A Winter Building Envelope Solutions: Modernizing Spray Foam Application with an Assembly System That Challenges Extreme Weather Conditions

Snow Covered Home Construction Lumber

Written by Maxime Duzyk, Director of Building Science and Engineering with Huntsman Building Solutions

Building in the Canadian winter presents an array of challenges, some of which can significantly impact project timelines, costs, and overall feasibility for builders. These challenges are multi-faceted, encompassing both environmental and operational factors. In fact, the impact of Canada’s winter on the construction industry is not merely anecdotal; it is quantifiable in terms of delays, increased costs, and other challenges that builders and contractors face.

The implications of such factors, means that builders and contractors need to better prepare for and manage their construction projects in Canada’s harshest season. Perhaps the most obvious issue is the extreme cold that typifies Canadian winters. Such low temperatures can impede not only human performance but also the efficiency and reliability of machinery and materials. For instance, concrete and mortar may not set correctly at low temperatures, while metallic components can become brittle and prone to failure. An analysis by the Canadian Construction Association suggests that adverse weather conditions are among the top reasons for project delays. Winter weather can set back project timelines by several weeks, or even months, depending on the severity of conditions.

Project Lokia – Installation of studs, Z-bars, exterior sheeting directly on the outside of the studs before application of spray foam. Photo courtesy of Huntsman Building Solutions

Economic impact

While exact statistics can vary by region, type of construction, and other factors, a general overview can provide valuable insights into the repercussions of winter building. Consider the economic impact of building in the winter. According to various industry reports, cost overruns can range from 10 to 20 per cent for projects undertaken during winter. This considers additional expenditures for specialized materials, equipment, heating solutions, and labor overtime costs.

Some studies have indicated that worker productivity can drop by as much as 50 per cent during extremely cold weather conditions. This drop can result from more frequent breaks, slower work rates, and the additional time needed for tasks like clearing snow or setting up heating elements. Also, daylight hours are reduced by up to 50 per cent during the winter months, the window of productive time shrinks significantly. This could mean either a prolonged construction period or increased costs for artificial lighting and potential shift work.

Safety concerns

According to data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, the frequency of workplace injuries tends to rise during the winter months. Slip-and-fall accidents, frostbite, and hypothermia are among the prevalent incidents. Owing to the heightened risk of accidents and material failures, insurance premiums can escalate during winter, adding yet another cost layer to construction projects.

Material wastage

The rate of material wastage can be considerably higher during winter, mainly due to the suboptimal conditions for storing and applying construction materials. Quality is also compromised as cold weather can adversely affect the curing process of concrete, the efficacy of adhesives, and the durability of various other materials. Compromises in material quality can result in long-term structural issues, thereby affecting the building’s lifespan and potentially increasing maintenance costs. 

Project Viridi – Spray Foam product applied completely from the interior: valuable time saving, no delay due to weather conditions. Photo courtesy of Huntsman Building Solutions

Response planning and adaption for continuity

In response to these winter climate challenges the construction industry is collaborating more with manufacturers and engineering consultants to develop material innovations and assembly methods specifically designed for cold weather applications. These innovations and assembly methods can go a long way in mitigating some of the environmental and operational challenges cited.

The D-Max wall assembly allows:

  • Time and cost savings: Spray foam application is possible regardless of temperature (can be applied as cold as -20C) or wind conditions, reducing the need for scaffolding or hydraulic elevators and minimizing machinery requirements.
  • Flexibility and speed: The assembly allows for insulation during the construction of walls, eliminating the need for exterior compartmentalization. It offers a rapid installation process, requiring fewer workers and reducing construction costs.
  • An effective thermal resistance and airtightness with thin walls. It serves as insulation, air barrier, and vapor barrier in a single application, streamlining the construction process.
  • No scaffolding or hydraulic elevators. Less machinery, therefore reduced rental costs, logistics and risk of accidents. 
  • Insulation of the building possible as the walls are built. 
  • Exterior compartmentalization avoided (Article 3.1.11.2. of NBC or CCQ). 
  • Maximum speed of installation, requiring fewer workers and reducing construction costs. 
  • Interior furring is optional compared to conventional construction, electrical systems can be installed before or after insulation. No holes in the vapour barrier.
  • Allows a high-performance assembly for effective thermal resistance and airtightness system with very thin walls. 

For these various reasons, construction is very fast, respects deadlines, and is safer, which considerably reduces construction costs and accelerates building delivery. 

The D-Max wall assembly concept entails a spray foam application that is installed completely from the interior and cuts the thermal bridge of the studs by filling the gap between the exterior sheathing panel (exterior gypsum) and the studs. This gap is variable depending on the insulation values to be achieved and is created with a Z-bar. Z-bars are installed directly on the exterior face of the studs before the sheathing is installed. The spacing and size of the Z-bars vary depending on the type of building and cladding. 

Despite the challenges, the industry is showing resilience and adaptability, using technology, innovation, collaboration, and stringent planning to mitigate the adverse effects of winter on building projects. This approach to devising effective strategies is ensuring that projects meet their objectives in terms of quality, budget, and timeframe. The D-Max wall assembly, as an example of such strategies, demonstrates the industry’s commitment to overcoming winter-related obstacles in construction.

A Winter Building Envelope Solutions: Modernizing Spray Foam Application with an Assembly System That Challenges Extreme Weather Conditions

About this Author

Maxime Duzyk is the global director of building science and engineering with Huntsman Building Solutions. He holds a background in architecture and has been in the spray foam insulation business for the last 13 years. Maxime is involved with different building envelope committees and associations in North America like CSC, SFC, SPFA, CCMC and ULC Standards.

A Winter Building Envelope Solutions: Modernizing Spray Foam Application with an Assembly System That Challenges Extreme Weather Conditions

About Huntsman

Huntsman Corporation is a publicly traded global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated and specialty chemicals with 2020 revenues of approximately $6 billion. Our chemical products number in the thousands and are sold worldwide to manufacturers serving a broad and diverse range of consumer and industrial end markets. We operate more than 70 manufacturing, R&D and operations facilities in approximately 30 countries and employ approximately 9,000 associates within our four distinct business divisions. For more information about Huntsman, please visit the company’s website at www.huntsman.com.

About Huntsman Building Solutions

The Huntsman Building Solutions business is a global leader in high-performance, sustainable building envelope solutions. Its systems and solutions are widely utilized to optimize commercial and residential structures worldwide in both new construction and retrofit applications. Formed in 2020 with the acquisition of Icynene-Lapolla and its combination with Demilec, the Huntsman Building Solutions business capitalizes on legacy industry technologies, environmental stewardship, and the power of the Huntsman brand. For more information, visit huntsmanbuildingsolutions.com.