- General contractor Hoar Construction has published a white paper about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected its operations and, from its viewpoint, the construction industry at large.
- In "The COVID Effect: How Our Industry Stays Resilient to Keep Building," two of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic have been healthcare and higher education, Hoar wrote, while the extra safety measures required to operate — plus material delays — have resulted in longer project timelines.
- Looking ahead, the Birmingham, Alabama-based contractor said that the challenges of the COVID-19 working environment have forced efficiencies, such as virtual training, the use of prerecorded messages for safety meetings and virtual inspections. A contractor's ability to be flexible and versatile as far as project type, Hoar said, will be even more important in the future as owners make moves toward converting hotels to housing, for example, or retail buildings into warehouse space.
Hoar said it has been able to minimize the material delays with increased communication and organization, including the Lean technique of pull planning. Material costs have not increased significantly with the exception of lumber, which had a huge jump from $260 per 1,000 board feet in April 2020 to $948 per 1,000 board feet in September. Some projects have turned to steel to replace the hard-to-get, expensive wood.
In addition to tracking lumber prices through the pandemic, Hoar told Construction Dive that Mark Winters, the company's vice president of preconstruction, the the contractor had also done an analysis of other materials and their prices. As of November, the following had seen price increases:
- Soft plywood
- General millworks
- Gypsum products
- Asphalt roofing/siding
- Major appliances
- Ready mix concrete
- Builder's hardware
- Plumbing fixtures/fittings
Hoar has also seen labor costs decrease as competition among trades for projects increases. The uptick in unemployment during the pandemic, however, did not lead to a labor shift to the construction industry, leaving the industry still in need of skilled workers and programs geared toward training and recruiting.
As far as Hoar's workforce productivity during the pandemic, COVID-19 safety protocols had the potential to use up 2% of a 10-hour workday, but the contractor told Construction Dive that because of construction workers’ resiliency, adoption of technology and adaptability, the company has overcome precaution obstacles and has maintained its overall productivity.
Other takeaways from the Hoar report include:
- Most of the company's new hospital projects that began after the start of the pandemic have been geared towards an expected influx of COVID-19 patients, with features like space for more beds and reconfiguration of some spaces into ICU areas.
- Student housing is likely to see a change in design features including fewer touch points, more antibacterial surfaces, improved ventilation, bipolar ionization and smaller communal spaces.
- At a minimum, the company's coronavirus-specific safety plans adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and then are beefed up according to any local requirements.
- Hoar has seen no pushback from its subcontractors and other trade partners about the new safety protocols.
Hoar’s report comes at a time when novel coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out worldwide, and many contractors like Hoar will soon have to decide whether they will make vaccination a condition of employment. According to some legal experts, contractors will be able to make that demand in order to protect the rest of the workforce.