For roofers, business is looking up

Come the thaw, there will be work a-plenty on roofs, gutters

February 13, 2010|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

With construction down and the economy sluggish, the state's roofers have grown accustomed in recent years to looking for business.

But after back-to-back snowstorms, business is now coming to them.

"The phones are ringing off the hook," Randy Piccoli, sales director of Brothers Services in Hampstead, said between calls from homeowners frantic about leaking roofs and collapsing gutters.

"They're asking, 'What can you do immediately? Can you get here today?' "Piccoli said. "It's not good."

Not good for property owners, perhaps, but great for an industry that has dipped in recent years. With new construction stalled and renovations slowed, roofers have struggled to find new customers and revenues.

Call it the not-so-calm after the storm: Now those businesses are seeing a spike in demand for their work.

"It's probably going to make for a lot of business," said Patrick Fick of Fick Bros. in Baltimore.

Part of the reason, he and others say, is because their services have been underused in recent years. Fick estimates that business dropped 30 percent in the past three years as homeowners opted to do only patchwork jobs or nothing at all on roofs, gutters and siding while waiting for the economy to turn around.

"Now," Fick said, "they're getting slammed."

Fick said that he and others in the roofing business anticipated trouble about work not being done, or done only piecemeal. "But we didn't expect a storm of this magnitude."

Since most in the region are unaccustomed to having several feet of snow pile on their roofs and large chunks of ice clog their gutters, many roofing companies got away with what homeowners in Southern states do when it comes to weatherproofing. Piccoli said that some roofers did as little as possible with ice and water-guarding, or ensuring proper ventilation.

"They could not get away with it in Minnesota or New York," Piccoli said. "You could do that in Maryland the past five or six years like we were in Florida and get away with it."

If improperly treated, Fick said, those roofs now will be susceptible to leaks - or worse. While most normal roof leaks require no more than a "bucket in the attic" before contractors arrive, he said, the leaks caused by the masses of melting snow and ice this week can quickly get into the walls.

The gutters, even if they appear to the untrained eye to be intact, could be on the verge of collapse as a result of being choked with ice, he said. The experts refer to it as ice-damming, but some might add an "n" to the second part of that phrase.

Friday was more a day for assessments than assistance.

Just as officials are asking residents to remain patient about their streets and power, roofers are telling their potential clients that they might have to wait for a thaw in order to get their residences and stores fixed.

Francis Cullen, who has operated a family-owned local roofing and siding company for the past 35 years, said that safety is a big concern."We're getting lots of calls," Cullen said, but "there's not much you can do," given the risks to his employees and contractors.

"You know how dangerous it is to be riding on roads that are covered with snow and ice; can you imagine how dangerous it is to be on a roof with snow and ice?," Cullen said.

Cullen said that those trying to remove the snow and ice themselves are risking injury - or worse - even on a flat roof.

Fisk agreed, saying that "if [the ice] did come off and you're up on a ladder," it could make for a very dangerous situation, given the weight of some of the ice chunks and the fact that ladders might not work too well when planted in 4 feet of snow.

Flat roofs, though seemingly safer for those trying to maintain their balance, present their own risks, Cullen said. Many flat roofs in the area have collapsed when the snow became heavier as it began to melt during the day, then refroze and turned to ice at night.

Roofers are not alone in the number of calls they've received in the past week. Bob Frances, director of inspections, licenses and permits for Howard County, said that he and those he has worked with from fire and rescue response units have answered hundreds of calls about structures that might have been compromised by the snow and ice.

Frances said none of those calls has resulted in a building being deemed uninhabitable - at least not yet.

Frances said that homeowners and business owners should be aware of signs - either visible or audible - that a structure is in jeopardy. Typically, the sight of a sagging roof, a door or window that won't close properly, or cracks in drywall are early warnings.

Also, a popping or moaning sound emanating from the roof or walls is a "sign you should take seriously," Frances said.

The extent of the damage to homes and businesses caused by the storms won't be known for weeks. Underneath the tons of snow and ice lay hours of work to repair the leaks and cracks and replace roofs and gutters that were rendered useless in the past week.

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