The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has undoubtedly affected construction projects, pipelines and teams nationwide. Stay-at-home directives and social distancing mandates have slowed both new and retrofit project sites in both the residential and commercial arenas.
However, the slowdown and stalling of projects has been highly dependent on region, as state and local representatives enacted lockdowns, some deeming construction an essential business and others not. As the states work individually to re-open on their own timelines, that too affects construction and contracting services regionally.
The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, representing both insulation and roofing contractors, as well as suppliers and stakeholders nationwide, recently polled its members to gauge the impacts of the Coronavirus on their business as well as on their outlook for 2020. The survey was designed to garner timely feedback on actual and forecasted impacts the virus is imparting with a focus on project pipeline, employment, possible material and equipment shortages, and general lockdown instigated disruptions to business. The alliance also compiled informal commentary separately from industry leaders willing to share their thoughts. What the survey and informal poll reveal is insightful, though somewhat unsurprising.
When participants were asked how their company’s business (customers, orders, projects, cash flow) has been affected by COVID-19, 7 percent indicated “Not at all, business as usual,” 23 percent indicated “Slightly negatively,” 30 percent indicated “Moderately negatively,” and 40 percent indicated “Seriously negatively”.
“There hasn’t been a huge effect to our region’s construction industry,” says Ken Wells, owner at Elite Insulation & PolyPro LLC, an insulation contractor based in Virginia. “We are still able to work and are considered essential by the state.”
“We operate in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and all three states have taken a different approach to which businesses are deemed essential,” says John Achille, vice president of Coastal Insulation Corp. “Pennsylvania completely shut down residential construction while New York limited it to one person on a jobsite, and New Jersey continued residential construction with some precautions. Keeping the ever-changing laws and executive orders straight, and interpreted correctly, is a challenge.”
“The impacts of COVID-19 are consistent globally, however with inconsistencies felt locally,” says Doug Kramer, president and CEO of Icynene-Lapolla, a leading global supplier of spray polyurethane foam. “We see consistent downturns in both the new construction and retrofit markets across the U.S. and Canada, however the impacts are hitting states in an inconsistent manner. Much of this can be attributed to the timing of COVID safety rules, as well as the staggered lifting of those mandates by state.”
The survey asked members for their sentiment on their business outlook for 2020 in light of COVID-19. Twenty percent of respondents indicated they were generally positive while 51 percent indicated they were generally negative, and 29 percent stated they were generally neutral.
“The challenges that have come with continuing operations in the COVID-19 outbreak have been unique,” says Bryan Heldreth, president of RPC Industries Inc. and Jackcrete of Virginia. “As primarily a government contractor, we have experienced surges of emergency work orders followed by notices that entire facilities were closing and those work orders being put on hold. We also have clients who are critical to our nation’s defense who cannot close and need us there too, so we continue working.”
The survey also asked participants if they are experiencing staffing challenges as a result of the virus. Thirty-one percent of respondents confirmed they were, 39 percent confirmed they were not and another 30 percent indicated they were uncertain at the time of their survey responses.
Anticipating potential supply chain issues, as well accessibility of personal protective equipment, the survey asked participants if they are experiencing disruptions in SPF material availability as a result of COVID-19. Fifteen percent answered affirmatively, 51 percent said they were not experiencing material disruptions and 34 percent indicated they were uncertain at the time of the survey. However, responses to an inquiry regarding the current availability of personal protective equipment proved more problematic. 68 percent indicated they are experiencing issues acquiring PPE, 15 percent said they were not and 17 percent indicated they were unsure.
Member feedback provides added perspective. “At the onset we made a donation of PPE to our local police department and have since found ways to re-use PPE, and ultimately conserve what we have,” says Coastal Insulation’s Achille. “Deliveries are slow and use of respirators or face coverings is mandatory. Splitting up crews into smaller groups has also allowed us to ensure distancing on the job.”
Technology Saves the Day
Technology was also addressed in the survey. Members were polled about any increased use of webinar-based meetings as a means to reduce face-to-face interactions. Thirty-five percent indicated they are using these tools and 25 percent indicated they are actively considering doing so.
“Fortunately, all of our systems, less loading a truck and installing insulation, are cloud based so our office has continued to operate with a work from home scenario,” says Achille. “We conduct regular facetime meetings with staff. All our bids are delivered via email and eSign, and deposits are made through ACH.”
Finally, the survey asked participants if they anticipate any financial distress with their business in 2020 due to the virus with 63 percent indicating they do anticipate that, 8 percent indicating they do not, and 29 percent stating they weren’t sure at this time.
“We are still able to work with very disciplined social distancing. Being in rural western Nebraska makes it much easier to keep crew members separate from others. However, because we are in an agricultural area we do expect a downturn in business as the prices farmers are getting for their commodities are very depressed due to export and trade problems,” says Brad Houlden, co-owner of Houlden Contractors, a spray foam contracting business he leads with spouse Shirley Houlden.