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Local renovation worker painting during the pandemic. Photo: Shawn Gordon

Stuck at home, owners decide to tackle renovations

Demand for renovations are unexpectedly going ‘through the roof’ in the Lower Mainland

By Arrthy Thayaparan , in Business City , on February 18, 2021

Jasmine McNeil didn’t buy a house needing renovation work to help her pass the time during the pandemic. But that’s exactly what she’s ended up doing.

McNeil is just one of many homeowners who have decided to pursue home improvements in the past year. Sales from asphalt shingles to cedar fencing are booming as folks take on projects to fix up their homes and fill up their extra time.

“Everything’s been cancelled, plans have derailed and there’s no travel — which we like to do a lot of,” said McNeil over a cacophony of teenagers, dogs and construction blaring around her at her new house on Vancouver’s North Shore. “But we’re enjoying the fact that we’re doing a renovation. We’re totally distracted and it helps to look forward to the finished product.”

Renovation boom takes hold

Over the past several months, Lower Mainland renovation contractors noticed a sizeable increase in renovation requests.

Mark Cooper, the president of Shakespeare Homes and Renovations Incorporated and the chairman of the Homebuilders Association of Vancouver, says that the pandemic played a major role in the growth in renovations.

“Suddenly people are home all the time, they’re noticing problems with their space and realizing the need to invest in their home’s maintenance.”

Contractors are not the only ones noticing the sudden interest in home improvements. With the boom in renovation projects, demand for supplies has “gone through the roof,” according to Thomas Foreman, president of the Building Supply Industry Association of B.C.

“There has been a spike in revenue in the industry, but what’s behind the spike? There’s product being bought in unusual volumes [for this time of year] that our industry hasn’t seen before. The rational thinking is that it’s because of people staying home. They suddenly have more time and money to spend on home projects.”

Buying surges show up in odd places

One frequently overlooked set of data from Statistics Canada is an indicator of the renovator trend.

In November 2020, asphalt shingles roofing materials recorded a 97.5 per cent increase in Canada-wide shipping and a 57.6 per cent increase in production compared to November 2019.

[infogram id=”a314b1f0-8000-446a-8780-1af4063b0016″ prefix=”P2f” format=”interactive” title=”asphalt shingles line”]

Asphalt shingles may seem an unlikely indicator of economic growth in the building supply industry, but Foreman says that there are similar trends in almost every type of supply right now.

“The numbers are substantially higher than previous years,” said Foreman, “Looking at roofing specifically, it’s quite easy to pinpoint why they showed so much growth. The challenge is do people want others inside their homes [during the pandemic]? No. So it’s easiest to do external renovations where social distancing is better maintained.” 

U.S. events affecting the market

While manufacturing for asphalt shingles increased due to higher-than-usual demand, Rob Davidson, vice-president of residential sales at IKO Industries, knows there’s more to the numbers than meets the eye.

“Certainly the demand has increased in the Canadian market, but it’s also important to factor the pressure in the U.S. [asphalt shingles] market and how the roofing demand there is flying off the charts,” said Davidson.

That’s not just because of renovations and new home projects, but also from an increase in storm activity.

According to the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2020 was a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season with 30 recorded storms. Of these storms, twelve made it to land in the U.S., of which seven were billion-dollar disasters. Another record with over $95 billion in damages, ranging from patching roofs to reconstructing entire homes.

The need for roofing supplies down south led U.S. manufacturers to focus primarily on their domestic sales — giving Canadian manufacturers the opportunity to expand within Canada’s borders.

“Canadian manufacturers have benefited from this change in the market. We suddenly have a lot more opportunity for growth domestically,” said Davidson.

Local renovation worker doing carpentry during the pandemic. Photo: Selvakumar Subramaniam
Worries for the future

Despite the sudden growth in revenue, there are some worries over the future of the industry and whether a drop in demand should be expected in the coming years. 

“It’s similar to walking on ice on a lake — just have to keep moving forward cautiously,” said Foreman with an unworried chuckle. “We have to take what we can get from this year and be prepared for the future.”

While industry associations seem to be optimistic for the future, local renovation contractors are hopeful for another type of future.

“I can’t wait until [the pandemic] is all over. We’re trying to get by one way or another,” said Shawn Gordon of Gordon Drywall and Painting Incorporated, “Sure, revenue is better than expected, but we could’ve done better in a normal year and I look forward to returning to that.”