This has been the wost winter in NE Ohio in like 10 years. It’s been bitterly cold and we’ve had endless snow. Like most of my posts, this one is being published on a different day than I’m writing it. So let me fess up. I’m writing it on the first real spring-like day we’ve had. It’s March 7th today and we hit 50 degrees. The last snow pack has started to melt and I worked with the windows open today. We started construction last October and the bulk of the project has been at the mercy of Winter due to the fact that the furnace wasn’t getting installed till the end. I’m not sure how much help having a working furnace would have been as I would have needed to tape all the ductwork shut. Still, it probably would have been a much more comfortable experience not working in a sub-zero environment. I like the cold. I moved to the north from central Florida and I don’t miss the climate for one second. I like the change of seasons. I like the snow. And most of the time, I don’t mind working in the cold. This winter has worn me out. I don’t think going into it we had any idea how hard it was going to be dealing with the weather. By contrast, last year we had the most mild winter recorded in a decade. There were entire weeks of 50 degree weather and by late February it was all over. This year we had freezes so hard that they froze pipes in exterior walls. Plumbers in Cleveland literally had a 2 week waiting list to come fix your burst pipes. Our heating bills have been the highest we’ve seen since moving here.
I don’t think I realized until today how exhausted I am of the cold. For the first three months or so it was kind of like an adventure. When it was constantly single digits, I’d double up my socks and add long johns (which I kind of hate wearing) to my repertoire. I felt like a pioneer. Braving the bitter elements to build up the homestead. Now the cold makes me tired and achy. The idea of trudging through snow to get from the house to the garage makes me not want to get out of bed. I hope winter is over for the season. It’s almost mid-March and I deserve some nice days to work.
Here’s a list of ways in which the cold has impacted our project:
- Pipes, even the water main in the basement concrete freeze, so we have to be very careful what has water in it and what doesn’t. It was a hassle even getting the water company to turn water on in the first place.
- Water left on site froze over night. This meant drinking water or water used for the project such as to mix cement needed to transported to the site the day it was going to be used. For most of the season, I’ve had gallon jugs of water filling the trunk of my car.
- A lot of chemicals don’t work or work less well. Silicone can’t set below about 35 degrees, so no sealing or chalking. Flashing tape doesn’t stick at less than 20 degrees. Forget about using polyurethane in the cold. In order to install the foam insulation the guys had to run a giant propane heater in the bedroom blasting the roof deck to get it warm enough to install. Also no installing tile. And you need to get special kinds of cement and mortar that will set properly in the cold. Our chimney was tucked using a fast set, high strength mortar for this reason.
- On that note, you need to worry about water-based chemicals freezing before they cure. Jointing compound for drywall will ice over. Paint can turn out splotchy. Tubes of water-based sealants such as duct sealer left on site will freeze and then be useless.
- Similarly, things move slower. Emily’s Pex system involves stretching plastic tubes over each other and allowing them to contract to clamp down. Usually this should take a few seconds, but in the extreme cold, it would take up to a minute for it to fully contract. Hydrostatic cement, used to plug leaking foundational cracks, should set up in less than 5 minutes. In very cold temps this ends up taking hours.
- In really cold temperatures, you can’t work long without gloves. I have a well destroyed pair of winter gloves now that I’ve been working in for months. Some jobs are a lot harder to do with a gloved hand. Mostly nailing and driving screws, but also wiring.
- Just so you don’t think it’s all bad, crawling around the basement was probably better in winter. I would fire up some halogen work lights and in about 20 minutes, the crawl space would get pretty warm. Laying in the tight, warm space tooling around with pipes, wires, or whatever was pretty soothing.
- Likewise, it was a very good time to water seal the basement. The sealer took a lot longer to cure, but was able to be applied in freezing temperatures. With the ground frozen solid in all directions, there was nothing pushing on the sealer while it was setting up. As it warms up, and the foundation expands, the sealer will crack, but I’ll be able to go back and fill those with a second coat this summer.
- Hammering is great in the cold. Aerobic exercise warms you up and after ten minutes of building walls with hammer and nails, you don’t even remember it’s cold outside. The added benefit is you throw out a lot of heat. If the room is closed up, you’ll notice it’s warmer than the other rooms or outside after a few hours of work.
- I’ve come to learn about micro-climates in the greater Cleveland area due to the lake effect. Our current place is probably 8 or 9 miles from the lake as the crow flies and on an elevation. Cleveland sits in a basin surrounded by bluffs. While it’s not as noticeable now that everything has been urbanized and suburbanised, there some pretty steep hills between me and downtown. It’s why many of the suburbs are called “_______ Heights”. Here in Cleveland Heights, we would get 6 or 8 inches of snow overnight while at the project house, which is maybe a mile from the lake, if that, it would barely get a dusting. Conversely, the wind is worse and bitterly cold at the project house.
- Machines are cranky in the cold. A lot of my tools ran harder and sounded differently in the extreme cold. The spring loaded hand guard on my chop saw stopped working altogether. It now just goes where ever you move it to.
- For he first time ever, I wore a tight knit hat. I spent most of the winter working in a hat rather than my preferred tied bandana. It kept the tips of my ears warm and I like the way it hugs my head.
- Another good thing about the cold, you can sweep up snow and ice when it can’t melt. I was way less worried about damaging untreated subflooring and underlayment given the ability to just sweep the snow up.
- Lastly, forced snow days. There were days this winter when it was impossible to leave the house or it was so cold that it would be dangerous or useless to go try and work. There were more days like this than I would have liked, that’s for sure. And the weather has set us back more than I would prefer. Still, there is something comforting about a day when you know there’s nothing you can do other than settle in with a cup of cocoa and play video games for six hours.