Thanks to the many lawmakers who deemed construction essential, the industry has weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively well — at least compared to the retail and hospitality sectors. However, from February to April, the industry lost more than 1 million jobs and thousands of potential remodeling projects. Whether homeowners wanted to save money or didn’t feel comfortable with a contractor in their home, many people took on DIY projects instead of calling in the pros.
Now, as businesses reopen and people have less spare time on their hands, construction teams are preparing for a comeback. As they get ready to begin working again, many are adopting new safety standards to protect themselves and their clients as the pandemic drags on.
Social Distancing and Isolation
In a typical construction setting, many workers share equipment and work side-by-side. Now, however, employees are practicing social distancing between themselves and clients. Keeping 6 feet between themselves and others is easy enough to do when they’re working on large-scale, outdoor projects. However, small things like kitchen and bathroom renovations make for tight quarters and a heightened risk of spreading the virus.
To minimize exposure, some companies have decided to limit the number of laborers working on a single project. Instead of five people in the bathroom, there’s now just one or two. Customers and workers who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have received a diagnosis must also isolate themselves. The former must remain in a separate part of the house when workers are present, and the latter should isolate at home.
Sanitation and Hygiene
Many employees have also received sanitation and hygiene training. Instead of using sanitizer before entering a home, they now use hand washing stations with running water and soap. Doing so makes many customers feel safe and effectively helps reduce the spread of COVID-19 — and other bacterial infections.
Companies that pride themselves in sourcing and using recycled products will also have to clean and sanitize their building materials. Doing so may include wiping down surfaces, washing fabrics, and rinsing steel beams, wood doors and other pieces. They might even take these extra precautions at the customers’ request when purchasing new materials.
Personal Protective Equipment
Every employee who enters a home should also wear personal protective equipment — whether clients are present or not. Most construction workers were already wearing masks, gloves, eye protection and the like before the pandemic. Thus, suiting up before remodeling shouldn’t be much of an issue now.
Still, workers will have to pay more attention to how they wear and clean their PPE to keep everyone safe. They may need to shave facial hair to achieve a tight seal around their respirator or wash their fabric face mask after each use. If they choose to wear disposable masks, they should toss them at the end of the day instead of reusing them. Companies that take these precautions might ask their clients to do the same.
Scientists know that COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact with other people. However, evidence now confirms that the virus can remain airborne for up to three hours. Thus, increasing ventilation during a home remodel can help reduce the risk of exposure and subsequent spread.
Customers and workers can increase ventilation by opening windows, operating fans or energy recovery ventilators, and opening the HVAC’s outside air intake. Opening doors and windows at opposite sides of the house can also encourage cross-ventilation, protecting workers from dust, chemical vapors and COVID-19. If possible, use a portable air cleaner or purifier and direct airflow so it doesn’t blow directly from one person to another.
The Future of Home Remodeling
Last year, there was a huge surge in the number of people taking on DIY projects and home remodels. Homeowners with extra time on their hands built decks, renovated kitchens, remodeled bathrooms and upgraded features they’d lived with for years.
However, this trend likely won’t last long. If anything, it’s been a short-lived spike in the long-term trend of declining DIY projects. In recent years, less than 20% of the money homeowners spend on remodels has gone to DIY work. Researchers expect this percent to dip even lower in the future, especially as construction teams recover from the pandemic and return to full-time employment.
Jane is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics in sustainability and green building.