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If you're planning, managing, or working on, an infrastructure or construction project in rural Canada, you might feel like costs have spiraled out of control.
The last few years have seen historic inflation, supply chain problems, and ever-worsening conditions for construction activity. When you combine that with rural Canada's tough climate, demanding soil conditions, and lack of infrastructure, the result is that costs of construction are higher than ever.
Whether you're building a communications tower in a rural northern community or cutting a utility line through Canadian shield, you need to find the most efficient solutions to control costs.
Unfortunately (and our team at VersaPile sees this one often) the challenges of construction in rural Canada often leads to:
● Slow progress due to unexpected conditions● Budget overruns from change orders● Missing timelines because of weather delays● Increased costs for every aspect of the project
After designing, engineering, and installing, countless helical foundations for a range of projects in rural Canada, we've encountered and overcome numerous obstacles.
Over the years we've identified four primary factors that influence the cost of foundation construction for industrial and commercial projects in rural Canada.
In this post you'll learn about the four primary construction cost factors and how you can overcome them to save money, accelerate your efficiency, and keep your project on-time.
Ever heard of "Murphy's law"?
It goes like this:
"If anything can go wrong, it will."
I don't think the phrase was coined by a Canadian contractor, but it could have been.
Construction projects are constant victims of Murphy's law. You can make the most detailed, precise, and perfect plans... only to have them undone by a single rainstorm or early snow.
While we can't control all the possible obstacles or surprises, we can work to better understand the obstacles and plan how to effectively respond to them.
After years of dealing with the unexpected on jobsites, here's the four primary "cost factors" you have to deal with if you want your project to stay on-time and on-budget.
It's one of our favourite topics to talk about here in Canada (or more accurately, to complain about)....
One reason we like talking about the weather so much is because there's always something to talk about. This is a beautiful country, but it has a fair share of wild climate. From sweltering 40+ heat to a bone-shattering -45 deep-freeze, Canadians have to be ready for any conditions.
To put it another way: few inhabited places on planet earth experience 100+ degree temperature variations between seasons like Canada does.
But, temperature is only part of the equation when it comes to our climate here.
Canada's climate also includes...
● Frost line over 10ft deep in areas● Permafrost● Violent storms● Ice buildup● Severe winds● Floods● Droughts● Humidity● Tornadoes● Hurricanes● Earthquakes
...you get the idea.
This dynamic and extreme climate doesn't only make for good conversation. It has an enormous effect on the performance, longevity, safety, and cost, of your construction projects.
No matter what you're building or where you're building it, the climate will have an outsized effect on every aspect of your project.
Canada has difficult soil. There's no way to sugar-coat it, avoid it, or ignore it. It's not a surprise that foundation failure is so common here when you consider the tough soil conditions a deep foundation faces.
Throughout much of Central Canada we have soils with high clay content that tend to be poorly draining. This causes a condition known as expansive soils.
When soil with heavy clay gets wet, the moisture causes the clay to expand (swell). As the clay dries, the lack of moisture makes it shrink. This swell/shrink characteristic is why it's called expansive soil.
This active soil creates serious structural challenges for your foundation.
If you've seen a structure that's lifted, sunk, or broken apart, you've likely seen the results of expansive soil. The reason it's so dangerous for your foundation is because of the enormous stress expansive soil can exert (over 5,000 PSF).
As the soil swells/shrinks, it can force your foundation upwards or cause it to sink. It doesn't take much movement to cause dramatic foundation issues or even a complete failure.
Certain types of deep foundations are more prone to the effects of expansive soil than others, such as concrete piles. But, regardless of the specific foundation type, anything that goes into the ground has to be ready to deal with extreme soil conditions.
Not all of Canada is mud and clay, of course.
Other areas have rocky soils, shallow refusal, loose sand, or other challenging conditions. When it comes to laying the foundation for your project, you'll likely find yourself fighting the soils in some way.
Canada is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world, averaging just 4.27 people per square km.
That's great if you like having space to spread out, but makes construction in rural regions expensive and complicated.
It's no secret that infrastructure in rural areas is far from perfect. Tough weather makes maintaining roads and highways a costly task. The more remote your jobsite, the tougher it'll be to get materials, equipment, and personnel there.
Imagine a power transmission line in a rugged wilderness area. The site is hours from a major population center and access is made down primitive roads barely visible among the mud and rocks.
Your geotechnical report indicates the soil has poor bearing capacity. Come winter, the arctic deep freeze will relentlessly attack the entire structure and foundation.
This isn't a worst-case example just to sound good in a blog post, either. If you've done any work in these types of regions, you know those are the conditions hydro transmission lines across Canada endure.
Lack of Experience Among Contractors
Canada has plenty of fantastic contractors that work hard to deliver the best possible work for their customers. I'm not here to talk about contractors who understand the complexities of construction in rural or remote areas of Canada.
I'm here to talk about the contractors who aren't cut out to handle the demands of rural construction in Canada.
