Armchair Builder

Tips to Save on Cold Weather Construction

Freezing temperatures add another layer of complexity and cost to your building projects.  In our last article, Cold Weather Construction Considerations, we discussed how building a home in the winter can really affect your budget.  For those of you who’ve decided to proceed in the cold anyway, we’ve put together some pro builder tips to keep costs down while maintaining quality.

New Footing Protected by Blankets

Footing Protected by Blankets


One of the first steps to building a home is the excavation for the foundation.  In cold weather, we need to protect the ground from freezing.  Placing footings on frozen ground can create structural problems from frost heave.  One method used to prevent the ground from freezing is to cover it with insulation blankets (see photo).  Another option is to have the backhoe operator dig all but the last foot of earth out of the excavation until the day the footings are to be installed.  This additional layer of earth will keep the ground warm until you are ready to install the footing forms.

Another option to consider, if your foundation contractor charges too much for insulation blankets, is straw.  By placing a thick layer of straw over the ground where the footings are to be formed up, you will effectively trap the heat in from the newly excavated ground.  This same straw can be used to re-cover the footings after pouring the concrete.  This helps retain the heat from the chemical reaction in the concrete.  Just make sure the straw is removed prior to backfill operations as it will decompose, which can give off odors.

Natural Gas Vs. Propane

Insulation helps keep warm air from escaping.  But when there is no warmth to begin with, we need to add heat.  Temporary, portable heaters will help with this.  Which building activities will require temporary heat?

  • Prepping and pouring the garage and basement slabs (after enclosing the area with plastic sheeting to keep the heat in)
  • Masonry (i.e. stone, stucco, brick…etc.)
  • Drywall

Natural gas and propane are the typical fuel sources for temporary heaters on the job site.  Portable propane cylinders are sometimes used to fuel the portable heaters.  These portable tanks are not the best option because they are…

  • Hard to move
  • Dangerous – They need to be secured to prevent them from falling over and possibly turning into a missile.
  • Expensive – Not only are you paying for the gas, you’re also paying for the delivery and pickup of the containers.
  • Time Consuming – Hooking up and moving propane cylinders can take up considerable time.

An alternative to using portable propane cylinders is to have the final propane tank for the home installed early in your building schedule.  You will need to make certain it is out of the way of future building activities, but it can save you in the long run.

If your home will have natural gas, talk to your gas utility company to see how soon you can have the meter set.  Typically, the meter is secured to the home’s foundation so you should be able to set it just after backfill operations.  Then you can have your plumber set you up with a place to connect your portable heater.  Once this is done, you will have an endless supply of fuel for heating going forward.


Your new home’s ceilings will need to be insulated to allow the drywall mud to properly dry.  If you are using a blown in cellulose attic insulation, be sure to have you drywall contractor hang the ceilings first.  This will allow you to insulate the ceilings adjacent to the cold attic prior to the start of drywall taping.

Ceiling Drywall

Ceiling Drywall


Some builders use the furnace to heat the home during construction.  The biggest problem with this is the amount of dust that gets into the furnace.  Remember, if you have a forced air system, the cold air returns will bring dusty air back through the ductwork to the furnace.  Some of the dust will land in the ducts and some will make it back to the furnace…neither are good outcomes.

One way to minimize the construction dust that gets into the system is to keep the furnace turned off until drywall sanding is complete.  You should be able to operate with temporary heaters up to this point as long as you are careful.  Another option is to place filters over the cold air ducts and be sure to turn the furnace off when the drywall is sanded.

Take Advantage of Good Weather

It’s important to stay informed about the weather forecast when building a new home.  In most cases, there will be warm periods where you should be able to complete some of the exterior items.  Be sure to read all manufacturer specifications to see how temperatures will affect the products you’re using.  A few product items to consider…

  • Vinyl Siding – Installing in freezing temperatures can create more waste as the product becomes brittle.  By applying a housewrap or weatherization wrap at the frame stage, you may be able to wait for a few warm days to install the siding.
  • Paint – Ideally, exterior trim will be painted before installation.  Then you can use a warm day to putty the nail holes and caulk the joints.  If you do decide to paint outside, you may want to consider special paint that can withstand colder temperatures.  But you still will need to read the manufacturer details to ensure a quality, lasting product.
  • Masonry – Tents with temporary heat will need to be used in freezing temperatures.  If you can wait for a warm spell, it will save you some headaches and cost.
  • Driveway – This should never be installed in freezing temperatures.  Frozen ground will create frost heaving problems.  And if you are using asphalt, most of the plants will be shut down during cold weather.

Building your new dream home in cold temperatures will take longer and require extra money in your budget.  But if you follow some of the builder recommendations here, you should be able to keep your costs down.  If you haven’t already, stop by and signup for our Monthly Builder Secrets and tips for saving money by taking control of your building and remodeling projects.

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