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Break On Through To The Other Side (of Frost and Ice)

Posted by: Jason Mills on February 7, 2015

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By now you may be experiencing cabin fever from not being able to be outside as much managing and executing construction projects. Whether you are a landscaper, remodeler, arborist or general contractor, you are most likely inhibited to some degree on the types of projects you can take on right now. Those of you in the Snow Belt may have a few more weeks to wait due to Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow this year.

Nevertheless, there are some contractors out there who have found ways to get ahead of the curve and start outdoor projects sooner.

If your project is simply an outdoor project that doesn’t require breaking ground, you may actually notice a slight (very slight) advantage in that your trucks and equipment can actually have added traction on hard ground. Not referring to ground covered with a layer of ice, but rather, hard-frozen ground that does not easily turn into a muddy, sloppy mess, as may be the case in warmer months.

If your project does require breaking ground or digging, note that though the ground is frozen on the surface, it is often the case that only the top 10-18” are actually frozen solid. There are tactics that construction workers use to thaw this top layer of frozen ground, some of which date back to Native American traditions.

Build a Fire
If the area is not all that large, build a controlled bonfire directly on top of that area. This will accomplish a few items in tandem. It is the fastest way to thaw the ground as direct heat is applied to the area. This also allows you to dispose of some of the construction scrap and litter that has acquired during the project. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this provides some quality “team bonding” time that may result in some great strategic conversations.

Use a Heating Apparatus
Many crews have begun using heating blankets, such as the Powerblanket, to thaw ground. These are not your typical living room heating blanket, but rather a construction grade version of the ‘80s classic. They do take longer than a bonfire, but are much more controlled. They come in a variety of sizes and can thaw 18” of solid frozen ground in 24-48 hours.

Use Compact Equipment
Depending on how deep the ice runs, you may be able to muscle through the ice with the brute force of a mini excavator. Try hammering a stake or rod of rebar into the ground with a mini-sledge. When it breaks through the frost layer, you should notice the rod is going deeper with less brute force. If you can determine that the frost layer is less than 10” you should be able to break through.  In many cases and depending on the number of roots, breaking through in one area will allow you to use the mini excavator to peel off the frozen layer.

Whatever route you decide to take in thawing the frozen ground of your work site, make sure that worker safety is an area of focus. Though OSHA has no specific requirements for working in winter months, they encourage all workers to stay aware of common winter related risks and know how to prevent them. With the thawing of the ice, you and your workers may get wet during this process. Be aware of risks related to cold stress, trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. Have dry clothes on hand and make sure to take plenty of rest breaks.

Hopefully these strategies can help your business stay busy in these winter months or get a head start on springtime projects. 

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