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Building the massive Encore Boston Harbor casino required a lot of construction heat. With a 2 1/2-year construction timeline, crews had to work steadily through Boston’s frigid winters to keep the LEED Platinum project on schedule for a 2019 completion. So the contractor turned to temporary heaters fueled by propane to keep crews working year-round.

Construction crews kept the Encore Boston Harbor casino, pictured nearing completion in September 2018, on schedule using temporary heat during cold winter months. Photo by Parkerjh, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.]

“We had as many as 22 1,000-gallon tanks on that site that we were filling frequently — at least daily and, at some points throughout winter, several times a day,” says Jaclyn Ruberti, operations manager for Eastern Propane & Oil’s Danvers, Massachusetts, location.

Unlike natural gas, propane has the advantage of being portable when heat is needed on different parts of the site, adds Jim Blake, Eastern’s Massachusetts regional manager. “On a job like that, we had a lot of tanks around and relocated over a couple of years. You would have needed to wrap that building with temporary natural gas piping, which would have been in the way and then would have had to have been removed at the end of the job.”

The Encore casino project demonstrates the versatility of propane for temporary construction heat, as well as its necessity in the modern world of finely tuned construction timelines. “The schedules these general contractors have are shorter and shorter,” says Mike Bacchi, senior technical field representative at temporary heat provider Sunbelt Rentals. “They’ve got maybe nine months to put up a school, where back when I first started, they would have a year and a half. They have tighter schedules. They get delays, whether it’s material or another reason, but the ending date never changes.”

In a nonstop environment, temporary heat is needed not just for worker comfort but also to keep the construction process going by allowing water-based products such as concrete, drywall, and paint to dry. That’s especially true in projects with finely engineered materials, such as a gymnasium floor, which requires a steady temperature and moisture level to ensure all the pieces fit together.

Here are three tips to help you ensure temporary heat keeps your next construction project on track.

1. Select the right heater for the project.

Make-up air heaters such as the unit from Sunbelt Rentals (pictured) work well in most types of construction applications, helping to control moisture and air contaminants, according to Sunbelt.

The type of heater needed depends on the project. For pouring concrete decks, tube-type or salamander heaters are common. These heaters can also be easily moved around for projects such as masonry enclosures. Once the building is erected and heat is needed for painting, taping, and drying, makeup-air or indirect-fired heaters can be used to provide ventilation while helping to dry out a building.

“A contractor once said to me that we build wet buildings now,” Bacchi says. “We don’t give them a chance to dry out. And that has become more of an emphasis on us to provide a system that will adequately ventilate the building, to dry it out and evenly heat it.”

2. Choose a fuel for cost savings and flexibility.

Cost, convenience, and flexibility typically drive the decision on fuel choice for temporary heaters. “The three main fuels you deal with typically in the construction world are natural gas, propane, and diesel fuel,” Bacchi says. “Natural gas and propane are more readily available, and the cost of propane is also cheaper than diesel fuel, so people tend to go that route.”

Oil is another option in the Northeast, but it requires more frequent deliveries — up to three or four times a day, Ruberti says. “It also requires significant remediation work if spilled, while propane is safe for the environment and does not contaminate, water, soil, or air.”

As with the Encore casino, propane can also provide versatility compared with natural gas. A building’s natural gas system may not be designed to supply enough volume to fuel the larger heating load of the construction heaters, and the supply lines may not be located where the heat is needed. At the early stages of a project, contractors may simply have to wait on the design and installation of the natural gas meter, a 4- to 6-week window that would create delays contractors can’t afford.

“A lot of times, jobs will start on propane and then eventually go over to natural gas,” Bacchi says. “Some jobs, just based off their location, the facility might be fueled by propane and they stay on propane.”

3. Temporary heat and propane providers can provide assistance on heating system design.

Designing the temporary heating system is surprisingly similar to the approach a mechanical engineer takes in building design. Bacchi uses the architectural plans to do a takeoff on the building, calculating the square footage of walls and glass and developing an R-value based on how well the building will be insulated. Then he calculates the building’s projected heat loss based on the building’s location. Experience, along with the contractor’s individual needs, informs the design of the system’s air delivery and heat distribution for optimal performance.

Babfar heaters such as the one pictured operate on liquid propane, using an internal vaporization process, eliminating the need for vaporizers and extensive piping, according to Babfar.

On the building site, the propane provider can also help with recommendations that optimize propane delivery schedules and the amount of space required for propane storage. Using a liquid-fired heater or a vaporizer, for example, can allow a contractor to use one or two 1,000-gallon tanks on site instead of four or five, which is particularly beneficial for buildings on tight lots.

Bacchi has also seen propane providers increasingly rely on wireless tank-monitoring systems. “It’s peace of mind for everyone that we can monitor the tank operations,” Bacchi says. “We can see exactly what is going on at any given moment. It’s a great tool, both for the customers and also for me.”

Propane providers typically have strong relationships with local fire officials and knowledge of local regulations to ensure projects stay in compliance — and operate seamlessly for the contractor. “We understand the codes, the NFPA-58 regulations, and the tank distances,” Ruberti says. “On these multimillion-dollar projects, the contractors have a lot on their plate. So if we can take heating the building and the propane supply off their plate, it makes their job a little easier. One less thing for them to worry about.”

Top photo courtesy Sunbelt Rentals.