Sol Harris Day Architecture

Bitter Cold... How Will Your Building React?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
By Matt Sutter, Chief Executive Officer
In Design, Planning

Bitter Cold... How Will Your Building React?

Bitter Cold. Every winter we seem to be faced with the ever increasing media circus that exists around a cold spell. Artic Blast, Deadly Wind Chill, Bombogenesis, Bomb Cyclone and my personal favorite "Polar Vortex" are all catchy words that the media uses to draw attention to and make news out of cold weather events. Are you prepared? Have you gone to the grocery store to buy the last of their eggs, milk and bread? Even the Superbowl preparations are likely to be affected by this latest "Artic Blast" as Atlanta Georgia is expecting ice and snow during the week leading up to the big game.

Very few substances besides water expand when they turn from a liquid to a solid. There are a few: Silicon, gallium, germanium, antimony, bismuth, and everyone's favorite radioactive material, plutonium, all behave in a similar fashion to water when "Deadly Wind Chills" appear. The fact that water expands when it freezes creates all sorts of issues with buildings when the "Polar Vortex" affects our weather.

Some things to know and anticipate about your building during cold weather:

  • Exterior faucets - Make sure that they are turned off. If you have a valve inside the building or your home that feeds the faucet, turn it off and open the faucet. This will keep the water inside the building and will keep it from freezing. The best option is to have a frost proof faucet installed. When you turn the faucet handle it turns the water off about 12" inside the building. This keeps the water from expanding and breaking the faucet.
  • Salt on concrete - Salt consists primarily of Sodium Chloride. Chlorides and concrete do not get along. Chlorides deteriorate concrete, especially within the first year of the concrete being installed. Pitting of the concrete, known as spalling can result from using salt on the concrete. One way to alleviate this is to seal the concrete prior to using salt. Use a penetrating, breathable sealer to seal the surface of the concrete. In the Northwest in the Calgary area, salt is not used on the roads for environmental reasons. Sand and silt are used to provide grip on the roads. According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chlorides are contaminating the freshwater rivers and causing issues for the local ecosystems. Using liquid Salt Brines instead of Rock Salt can help to reduce the amount of runoff that finds its way to the streams and rivers.
  • Heated Sidewalks - We have installed heated sidewalks in many recent projects. The area around main entry doors is often heated from tubes that are installed below concrete. This eliminates the need to salt the concrete. This reduces the contamination from salt and also protects the flooring in the building. Salt is a very abrasive substance and will cause accelerated carpet wearing.
  • Walk off Carpet - Entries to the building should have walk off carpet for approximately 20 feet inside the door. This scrubs abrasive materials off of peoples shoes and also helps to limit water that is tracked into the building. Unlike normal carpet, Walk off Carpet is designed to take this abusive wear and can easily be cleaned with an extractor.
  • Humidity - Inside buildings in the winter time, humidity should be monitored and kept at approximately 40%. If the humidity rises above 50% condensation can occur on windows. If it goes below 35%, people start to experience discomfort from the dry air.
  • Exterior Concrete Walkways - Frozen ground underneath concrete walkways can lift walkways as much as one inch. This can lead to problems with tripping and falling incidents. In certain cases it can also make it impossible to open a door. We usually install footers or insulation under walkways immediately outside of doors to keep the walkway from heaving.
  • Gutters - If your gutters and downspouts are not cleaned, water can build up leading to ice. This can then back up and work its way underneath shingles and eventually come into the building. Ice guard waterproofing should be installed during construction to minimize the risk of ice dams causing water infiltration. Proper attic ventilation also helps to keep warm air from being trapped in the attic and causing snow to melt, run down the roof and then refreeze when it hits the gutter.
  • Doors and Windows - This is the area of a building or home where the most air leakage occurs. During cold months you can feel the air coming into the building around the doors and windows. Check your weather stripping. This flexible piece is supposed to seal the gap between doors / windows and the frame in which they sit. If the weather stripping has become hard, worn or damaged, it can let cold air flow into the space. Replace this. It will pay for itself in a couple of months time.

I hope these "Deadly Wind Chill" thoughts have enlightened you with how your building or home deals with the cold. If you have specific questions or comments send me a note. Otherwise, get out there and buy all of the milk and bread that you can. Stay warm!

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