Americans invested in their homes during COVID-19 lockdowns, tackling to-do lists and upgrading their living areas indoors and especially outdoors.

Remember pictures of long lines of shoppers standing 6 feet apart outside of Lowe’s and Home Depot in April?

Both retailers saw strong upticks in sales from do-it-yourself customers and so-called pickup-truck professionals. Shoppers spent an additional $2 billion at each company during the first quarter of 2020 compared to the prior year.

Demand strengthened and continued into May, Lowe’s CEO Marvin Ellison said during an earnings call about first-quarter sales, which climbed to $19.68 billion.

Ellison pointed to activities ranging from outdoor landscaping to essential indoor repair and maintenance work to long-deferred home projects. He also gave a shoutout to “true standouts” among Lowe’s suppliers, including Charlotte, N.C.-based Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Co.

Founded in 1901, Charlotte Pipe says it is the only company that makes cast iron and plastic pipe and fittings. The plastic products include behind-the-wall PVC and ABS drain, waste and vent pipe, and thin-walled PVC pipe for residential gutter runoff.

With estimated sales of $445 million, Charlotte Pipe ranks ninth among North American pipe, profile and tubing manufacturers, according to Plastics News’ ranking.

For outdoor projects, the increased activity has been more than seasonal. Wary homeowners haven’t wanted contractors inside their residences. Remodelers cited this as their top concern in April, May and June, according to Farnsworth Group & Home Improvement Research Institute’s COVID impact tracker.

For this reason, remodelers who do exterior home improvements, such as gutters, siding, windows, doors, decks, patios and solar, are faring better than the interior trades — plumbers, electricians, HVAC, carpenters, painters, flooring and tile installers — as well as the design-build contractors and full-service firms.

“Homeowners can get a lot of work done like roofing, siding and doors and not feel quite as concerned about having contractors at their home,” said Abbe Will, associate project director of remodeling futures for the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Will spoke during a June 25 webinar organized by the National Association of Home Builders about the remodeling outlook in the wake of a pandemic and economic downturn.

The homeowner remodeling market is forecast to drop 0.4 percent to $326 billion by the middle of 2021, marking an abrupt about-face after annual gains of 5-7 percent in recent years, according to the Harvard Joint Center.

“The share of remodelers that expect to do less revenue in the coming months because of the pandemic is up to almost three [out of] four remodelers in the northeast and Midwest along with those focused on the interior specialty trades in all regions,” Will said.

She pointed to the second-biggest concern for remodelers cited by Farnsworth Group: 55 percent say homeowners are worried about their money and finances. Unemployment remains high, states seeing spikes in COVID cases are renewing business restrictions, and more households could turn remodeling jobs into DIY projects.

Even before the pandemic hit, nearly all of the 47 metropolitan areas tracked by the Harvard center were expected to see slowdowns in improvement spending through 2020. Revised, COVID-adjusted projections now show annual homeowner remodeling spending will likely contract in 24 metros — up from nine in the original forecast — while 15 could see only gains of 1-3 percent compared to 2019 activity.

“Think about which markets are likely to be harder hit in this downturn, and we think the coastal markets are one and then markets that rely more heavily on tourism, services and restaurants, where unemployment has been higher. Those will be more challenged,” Will said.

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