‘Jamming’ to get backed-up projects done
The local construction industry is enjoying a boom year as valley contractors hustle to get projects done before the building season wanes.
The season had a late start this year because of a two-month moratorium on construction related to coronavirus countermeasures. However, contractors didn’t stop getting requests for work, and when Gov. Jay Inslee re-opened construction in early May, builders quickly headed for job sites.
“The whole season got compressed,” said Tim Smith, owner of Big Valley Builders. “Everyone is struggling to do what we normally do, with a limited timeframe. We lost two months, and it’s been tough on everybody.”
“It’s a matter of having just barely enough [subcontractors] to get things done. We’re also seeing things out of stock,” said Smith, who’s been waiting on the delivery of a refrigerator for two months.
“We’re jamming to get it all done. Hopefully we won’t be outside too much in January, but it really depends on how the next couple of months go,” he said.
While construction halted in late March, building applications and contracts for proposed projects didn’t slow down much.
“Everything was shut down right when work would have been starting,” said Dan Higbee, Okanogan County Building Official. “When it did open up, there was no staging, everybody was trying to start at the same time.”
The building department has issued 45 single-family dwelling permits in the Methow Valley this year, compared to 55 issued in 2019.
“Considering the slowdown this year, we’re a little ahead of where we were last year [with issued permits],” said Higbee. “Overall, I expected a downturn in applications this year, with a pandemic going on, and a presidential election … I was surprised when that didn’t happen.”
“I’m doing different inspections right now than I was at this time last year,” Higbee added. “I’m basically looking at a two-month difference, which means some contractors will continue framing throughout the winter; some are just getting the foundation in this fall, and will have to continue in the spring.”
Phil Dietz, owner of Lost River Construction, has been so busy that he’s had to turn work down this year. Other contractors have reported being booked through next year.
“I think more people are moving here, they can work remotely; I think that’s what we’re seeing,” said Dietz.
Dietz and his crew are hard at work but he’s looking at all his projects being “delayed to a certain extent.”
“Everything’s just taken exceptionally longer to get done this year,” said Dietz. “It’s definitely busier, and it also feels a little more crowded. This year’s gotten really backed up.”
Dietz noted that the first step of many building projects, the pouring of a concrete foundation, complicates a contractor’s tight schedule. “I don’t think any concrete contractors are taking on any additional work this year,” said Dietz.
Tammy and David Elliott, owners of Elliott Concrete and Masonry LLC, moved from Delaware to the Methow Valley in December, intended to get their concrete contracting company up to speed. However, their plans were delayed as they worked to secure business licenses and loans, and make local contacts. Then the coronavirus hit.
“Early on we didn’t know when things would open back up,” said Tammy Elliot. “We were worried. There was no work; not knowing anybody and trying to start a business during that time was hard.”
The couple planted a garden on their newly purchased land and began working on some improvements to their new house.
“We thought, we’ll just grow food and raise some chickens,” said Tammy. “We weren’t even sure if we could get going. Then, in early May, the industry opened back up and David took his first project, pouring a foundation for a house in Twisp that had been propped up on stilts.”
When they got the call about the job, Tammy and David gave each other a knowing look, because they had seen the house when they had arrived in town in December, and had joked about how it looked like a potential headache.
“Ironically it happened to be his [David’s] very first job,” said Tammy. “He got it done and all went well.”
Since then, more jobs have come their way.
“We’re booked now for the rest of the season,” said Tammy. “It’s been an amazing transition. For us, it’s worked out.”