In the Chicago area, where Trim-Tex calls home, there’s an old saying that there are just two seasons: winter, and construction. But, of course, no matter how bad the weather gets, construction never really quite stops; with the cold air comes a new set of challenges for people in the trades to face down. Here are some tips for finishers in freezing weather who want stay in the game during the winter months — and how to know when you’ve just got to call it quits until conditions change.
Crank Up the Heat
No matter how many layers you personally wear, your drywall joint compound is still going to be deeply affected by temperature and humidity. If you’re on a jobsite without proper heating, it could wreak havoc on your productivity.
The big number to remember here is 55 degrees Fahrenheit. As in, make sure the area you’re working in is heated to a minimum of 55 degrees — with no temperature fluctuations greater than 15 degrees — throughout the entire drywalling process, from hanging to taping to finishing.
Also, don’t let the general contractor or building owner switch off the heat when you leave for the day. It’s critical that the mud dries at this temperature as well, and if it freezes, it will lose its bond strength and will all need to be replaced. Extremely cold weather can also cause a structure’s studs to contract, so hanging drywall without the proper temperature control could cause issues like cracking and nail pops down the road. If the space needs ventilation to dry, crack a window or two, as long as it doesn’t make the temperature dip below that magic 55-degree number.
If those in charge can’t provide this kind of heating in freezing temperatures, then they should expect delays, callbacks and substandard work — not to mention a grouchy workforce.
Never Let Your Mud Freeze
We’ve covered making sure your mud isn’t dipping into dangerous temperatures when you’re actually on the job, but if you’re in the dead of winter, it’s important that you don’t just leave your material in the truck overnight either. That would be a terrific way to waste a ton of time and money.
If worse comes to worst and your ready-mixed bucket of mud does freeze, you’ll need to thaw it out, slowly but surely, at room temperature — don’t force it. When the compound comes back up to room temp, give it a rigorous remix, without adding water, before using it. If you use powdered compound like Powdered Mud-Max, store it in a warm area, bringing it up to least 70 degrees before mixing with warm water.
Communication Is Key
Communication with your crew, your GC and the homeowner/building owner is always going to be important, but that’s especially true when a bona fide “act of God” like a winter storm is going to throw you off your schedule.
The colder it is on the job, the longer your mud will take to dry. If you’re in a chillier climate during the winter, plan for at least a 48-hour drying time between coats and before painting/decorating. Rushing your schedule here, even if the basecoats appear to be dry on the surface but are wet underneath, is the most common reason for discolored joints and mud shrinkage. So, if your job calls for a Level 4 finish, meaning three coats of mud in most areas, that means at least a six-day schedule for finishing — for many crews, this would roughly translate to a week for every thousand square feet. Ensuring everyone involved is aware of that kind of timeline ahead of time is going to be crucial.
In fact, we’ve heard from finishers who write into their contracts a “winter schedule,” which includes a 48-hour drying time per coat of mud. These contracts also make sure to stipulate the proper heating of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the building (or, more preferably, more like 60-65 degrees), or else problems like cracking are much more likely to occur.
As painful as that sort of conversation can be, keeping everyone on the same page on these issues is going to prevent a ton more headaches in the future.
For more information on the necessary drying conditions for joint compound and tips for finishers in freezing weather, consult the Gypsum Association’s Joint Treatment Under Extreme Weather Conditions (GA-236-2017e). And if crappy weather has slowed down your work this winter, we publish tips like this all year ’round for finishers to brush up on their skills — subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter here to never miss a story.