How one construction firm survived the Polar Vortex

Propane temporary construction heat kept this high school renovation project on schedule despite extreme temperatures.

By Jeffrey Lee
Staff Writer

The winter of 2014 threw many businesses for a loop. The season introduced most of the United States to the Polar Vortex, shut down business and government offices, and kept many people indoors for days or even weeks at a time.

But at its Quakertown High School renovation project in Pennsylvania, Skepton Construction was unfazed by the bitter cold. The company kept the project on schedule with the help of propane-fueled temporary construction heaters that maintained the conditions needed to continue work even as outdoor temperatures swung from one extreme to another.

"The temperatures have been crazy," explains Bob Perose, vice president of construction for Pennsburg, Penn.–based Skepton, who is overseeing the Quakertown project. "You've had weeks where you're at zero [degrees] or below zero. We've had a lot of snow this year. It's certainly not a warm winter."

At those frosty temperatures, regular construction tasks can grind to a halt without a supplementary heat source. In the first phase of a four-year project, Skepton is renovating Quakertown High School's existing auditorium, putting in band room and administrative office additions, and in-filling a courtyard with a new media center and classrooms.

In a four-year project with Quakertown High School, Skepton Construction will renovate the entire school as well as add new rooms and offices.
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The project will add capacity for more students, modernize the school and bring it up to code, and improve energy efficiency.
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Propane-fueled temporary construction heat allows contractor Skepton Construction to keep the four-year project on schedule.
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"We need heat at certain stages of the project to complete the finishes," Perose says. "Right now we're putting in drywall and we're taping and spackling, and you need a certain temperature requirement in the building so the spackle will cure. You have to maintain a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees in the building. The only way we can do that is if we supply temporary heat. If we don't do that, we couldn't spackle or get to the next stage to finish that phase."

Skepton owns both electric and gas-fueled temporary construction heaters, but selected propane because it's the most efficient fuel to use on this project, Perose says. Propane retailers also can provide project-specific service to ensure propane is placed on the jobsite exactly when and where it is needed. For this project, Liberty Propane provides several temporary propane tanks that can be staged around the school as needed. The tanks fuel Skepton's 1-million-Btu forced-air heaters, which supply clean, heated outdoor air to the interior construction zones.

Electric heaters, which achieve top outputs equivalent to about 250,000 Btu, would have overwhelmed the construction site's temporary electric service.

"It would be too much electric draw on the area," Perose says. "We wouldn't be able to run all of the other construction equipment that we would need."

While the school is connected to the natural gas main, it wasn't practical to pipe the gas to temporary construction heaters located around the sprawling project. "This building overall is close to 300,000 square feet," Perose says. "You have the [natural gas] main coming in at one location and there's just no way. You'd have to do a lot of piping and maybe put more meters in, and it just wouldn't be feasible to do that."

"In any project where you have guys working in 50-degree temps instead of 0-degree temps, you get better productivity from the men."

In addition to keeping the project on schedule, temporary construction heat is also important to keep both construction workers and students happy. School will remain in session throughout the four-year project, meaning renovation work will take place adjacent to occupied areas in the school. "If we didn't maintain the temporary heat in those areas, the school would feel that [cold air]," Perose says.

And the temporary heat creates a better working environment for construction employees as well. "In any project where you have guys working in 50-degree temps instead of 0-degree temps, you get better productivity from the men," Perose says.

Whether or not your firm owns temporary construction heaters, your project manager can work with a local temporary construction heat provider and propane retailer to come up with a plan for your construction site.

To learn more about temporary construction heat, check out "Temporary Heat: A Simple Solution for Winter Weather Delays."

How one construction firm survived the Polar Vortex
A modern heating upgrade for a historic academy


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