Conventional wisdom is that we don't dig basements in the winter. That is mostly because it can be really hard and expensive to dig in the frozen ground. However, when we have a cold winter with a lot of snow cover like we did this year, the snow and vegetation on a lot that has not been disturbed acts as an insulating blanket and minimizes frost penetration into the ground.
Compare this to our roads that are cleared and salted when it snows and have no insulating blanket. The salt actually produces water by melting snow and ice. The heavy traffic drives the water through any cracks and holes in the road surface and helps the frost penetrate even deeper. This year the road commissions have reported frost depths as deep as 4 or 5 feet. This is deep enough to freeze some water mains and cause them to rupture. It also forces the pavement up, produces more cracks to allow more water in and further destroys the pavement giving rise to potholes.
So, in January, we had a building permit in hand for a house we really wanted to start and Russ and I were thinking - do we wait until May to dig or do we go for it? You may ask, why May? Well, that brings us back to potholes again. We need heavy equipment to dig the hole, move away any excess dirt, form the walls and lots of heavy cement trucks to bring in the concrete for the footings and walls. Pothole time is also Load Limit Time. As the roads start to thaw they really start breaking up so all counties place load restrictions on all but freeways and really well built "all weather" roads. These limits stay in force for 6 weeks or more meaning if they go in force in early to mid March they are not lifted and no heavy trucks can move with full loads until May!
Well, we decided to go for it and got commitments from our excavator and wall contractor to work quickly and we broke ground at the end of February. As we had suspected, the frost wasn't all that bad on our "insulated" lot. Of course it costs a little more because we need to put straw down to keep the bottom of the excavation from freezing and chloride is added to concrete to keep the water in the mix from freezing until the exothermic chemical reaction in the concrete starts which generates heat and allows the concrete to cure nicely even in cold weather.
What did we gain? Time and being able to get our carpenters going before everyone is competing for them, locking in lumber prices before demand and prices go up seasonally as warm weather returns. Most important, there is very little new home inventory so this strategy allowed is to put a product on the market that can realistically be delivered before the end of this year (and get all the outside work done by fall when weather will be a concern once again).
Did our calculated gamble pay off? Well, we took a deposit within a week of listing the house for sale and are proceeding to finalize our agreements with a buyer that would have preferred an existing home (remember that low inventory) but liked the fact that this one would shorten the process by 6 months or so for them.
Unfortunately, we can't do much about the potholes......