Ask the Builder: Building a home in the rainy season or winter

I want to start construction on a home, but just about everyone wants me to wait for months because bad weather is just around the corner. Can you build a home in the rainy season or in the middle of winter without causing problems to the structure? Does rainwater hurt all the lumber as a house is being built? — Jason S., Cut Bank, Mont.

You ask good questions. You’re going to love the answers, too. The bottom line is that you can build a home in almost any weather. The only thing that can really inhibit you is frozen ground — but even with that, if there is a will, there’s a way.

I remember reading an article on the subject in a building magazine years ago. There was a photograph of a large home being built in the middle of winter, inside an enormous circuslike tent. It was ingenious. According to the photo caption, even on cold days the temperature inside the tent was normally over 50 degrees because of the solar heat gain.

The key to building a home in bad weather is getting the foundation installed and the house up out of the ground before the onset of extended rainy or bitter cold weather. You can pour concrete in cold weather and bitter cold, but it takes an experienced crew with the proper equipment to protect the concrete so it can cure enough to resist freeze damage.

If the ground is frozen, it is possible thaw the soil using a portable ground heater, although it’s expensive. This portable heater is usually in a trailer and circulates a hot solution of glycol in heavy rubber tubing that lays on the ground. It’s important to cover the tubing and soil with insulated blankets that hold the heat in the soil.

You can connect this same heater to radiant floor heating tubing so that you can pour a concrete slab in cold weather. The concrete thinks it’s a late spring day as the warm fluid courses through the tubing, causing the concrete to harden even as it’s snowing!

There are modern building methods that allow you to build a home indoors in a factory. You might be able to build a modular home in your area and have the sections trucked to the job site and lifted onto the foundation in just a day or two.

If you can’t do that, you can at least compress the construction time significantly by using walls that are prefabricated in a factory and trucked to the site. This can save weeks of time. Stick-building walls at the site in bad weather is slow, dangerous and hard on the carpenters. Prefabricated walls are set with a small crane, and a seasoned crew can have a normal house under roof in a week or less.

If you want to roof a house in bad weather, it’s a good idea to cover the roof sheathing with tarps to prevent snow and ice from holding up progress. Once the storm passes, you can remove the tarps and the roofers can get to work on a nice dry surface.

If you use the latest building materials, the roof sheathing will not be harmed by rain, as some new sheathing has a waterproof coating. The seams between the pieces of coated oriented strand board (OSB) are sealed with a special tape that keeps out just about all water from the wood substrate.

Normal rainwater will not harm the wood that is used to build homes. Many homeowners fear that wood will immediately rot if allowed to get wet. That’s simply not the case. The only thing that doesn’t fare well if it gets wet is low-grade OSB. This flooring and wall sheathing material is still available, and if it gets wet, it can swell and not shrink back to its original size.

There are new OSB floor sheathing materials specially made to resist standing water. They will not swell. You can also get OSB wall sheathing that is just like the roof sheathing. It has a special waterproof coating on the exterior side that repels water.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted at www.askthebuilder.com.

 
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