Monday, October 26, 2020
Oct. 26, 2020

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Clark County families stuck at home during pandemic keeping contractors busy

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
7 Photos
Luke Schlecht, left, and William Jones of Foxbrigade LLC lend a hand to the renovation of a kitchen at a home in Salmon Creek. Local contractors say common home areas like kitchens, family rooms, finished basements and covered patios are all in high demand while families are stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luke Schlecht, left, and William Jones of Foxbrigade LLC lend a hand to the renovation of a kitchen at a home in Salmon Creek. Local contractors say common home areas like kitchens, family rooms, finished basements and covered patios are all in high demand while families are stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Faced with the prospect of being stuck at home for months on end, Clark County residents appear to be searching for ways to improve the experience.

Local home remodeling contractors say they’re in the midst of a busy summer as clients look for ways to upgrade and expand their living spaces.

The initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic brought most contractor work to a standstill during Washington’s stay-at-home order, but the industry is rebounding, thanks in part to a strong demand for remodeling projects.

“We’re definitely playing the catchup game right now,” said Aaron Marvin, co-owner of Vancouver-based ACT Builders.

John Fazzolari, owner of Vancouver-based Fazzolari Construction, said several of his clients put their projects on hold back when the pandemic began due to the uncertainty of the situation, but all of those projects have now restarted and new project requests are up by about 25-35 percent.

Contractors said the interest is partially driven by clients spending more time in their homes, but there’s also a money factor: Many people’s vacation plans for the summer have been delayed or cancelled outright, and some families are choosing to spend that money on home improvement work instead.

“They’ve been thinking about these things for a long time and putting them off, and now they’re realizing they’ll be spending a lot of time at home,” Fazzolari said.

Kitchens and bathrooms

Bathroom and kitchen remodel projects have both been in high demand in recent months, Marvin said, although those were both remodeling industry mainstays before the pandemic — clients have always sought out upgrades like heated bathroom floors or stainless steel kitchen appliances.

The difference is timing. More requests are coming in than usual, Marvin said, and some clients with previously scheduled end-of-year projects have asked to be bumped up to a summer timeframe.

“There’s a little more urgency to get it done now that they’re continuously in the space and using it,” he said.

Home offices

A significant percentage of the workforce is still working from home, leading to a rise in demand for home workstations. Portland-based Bridge City Contracting serves the metro area and Southwest Washington, and co-founder Elizabeth Gomez said the company has received several inquiries about office renovations ranging from small technological upgrades to full overhauls of cabinets, flooring and lighting.

The change also dovetails with an ongoing trend toward multi-generational living spaces, with separate spaces within a home through an addition, a converted garage or a detached accessory dwelling unit. They’re typically built for residential uses, but since they usually have separate entrances, Gomez said some of them have been turned into temporary business offices during the pandemic.

“A lot of people have brought their businesses back to their home during this time,” she said.

Common areas

The home office trend isn’t universal — Marvin and Fazzolari both said they haven’t seen big increases in office requests, likely due to the relative ease with which people can commandeer a playroom or spare bedroom as a workspace.

But taking over a spare room can push family members into other parts of the house, Marvin noted, which could be a contributing factor for another popular type of project: common area expansions.

Recent project requests have focused on “kitchen and family rooms, opening houses up, which leads me to believe people are wanting the space more livable,” Fazzolari said.

Finished basements have also been popular in recent months, Marvin said, particularly for home theater setups as people try to replicate the experiences at still-shuttered cinemas and sporting arenas.

Outdoor spaces

Backyard hangouts are in very high demand, Gomez said — everything from small decks and patios up to fully covered installations with lighting and outdoor barbecues or cooking stations.

The outdoor areas provide an escape for residents with cabin fever, and they’re also popular as a safer way to host groups during the warm summer months.

“A lot of family gatherings are moving into outdoor living spaces,” she said.

Fazzolari said he’s also seen a big jump in covered patio requests, and he noted that the Pacific Northwest climate allows them to be used for most of the year, since the winters tend to be more rainy than cold.

Upgrades

Bridge City has seen a big increase in energy efficiency projects, Gomez said. Some of those are tied into popular remodeling jobs, such as the installation of greener appliances, and others are standalone upgrades like tankless water heaters, attic insulation or new HVAC systems.

The company works with the nonprofit Energy Trust, which provides rebates and incentives for consumers to make efficiency upgrades. Gomez said the nonprofit has responded to the pandemic with several new rebate offers in recent months.

“Healthy home” upgrades are also on the rise, she said, as clients seek to remove older contaminants like lead-based paint and asbestos, or to increase ventilation to resolve moisture and mold issues.

“I feel like people have had a lot more time to think and look at their homes and really assess what’s working for them during this time,” Gomez said.

Multi-generational living

Multi-generational housing spaces were a rising trend before the pandemic, but client interest only seems to have grown in recent months — and not just because of their potential business office uses.

Most people are still building them with an eye toward traditional uses once the pandemic is over, Gomez said, such as hosting far-flung family members for long visits or renting the space out on services like Airbnb. But the trend is also driven by current lodging needs as the economic fallout of the pandemic creates unexpected employment and housing problems.

“Think of all the people that lost their jobs overnight,” Gomez said. “They had complete job security, and then one day were all not working.”

Construction challenges

With project request ramping back up, Fazzolari, Gomez and Marvin all said they were confident about how their businesses would do this year – or at least as confident as any business can be during the pandemic.

But the pandemic has also brought new challenges that complicate remodeling jobs. Washington’s health safety guidelines create a number of new steps that workers have to follow, which can sometimes slow projects down.

“Most clients are very understanding,” Fazzolari said. “They understand that we want to be safe and they want us to do it right.”

Clark County’s permitting process has moved online, which Gomez and Marvin said can sometimes slow the approval timeline.

But the biggest challenge cited by all three contractors was the availability of materials, both raw and finished, as well as delays in shipping and scheduling.

Garage doors are one example, Marvin said — one of the major manufacturers had to close a plant in Mexico for two weeks due to the pandemic, and the disruption to their production pipeline has made garage doors more difficult to source. Gomez said the closure of the U.S.-Canada border has had a particularly noticeable impact.

“In May and June, lumber went up to the highest it’s been in a decade, and you’re seeing that with other materials as well,” she said.

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