Spike in basement renovations keeping Winnipeg contractors busy

WINNIPEG — The start of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many construction projects, but contractors didn’t get to hang up their tool belts for too long, as an influx of people are making winter renovations.

Like almost all industries, the beginning of the pandemic was tough for contracting companies.

“Everything got shut down and the calls stopped,” said Jason Zarrillo, CEO of Stand Tall Contracting. “We had a few jobs booked that were cancelled and pushed back to later dates.”

But recently, Zarillo said there’s been an upswing in business.

“It’s actually been busier on the residential side of things,” he said. “A lot of people are looking at upgrading their space.”

Despite the slow start to the construction season, residential building permits in Winnipeg are only down slightly from 2019. In 2020, the City of Winnipeg issued 7,195 permits compared to 7,222 in 2019.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, a typically slower time for home improvements, the City of Winnipeg issued more than 1,750 residential building permits, about a 16 per cent increase from the year before.

Zarillo said his company has had an influx of calls about upgrading bathrooms and basements.

Basement Pros, a construction company specializing in finishing basements, has also noticed a large uptick in business.

“All it is extra living space that you’ve already got,” said co-owner Stephen Dyck.

“You don’t have to move to get it or pay market value for moving what the market dictates it is,” he said. “You can just pay for a renovation and you already have the living space.”

Dyck said most clients are young families looking for more space. The finished basements typically include some extra bedrooms, a bathroom and a rec space but depend heavily on what each person wants.

He claims instead of vacations, customers are investing the money into their homes since they are spending more time there.

Building during a pandemic does come with a few challenges, though, in both getting supplies and staying safe.

“Specific suppliers and specific goods that’s just all of a sudden not there,” said Dyck. “Like the influx that every supplier always had was just cut off.”

Contractors have also had to create pandemic protocols.

“Sanitizing, wearing masks, how many people we can send out,” Zarillo listed. “Working in someone’s house, we want to make sure that everyone is being safe, both the residents and our staff.”

Even with the added challenges, both companies agree the extra business is welcome.