By Patrick Langston
Almost six months after the coronavirus threw Ontario’s renovation industry into a tailspin, homeowners are again looking forward to gleaming new kitchens, on-trend bathrooms and other upgrades.
But, while renovators are back on the job, it doesn’t mean everything is back to normal.
In early April as the potential extent of the pandemic became clearer, the Ontario government restricted new construction and shut down all renovation projects except those that had already begun. That shutdown ended in May, when the government expanded the list of construction activities permitted, with safety protocols in place, under its COVID-19 emergency plan.
Since the pandemic struck, many renovation costs have jumped. Roy Nandram, president of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association and owner of RND Construction, says material prices have jumped as much as 20 per cent because of shortages. Renovators have also had to invest in personal protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitizer. “Even the cost of porta-potties is more because they need to be cleaned more often,” says Nandram.
Not only are renovators’ costs up, projects can also take longer to complete. Guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, including physical distancing by renovation teams and more frequent hand washing, makes sticking to tight schedules harder.
The Ontario Home Builders’ Association also weighed in with guidelines, including maintaining a daily cleaning log, health screening of some tradespeople and client sign-ins when accessing the work area. Add limits to how many people can be on a site at one time, and projects almost inevitably take longer to finish, although by just how much depends on the job and the renovator.
Projects can also be complicated if homeowners continue to live in their house during the renovation.
“We do our best to isolate the work space from the client’s living area if the home remains occupied,” says David Gladwin of Gladwin Building Services. “We use light plastic and zipper doorways as needed. We come in and out through a dedicated entrance. We set a specific time for client meetings on site whether they are in residence or not, and wear our masks.”
Although Gladwin says that such procedures shouldn’t interfere with project scheduling, he notes that slowdowns will occur if, for instance, a sub-trade, concerned about the virus, requires that no one else be in the work space when they are there.
Renovators report that not only have some materials become more expensive, they are also scarcer. At various times during the pandemic, lumber, tiles and other renovation essentials have been in short supply because manufacturers and suppliers have either shut down or reduced capacity.
Carolyn Munro of Carolyn Munro Design + Build says high-end appliances from Europe are one of several product lines to become problematic. “The wait is two years for some of them. Normally, it takes four to six weeks. So, some clients are just keeping their old appliances until the new ones are ready.”
Also hamstringing the already-disrupted supply line: Homeowners doing their own improvement projects while stuck at home. Canadian media have reported on the trend — even blaming a dumpster shortage in Edmonton in part on busy DIYers — and the U.S. Census Bureau said in July that building materials suppliers and others were seeing a year-over-year sales increase of more than 22 per cent.
At the same time, there is a pent-up demand for renovations.
Like many other local renovators, Emma Doucet of Grassroots Design and Build saw business screech to a halt in April. Now, she says, “we’re inundated with inquiries. My theory is that this is Ottawa, and most people are still employed. They know they’re not going to be travelling for a while, they’re in the house more and they’re getting irritated by the house. So, they want a renovation.”
With projects booked to the end of the year, Doucet says she is “cautiously optimistic” about the future.
Renovators are finding fresh ways to communicate safely with eager clients. Zoom sessions are common and outdoor meetings are a possibility, at least while the weather is warm.
OakWood, which has seen earlier supply problems dissipate and anticipates having a good year, continues to operate its design centre in Orléans.
“We are encouraging (clients) to meet with us at our design centre for the first meeting while providing photos of their home instead of us meeting in their home,” says Patricia Liptak-Satov, vice-president of operations. “The OakWood building is a locked facility with a full-time cleaner, and it is a large open space, which allows for the team to physically distance.”
What does it all mean for homeowners eager to renovate? Some higher costs, later start and finish dates, and new work site and communication protocols can all be expected as the pandemic grinds on.
With that in mind, Herb Lagois of Lagois Design·Build·Renovate counsels homeowners to “Be patient, take the proper time needed to make decisions, make sure the company’s process is a fit for you. With many of us working from home, there might be new-found frustrations with our homes, yet there is something to be said about taking the time needed to plan for the success of your remodel.”