Construction projects are like complex machines. Countless moving parts all have to work together to deliver success. If that project is in a rural area outside Winnipeg, another layer of complexity is added.
Consider the cost factors assessed in this post. Weather, geography, remoteness. Each of those are complex and difficult to overcome.
Not all contractors are cut-out to overcome these factors.
Many can talk a good game and even showcase their cherry-picked projects to present a certain image, but when they run into tough environments or unexpected problems they fall to pieces.
You could have the best materials, products, and gameplan... only to have one bad contractor throw it into chaos.
There is good news in all of this talk about challenges and problems.
You can do things to ensure your rural construction project is completed on-time and on-budget. Or at least as close to being on-time and on-budget as a construction project ever can be.
Here's four simple ways you can build your projects faster, stronger, and more economically, no matter where your jobsite is located.
Know Your Soil
If you only take away one piece of advice from this article, it would be to know your soil.
Your soil conditions will dictate your foundation, and your foundation dictates how the rest of your project goes. In fact, according to many of VersaPile's customers, foundation installation is typically one the stage that faces the most delays in a construction project.
Having a deep knowledge of the soils conditions across your jobsite can save you a bundle of time, trouble, and money.
Of course, you're probably already familiar with geotechnical reports and soil investigations. The question is, are you getting the best reports possible on the soil conditions at your site?
For example, one big source of delays and change orders we've seen at VersaPile is when the geotechnical report isn't comprehensive enough.
Soil conditions are highly variable and may change dramatically from one pile location to the next. You might be able to reach good soil at 30ft in one area, while a mere 20ft away conditions might demand you go 60ft deep to reach supportive stratum.
If you don't know about that soil variability in the design phase, you can be in for an unpleasant surprise when your foundation installers get on-site and realize changes need to be made to meet ground conditions.
So, when it comes to hiring a geotechnical firm to do soil investigations, make sure you're bringing in a reputable and valuable partner that will do a comprehensive assessment of your site.
No report is ever perfect and some surprises might be unavoidable, but you'll greatly reduce the chances of unexpected conditions by hiring an excellent geotechnical firm.
Be Prepared for the Worst
Construction in rural Canada can, will, and does, throw curve-balls at you.
Harsh weather, demanding soil conditions, isolated jobsites, even dangerous wildlife, make rural construction unlike anything else. It's why cost overruns, delays, and headaches, can be a common feature of projects in these regions.
We all know it's a good idea to "plan for the worst", but what does that really mean? Consider things like:
Avoid the "Usual Way" Trap
There's usually more than one way of doing something. Unfortunately, we tend to fall into the same patterns of familiarity. This can lead us to choose the wrong product, technology, or solution, simply because it's the way we've "always done it".
In the construction industry, we often see people choosing technologies or solutions that aren't the best fit simply because it's the "usual way" of doing things. The human brain prefers the "known solution" to something new and unknown.
Here's the danger of the usual way trap...
Every project is unique.
You could build five communications towers with the exact same design and have five completely different experiences. That's why construction is an exciting industry to work in - there's always a new challenge.
You have to be open-minded about exploring different technologies or solutions. Our world is constantly changing, evolving, and advancing.
To be clear we're not talking about trying to choose all the most bleeding-edge technology. That can be just as disastrous as staying stuck in your ways.
All we're saying is you should be unafraid to investigate and implement solutions that are the best fit for your project - even if those solutions is new to you.
Of course, finding these solutions and assessing if they'll work for your project can be a task all on its own. Which leads us to the final tactic we'll look at for making your rural construction project better...
Lean On Experts
Our team often takes calls from engineers, contractors, and more, who are looking for answers to their foundation piling questions.
We're happy to take time to answer these questions and offer advice where we can, regardless if they work with us or not. We do this because we believe it's the right thing to do and we're happy to do it.
Many businesses are generally happy to offer their advice or answer your questions. As long as you're polite and respectful of people's time, you'll find plenty of experienced folks who are willing to help. They can be an absolute gold mine of tips, insights, and valuable networking.
And if you do happen to run into a business that tells you to get lost, at least you know their character.
So, if you have a question or want an opinion from someone more experienced, don't be afraid to pick up your phone and make some calls. Not only can you solve your problems this way, you might even make a valuable connection in the industry.
By the way, if you have questions about foundation solutions for industrial and commercial projects, give us a call here at VersaPile and we'll be happy to help.
Here at VersaPile, we wouldn't want to change our Canadian climate even if we could. The weather and geography that make it so difficult to build here also make this country beautiful and wild.
Even though we have rough and tumble conditions here, your project isn't completely at the mercy of Mother Nature. Unlike the engineers of history, we have the technology and tools to overcome the challenges of our rough environment.
You just have to know how to take advantage of them.
If you have questions about foundations solutions for industrial/commercial construction, get in touch with our team at VersaPile. We've installed thousands of rock-solid foundations under critical projects in some of the toughest environments, and we're happy to share our knowledge with you.
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