This post is the second in a series. Please read the main article before beginning this part. Due to the complexity of the topic at hand this issue has been divided into multiple posts. Each post is centered around a topic related to homes might change as a result of Covid-19. Topics will be linked as each article is completed.
- Home Space Planning
- Construction Practices (This article)
- Construction Assemblies
- Integrated Technology
- Interior Design
- Societal, Operational, and Behavioral Changes
Construction practices are often dictated by experience. With tight profit margins and the high risk that comes with change general contractors are reasonable to be cautious before trying anything new specially if it adds any costs to construction. With that in mind, this article addresses some of the construction practices that more general contractors and residential construction industry participants might begin to adopt in response to the pandemic. They may adopt these ideas to limit their risks during future outbreaks and decrease the impacts of already acute and worsening skilled labor shortages across the trades.
At the moment home construction is a highly collaborative effort. Many assemblies require two skilled laborers to safely and efficiently install. Many times, this collaboration requires sporadic close proximity and on larger job sites may also require team meetings on a daily basis. Here is a link to states in the U.S. that have implemented restrictions on construction during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we move forward after this pandemic general contractors may begin to evaluate alternatives that only require one person crews to complete tasks or if multiple laborers are required for a task they will ensure that there is sufficient space for minimal risk of transmission among the crew such as a crane operator and a spotter.
As a corollary to labor crews, equipment that enables one person to complete a given construction task where two were necessary prior will become more common. This trend can already be seen with tools such as drywall lifts that make it much easier and safer to install ceiling drywall but also allow the installation to be done quickly and safely with a single crew member. There are also some doors, appliances, and windows that frequently require two person crews at some point for a safe and high-quality installation. I expect contractors to begin looking for and investing in more equipment that will enable one person to complete tasks that currently take two laborers. In addition, the entire process of construction is a very manual process with many hands touching various surfaces. When there is a pandemic that can spread via droplets on surfaces that last for two to three days workers may potentially be exposed simply by picking up and moving various items. Equipment that enables one person to move stuff not only limits how much they are handling the items but also limits the amount of people with exposure to the items.
Job Site Sanitation
Although this is more specific to larger residential projects, one of the challenges of working on a job site is that bathrooms are not available until construction is mostly complete. This often means outhouses instead of proper bathrooms with running water and the ability to wash hands frequently. In addition to changing lunchtime routines to ensure isolation and limit spread on the job site this might also mean that more job site trailers may include a sink with running water and hand soap. Also, bathrooms might be made operational with temporary and re-usable construction fixtures prior to construction completion to minimize use of outhouses or the need for additional temporary bathroom facilities with running water. We might also see job sites being built with a more complete set of temporary utility hook ups that include running water and sewage lines in addition to power.
Job Site Trailers
This item is also more specific to larger residential projects. Work trailers or job site trailers are often used for reviewing plans, change orders, meetings, and coordinating work crews over the course of the day. Digital pdf plans, AR/VR, and tablets for reviewing construction documents on site may make paper plans and the space necessary to review and coordinate construction efforts with those plans unnecessary. Add in a pandemic and the conference room becomes dead-weight overhead because no one should be using that space and the full-size paper construction set becomes a pandemic transmission mechanism. While job site trailers might still have a small office for on-site construction management meeting spaces will probably be eliminated.
Component Assembly & Installation
While pre-fabrication of larger components to be assembled on site is a macro-trend that will continue, the pandemic will likely not affect its adoption in the construction industry. The effects are complicated because while labor contact time on the job-site is reduced this is offset by labor time in the factory. With many factories shut down because they are “not essential”, the impact of the pandemic is unpredictable and may vary from locality to locality. That said, any current products or innovations that automate or reduce the amount of manual labor required for assembly or installation in the factory or on the job-site will be increasingly valuable as they will enable work to continue even with drastically reduced labor forces. Factories with a high ratio of machines to humans will be conducive to continued operations even during pandemics as the risk of human to human transmission is reduced.
To be clear this is only an exploration of potential impacts or changes resulting from the current pandemic on construction practices. Please see the other articles linked at the top of this post for other potential impacts on housing.
If you have any comments or additional thoughts on how residences may change as a result of this pandemic please leave them below.