The need for home maintenance and improvements never ends, even during a pandemic.
Electricians, plumbers and other tradespeople who do the work homeowners aren’t willing or able to take on themselves kept working as public health officials issued orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
But they had to change their work practices to comply with health orders and keep their employees and customers safe, said Jeff Allen, co-owner of Fort Collins-based Allen Service: Plumbing, Heating and Air.
Some of those changes — including no physical contact with customers — are likely to stay in place for some time.
“It’s our new normal, if you want to call it that,” Allen said. “We feel blessed and fortunate to still have employment and be able to serve our customers.”
New coronavirus precautions impact on work
For Allen Service technicians, the new normal includes wearing face masks, gloves and shoe coverings when working at a customer’s home. They use wipes to sanitize tools and equipment before they are brought into a house and after installation.
They practice social distancing with customers and coworkers as much as possible. There are no handshakes in the field, no going inside a house where someone is sick.
At the company warehouse, parts are set out in bins on a dock for technicians to pick up without going into the building. Most of the office staff works remotely; technicians are dispatched from home.
When the pandemic gained steam in March, business dropped off as customers seemed reluctant to open their homes to outsiders, Allen said.
But drains still clog, furnaces break down during cold snaps and air-conditioning units need maintenance before temperatures rise.
Once the word got out that in-home service companies were considered “essential” and Alllen Service was open, calls increased to the point the company’s business is almost back to normal, Allen said.
“It didn’t change the types of calls we were getting,” he said. “It was really the confidence to have service professionals come into your home and still provide what we do in a very safe way.”
The percentage of calls to help homeowners whose DIY projects did not go as expected remain about the same, he said.
Some people stuck at home are motivated to get nagging problems fixed, said Joshua Peterson, co-owner of Loveland-based Peterson Electric LLC. In recent weeks he’s scrambled to keep up with the workload and focus on doing emergency repairs.
In some cases, Peterson said, he’s been able to save time by doing estimates over the phone or through a video chat rather than driving to a customer’s house.
Peterson said an upside of the pandemic has been customers no longer peer over his shoulder as he works. If someone gets too close, he politely asks them to back off for the sake of social distancing.
Peterson wears a mask while on a job inside a home. Some customers wear masks when he’s around, others don’t.
“It’s kind of weird out there,” he said. “We’re trying to obey all the guidelines.”
COVID-19 impact on remote building inspections
Fort Collins resident Steve Bourgault knew “some of the big stuff” in his English Ranch home was wearing out after 24 years, so he contracted with Allen Service to install a new furnace, air conditioning unit and tankless water heater in April.
He had no concerns about letting workers into the house after an estimator visited his property to give him a quote for the work and appeared to be well-trained on what precautions to take regarding the coronavirus.
The work was done in a single day. Several crew members were in and out of the house during the day; all wore masks, gloves and booties and were careful to keep away from Bourgault and his wife.
About a week later, Bourgault was contacted by city of Fort Collins Building Services to arrange an inspection of the work. Arrangements were made to do it remotely.
At the appointed time, an inspector called Bourgault on his smartphone and directed him where to point the phone’s camera so he could see details such as wiring, pipe fittings and vents. The work passed inspection without difficulty.
“I liked it because it didn’t involve another person traipsing through the house,” Bourgault said of the inspection process. “And he did good job of explaining what he was looking at and the reason why.”
Bourgault’s project was included in a pilot program for doing water heater change-out inspections remotely, said Rich Anderson, the city’s chief building official.
Remote video inspections for other types of jobs, such as basement finishes done by homeowners, have been done since early April, Anderson said. Depending on the work that has been done, inspections take 15 minutes to a few hours.
In-person inspections of occupied buildings for some work, such as water heater change outs, were curtailed as part of the city’s response to the coronavirus. Physical inspections of new construction and roofing projects continued.
Anderson said his staff has recommended “pulling the trigger” on expanding remote video inspections. The service might remain as an inspection tool after the pandemic passes and public health restrictions are dropped.
“If my citizens feel there is a benefit to this, and we’re not negating any life safety requirements through this process and we’re seeing what we have to see, we may continue with it,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the things we’re discussing.”
Things to know
When considering having a home service provider come to your house:
- Tell the provider if someone at your home is sick.
- Maintain a safe distance from service workers in your home.
- Learn whether building inspections may be conducted remotely.
Read or Share this story: https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2020/05/28/coroanvirus-covid-19-fort-collins-home-repair-service-follow-safety-guidelines/5228124002/