Snow-related fixes are accumulating

Winter: With roof collapses, potholes and accidents, Jack Frost is wreaking havoc in Baltimore. And businesses are profiting from it.

February 28, 2003|By Dan Thanh Dang and Gus Sentementes | Dan Thanh Dang and Gus Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Any joy Editha Grice used to get from wintry weather melted long before all that snow ever did.

It wasn't just because mountains of snow trapped her inside her Ruxton home for a week or made driving impossible. It was the ice that pulled down gutters and the water that leaked from the roof into her sun room, ruining watercolor paintings and soaking the furniture, that really did it.

"Oh my golly, it looks terrible," said Grice, a 70-something mother of eight. "I used to love snow. Now, I go outside and it just makes me groan. It's going to cost me thousands to fix."

Never mind the digging, the backaches, the cold and the inconvenience. When it comes to Maryland's never-ending winter of snow, it's all about the money now.

Residents across the state wrestling with storm damage are spending a small fortune on repairs and keeping home improvement companies and repair services scrambling to keep up with the workload during what is normally considered a slow season.

At the Firestone Tire & Service Center at 6386 York Road, workers repaired 70 cars on Wednesday alone - 20 more than usual - after slippery roads and monstrous potholes assaulted drivers everywhere.

Aero Roofing Inc. in Middle River said 100 to 150 calls are coming every day from all over the region with reports of caved-in ceilings, fallen gutters, cracked roofs and leaks.

Last week's heavy rains and snow melt kept Baltimore-based Stilwell Plumbing and Drain Cleaning busy bailing out waterlogged homeowners suffering with malfunctioning sump pumps and clogged sewer lines.

"Clearly, the snowstorm is not good for the economy, but it's made a big, big difference for contractors this month because every leak has been revealed, every crack has been found and every possible defect has been identified," said Anirban Basu, an economist and chairman and chief executive of Optimal Solutions Group, an economic consulting firm in East Baltimore.

"There is a lot of work out there for people generally considered to be in the special trades," Basu said. "But the housing market has been red hot, so the specialty trades and construction industry were already busy before that. People are now finding that they're having trouble getting someone to their home."

All that extra work translates into a flood of claims filed with insurance agencies across the region, said Bill Liebig, a board of director with the Insurance Agents & Brokers Association, whose members cover Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.

"There are more automobile accidents than normal and more homeowner claims," said Liebig, owner of W.G. Oliver Agency in Bel Air. "We've had probably 50 claims here in the last week. That's a lot for a small agency like mine. I hope it doesn't get worse."

Snow damage has required so much repair work that the state Secretary of Department Labor, Licensing and Regulation warned distraught residents this week to protect themselves from unlicensed contractors. Residents should call the Maryland Home Improvement Commission to check out contractors before signing contracts.

But to make matters worse, frigid temperatures and the threat of more snow has made some repair work difficult, if not hopeless, as harsh weather ravages roadways and more snow accumulates on the area's quaint, but somewhat impractical flat, tar roofs.

Why impractical? John Harvin of J.C. Harvin & Sons Inc. explained that once snow on roofs starts melting, the water has nowhere to go on flat roofs so it will start pooling on top. Then it freezes at night and melts again during the day, causing the asphalt to expand and contract quite a bit. The result: cracked roofs and massive leaking.

"Baltimore is a messed-up roofing town," said Ted Ryder, owner of Aero Roofing. "I've been out on at least 100 estimates this week, and another 100 for my brother. This storm and this winter has just been tremendous. We probably have 200 roof jobs waiting. It's usually a three- to five-week backlog. Now we're getting into the eight- to 12-week range. It's never this busy."

Although there's no official figure on how much home contractors are benefiting from the work, the Associated Roofing Contractors of Maryland Inc. said harsh weather has been a boon to the industry.

"Suppliers, contractors and manufacturers of all these products are pretty happy, I'm sure," said Daniel M. "Pat" Stidham, executive director of ARCM. "Just think about it. If a slate roof goes bad, the cost to repair it could buy you another house."

Many roofers in the region said that the snow has brought tons of work, but it's also prevented them from actually getting the job done.

Efforts to clear the snow and ice from housetops could cause more damage.

"It's nice to get the extra work and there's plenty of work to do," said Floyd Wallace, co-owner of Wm. C. McDermott & Son Inc. "But the snow is lingering so long and it's so cold, you can't get to it. If you can't get to it, it doesn't do a whole lot of good."

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