Canberra tradies kept busy with lockdown home improvement projects | The Canberra Times

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With overseas travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, Canberrans were spending their disposable income on renovations and home improvements, making 2020 many tradies’ busiest year ever. But Master Builders ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins warned that with the loss of 1138 construction jobs the economic impacts of the pandemic on the industry could be felt for years to come. “Like the entire ACT community 2020 has been one of the most stressful years on record for the local construction industry, however the resilience of local business owners, and the way they have supported the safety and mental health of their staff, has been admirable,” he said. Mr Hopkins said the industry had responded well to the safety challenges of the bushfires and COVID-19. He said government support – particularly the ACT’s $4 billion infrastructure program – had been key in keeping tradespeople afloat. “However, concern remains around how the industry will perform when the current stimulus measures are reduced, hence we are calling for the HomeBuilder program, ACT stamp duty cuts and Lease Variation Charge remission scheme to be extended,” he said. Mr Hopkins encouraged Canberrans to keep supporting local businesses when seeking home improvements and thoroughly research the workmanship of any company they hired. The Decking Wizard’s phone had been ringing off the hook since September with customers asking for quotes on decks, pergolas and other outdoor structures. “Winter months are often quieter than summer months. It’s similar to buying a boat – you don’t buy one in winter, you buy it in spring when the weather starts to get nice,” Decking Wizard proprietor Richard Kent said. Mr Kent said he was now fully booked out until April at the tail end of a bumper year of trade. Mr Kent started The Decking Wizard in 2009, a year after moving to Canberra from England, and the business had gone from strength-to-strength each year since. Mostly a one-man show with a few contractors, the company specialised in outdoor wooden structures as well as associated maintenance like cleaning and oiling. Canberra’s relative avoidance of the coronavirus pandemic and a higher level of job security were helpful in keeping tradies busy this year, Mr Kent said. “At the very beginning if we look back to February and March, we were still getting over the fires and the phone wasn’t certainly ringing as much as it is now. Then we had a few weeks where the phone didn’t ring at all but I think confidence then resumed,” he said. And the freak hailstorm that hit the ACT in January had kept Mr Kent repairing holes in pergola roofs all year round. “I think I did a quote just last week looking to fix hail damage,” he said, laughing. Mr Kent felt confident business would remain up coming into next year, but was looking forward to a well-earned break over Christmas. “I think until they resume overseas travel this is how we’ll stay, but once people can travel again I think it will drop off,” he said. “I missed a three-week trip to England back in May so I’m just as keen to go on holiday as the next guy.” At Home Landscaping’s Tony Mumberson barely felt his business slow down when the pandemic hit Australia. “It went quiet for a week or two at the start, but then it took off and went mad and hasn’t stopped,” he said. With more Canberrans stuck at home and looking to beautify their backyards, Mr Mumberson and his crew had non-stop jobs pencilled in for the next eight months. Mr Mumberson said most of their work this year had been installing swimming pools and landscaping around pools as people tried to make the most of their time at home. “People don’t think there are many swimming pools around Canberra but there’s about 400 going in every year, so that tends to keep us busy,” he said. Social distancing rules did not disrupt landscaping work, with small crews of three or four people able to keep working outside. Mr Mumberson felt pretty lucky to be having such a good year, but didn’t want to seem ungrateful at a time when many had suffered. “All the employees and myself and our family are very aware that people out there are doing it a lot harder than us and we don’t want to spruik the fact that we’re flat out,” he said. And for Mr Mumberson a big part of the business was about helping out the less fortunate. “We’ve always been a bit community minded, and each year for the last 15 years we’ve been able to give back by doing one or two yards for people who are doing it a bit hard,” he said. This year, the company had reached out to a woman with two children with a disability who had recently lost her husband to suicide. “We went in and did a full landscape of their backyard,” Mr Mumberson said. “We’ve got a really good relationship with our suppliers, it’s a really strong community, so they’ve all been happy to put their hand up and help out.” Blinds Awnings Shutters & Curtains’ Murray Johnson was experiencing a similar wave of business as Canberrans rushed to install roller shutters or new curtains before the worst of summer’s heat hits. Mr Johnson said a busy lead-in to summer was normal but the level of demand the business was experiencing this year was unprecedented. “We closed off pre-Christmas orders five weeks ago because we’re so overwhelmed with work. We have enough work to see us through to March or April,” he said. Mr Johnson’s business had a slow start to the year, even before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, and work ground to a halt once lockdowns and restrictions came into effect around Australia – but the quiet didn’t last for long. “We were very quiet for the first three or four weeks, but once Easter hit we never looked back. It’s been busier than ever,” he said. Plantation shutters were the fashionable purchase of the year, but everything from outdoor awnings to everyday curtains were running out the door as Canberrans thought of ways to better insulate their homes. It was more than enough to keep Mr Johnson and his nine employees busy. “We’ve all been working longer hours and trying to keep up with the work we have, we actually managed to put on a couple of juniors as another set of hands,” he said. “There’s a bit of doom and gloom around the long-term, but like the saying goes we’re making hay while the sun shines.” Looking for quality This year saw Canberrans turn to quality when seeking home improvements – particularly hardwood timber flooring, according to Mr Timber Flooring’s Paul Gaunt. Mr Gaunt had previously seen many homeowners trade away good quality hardwood floors, once the pride and joy of many Canberra homes, for something cheaper. “A few years ago we had a major influx of the big-box stores – Bunnings, Costco – selling flooring, so a lot of people were just laying it straight out of boxes but they didn’t have the expertise that we’ve got,” he said. “If they get stuck or there’s a problem they keep going because they don’t know there’s going to be a problem, they don’t foresee issues that we’d normally see, and so we get called in to fix the problem down the line.” Mr Timber Flooring started to pivot towards renovations this year for this very reason, but their flagship earthbound recycled timber flooring remained a huge drawcard for customers. Made from timber from demolished houses, Mr Gaunt said the product was “very unique and very popular”. “Quite often people fall in love with the idea of an old building being saved rather than going to landfill. Even if they’re not necessarily the greenie or sustainable kind of customer, it fits in with their look,” he said. Despite social distancing measures in place, the business had no shortage of customers looking for help. People from Canberra and across the country consulted Mr Timber by phone and internet to fix their hardwood floor issues. Although it was a small business, Mr Gaunt was still taking on apprentices, including his own son, to take his expertise into the future. “We’ve actually done pretty well [this year] and we’ve had to walk away from some pretty big jobs, all in all we’re really looking forward to next year” he said.


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