On-site or in the office, architects can do a lot to keep your project warm during an economic freeze
If you’re a homeowner, if you own rental property, or if you work in facilities management, you know all too well how economic conditions can influence the future of planned construction. By talking to your architect, you can continue non-construction work now to ensure your project is construction-ready when the time is right. It will help you avoid additional (and costly) delays, and it will ensure a smooth transition through this economic recession.
What does non-construction work entail? Design, yes, but also specifying materials for construction, site work to prepare the ground and property, permitting, and ensuring contractors and subcontractors with the right expertise are lined up.
Right now, some percentage of the 80,000 property managers in the US are planning to restart an improvement project stalled by COVID19. Right now, capital improvements are planned for some percentage of the 24 million independently owned rental units. In May, prior to widespread reopening, there were nearly one million residential construction starts, and 1.2 million active building permits, according to the US Census Bureau and HUD in July 2020. There’s more activity out there than you think and if you’re plotting a course to resume work, “construction ready” can come quicker than you think.
What does “construction-ready” mean?
You might remember “shovel-ready” from 2008, but it’s the same basic idea as “construction-ready.”
These are the projects that will be first in line for completion, occupancy, leasing, or use owing to their maturity in the development and permitting process, provided that funding is secured.
These projects will likely save you money by being ahead less mature projects as cities (and their permitting offices) reopen, as contractors begin to round up their crews or staff-up, and as the pipeline for building materials becomes more fluid.
Speaking of materials, such as windows, doors, tiles, and hardware, flexibility on your part and your architect’s part is key to success. Be open to substitutions, welcoming with open arms “the unexpected,” and see this as an opportunity to consider more environmentally friendly options. While you’re at it, double down on locally manufactured products and materials. They travel a shorter physical distance to you and your project, and patronizing local businesses is a vital show of support for your community.
Are there new health and safety considerations for projects due to COVID-19? In short, yes, but those protocols vary slightly for projects slated to restart (or that have restarted already) depending on the jurisdiction. Your architect is familiar with state-, county-, and even city-issued guidelines, and can explain their similarities and subtle differences to you.
For example, in re-commenced construction projects in Washington, one of earliest and hardest-hit states for COVID-19, workers must remain six feet apart; contractors must develop and post their own control, mitigation, and recovery plans; and workers must don employee-provided personal protective equipment. Santa Clara County, which encompasses San Jose and Silicon Valley in California, also requires contractors to develop and implement site-specific safety plans as well as a daily “tailgate session” with workers to review protocols, among other directives. Responsible RestartOhio further recommends staggering work shifts, breaks, and lunch hours at all construction sites.
Code officials have been working through this crisis remotely and with an eye toward the day projects start up again. But their review process has been hampered by the unevenness of code digitization. Nearly one-third (27 percent) of jurisdictions use only hard copies, which proved difficult to circulate when code officials telework. When you consider that 40 percent of jurisdictions cannot offer electronic plan reviews, 30 percent cannot offer electronic permitting, and 61 percent cannot offer electronic or remote permitting, you can anticipate a backlog when projects come back online. Bear this in mind, and talk to your architect about getting everything done ahead of the day you resume your project, however big or small.
About the author: William Richards is a writer and architectural historian based in Washington, DC, and the author of Revolt and Reform in Architecture’s Academy: Urban Renewal, Race, and the Rise of Design in the Public Interest (Routledge, 2017).