Business is booming for local home improvement companies and contractors as the pandemic leads prospective customers to spend more time at home and spend less money on vacations.
Paul Warren, who lives on Burningtree Mountain in Decatur, hired ESS Concrete and Design of Decatur to create a larger patio and make a walkway from his driveway this summer.
“It was a project we wanted to have done, and it probably would have been done in the fall,” Warren said. “But because of the pandemic, it sped things up.”
Zac Lott, owner of ESS, said his business picked up substantially two or three weeks after the coronavirus shutdown was ordered in mid-March. He said his work is up 25% because of the pandemic.
“Money is good right now,” he said. “People were going to work, but some are now home all day and are spending their stimulus checks. … The number of high-dollar projects is up.”
He said referrals from other contractors are up, too.
“People are wanting extra parking at their houses so jobs for driveway extensions and patios are up. I’ve even done some work for doomsday preppers," he said, referring to people preparing for a cataclysmic event. "People have the money and are spending it.”
Industry experts said some homeowners spent money budgeted for family vacations on home improvement projects. Lowe’s Home Improvement Inc. reported a 35.1% increase in U.S. sales in the second quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2019.
Houzz, an online home remodeling website, said it saw a 58% increase in project leads in June compared to a year earlier.
Emily Long, city spokeswoman, said the Decatur building department issued 928 residential improvement permits from May through August, 31 more than the same period in 2019.
Wayne Patterson, owner of Smith and Patterson Homes of Hartselle, said low interest rates and the pandemic keeping people at home have increased demand.
“But finding labor and materials has been a challenge,” Patterson said. “I need more carpenters, painters, extra hands. There’s plenty of work in the region. I heard there was a lot of activity in the Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee, area and I drove up there last week to see for myself. In north Alabama, we’re paying about $5 to $6 a square foot under roof for carpenters, and Nashville is paying $10 to $12 a square foot.
"It’s all about supply and demand. It’s hard for builders here to stay competitive with those rates. A lot of migrant workers who were in this area have moved there where the money is better.”
He said his company has a couple of crews of carpenters and painters who are working long days because of demand and the lack of additional crews.
Patterson said supply shortages are also making it hard to meet demand.
“When I am ordering windows, I now order them three to six weeks before I need them because some manufacturing plants are at 30% capacity because of COVID,” he said. “It used to take a few days for windows to arrive.”
He said post-and-beam porches are a popular home addition now.
“We’re staying busy building new homes,” he said. “We turn some jobs away. We prefer new construction.”
Dale Gray, 59, owner of Gray’s Ornamental Iron of Caddo, said he quit a full-time job during the summer when his part-time business of making metal hand rails took off.
“I’m working about 60 hours a week because of the demand,” he said. “Things are booming right now. We are having to take advantage of it while it’s there.”
He said his business is up “easily 50%” since last year.
“People are home more, and they notice things around the house,” he said. “People are aging, and some realize they need help getting up and down the porch steps now.
“During June and July, my phone started ringing off the hook. I was covered up all summer. I’m still getting several calls a week. Last year, I could get to the projects in a few days. Now, I’m telling customers it will be three weeks, but I will get to them.”
He said some materials, in particular lumber, have dwindled in supply and increased in price.
“I was doing a porch rail project with cedar tops on the rails,” he said. “I ordered treated wood in early August and just got it last week. It usually takes one week, now it is six."
Tony Dillehay, 50, of Somerville, hired contractors to cement a swing area and fire pit in his back yard during the summer.
“I built it with pea gravel, but thought it would be nicer with concrete," he said. "Our family has spent time out there enjoying it."
Contractor Exon Williams, of Hillsboro, said his roofing and painting business has taken off.
“I’ve got a small crew, and we’ve been real busy. Business is up about 15% for me this summer. We’ve been building decks and doing Sheetrock work, too,” Williams said. “People are at home and see this as a time to fix things up. Everybody is spending the money they got from the government.”
Courtland’s Jeff Coffey, owner of Coffey Construction, said he was afraid business would dry up when the pandemic caused closures.
“But we’ve been steady, mainly doing remodeling jobs,” he said. “People are home and changing the look of their house.”
He also has struggled to find labor.
“Finding decent help has been a problem,” he said. “Ten years ago, we could get helpers fairly easy. Now it is a problem to find good workers. People would rather stay home and get a check from the government. People don’t want to work. Jobs are out there. Anybody who wants a job can get a job.”