Earlier this month, New York City met the criteria for Phase 1 reopening, which includes construction, and that means renovations can resume, but the process is drastically different now.
“Covid-19 has changed how we understand risk in the construction industry,” says Bolster Build Manager Julieta Dominguez. “New Covid-19 measures need to be incorporated into the construction process. They create an opportunity to take a fresh look at existing safety policies.”
Now that renovations across the city are re-mobilizing, here’s what you can expect.
New rules to keep workers and homeowners safe
Renovation has always been tightly regulated, especially in New York City, but renovators will find that the rules have gotten stricter, largely to protect workers and homeowners.
If you’re renovating in an apartment, condo, or co-op, your building may have more specific rules around renovations than a brownstone or townhouse. Some buildings may only allow one renovation at a time, while others will have restrictions around the number of construction-related deliveries to the building or elevator occupancy.
“When renovating in a condo or co-op building, you’re under rules set forth by the building corporation or shareholders,” says Julieta. “On top of the DOB and city rules, you’ll have your own set of rules imposed by your neighbors.”
Phase 1 guidelines include physical distancing, face coverings, and reduced capacity on project sites. Distancing measures stipulate a limit on one person per 250 square feet for indoor work, excluding supervisors.
Bolster has also put forth its own set of Covid-19 Remobilization Guidelines, which were distributed to buildings, subcontractors, and homeowners. Understanding risk is at the core of Bolster. Its guidelines were produced and published in April in anticipation of being able to quickly remobilize renovations and to help homeowners have a meaningful conversation with their board.
“Taking early action on creating remobilization guidelines to protect our team and homeowners was a good decision and set us up for success during Phase 1 reopening,” says Bolster Build Manager Leo DeGuiseppe. “As soon as we completed our demobilization process during the time the city was on pause, I worked with the team to create our own set of guidelines, and predicted with shocking accuracy what the city’s requirements would be. For example, I estimated that we’d have to limit team member occupancy to 250 square feet on indoor sites, and then the city came out with those exact requirements.”
Your renovation partner should carefully schedule their team to adhere with distancing and occupancy rules, and minimize contact amongst themselves and others. The good news is that this working style is normal under most circumstances and will have minimal impact on the project’s overall schedule.
Lastly, there should be PPE available at every project site.
“For example, at one of our sites, a 3,000-square-foot brownstone in Park Slope, we have a table with a log book and hand sanitizer set up at the entrance of the property,” says Julieta. “We keep a detailed record of who is present on the property, and take everyone’s temperatures. Additionally, we have signage throughout the property reminding our team to wear masks and appropriate PPE, in accordance with DOB regulations.”
Neighbors may be more sensitive
New Yorkers are used to living on top of one another, but with so many people working from home for an extended period of time—or in some cases, indefinitely—tensions between neighbors may be higher than normal.
This is especially true for buildings, where neighbors are often surrounded on all sides. If some of the residents are elderly or in a higher-risk group, they may be more sensitive to construction, whether it’s noise to having additional people entering the building.
“The most common complaints I hear from supers and building management are regarding common areas,” says Leo. “Residents will complain about people hanging out in the lobby and whether social distancing is being adhered to in the elevators.”
Informing your neighbors of construction activity in writing, whether in a letter or an email, is a standard practice for Bolster, and has only become more crucial to help alleviate any potential tensions between you and your neighbors. Your build manager should help you address this; most have a template you can use and can facilitate delivery for you. For more information on what the letter should include, check out these tips from Bolster in this Brick Underground article.
A shift to online workspaces and virtual meetings
Communication is just as important than it was pre-coronavirus, but if you had in-person meetings or on-site check-ins, those may be scaled back or occur less frequently. Bolster has migrated many communications to Zoom and Slack, and is investing in development of its dedicated homeowner platform.
Ensuring you are communicating with your team at least once per week is important in helping you stay abreast of progress and updates with your renovation.
“I recommend that homeowners check in weekly with their build managers to follow up on the status of their project. This will be helpful for them and their own personal understanding of their renovation,” says Leo.
Jeronimo Aguilar Gutierrez, Bolster’s vice president of pricing & procurement, agrees.
“Build Managers are crucial to the success of the project. In addition to many other things that help keep the process moving, they serve as a liaison with building management, who oftentimes are the project’s gatekeeper.”
Anticipate supply chain delays
Bolster had a Covid-19 procurement strategy in place early on since it was an easily controllable variable for projects in the design phase. Those who didn’t take this approach are seeing negative consequences and big delays as a result.
“Almost everything we ordered while pause was in place has arrived, though some of it was one to two weeks delayed,” says Jeromino. “Bolster planned for the worst, and that’s why we were quick to take action on placing all orders in the beginning.”
Much of the procurement strategy for large-scale NYC renovations relies on other countries, including the UK and Italy.
“Since every country was impacted by the pandemic, everyone is backlogged,” says Jeronimo. “Imagine if your contractor or your renovation partner became stagnant during that period of time—those homeowners could be seeing delays of six weeks or more. These are the consequences of not taking early and decisive action.”
Your project’s timeline may be pushed back
Because NYC was on pause, construction came to a halt. Although many renovations in the design phase were able to progress in areas like pricing and procurement, non-essential construction was prohibited.
As such, your renovation partner may ask you to acknowledge updates or new policies that may impact your renovation project and/or delivery date, and what to expect should the project have to shut down again in the future due to the ongoing pandemic.
Some final advice
It’s important to recognize that, despite all of the progress NYC has made in flattening the curve, we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
“Homeowners should be looking out for the current state of the pandemic. We’re in Phase 1 now but we recognize that there is likely to be an uptick in cases,” says Jeronimo. “It’s important for homeowners to monitor channels we’ve been posting to and keep in touch with their renovation partner.”
Above all, recognize that we’re all in this together.
“We’re all living through an adjustment at every level,” says Julieta. “Our homeowners are aware of what’s going on and they understand the steps we have to take to ensure that their renovation is delivered safely. Transparency in the handling of every channel has been key in operating as a partnership with our homeowners as we have included them in the solution of each problem they have faced during the pandemic. At the end of the day, we are building their home and we want them to enjoy them as safely and as soon as possible. That’s our mission.”
The Bolster Smart Renovation Zero-Risk Guarantee
How can a design-build firm guarantee a Zero-Risk renovation?
Bolster has pioneered Smart Renovation. We apply quantitative analysis along with our proprietary technology solution to identify and quantify the performance risk on every renovation project. The result is a personalized strategic approach to each renovation that allows us to absorb 100 percent of the homeowner’s risk. Your home will be beautifully designed, and delivered on-time and on-budget. That is our guarantee.
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