Life happens, even during a pandemic: The washing machine breaks, the sink leaks, the stove goes cold. You need a service technician. Having someone breach your safe space is not without risk, so it needs to be done carefully.
Six feet is the rule for safe distancing outdoors. Inside, because there is not as much air flowing, it is best to stay "as far away from that individual as you can get," said infectious disease expert Dr. John Swartzberg, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. "I would wear a mask so I wouldn't infect the serviceperson, and I'd expect them to wear a mask, so they wouldn't infect me. I'd ask them to be extremely careful about what they touch, and I'd want them to have washed their hands or put hand sanitizer on before they even come into my house."
Something else you can do: Open doors and windows. The fresh air will dilute any virus that might have hitched a ride with the service tech. Central air conditioning will also help.
Keep in mind that workers are worried about their safety, too. By keeping your distance and asking about precautions, you will help put them at ease. Put on a mask before you answer the door, then keep it on. Place hand sanitizer near your home's entrance or in the work area. If you leave — or stay in a different part of your house — give the serviceperson your cell number so he or she doesn't have to hunt you down.
Time to hire a home-care pro? You can view Checkbook's ratings of local service providers free of charge until August 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/repairs.
The pandemic has created challenges for repair pros who need to be inside homes to do their jobs. They know many customers are anxious. Checkbook contacted several top-rated service companies to find out how they are responding to the new reality.
Most service companies are eager to get back to business, but some are taking it slowly. Companies are also adapting the way they do their work. The most common changes company representatives mentioned to Checkbook:
• Employees are provided with masks, respirators and gloves.
• Equipment is sanitized before and after each home visit.
• Any surfaces touched inside the home are sanitized.
• Employees have been taught about social distancing.
• More time is provided per call, so the serviceperson can focus on safety, as well as on the job.
• Many businesses now can process credit card payments on the spot or via phone.
Many service companies provide safety guidance in advance of visits to help protect their customers and employees. Expect to spend more time on the phone when you call to schedule an appointment.
For a broken appliance, be ready to provide the make and model number and specifics about what's wrong. By learning more about the problem upfront, the service tech is more likely to have the proper replacement parts in the truck, which could forestall a return trip.
Some problems — a leaking pipe, an inoperative clothes washer — need prompt attention. The same goes for anything related to safety, such as the smell of smoke coming from a light switch. Projects that involve work outside the house, such as a new deck, roof repair or landscaping, can be done safely.
But is this the time to have your kitchen or bathroom remodeled? Many health experts recommend against it right now. If you must have a longer-term project completed during the pandemic, consider a hotel stay or short-term rental for the duration.
During the pandemic, carpet- and duct-cleaning companies are placing ads promoting the health benefits their services provide. Some HVAC companies claim UV air filters kill viruses. Much of this is just hype.
While having your carpet and rugs cleaned will remove dust and germs, there is no evidence that it protects against the virus.
And don't assume cleaning the air ducts for your HVAC system will improve your home's air quality, as some companies claim. There is no science to support any health claims for this service. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend routine air duct cleaning.
Similarly, be skeptical of claims made by HVAC companies that they can install UV filters that will eliminate germs. No one yet knows whether the units available for home effectively kill coronavirus.
Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate.