These past few years have been a time of harsh testing – for our country, ourselves, our families, businesses and clients. Colleagues in southwest Florida endured one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the country in decades last September. Colleagues in Kentucky dealt with an outbreak of especially destructive tornadoes in December 2021. Colleagues on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border found their community filled with toxins from a massive train derailment this past February. And we’ve all had to cope with the personal and business disruptions imposed by COVID-19.
To understand and address these resilience challenges, I’ve reached out to five professionals with different locations and specialties for their experiences and insights:
- John Valente, president of Grand Rapids, MI-area Manufacturers Rep Group and 2023 KBIS “Voices from the Industry” presenter on supply chain challenges;
- Cleveland-based plumbing contractor Christopher Sbrocco;
- Whole-house remodeler and designer Shannon Ggem in Los Angeles;
- Minneapolis-area smart-home technology integrator Kristin Reinitz;
- Inclusive design consultant and occupational therapist Sydney Marshman in Des Moines, IA.
In the three-plus years since COVID-19 transformed our lives and businesses, taking too many of our loved ones in the process, we’ve learned a lot. “Reducing inventory levels on work in process has been a common practice with all manufacturers, [so] supply chain issues were felt quickly and caught everyone off guard,” Valente notes. Observing that just in time became just a little late, the manufacturers’ rep recalls that firms “had to deal with backorders and short shipments. Everyone at every level of all organizations was overwhelmed.”
There was also confusion due to different states imposing different pandemic rules; this created cascading supply chain issues and production uncertainty. “This reality may force the need for larger reserves for kitchen and bath dealers to hold financially,” he advises for the future, advising, “This may be the biggest takeaway. Saving for the rainy days now should be a mainstay in everyone’s business life.”
Another key lesson is remembering what processes worked best during the worst of the pandemic, so they can be called upon again if needed, he suggests. Those pros who didn’t panic, who adapted as needed and dealt with clients in an upfront way about delays fared best, the rep says.
Hurricanes, rising sea levels, burst pipes, faucets left running, surprise leaks and shoddy installation can all cause a home to flood and create thousands of dollars in damage. Fortunately, there is now technology available to address these issues and prevent some of them.
“Water monitoring and leak detection products can provide a lot of value and benefits, including protection, conservation and peace of mind,” comments Sbrocco. Three quarters of his projects are residential remodeling and new construction, so building in these features helps add resilience for homeowners.
Ggem plans designs for clients in flood-prone zones to include tile baseboards for easier post-storm wash out and, she says, locating switches and outlets high enough to remain untouched during flooding events.
Water damage from heavy snow, ice and rainstorms threatens Reinitz’s clients in often-
frigid Minnesota. “Freezing pipes are a common occurrence in homes during extreme cold,” she notes. The integrator is brought in to advise on technology to address these risks, including water detection and temperature monitoring. “That way clients will be notified by their security system if the furnace fails before pipes freeze or if there is water intrusion.” That is particularly helpful in second homes like ski or fishing lodges where an issue could arise while the owners are hundreds or thousands of miles away.
“Many more customers ask about water treatment and whole house filters,” Sbrocco says. With headlines of Flint and East Palestine residents coping with water quality crises,
that’s not surprising. Another topic of client concern is conservation, particularly in drought-impacted regions like the western U.S.
Preventing problems through technology and experience is one way to conserve water and materials, the plumbing contractor notes. “The ability to prevent costly water losses or damage to projects is always a plus. No one wants to go through the rebuilding process, especially after the remodel or construction process,” he adds.
“My father was in corporate insurance; I am wired to look for risk,” declares Ggem. Being in Southern California means facing a bevy of natural disasters: earthquakes, wildfires, landslides, flooding from rising sea levels along the coast and from rivers overflowing their banks in other parts of the region. All need to be factored into kitchen, bath and other home projects, some for code, others for going above and beyond for client resilience.
“Using knowledge of the area risks, in addition to common sense, we specify the types of spaces we think will perform best in every event,” the designer shares. For example, she notes, “We never hang heavy pieces over a bed for earthquake safety and we are very selective about how to furnish children’s rooms. We wire tall furniture, hang into studs and overall ensure there would be a path to exit even in heavy shaking. We leave wide paths and have fewer items out in general.”
Ggem’s community lost 30 percent of its homes in a wildfire, and her own home was damaged. “To manage client projects during our situation, I honed down my active client list by referring some new clients to other local designers, wrapped up nearly finished projects by accepting help from colleagues, and outsourced parts of other projects I usually do myself. I also sent all my fire-affected clients PDFs of everything they purchased through me for their insurance adjusters.”
She recommends prompting clients to review their insurance policies after improvements and purchases to make sure they’re covered for the increased value.
To the smart-home technology integrator, resilience includes planning for future needs, Reinitz shares. This can be essential in keeping those water management, home security and other systems going long after the project is complete.
“[It’s important to] run extra wire to strategic locations, assuming that someday a technology will exist that requires that extra network or fiber optic wire,” she comments. “Also, taking proper measures to manage heat in equipment installations, and supplying sufficient power and battery backup to ensure safe operation [are key].”
“Another big thing about resilience is managing the power surges that come into your home. Unbalanced power can shorten the life of your electronics, so we use products to protect and condition the power before it hits the electronics in a home,” notes Reinitz. She would love to see new technologies that protect a home from lighting strikes. While there are products on the market that help manage electrical surges, “a lightning strike can bring the whole home offline,” she points out.
Resilience often requires sensitivity, as when a fire overtook one of the integrator’s client’s projects. “We were all starting over from square one after a major disaster. It meant quietly and efficiently executing the same work for the second time, without ruffling feathers of an already-traumatized client and builder.” She’s quick to point out that, while this was a worst-case scenario, smaller-scale incidents can easily happen on job sites. “That is the reason we run redundant wiring and install life safety systems in addition to security systems,” the integrator adds.
Technological resilience and accessibility can be lifesaving for Marshman’s clients, who often have health conditions that require inclusive design features. “The environment should be built with the understanding of medical needs and how they may be impacted by power outages, lack of access to community resources, etc.,” the consultant and occupational therapist cautions.
This means factoring in power for oxygen equipment and refrigerated insulin and other medications that need it, she adds. And it means factoring in locations and access to backup power supplies that are easy for clients and caregivers to reach.
“I encourage my clients to work through an emergency response plan where these pieces would come into play, for example: client plans to stay with the daughter in the event of an outage lasting more than four hours. Is the daughter’s home accessible for client and her necessary mobility device?”
Visitability – or the ability of someone with physical challenges visiting a residence to function fully there – also needs to be a top priority, Marshman stresses. “In many disaster situations, we may be inclined to shelter in place and create a temporary multigenerational household situation.” We saw this happen in the early months of the pandemic when infection rates skyrocketed in nursing homes and many residents were sent away for their safety. “We are creating spaces for the sandwich generation [and] should be asking pertinent questions about aging parents and others with varying function they may invite into their home,” Marshman adds.
“Business owners talk about resilience,” Valente shares. “They have just come through one of the most trying times in their business life. They have successfully weathered the storm and now have more experience in business than they ever thought they would need.” These trying times have taught lessons. As designer and disaster survivor Ggem notes, staying flexible and organized and being kind are resilience boosters – both for yourself and your clients. ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an award-winning author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. You can learn more about her design industry presentations, books, Clubhouse events and consulting services at jamiegold.net.