The construction industry has faced steep challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to self build and renovation projects being significantly impacted. But after six weeks of lockdown, some positive news is emerging, and homebuilders can afford to be more optimistic about pressing on with their projects.
The UK lockdown on 23 March led to many builders’ merchants, DIY stores and home retailers shutting their doors. But in the past two weeks, major retailers such as Homebase, B&Q and Wickes have begun reopening stores (with social distancing measures in place), and merchants are fielding orders through Click & Collect and delivery services.
While many local merchants are yet to reopen, these major retailers can fill the void. And most homebuilding materials are available providing you know where to look.
(MORE: These Merchants Are Still Providing Essential DIY Products)
We shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves, however. There’s still lots to consider if your project is operational, so if you’re currently in the midst of a self build or home improvement, this is what you need to know.
Which Projects Can Continue?
When lockdown measures were introduced the government encouraged general construction work to continue where possible, providing social distancing was maintained. While some construction firms and tradespeople continued to work, others shut their doors.
Understandably, there has been confusion about which projects can continue, and which building sites are classed as essential.
When Scotland closed all non-essential construction on 7 April, it defined essential projects as those supporting crucial work during the coronavirus pandemic.
This move, along with calls from industry bodies such as the Federation of Master Builders – which said it was almost impossible to follow social distancing advice on many sites – prompted calls for the UK government to introduce similar measures. But the government reiterated its position: tradespeople can continue working in people’s homes, and on build sites, providing they follow health and safety guidelines.
Ultimately, the situation remains the same now as it did six weeks ago: self build and renovation projects can continue, but there are caveats. Alongside maintaining social distancing rules and ensuring workers’ safety (more on that below) construction work can continue providing:
- It counts as essential repairs and maintenance
- Sites are limited to as few workers as possible
- Materials are handled in a way that reduces touchpoint between workers
Generally, self build and renovation work in England is being interpreted as acceptable under current regulations as long as sites are safe. Therefore, providing your tradespeople remain open for business, you can still make progress on your build.
Projects may still face delays though, and some tasks may still not be possible due to social distancing measures, or delays to materials arriving or shortages of staff who may be self-isolating.
To achieve the best outcomes on your project, maintain clear communication with your tradespeople about what can be achieved, as well as which materials can be obtained, and how these outcomes may affect your project.
(MORE: How to Maximise the Efficiency of Your Project During Lockdown)
Ensure Safety on Your Building Site
Keeping construction workers protected from Covid-19 has been a foremost concern since lockdown was implemented.
If your building site remains operational, be sure to follow government guidelines for tradespeople working in your home, and ensure you and your workers on site adhere to hygiene and safety measures.
- No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild
- No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless the work is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repair
- On entry to the home all tradespeople should wash their hands using soap and water for 20 seconds. Where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used, and should be available at all times
- Tradespeople should maintain a safe distance (at least 2m) from any household occupants at all times, and ensure good ventilation in the area where they are working, including opening the window
- Close off areas of the house that tradespeople are working in which can be divided from the rest of the house, leaving you with sufficient kitchen and bathroom facilities. Where this is not possible, residents should stay in a different room with the door closed.
There was a welcome update for tradespeople this week when health secretary Matt Hancock informed construction workers in England showing symptoms of Covid-19 that they would be eligible for official government testing as of 29 April.
The Department of Health and Social Care has since updated its eligibility guidance, stating “anyone who goes into work because they cannot work from home (for example, construction workers) and has symptoms” can be tested.
DIY Stores and Home Retailers Reopen
On Wednesday, Wickes announced plans for a trial that will see it reopen six stores. Not to be outdone, Homebase then revealed that it would reopen an additional 50 stores, having previously reopened 20 stores in a recent trial.
The announcements followed B&Q reopening 155 UK stores a fortnight ago, and suddenly self builders and renovators have greater access to materials than they have had since lockdown began.
Jason Orme, Content Director at Homebuilding & Renovating, said: “Clearly access to materials is part of a successful site. While the major sheds were never the go-to suppliers of building sundries for builders, they may well fill that void where local merchants haven’t yet reopened.
“An easing of access to materials has to be welcomed and is welcome news for self builders, renovators and project home improvers.”
All of the reopened stores will be implementing social distancing measures, while some stores will be operating shorter hours. However, some products may not be available for the time being, so check stock supplies prior to attending a store to avoid a wasted trip.
(MORE: Follow LIVE UPDATES on the construction industry)