Remodeling Through a Pandemic: COVID’s Effect on Home Improvement

During the past 10 months of COVID19 lockdowns, homeowners have changed the way they think about their homes and have made many changes to improve them in ways that better serve their needs.

In a qualitative study conducted by The Caney Group in partnership with HIRI, we identified five major themes about homeowner remodeling attitudes, behaviors, and future remodeling plans.

#1 Pandemic lockdowns drove short-term fixes

During the lockdowns, the home transformed from a mere living space to a multi-functioning enterprise of living, work, and school. Houses were not designed to do all these things, and being inside 24/7 revealed flaws and opportunities for improvement.

Remote learning drove the need for temporary solutions, including desks, technology, etc. Learning areas for younger children (who need supervision) are typically a dining area or family room.

High school and college students used their bedrooms, where a door provides quiet for online learning. Most of the spending for remote learning required low-cost solutions like desks, lighting, and partitions—the typical project (excluding technology) cost under $500.

Remote workers need a quiet space, and an office is viewed as a permanent need as many expect to continue remote work at some level beyond the pandemic. Basements, guest rooms, and bonus rooms became instant offices, and homeowners were willing to spend a bit more to optimize their offices.

At a minimum, a door to mitigate noise became a priority. Floor coverings, paint, and lighting are among the items purchased at the cost of $1,000 - $2,000.

Re-purposing storage spaces, including the garage or unfinished basement, provides a good space for a home gym. With a renewed focus on health, family members can work out in the safety of their homes.

Paint, floor mats, and basic electrical were needed with spending in the $300 to $800 range (plus equipment).

#2 Home shortcomings advance project timelines

Tackling the “project list” has become a great way to put extra time to a constructive purpose, and many future projects were advanced to the present during the pandemic.

Increased time inside the home makes flaws in their home more apparent. Most of these projects include aesthetic upgrades that improve the look and function of kitchen, bathroom, or living spaces:

  • Kitchen refresh (paint cabinets, counter, flooring) $2,000
  • Kitchen refresh with appliances $6,000
  • Bathroom refresh (vanity, sink, plumbing fixtures, tile) $2,500
  • Vinyl plank flooring $2,000

These projects are all basic to moderate DIY skill levels and could be done without bringing contractors inside the house. Projects requiring specialized trades like an electrician or plumber inside the house were avoided.

The summer months brought focus on the back yard with deck upgrades, fire pits, outdoor furniture, and patio pavers among the projects done.

These improvements provided space for social-distanced visitors plus activities for the kids stuck at home because sports, camp, and vacations were canceled. These individual outdoor living projects cost $600 to $4,500.

#3 Pro contractors were hired almost exclusively for exterior projects

In several cases, homeowners hired professionals to do projects on the home exterior. Keeping crews outdoors keeps the family safe. Maintenance projects like roofing, tuck point repairs, gutter replacement, and exterior painting are among the projects tackled using a contractor during the pandemic. The cost of these projects ranged from $2,000 - $15,000, depending on the size of the job.

#4 Online sales got a boost, but we still need stores

Whether bought in-store or online, Internet use has surged during the pandemic. Homeowners seeking finish items like plumbing, lighting, and bath accessories indicated they sought more variety and the advantage of home delivery afforded by online ordering.

Free delivery and free returns (in some cases) tipped the risk-reward balance in favor of online purchases.

Bulky or delicate items like shower doors, bath vanities, and tile are among items ordered online but shipped to the store for either in-store or curbside pickup. A key benefit to store delivery of bulky items is the ability to inspect products for damage before acceptance and/or easy returns.

Fueled by a national appliance shortage, many appliances were purchased online. The benefits of knowing in-stock availability and comparing prices in the safety of home outweighed the risk of purchasing big-ticket products sight unseen. To alleviate uncertainty, some admitted to showrooming (view in-store, buy online) but limited their shopping to a single retail location.

Items like paint, hardware, tile, and flooring remain popular items to buy in the store. Paint is often purchased freshly mixed for immediate use, and seeing color cards meets a key pre-purchase need. Other finish items need to be seen and touched to assess the look and quality of available items.

#5 Post-pandemic pivot from DIY to Pro projects

Many expressed the hope that leisure activities like dining out, vacations, kid’s sporting events, etc. to resume as early as mid-summer. Returning to work (and commuting) is also in the cards for some. When this happens, homeowners identified three trends:

  • Spending for DIY projects will decline as life returns to normal
  • Contracted interior projects will accelerate
  • Overall, homeowners expect to spend less as they resume vacations and other leisure activities


If you are not currently a HIRI member, there is no better time than now to join. HIRI is constantly tracking and updating research data in order to bring the best sources to our members. As a member of HIRI, this information can help provide insight for all aspects of business, from product teams and insight teams to management and executives.

Contact us today with any questions on becoming a member. 


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