Extreme cold Photo: Steven Fortier / Unsplash

Arctic air has hovered over Alberta for the last two weeks, resulting in extreme cold that has killed car batteries, strained the power grid and brought road clearing to a halt in some areas.

But work proceeds as usual on the province’s residential construction sites, despite daytime temperatures dipping below minus 30 degrees Celsius and the wind chill pushing them past the dreaded minus 40 mark.

While extreme cold can cause havoc on construction sites, impacting budgets, productivity and safety, Alberta builders have planned ahead to minimize delays and disruptions.

“We’ve taken all the necessary precautions to prevent any delays and ensure that everyone stays safe during the cold snap,” said Dale Rotte, co-owner of Effect Home Builders in Edmonton. “Heating stations are established to keep workers warm, and safety protocols are in place.”

According to the latest figures from Building Industry and Land Development Alberta (BILD Alberta), province-wide housing starts totalled 3,414 units in December 2021, up 17 per cent from the previous month and 54.2 per cent year-over-year.

Anticipating the extreme temperatures, construction projects are excavated and concrete foundations are poured well in advance of winter’s chill, limiting the impact on both daily operations and the final product.

“We had great weather through November and there wasn’t an early freeze-up,” Rotte said. “That can impact production, but we got lucky this year.”

Putting a priority on safety, workers are instructed to watch out for warning signs including numb fingers and toes, loss of coordination, and signs of frostbite. Footwear is kept warm and dry, and workers pair up to keep an eye on one another.

Greg Walsh, team leader at Qualico Homes in Fort McMurray, is no stranger to the cold, with temperatures dropping below minus 50 overnight. He notes there’s been a slight slowdown, with workers adding extra layers and regularly retreating to warming stations to prevent frostbite, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“The cold can slow things down a bit, but we’re used to it up here,” said Walsh. “The most important thing is just making sure that everyone is wearing enough layers and checking on each other regularly.”

Extreme cold causes construction sites to take longer to pack up overnight, covering temperature-sensitive materials and moving equipment inside to keep it operating regularly. However, Walsh notes it’s just part of the process during Alberta winters.

“Production schedules are put in place well in advance to avoid any delays due to the weather,” he said. “This is nothing new for this time of year.”

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