Where weather gets cold -- really cold -- contractors have ways to get a siding job up. John Ellison, owner of ABC Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska, says the first order of business is to "keep your crew from getting frostbite." His crews favor quilted pants and coats from Carhartt, warming pads called Hot Hands placed in pockets, gloves, or between layers of clothing, and bunny boots. (Bunny boots are footwear created for the U.S. military specifically for conditions of extreme cold -- available in military surplus stores and easily found online.)
Ellison, whose crews work outside every day until about Thanksgiving, says some contractors will work outdoors year-round. But when temperatures drop and winds kick up, his crews "only get a few days of work in per week. Then they have to do something else."
Down south, in Anchorage, if the temperature drops to 5 or 6 degrees below zero, or if wind chills put a sharper bite in the air, Clai Porter, owner of NCP Construction, pulls crews off siding jobs and sends them on to other work. Precipitation fouls things up, too. "Sometimes it's snowing so hard you can't see, and obviously you have to stop," he says.
In addition to cold, contractors in Northern latitudes have darkness to contend with during winter months. A January day in Anchorage, for instance, includes about five and a half hours of sunlight. In Fairbanks, Ellison -- who installs mostly seamless steel siding -- has come up with a way to extend the length of time crews can work. An electrician friend of his removes the engines from old lawn mowers and mounts in their place 400 watt halogen lamps. "We plug it in and point it at the building," he says.
Porter says cold weather makes two issues important in the actual installation: The first is expansion and contraction; the second, how equipment operates. Siding installed in extremely cold weather will expand slightly when temperatures rise, a fact cold climate contractors make allowances for in their corner and window detailing. "Instead of butting my siding to my corner board trim, I raise it so my siding can go behind the corner board, so I don't have a caulk joint and an expansion/contraction issue that I can't cover," Porter says.
He also advises that hoses for pneumatic nailers be drained or kept warm at night "so there is no condensation build-up in the lines." Cold weather also calls for additional lubrication of pneumatic chambers.
Safety and service
Dale Brenke, owner of Schmidt Siding and Windows in Mankato, Minn., places heated trailers on the site of winter siding jobs, so crews can come in and warm up. Brenke says that in southern Minnesota, where winter temperatures often drop below zero, his crews normally keep on working, unless "you hit a three or four day spell of 10 below, with the wind, and you can't work."
Other than that, he says, it's a matter of "can do vs. will do." Ice and snow, however, raise safety concerns. Brenke says his biggest fear is that crew members will slip and fall on ice while carrying tools or sheets of freshly cut metal. Crews cover ice patches with Grid, a sand material, and are instructed to be extra careful with ladder placement and stabilization. "It's mostly awareness," Brenke says.
Because materials -- like a piece of metal -- can sometimes fall and disappear into the snow, Schmidt Siding and Windows waits until spring to dispatch a service crew to do raking and maintenance of jobs installed during the coldest weather.