Nfld. & Labrador

Do-it-yourself projects making life more bearable during pandemic

DIY is helping building supply stores stay afloat during a pandemic that has dramatically hurt other businesses.

Building supplies, paint flying off the racks as consumers turn to repairs and renovations

Phil and Nina Beresford live on Wedgeport Road in St. John's, and were required to isolate in their home for 14 days after returning from Florida in March. Phil passed the time by painting their home's interior. (Submitted by Phil and Nina Beresford)

When Phil and Nina Beresford returned to St. John's from Florida and began their mandatory 14-day isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Nina had some stern words for her husband of 49 years.

"She said, 'You're going to have to do something.' She said, 'You can't sit around like this," Phil Beresford said, remembering that late March conversation inside their Wedgeport Road home.

Nina did some research into paint colours, and quickly put her handyman husband to work.

By the end of their self-isolation, neither of them had any symptoms of the coronavirus, but the house they have shared since 1992 had a fresh new look.

'I had lost my soul'

There were five empty paint cans, a hole of nearly $600 in their bank account, and Phil admits his patience was tested while painting the 15 french doors in their home.

"By that time I had lost my soul," Beresford, a witty and hard-charging 73-year-old who's as comfortable with a paint brush or hammer in his hand as he is with his ritualistic afternoon glass of rum and Coke.

Phil Beresford is a DIYer who said his patience was tested by the painting job. (Submitted by Phil and Nina Beresford)

"I did it all. Five rosaries later I had it finished. That was my penance," he said.

The Beresford household is just one where do-it-yourself projects have come to the fore, not just for maintenance, but as a source of therapy amid a pandemic where people have been asked to stay home to control the spread of COVID-19. 

"For the first two weeks I had a lot of anxiety," said Stacy Gardner, a single parent who lives in downtown St. John's with her nine-year-old son, Cohen.

Stacey Gardner of St. John's and her nine-year-old son Cohen undertook several DIY projects during the ongoing public health state of emergency, including giving this shelving unit a fresh new look. (Submitted by Stacy Gardner)

Gardner decided to stop following the news so closely, and take on some DIY projects around her house. She installed a new tile backsplash in her bathroom, put up a new shelf and applied some wallpaper.

"I just took my time and was really meticulous, and it looks really good," said Gardner, who is originally from Corner Brook.

Working with her son, she used it as a bonding experience to teach him some of the skills he would not otherwise learn in school at such a young age.

Gardner says she experienced anxiety during the first few weeks of the public health state of emergency but turning her attention to some do-it-yourself projects in her home, with the help of Cohen, helped calm her nerves. (Submitted by Stacy Gardner)

She taught Cohen how to apply painter's tape, and how to use a measuring tape and a carpenter's level. She also trusted him with a paint roller.

"He's much more part of the household now," said Stacy, adding that her son is now much more eager to help out.

Exterior products in big demand

Building supply stores have been deemed essential and have remained open during the public health emergency, taking extreme precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.

At some Paint Shop locations, for example, customers can place their orders by telephone, and collect their purchases at curbside, with a barrier made from wooden pallets separating the employee and the customer.

People line up to enter the Kent Building Supplies store in Mount Pearl. (Kent Building Supplies)

Early on during the public health crisis, businesses were overwhelmed by the demand for paint and other interior products. But with the weather slowly warming up, the demand has shifted to exterior products, said Mary Keith of Kent Building Supplies, which operates a chain of 50 stores throughout Atlantic Canada.

"Given the circumstances around social distancing and self-isolation, people are engaged in more DIY projects at home," said Keith.

A recent visit to Kent on Stavanger Drive in St. John's gave evidence of this surge in activity, with customers lined up at safe distances from each other to enter the store, and others waiting in a line of vehicles to enter the lumber yard.

Like other businesses that can remain open, Kent has implemented strict new policies that limit the number of customers inside their stores, and customers are required to walk with a shopping cart in order to promote physical distancing.

A Kent employee at the chain's Mount Pearl store is seen working behind an acrylic shield, designed to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Kent Building Supplies)

Acrylic barriers have been installed at the checkout counters, debit and credit devices are sanitized after each use, aisles ae limited to one-way traffic, and some workers wear protective face shields.

"Our first priority is safety," said Keith.

Kent employees are very busy. "It's almost too much," said one male employee in the lumber yard.

"We can't keep up with it," added a woman working on a checkout counter.

With physical distancing measures expected to be a way-of-life for months to come, and out-of-province travel unlikely this year, people are investing in beautification and repair projects, both inside and out, so they can enjoy enjoy their properties, said Keith.

"These are unusual circumstances and we are very appreciative of the business that customers are giving the stores," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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