Construction Continues During COVID-19

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by Terry Rogers

On March 22, Governor John Carney ordered all non-essential businesses to close, effective 8 AM Tuesday, March 24. With the order, the state provided a list of businesses that were considered essential with construction and construction-related industries included on the essential businesses list. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other construction-related employees have continued to provide services even as other businesses were required to close their doors.

“Between March 11 and April 9, we have written 67 building permits in Milford,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said. “Of these 15 were for a townhouse project, 17 for single-family detached homes and 12 for residential renovation. We have also written permits for commercial demo, foundations and signs, one for a residential demo, one for a construction trailer, five for residential roofing and siding and five utility permits.”

Jeff Bowers of Stillwater Builders explained that his company has been fairly busy since other companies closed in mid-March.

“Our business focuses on new homes, flipped homes and renovation,” Bowers said. “During the pandemic, we have focused on new and flipped homes as there are no residents in those buildings. We have put any renovations with homeowners still living in the home or businesses that are still open on hold for now. We don’t want our sub-contractors or employees bringing in anything to a family nor do we want our guys getting sick. Those renovation projects are on hold at least for another three weeks or until we learn what the state plans to do as far as reopening.”

Bowers also explained that they are limiting the number of sub-contractors and employees who can be in a project at any time. He is happy that his company is still able to provide jobs and keep employees and contractors busy during this time with some of his projects.

“Normally, when we have a project, we may have an electrician, plumber and carpenter in the building at one time,” Bowers said. “Now, we make sure only one contractor is in the building each day. We use all local sub-contractors and many of them are small, one or two person businesses. We may have a plumber who operates the business with just the owner and his son or an electrician outfit that has just two brothers who are working.”

Not only is Stillwater Builders taking care to protect employees, sub-contractors and owners, they are also paying attention to where they get supplies. They use only local supply companies and place orders for items by phone. The supply companies have arranged for no-contact pick-up so that Bowers and his employees can pick up the supplies at a gate or curbside to be sure there is no contact with others. If items need to be delivered to the job site, the supplier simply leaves them without requiring a signature.

“We are even doing this with national chains that we work with,” Bowers said. “If we need to get something we cannot get locally, we can order at Lowe’s or Home Depot electronically and pick it up curbside.”

The hardest part for Bowers is the part of building a home that he finds exciting. Customers who are building homes could previously come into the showroom and pick out carpet colors, lighting fixtures and other items. Now, all of that must be done electronically using video and FaceTime.

“We have always offered walk-throughs of new homes two or three times each week,” Bowers explained. “We are now limiting those walk-throughs to only Saturday and only the husband and wife are able to be there. We wear gloves and masks during the walk-through. We can also provide them for the homeowner if they want them. It is upsetting that we can’t do those fun things like we used to, allowing kids to come see their new rooms as they are being built and allowing customers to pick out the fun things for their home in the normal way, but we are adapting.” Homeowners are also able to pick out items like light fixtures and let the store know that Stillwater is building the home. This allows them to get all the specifications to be sure the items will work in the new construction.

Bowers explained that his company is not suffering at the present time like many others in the service industry, but he is very concerned for what may happen in July and August.

“One thing we are not doing now is signing contracts for new builds,” Bowers said. “That means our backlog is getting caught up fairly quickly. New home sales and contracts have almost come to a halt since real estate offices were forced to close. Even though real estate agents can work from home, it is difficult to do any contract signing virtually. In July and August, normally our busiest time, I am concerned that we will not have work since, right now, we don’t have many projects scheduled past June.”