. “There’s not another major project on the horizon yet.”

ICI contractors accustomed to working in cold weather

As president of the Ontario General Contractors Association Giovanni Cautillo said, depending on the project, the ICI sector is relatively unscathed from the weather in the winter months, cold or mild.

“A lot of time the contractors will construct the exterior so that it’s enclosed by a certain date, normally the fall, so that work can progress throughout the winter,” he noted. “Obviously if we’re pouring concrete on a highrise building you need certain temperatures…They (contractors) take advantage of mild weather to make sure that they can progress on obviously the exterior of a building, keeping all safety precautions in mind.”

The industry is used to handling the cold.

“If we get better weather and we know we’re going to have a stretch of it we’ll capitalize on it by ordering concrete and making things happen, maybe getting another floor or two ahead of schedule, that’s always helpful,” Cautillo said.

“We have ebbs and flows in construction. It could be good weather today but then you get a stretch in the spring where it rains for a month.”

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