Looking for guidance on how to keep your self-build or renovation project on track during these uncertain times? From the latest government guidance to expert advice, here's what you need to know.
Image: Run Projects
This article was edited on 25th March 2020, and all advice is based on UK Government guidelines at this time. Advice within this article will be updated when new guidance is given.
Whether you're a homeowner, project manager or tradesperson, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent government guidelines enforcing social distancing have created a complex working landscape to navigate. On one hand, the health of all those involved in the build, as well as wider society, needs to be safeguarded; on the other, you may be facing concerns about finances, whether that relates to project budget or income for your household.
At present, the advice offered by the Government is that those working on construction sites may continue to do so, as stated by Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government Robert Jenrick via his Twitter account.
Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries:— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) March 23, 2020
🔹If you can work from home, do so.
🔹If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.
🔹Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives
However, this advice differs in Scotland, for example, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised all sites that aren't contributing something essential in the fight against the coronavirus should close. London Mayor Sadiq Khan also disagreed with the UK Government's policy to keep construction sites open in a recent statement.
Construction workers are still going to work and using public transport. You can’t keep a safe distance on sites so the virus will spread and more people will die. I’ve repeatedly asked Ministers to ban non-essential work. Scotland already has - as has TfL. We need action today.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 25, 2020
Large housebuilders, such as Bellway, are starting to close sites over concerns they could not police social distancing.
Whether you choose to keep your site open or to close is a decision you'll need to make based on a variety of criteria, not least of which should be the risk posed to those spending time on the site. Small residential builds may be considered to pose low risk, requiring only a small workforce to be onsite, but as building in such an environment is venturing into unchartered waters, keep these key considerations in mind whatever decision you make.
Materials and suppliers
"While many goods and materials are still arriving in the UK, there will be fewer people available for handling and delivering these items. It is prudent to allow additional time for orders and deliveries to site and to plan further ahead than usually required," explains Kenelm Cornwall-Legh from Run Projects, an independent project management firm.
Whether you're keeping your site open or not, keep in contact with suppliers even if their products aren't due to arrive during this period, as it may also have repercussions further down the line which could affect your build's timeline.
It's unclear how long these circumstances will be in effect. Enforced social distancing was outlined on the 23rd March 2020 for an initial period of 3 weeks, issued with the guideline that this would be re-evaluated at a later stage as the situation developed.
Regardless of the length of time, it's no bad idea to start proactively rescheduling your timeline for the project with dates that can be adjusted as circumstances change, whether you do completely stop work at this time, or just slow down as you see fit.
It may be worth considering phasing projects in a slightly different way – ie. doing works area by area rather than all at once. This could add some additional time and therefore cost, but if you do keep the build running, workers need to be able do their jobs safely and efficiently.
Ensure strict hygiene
Enforce strict hygiene regimes on entering and leaving the site, as well as before and after touching materials. Place hand sanitisers around the site, alongside reminders to wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds each time. "It is also wise to wipe down regularly used items such as door handles, mugs, tea pots, milk and so on at the end of each day," continues Kenelm Cornwall-Legh.
Image: National Cancer Institute
Change to weekly valuations
Valuations are the mechanism by which payments to the contractor should be calculated. They assess the work undertaken against the contract pricing, so that payments made do not go beyond the work actually completed on site.
In these unusual and uncertain times, you may consider agreeing to weekly or fortnightly valuations instead to help, as these may help with the contractor’s cashflow and keep work progressing.
Ask if key people can work remotely
Labourers cannot work remotely, but other people in the process should be able to most of the time. For example, architects can design, update designs and answer technical queries remotely. If you have a project manager, they don’t need to be on site as much as they would usually be.
Close the site
If you are living on site during the build, there may be some things that you are able to undertake on site during social distancing measures that can progress the project. However, in coming days, you may be advised to close the site completely for the forseeable future. In that case, talk to your project manager remotely about how you're going to proceed and ensure that access points to the site are secured to keep materials and tools left on site safe. In coming weeks, the Grand Designs magazine team will be investigating how building contracts and associated costs related to on-site work may be affected, and the conversations you may need to have with your build team.
Are you currently in the midst of a self-build project? Let us know how you're coping by tweeting us @granddesigns or posting a comment on our Facebook page.