Published on April 11, 2020

The coronavirus lockdown has caused a lot of confusion for homeowners who were planning, or already set into motion, renovations. Whether you only just put money down on a bathroom update or are living with a partially demolished kitchen, it’s important to know all the facts. Are you legally allowed to pick up where you left off? And if you are, should you? Figuring out if the work you’re doing is essential or nonessential is just one part of the puzzle.

We spoke with Danny Wang, head of client operations at Block Renovation, and Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, to get a clearer picture of how to navigate home improvements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some essential questions to ask yourself before you, or anyone else in your home, picks the toolbox back up. 

Is this work considered essential? 

State and local guidance vary when it comes to residential improvements, so first, look up your government’s instructions on granted exceptions for the essential workforce. But if you live in an apartment complex, your building management company has most likely hit pause on approving renovations, regardless of local guidelines. And even if you live somewhere where residential construction is still a go, your builder may still decide to halt the project. (Dvele Homes, for instance, recently stopped all of its construction on its modular houses to protect the health of its employees.) 

One general rule of thumb for determining whether or not to move forward depends on if crew members can maintain social distancing requirements. Jobs that require multiple people on-site should wait, as the health and safety of everyone involved should come first, Brownhill suggests. 

How will this affect my contractor? 

Put your postponement in writing and talk to your contractor about ending your current contract and drawing up a new one or rescheduling the details within the existing contract, so you can resume once it’s safe. While you’re at it, pay any outstanding invoices to help your builder stay in good financial shape. If you’re eager to do more, look into Design Advocates, a platform created by a small group of architects that’s focused on gathering data and sharing research in the era of COVID-19.

How comfortable am I

Navigating a reno during this time involves a lot more logistics. Are you willing to make alternate housing arrangements so builders can enter your space? Do all the crew members have safe transportation options, and if not, are you willing to provide them? The process comes down to you and your contractor making the decisions together and ensuring you’re following the CDC’s recommendations for practicing social distancing

Are my improvements dependent on specialized trades? 

If you have a relatively smaller project that can be serviced by one worker (think: tilers, electricians, plumbers) in an isolated area or if you are not currently living in the home, you might be in the clear, says Brownhill. If your house has multiple entrances, designate one for the crew and another for you and family members to keep everyone safe. 

What can I do myself? 

While tackling projects on your own is one way to keep the ball rolling, Brownhill cautions against any major DIYs (getting a professional to fix the damages later isn’t exactly cost-efficient). Instead, research, measure, and plan. “So often homeowners wait until they’ve hired a general contractor to look for materials or configure their layout,” she points out. Now is the time to figure out whether, say, your kitchen can accommodate standard-size appliances. Are you in the very early stages of the process and haven’t hired anyone yet? Make a list of three to four potential contractors (once restrictions are lifted, there might be a backlog of bookings). Think of this as your chance to get to know your space better. 

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