Can builders work on my house during Covid-19 lockdown?

There are certainly a lot of unknowns with the lockdown guidelines and social distancing versus keeping the economy going, particularly within the construction industry.  Hopefully, this little guide will give a little clarity and understanding of what could be reasonably undertaken during the lockdown.

Government guidelines towards the construction industry have some simple and clear distinctions:

·        Essential repairs and maintenance to people’s homes are allowed – keeping in mind general social distancing measures

·        Works relating to improving safety for persons relating directly to the lockdown and social distancing is allowed

·        Other works must strictly follow social distancing guidelines

This latter bullet point would mean that building works to the interior of your home while you are living in it would not be allowed unless it meets one of the first two bullet points.

The Construction Leadership Council have also released a more detailed guidance document for builders that is very useful:

They have also released a document that provides guidance for Builder’s Merchants that could enable them to continue to deliver materials to construction sites during lockdown:

With a little careful ‘outside the box’ thinking it could be reasonably possible for domestic construction work to progress on some level whilst abiding by the government’s lockdown and social distancing guidelines.  Here are some questions to consider before you commission a builder to start work on your home extension:

1.      Can builders work outside my home without the need to enter the house I am still living in?  Thus maintaining social distancing between household and builder(s).  Yes, providing social distancing measures are maintained between the builder(s) and employer (occupant) and any neighbour or member of the public close to the building works.

2.      How much space is there for any builder(s) to work outside my house whilst maintaining a safe 2.0m distance between operatives or other people?  Adequate space would be imperative to enable safe social distancing between any persons.

3.      Can the builders provide their own welfare facilities, particularly a toilet and handwashing facilities?  And can those facilities be safely kept clean and sanitised, particularly between uses to maintain social distancing between operatives?  This should be assessed by the builder prior to commencing works on site and checked with the supplier of any facilities and what cleansing services they can provide.

4.      Would any construction work or the proximity of operatives present any issues with neighbours or the public with regard to safe social distancing?  If access were required on neighbouring property, for example, could this be carried out safely and within government social distancing guidelines?  This should be assessed by the builder prior to commencing works on site and checked with the employer and neighbour(s) to ensure they are comfortable with the situation.

5.      Can construction materials be delivered safely and in accordance with government social distancing guidelines?  This should be assessed by the builder prior to commencing works on site and checked with the employer and neighbour(s) to ensure they are comfortable with the situation.

Some other questions you might want to consider if construction were to progress under lockdown conditions might be:

a)      Will the programme of works be affected by any of the social distancing restrictions and how will this affect your building contract?  Typically, Building Contracts have a set construction timescale with penalties for any delays to the delivery of that.  If the builder is late because they have half the normal workforce due to social distancing or material delivery is delayed, how is that going to be managed under the terms of the contract?  Technically, this event could fall under clauses using the phrase ‘Force Majeure’ and an Extension of Time could be applied.

b)     What happens to the works when the builder then needs to enter my home?  Under full lockdown that could mean that the works need to stop until the lockdown is released.  This too would need an Extension of Time to the Building Contract.  Other factors here might be:

                                I.           How weather-tight is the building?

                              II.           Could materials be damaged if exposed for a long period of time?

                            III.           Would my buildings insurance continue to cover the house and the works?

c)      Could the situation cause my builder to become insolvent and go out of the business part way through my project?  There is no direct answer to this question and it is a situation that could affect any business in this situation.  ‘Cashflow is king’ and to that extent, it may prove more viable if the payment frequencies were increased to fortnightly or weekly rather than the traditional monthly pattern.  This will help pay for materials and labour in the short term, particularly when some Builder’s Merchants are currently asking for upfront payments.

It is, therefore, feasible for construction work to progress for your home extension/renovation/new build project providing reasonable measures are put in place that allows for social distancing.  Both builder and employer should acknowledge and respect the fact that some delays are likely to the originally intended timescales for the works.  It would be beneficial for a Safe Working Plan to be drawn up that clearly indicates how social distancing measures can be implemented through the course of the expected works.

There are likely to be many other questions, over and above these here.  Please feel free to add any questions as comments or contact me directly via the website.

This article was written by Laurence Wright of V&L-architects on 06 May 2020.