How to get work done on your home safely during a pandemic


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

Blog author Donna Freedman

Longtime personal finance writer Donna Freedman lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.

Published|3 min read

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Those who’ve been under COVID-19 lockdown have spent a lot of time staring at their surroundings. It isn’t always pretty and you’d like an update, but is it safe and financially worth it?

In some states remodeling companies were temporarily closed as “non-essential” businesses. These restrictions have mostly been lifted (with a few regional exceptions) as states open up. To help protect workers and customers, the Department of Labor has set guidelines for home repair workers; be sure anyone you hire follows them.

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Before you update your entire house during a pandemic, ask yourself: Is this a need or a want?

“Electrical issues, (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing, roofs – those are the four that matter,” says design-build contractor Doug King, founder of King Contracting Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Anything that has to do with comfort is essential — everything else is cosmetic.”

During a pandemic, you should focus on necessary updates. You may want to put off any purely cosmetic work. If your home needs a serious repair, there are steps you can take to keep you and the workers safe.

Assess the problem virtually

To cope with business closures, the remodeling industry started relying on virtual meetings. Gehman Design Remodeling owner Dennis Gehman had to close his business for six weeks because it was not considered an essential business in Pennsylvania. During that time he stayed in virtual contact with current and potential clients.

Since reopening in early May, a steady stream of people have visited his showroom, but he’s still offering FaceTime or Zoom meetings with clients who aren’t ready to talk in person.

Gehman believes anyone should be able to request this accommodation. For example, one client who was recently treated for cancer called Gehman about a leak in his roof. Normally the crew has to enter a home and look at the water damage. However, Gehman asked the woman to send him pictures of where the water had come in. Using the photos, his crew was able to pinpoint where to look on the outside of her home, found the damaged flashing and fixed the issue without ever entering her house.

Questions to ask before making a hire

King says business is booming in Florida, but he’s taking every precaution he can to keep his workers and clients safe. Normally his workers sweep up before they leave each day. Now they sanitize any hard surfaces they touch and wear masks any time they’re at work.

King says homeowners should ask companies about their COVID-19 protocols and what exactly will be done to make repairs and remodels as safe as possible. Here’s what to ask:

  • Do you supply cleaning supplies? Ask that cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer be sent along with workers.

  • What are your social distance practices? You’ll want to keep yourself and workers safe by following proper social distancing protocol in your home.

  • Is touch-free transaction possible? For example, signing documents electronically or paying with a credit card online or by phone.

  • Do you wear a mask or check temperatures? Make sure your workers’ temperatures are taken on the day of the renovation.

  • What is your cancellation policy? If you wake up sick day-of, you’ll want some protection.

After the job is done, you may want to clean your home or re-sanitize highly-frequented objects, like door knobs or light switches — and constantly wash your hands. When you tip the workers, don’t hand it to them. Instead, put the cash in an envelope so they can pick it up themselves.

Weighing your risk

If the roof is leaking or your fridge has stopped working, you’ll need to take action. When it comes to cosmetic repairs or actual remodeling, only you can say whether the rewards are worth the risk. If you’re older or have lung issues or some other health conditions, you might want to hold off.

Here's our guide to standard 203(k) loans on rennovations exceeding $35,000

If you feel comfortable moving forward, now may be a good time to strike a deal. Nationally, construction work has dropped noticeably since the pandemic began and a lack of remodeling jobs might actually work in a consumer’s favor. Contractors may be more willing to give you a better deal than they would when the demand is high.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable hiring someone right now, King suggests starting the search for a contractor. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to follow up on a potential remodeler’s references.

Correction July 2, 2020: This article originally said Doug King Construction, the actual name is King Contracting Inc.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko