Q&A / 

Working in the Weather

DEAR TIM: I'm thinking of starting my own remodeling business since I've been laid off work. The weather in my area is four season and I wonder how you can continue to work outdoors in cold, rainy and snowy conditions. I don't want to loose income if the weather is bad. I'm sure I can't always have inside work to do when the weather is not too great. How can you work in and around Mother Nature's fickle moods? Scott J., Littleton, MA

DEAR SCOTT: Congratulations on your new venture! I've been self-employed for over thirty-seven years and love the freedom and challenges. My biggest piece of advice to you is to maintain a great attitude and strive to do excellent work. If you produce fantastic quality, show up on time, return phone calls and treat your customers with respect, you'll soon be flooded with work.

I can tell you that working in the weather hasn't changed much in the decades I've been in the business. What has changed dramatically are clothing and footwear choices that absolutely will allow you to work comfortably outdoors all day long.

Not only can you dress well to shrug off what Mother Nature sends your way, but you can also build quick and easy shelters that allow you to do lots of work that otherwise might have to wait until warmer dry weather. Waiting like that can hurt your bottom line since all you really have to sell is your time. You can't afford to be idle not making money because it might be raining or snowing.

Let's talk about clothes first. There are many synthetic fabrics that are perfect for working outdoors. You can get a wide variety of these t-shirts, long-sleeved t-shirts, fleeces, etc. at stores that cater to hikers and campers. The textile technology dealing with preventing hypothermia has advanced miles in the past few decades. Never wear cotton on cold rainy or snowy days.

Perhaps my favorite newer clothing item is the heated jacket. Imagine wearing a jacket that's powered by a small 12-volt lithium-ion battery. These jackets are rugged and made with outer shells that can take the demanding construction environment. There are three heat settings so you can regulate the temperature depending on the outdoor temperature and your level of exertion.

It's really important that your feet stay dry all day, so invest in boots that are absolutely waterproof, but are made with the special fabric that breathes. You'll want a pair of rubber boots too for those really wet days and muddy job sites.

Wool socks are excellent because wool is a natural fiber that has the ability to insulate even when wet. Always have extra dry socks with you on the jobsite in case your feet do get wet. If you get chilled, your dexterity drops and you start to concentrate on staying warm. If you get distracted by the cold, or lose feeling in your hands and feet, that's the recipe for accidents and injuries.

Even though you may be wearing great clothes to keep you warm and dry, it's best, when you can, to keep water off of you as you work. In certain situations you can do this by building small temporary structures that allow you to work in a dry cocoon.

Just recently, I had to install a new front door at my home in the middle of winter. I was able to erect, in less than an hour, a temporary wall that sported a lean-to roof. All I had to do was attach a piece of heavy plastic to the wall to stop cold wind and any water from bothering me while I removed the old door and prepped the opening to install the new door.

Here’s a simple enclosure that permits you to install a new front door comfortably with temperatures well below freezing. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Here’s a simple enclosure that permits you to install a new front door comfortably with temperatures well below freezing. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

A few years back, a professional painter I hired for a job had a tight deadline and needed to paint window trim on a rainy day. He was well prepared and created a simple lean-to structure using fiberglass tarps attached to 2x4s that were propped up under the house overhang. He was able to build this in less than 15 minutes!

When dealing with temporary structures outdoors, don't underestimate the wind. A gust of wind can blow over your structure causing major disruptions. If you have to leave the structure up overnight when you're gone, you could have a major problem if your structure blows down. You don't want an angry customer's house exposed to the weather.

You also have to be very careful if you are trying to heat areas with portable heaters that are operating around or in these temporary structures. Not only are there significant fire dangers should your temporary structure catch fire, but you can have a problem with toxic fumes created by heaters that burn fuel.

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2 Responses to Working in the Weather

  1. Tim,
    I have a question that I can't find an answer for. We have an old house that I want to drop the ceilings down and add extra insulation in that space. I do not have access to that part of the attic. So do I install insulation with a vapor barrier on it or not ? If I have a vapor barrier in the old attic will this create problems ?

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