Working in the Cold
Before signing on with The Family Handyman, most of the editors here were employed in the building trades. And all of us have worked in Minnesota, where it can get nippy outdoors come winter. Travis Larson even worked in Greenland, where temps plummeted to 40 degrees below zero. We got together (inside) and pooled our favorite tips for staying comfortable and safe while working in the cold.
Have a variety of gloves on hand
Different tasks require different gloves. Tight, thin gloves are perfect for delicate tasks like grabbing hold of small screws or twisting wires. Keep thicker gloves or mittens handy for moving equipment or hauling cold, wet material. Oversize gloves or choppers like these will fit right over your form-fitting gloves, so you can keep your hands warm all day but slip the outer pair off for short periods to do detail work. Protect your hands with these gloves.
Keep your pants dry and mud free
A pair of leg gaiters is a must-have shield in every proper suit of arctic armor. Leg gaiters keep the outside of your pants dry when you trudge through deep snow. They also keep wind and snow from creeping up the inside of your pants. Leg gaiters are useful in muddy conditions because they protect your pants from your mucky boots, especially when you climb up and down ladders. Plus, they’re easy to take off at the end of the day to avoid tracking all that accumulated muck into your vehicle or house. You can get a decent pair for as little as 10 bucks online. See more diy clothing and gear.
It’s always a good idea to flip planks on their side or upside down when you leave the job site for the night. That will prevent ice from forming on the walking surface and keep the crew safer the next day. And set planks and ladders on their side when storing them on the ground. Check out these other home safety tips.
The ground will get extra slippery in high-traffic areas and where water drips off the roof. Sprinkling sand on the icy spots is a great way to prevent a fall. Keep a 5-gallon bucket of dry sand on hand. It’s also wise to spread sand on a slippery plank if you’re working when it’s snowing. See more winter preparedness ideas.
Dress in layers
This might be “duh” advice, but it’s worth a mention because it’s probably the most important rule for working in the cold. Weather conditions change constantly during a workday. It might feel 20 degrees warmer on the sunny side of the house or 20 degrees colder when you’re exposed to a brisk wind. In order to remain comfortable, you need to be able to make wardrobe adjustments. Wearing just one super-insulated layer will inevitably cause you to sweat when things heat up. And when things cool back down, you’ll be wet and shivering like a chilly Chihuahua. See more comfortable rugged workwear.
One size does not fit all
If you work in the cold a lot, get yourself a few pairs of boots. The key is to wear the lightest, most comfortable boots that the weather will allow. Check out these 15 advanced work boots for every diy project.
Dry feet are happy feet
Sweat, rain and snow will cause the inside of your boots to get wet—it’s pretty much unavoidable. It’s imperative you dry out wet boots overnight. If you go to work the next day with damp feet, you’ll be ending work early because of cold feet. Boot dryers like this are worth their weight in gold. They dry boots evenly and thoroughly but don’t overdry them, which can cause the liners to get crusty and reduce their life. They cost less than $20 online and at sporting goods stores and some department stores. Keeping a pair of dry socks on hand is also smart. Help keep your boots clean with this mud-busting boot scrape.
Defrost a padlock
Sleet and freezing rain can prevent a padlock from opening. Loosen up a frozen lock by warming a can of silicone or light lubricant (see “Warm Up Stuff on Your Dashboard” below) and spraying it into the keyhole and the areas around the shackles. Note to naysayers: Some say that liquid lubricants are bad for locks, but we all have sprayed our padlocks dozens of times, and they have continued to work trouble-free for years. Click here for 8 clever tool hacks.
Warm up stuff on your dashboard
When working at a job site with no source of heat other than your truck engine, use your dashboard to dry out gloves, thaw caulking, warm cordless tool batteries, keep your lunch from freezing—you get the idea. Also, on sunny days, try to park the front of your vehicle toward the south. The sun will keep your dash fairly warm even in frigid temps without the motor running. Click here for 10 best practices for cold weather driving.
Prevent ladder disasters
When your feet slip out from under you, you’ll probably bruise your bum and look around hoping nobody saw you. When the feet of a ladder slip out, you’re going to hurt more than your pride. Keep ladders upright on icy ground by digging holes for the feet and flipping the feet back so the spurs poke into the ground. See more on ladder safety.
Neck gaiters are a must
There’s no better accessory to keep your neck warm than a neck gaiter. Buy one long enough that you can pull it all the way up to your eyeballs for those particularly windy or brutally cold days. Forget or lose your gaiter? Many convenience store/gas stations sell cheap stocking caps. Cut a hole in the top and you’ve got yourself a neck gaiter. Check out 14 outdoor clothing items to make you diy projects better.
Support sawhorse legs
It’s true that frozen ground makes a nice, stable surface for sawhorses. But sawhorse legs can sink into the thawed ground when the temps rise, which will make them unstable. Also, if the legs do sink and the ground refreezes, you’re going to need a jackhammer to free them. Place chunks of wood under the legs to keep them on terra firma. See how to build small sawhorses.
Don’t lose your tools
It’s not a big deal when a tool falls out of your pouch—unless you don’t know it fell out—and it’s snowing. Give yourself a fighting chance to find misplaced hand tools by marking them with a bright-colored spray paint. This is also a good way to identify your tools so they don’t wander off with other workers. Check out these Tool hints, tips and tricks.
For more DIY Clothing and Gear, click here.