After-hours permits allow contractors to work nights and help deliver projects that have short deadlines or that can’t accommodate daytime construction. For instance, this fall Skanska performed most of the work on its renovation of the 102nd floor observation deck of the Empire State Building between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., when the terraces below were not open to the public.
As critical as after-hours variances (AHV) are to some projects, staffing, noise complaints and bureaucratic pushback often make nighttime work a difficult experience for contractors.
Cities that allow AHVs require contractors to pay a fee for permits, which are generally only available for specific zones that are usually far away from residential areas. The relationship between the city, contractor, owner and local residents can get very frustrating, said Christian Zazzali, a vice president in charge of the interiors group for Hitt Contracting in Washington, D.C.
In Zazzali’s experience, an after-hours permit can be revoked at the drop of the hat by city officials, with no appeals process. If the local planning department receives any complaints about noise, after-hours construction must stop, he said, with no option for recourse.
Losing eight hours of work during a month can set a project back immensely, Zazzali said, and owners are rarely understanding.
“[Clients] need to recognize when they own a property that’s in close proximity to a residential zone, they need to temper their expectations,” Zazzali said.
Losing those permits can be costly, because without them fees can grow to large amounts. In New York, for example, a 14-day AHV costs $1,620, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) told Construction Dive. The city issued nearly 14,000 AHV permits for the year as of late October, on pace for fewer than the nearly 19,000 that were issued in 2018, according to the New York City DOB.
The DOB recently released an interactive map of the active construction projects with after-hours permits in New York City, showing the prevalence of around-the-clock work in the city.
A lack of late-night workers
Kyle O’Brien, a senior project manager with Hitt Contracting in North Carolina, who has experience working on projects in Washington, D.C., said that residential areas are essentially a no-go when it comes to after-hours permits.
Zazzali and O’Brien have also struggled to staff late-night projects, as subcontractors that are willing to work in the wee hours for an affordable price are few and far between.
“The subcontractor market is stretched thin right now, and many subcontractors will refuse to work at night,” O’Brien said. “Those that will work at night charge astronomical prices and they typically only have one or two dedicated night crews.”
Zazzali said there are enough qualified employees and subcontractors who understand the need for night work, but he also realizes the impact on someone’s sleep schedule, especially if the hours change following a complaint, could have a long-term impact on performance.
Walter Pacholczak, vice president of government affairs at the Associated General Contractors New York chapter, said after-hours permits are critical for construction of schools, where disrupting classroom time is a problem and also potential compromises the health and safety of students, teachers and staff.
Pacholczak said he hasn’t had issues using after-hours permits, as they help speed up construction work in occupied buildings in crowded cities like New York.
Ultimately, after hours work can be a good compromise, Zazzali said.
“There’s enough qualified employees and subcontractors that recognize that sometimes the work needs to be done at night,” he said, adding that overlapping night and morning work can help with sleep schedules and make it easier on teams working long hours.
Some work done offsite to build portions of the space can also save night hours and cut down on noise on a site, he added.
Luckily for Hitt, Zazzali said, only a small percentage of jobs require or demand work be done at night, so the firm can manage and compromise where necessary.