In Reno, Nev., where Sunseri Construction is building the 66-unit Virginia Lake Senior Apartments, winter temperatures can easily drop into the single digits.
In weather that cold, even relatively simple construction tasks like painting or installing drywall become impossible, says Brian Christ, project manager for the Chico, Calif.-based construction firm. To keep his projects on schedule through the winter, Christ uses powerful temporary construction heaters fueled by versatile and convenient propane.
“Temporary heat is definitely necessary for tape and texture of the drywall,” Christ says. “Without that, the stuff would just freeze off the walls. If it gets too hot or too cold, the drywall can get little hairline cracks in it. When you paint the walls, the walls need to be fairly warm. The flooring, too, for the glue to stick to the floor when we do vinyl or carpet.”
At the Virginia Lake Senior Apartments, Christ worked with propane retailer Ferrellgas and temporary heat provider Temp-Air to set up a 550,000-British thermal unit heater with box fans blowing heat throughout the building. Although the building will eventually have natural-gas-fueled heating, propane was the only fuel that could keep the construction project on time and on schedule.
“Even where there is natural gas available, a lot of times you can’t hook up to natural gas until the building’s almost finished,” says Jay Read, a Nevada City, Nev.-based account manager for Ferrellgas. At Virginia Lake, for instance, Christ says natural-gas meters wouldn’t be installed until less than two months before the project’s completion date.
Portability and availability are key traits that make propane the fuel of choice for many temporary construction heat applications, says Chris Smith, marketing manager for heating system manufacturer L.B. White. He estimates that 80 percent of construction projects with temporary heat are fueled by propane.
Temporary heaters themselves have come a long way from the days of mushroom-style pot heaters, which had the potential to spew unhealthy carbon monoxide throughout a building. Today’s heaters run much more efficiently, using technology such as electronic modulating burner controls and remote space thermostats to automatically adjust gas flow. They can draw clean, outside air for heat. And they are available for seasonal rental.
“We have a wide range of heaters,” says Larry Petrak, a consultant for Temp-Air, which manufactures and leases portable heating equipment, “the smallest being one that would fit on the seat inside the pickup truck with you, and the largest being about the size of your pickup truck.” With power outputs up to 5 million Btu, the heaters can be used for projects as small as a single-family home and as large as a hospital or resort.
Temp-Air’s THP series direct-fired make-up air heaters feature electronic modulating burner control and ventilation systems.
Heat is generally required whenever a material needs to dry or cure, Petrak says. “With today’s construction processes — all the wetwork that goes in there — you have to be able to address what you’re going to do with all that moisture. Once the building is enclosed, a combination of heat and ventilation is critical for floor finishes, drywall work, plastering, painting, all of the material finishes that go on inside the building.”
Plus, temporary heat can keep your workers warm and productive. In some regions, codes or safety regulations require that workers have a supplementary heat source when temperatures drop below a certain level. These material and human requirements mean that temporary heat is often required to keep a project on schedule through the winter.
As the winter months approach, project managers can work with their local temporary heat provider and propane retailer to discuss their construction plans. The provider can propose an estimated heating budget for the season to use in bidding a job. “The temp heat guy asks for a set of plans,” Christ explains. “They give us a cost: what it costs to rent, how much fuel they think it might take. They tell us what size heater we want.”
When the cold weather arrives, the propane retailer delivers the heater and sets it up with a propane tank connection. The process is mostly turn-key from start to finish; the builder is responsible for ducting the heat into the building and powering it.
While temporary heat is versatile enough for massive jobs, smaller heaters are available for single-family construction projects. Homebuilders often lease heaters for the season, moving them from site to site as needed, says Scott Brainard, Temp-Air’s vice president of business development. Temp-Air also offers ground-thawing equipment to dig out a home’s basement in the winter. “In the north, the homebuilders do a lot of work and the ground’s frozen,” Brainard explains. “It can freeze up to 6 feet thick when it’s a really cold winter.”
Regardless of the application, propane is the cleanest and easiest choice for the fuel source. While kerosene and electric heaters are available, each has distinct disadvantages, Smith says. “Kerosene is a dirty fuel,” he says. “Unless you’re using an indirect-style heater, you can get a film on the equipment you’re working with. Or if you’re trying to drywall, you can get a little film on the walls. It can also be a little more sloppy. You put it in a truck and it moves around.”
Electric heat, meanwhile, can’t generate nearly as much heat as propane-fueled heaters. “You’d have to have a lot of electricity to get up to the equivalent of decent Btus,” Smith says. “Propane can get you there pretty easily.”
Propane is a clean, efficient, and convenient fuel source for temporary heat, and it has the same advantages when used as a fuel source for a home or building’s permanent heating. Learn more about the role propane can play in your construction projects by downloading our Build with Propane Guide. It’s designed to help you learn more about propane’s environmental and energy-efficiency benefits, and it provides you with the information you need to make the smart energy choice.