Staying live: Cool construction without obstruction

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There can be no doubt that recent growth in the UK warehousing sector will continue. Hand in hand with the growth of online retail and the demand for shorter delivery timescales, increasing numbers of warehouse operators will find themselves outgrowing their premises. This is a particular consideration for the food and drink industry which is facing a rapid rise in output according to a recent report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).  Faced with the choice of either extending their existing facility or moving into a larger space, many in the sector are opting for expansion, and with good reason.

A recent study by the UK Warehouse Association* found that only 31 warehouse build schemes (totalling 5.8m sq ft) were being developed nationwide at the time of the report. In terms of existing stock, the same report found that only 131 units stood empty for a total of 21.9m sq ft readily available. Compared to occupier demand, it’s likely that there will still be a shortfall in warehouse space in coming years, which may further popularise extensions over relocation. However, working at full capacity when contractors move in could be compromised if not expertly managed . For cold storage facilities, where the environment must be kept at a constant temperature, food safety and hygiene can’t be compromised. So, how can a successful live site extension be achieved?

Cold storage is one of the most important parts of the chilled and frozen food supply chain and a temperature difference of even a few degrees has the potential to cost companies thousands of pounds, so there is no room for error during the extension phase. Early involvement on the part of an experienced Principal Contractor (PC) is the most crucial aspect in pulling off a successful cold store project without disruption and above all, maintaining food health and safety standards. 

Here, the PC can work closely with the warehouse operator to fully understand the daily functionality of the site – covering everything from shift patterns, typical delivery and despatch schedules, workflow inside the warehouse and external space available for plant and site offices. In comparison to the working conditions in a typical warehouse project, cold store construction requires additional planning because of the cold atmosphere workers are exposed to. PCs must consider the amount of time workers can physically operate in a certain temperature and allocate time for sufficient breaks in an ambient environment. Taking all this into account will enable a robust plan to be developed. For larger projects, the area under construction is enclosed within a ’protective barrier’ produced from insulated panels, ensuring the temperature inside is controlled and the construction team can work comfortably.

Accounting for all stages of construction including the inevitable ‘knock-through’ – which could mean the demolition of entire walls or may only require the installation of doors. If the latter, special pods can be created around the future door space to contain dust and allow for the installation of shutters or rapid-rise doors as required. Should a larger wall space need to be demolished to create an open plan extension, temporary screens can be used to segregate live and construction areas and, depending upon height of the screen required, this can be achieved using lightweight composite panels.

Next, the PC will consider segregation between the live area and construction workflow to mitigate the impact of its presence in terms of traffic, dust and vibration. As this segregation will move and change over the duration of a build, it too should be an early consideration in the planning stages.

Additionally, polythene screens and wrap materials for fixed assets such as machinery need to be in place well ahead of any demolition work, while equipment passing through a live site must also be wrapped in transit. Consideration should also be given to the location of fire exits and access points for materials or deliveries, as new works may affect these and early planning will allow safe access and exit to be properly managed. Most important is personal preparation – wearing the correct protective clothing, changing in the appropriate manner, and of course covering hair and shoes.

Finally, a successful cold store extension can’t begin and end with the original schedule. Upfront planning should result in an agile method of working that can be adapted if need be – for example if the customer receives a large order and works need to be changed to accommodate. Meeting regularly with all parties means that all involved can respond flexibly to any amendments to the schedule, with day-to-day working taking priority over construction.

Chalcroft is a leading construction contractor, specialising in both new builds and extensions to warehouses and distribution centres, including cold store and temperature-controlled storage facilities. For further information on its approach to working in partnership with customers, please visit

* ‘The size and make up of the UK Warehousing Sector’ – United Kingdom Warehousing Association, in association with Savills.