Outdoor Living In Light of COVID
As I write this, the Bay Area is currently clouded by doubt regarding what fall and winter will look like due to continuous complications from COVID19. What we do know is that this pandemic has forever reshaped this region’s landscape of day to day life, work, and education. As we continue to adjust, one thing has become clear- there is no “new normal”. Normal implies some sense of consistency, but it has become increasingly apparent that our current situation is subject to change almost weekly. Therefore, the only certainty we have is uncertainty, and it’s up to us to continue to adjust.
At Water and Earth, we always want to be respectful of the impact that COVID19 has had on both our clients and our projects, as well as consider what this means for future projects. While many may think a pandemic would greatly slow the landscaping and outdoor living industries as it has many others, it has actually had an opposite effect in the world of outdoor construction.
With millions of people in the Bay Area now working largely at home, many have shifted previous outward focus to spending time with family, and investing money inwards towards their living spaces and property. As a result, outdoor design and build companies are currently close to, or have already reached, capacity. Other factors have contributed to interruption in current projects as well.
When California was in the midst of the most extensive part of its lockdown, factories and manufacturers were unable to produce the goods we needed to continue to build out projects for our current clients. Production schedules and materials have been greatly impacted, and we are presently feeling the hurt of this. At this time, more than half of our eight projects that have moved past design and are in construction have come to a complete standstill due to an unavailable or out of stock material. We hate to see work stand by unfinished, but we continue to queue, as our needs are waiting in a line with many others.
In the interest of transparency, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain exactly how the current situation is impacting our industry. Keeping our clients, in the know only helps them to better understand potential inconveniences or threats when approaching a landscape design or contractor to help build their outdoor living space.
As our clients in the Bay Area wait with the rest of us to see what the rest of 2020 may look like, we are simultaneously experiencing a significant increase in interest for our services. We have built out our company to respond to varying levels of demand, and while we are able to continue engaging clients as we normally would, other parts of the process have changed.
Contractors that would install our designs, and are significant factors in the amount of money a client spends, are sadly taking advantage of the situation. Many are charging premium prices for services and installations that cost far less just a few months ago. As the industry responds to supply and demand, contractors who are saturated with outdoor remodeling requests are upcharging in response- sometimes at 110-130% of what the true cost should be.
As designers and consultants, it’s incredibly important to us to see that our clients are talking to the right people, but in our time doing research and vetting potential project partners, we have found many are exploiting this awful situation for financial gain.
Given the information above, a natural response would be to think, “well then maybe we should just wait”. While waiting will almost certainly help you save money, it may lead to even larger delays down the road. If you missed the chance to have your dream backyard installed in 2020, but you’re hoping to see it ready by 2021, there’s really no room to wait. In early March, just before the shut downs began, contractors were already filling their 2020 schedules with new projects. When the shut down did happen, the construction industry responded nervously, and began to take on as much work as possible in light of an uncertain future.
Because designers such as ourselves had clients that desired to continue work on projects, we continued to refer them to contractors who would work with them once restricted were eased. Unfortunately, this created a post shut down situation where contractors did not start projects they had sold to clients over the lock down, but rather resumed projects that had left unfinished before the lock down began. This created a push back of a few months, and projects that should have begun building in early summer had been delayed towards the middle of end of the season.
As we see this trend continue, it becomes apparent to us that if you would like your outdoor space to be ready by Spring 2021, it is imperative to begin work as soon as possible.
Many of our favorite summer memories are colored by time spent at the neighborhood pool. Sadly, since the pandemic began, this reality is one that is no longer viable for many people. As a result, the desire for on-property swimming pools has exploded. As contractors continue to upcharge for previously less expensive services, swimming pools have become one of the most affected projects.
A swimming pool was already one of the high tickets items you could purchase as an investment in your property. However, what once started at a $100,000 buy is now at least that for a very basic model, and far more for something with any bells or whistles. Additionally, any swimming pool in the Bay Area is likely to take at least three months to build. If you’d like your 2021 to include a private pool, you can’t afford to wait even one more day to begin the process.
One way to ease some of this process is considered a MODpool. Here at Water and Earth, we have always been excited about MODpools. A Canadian company, MODpools refurbishes used shipping containers into outdoor swimming pools and spa units. These units are considerably cheaper than their custom concrete counterparts, and set up is rather painless compared to a longer, more involved custom pool installation. Keep in mind you will still need to consider crane rental, the possibility of interfering powerlines, and a contractor to prepare an excavated hole with utilities and concrete pad.
We have found two popular trends emerging since this pandemic began. Outdoor offices, and outdoor study spaces for children.
Since returning to office campuses likely is not possible for the foreseeable future, many who worked for large corporations in the area, such as tech companies, have been looking into outdoor offices. There are multiple outdoor office providers that can deliver you a custom made office space, separate from the drip line of your home. An outdoor office allows you separation from your home, a space that is devoted to work, and allows you to escape the noise and chaos of the home setting.
As children remain unsure about a return to the traditional classroom setting, outdoor study spaces are also on the rise. The appeal of enabling children the opportunity for fresh air and sunshine has had many parents jumping at the opportunity to have spaces such as these installed in their own backyards.
We’re In This Together
Like our clients, the team at Water and Earth is unsure of what the rest of this year may hold. Our priority, however, is navigating this uncertain time with as much transparency and respect for our current projects and clients as possible. We hope that by bringing awareness to the current climate of the landscaping and outdoor design business, our clients are able to make informed and empowered decisions about the future of their outdoor living spaces.