Business

For Tomlinson Cannon, solving water problems has been the business since 1948 in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids

'I tend to be a risk-taker,' owner says

Installer Randy James of Tomlinson Cannon looks over his work before heading to the next section of the home needing new
Installer Randy James of Tomlinson Cannon looks over his work before heading to the next section of the home needing new gutters while on the job in West Branch on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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It may be the early days of winter, but Tom Cannon knows what to expect come spring.

“This year, the ground is saturated,” Cannon said. “It’ll freeze, and it’ll stay there until the spring. Then we get the spring rains, and the ground’s already saturated so then it puts more pressure on basements.”

And that leads to business for Tomlinson Cannon, whose services prevent or correct structural damage due to too much water.

Cannon, 73, was a homebuilder in 1985 when he bought the company from Claude Tomlinson, who’d started his gutter installation and repair business with his father in 1948.

“He did my gutters, and he was getting pretty old,” Cannon said. “I thought, ‘He’s probably going to retire one of these days, and that seamless gutter looks pretty neat.’”

Cannon didn’t expect what started as a sideline to become his core business.

“We had one crew that was just doing the gutters, and I thought it would be just part time,” he said.

“It ended up being very busy. There’s a lot of gutters out there. So I retired from building construction and just did that full time.”

Tomlinson Cannon today has 30 employees. Cannon added an affiliate company, AeroSaw, in 1993.

“I tend to be a risk-taker, and maybe a little naive back then,” he said. “I bought a concrete-cutting company. Didn’t know anything about it, so we made all kinds of mistakes.

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“Through the years we’ve learned how to do it, so it’s a viable company now.”

As he became familiar with the gutter business, branching out came more or less naturally.

“There are a lot of problems that are caused if you don’t maintain your gutters,” Cannon said. “We had customers asking us for referrals to places that would fix wet basements. So we just decided to do these things. We do the gutters, the mud-jacking, basement waterproofing.”

Mud-jacking is prescribed when a concrete patio, sidewalk or driveway subsides because of settling in the ground beneath.

“We drill a series of holes and we pump a concrete solution into the void,” Cannon said. “When the void fills up, it has to go someplace. It raises the concrete up.”

Cannon said basement waterproofing usually comes down to two basic techniques. A polyurethane sealant injected into vertical cracks repairs existing damage, followed by installation of a complete drainage system to prevent future problems.

For functioning drainage, a crew removes concrete around the perimeter of a basement and digs about a foot deep along the outside. The trench is filled with gravel and perforated plastic pipe similar to agricultural drainage tile.

“We incorporate that with a sump pump,” Cannon said. “We repour the concrete, and then when the water goes under the footing or through the crack in the wall it goes into that tile and the tile directs it to the sump pump.”

Most newer homes are built with this system, Cannon said.

“There’s other methods of waterproofing,” he said. “We’ve done this method since the ’90s, and it is by far the best way to waterproof a basement.”

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About 90 percent of Cannon’s business is from homeowners, many with houses of a certain age within about 30 miles of its Iowa City and Cedar Rapids offices.

“A lot of them were built in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “They weren’t waterproofed properly.”

Fixing customers’ water problems has proved to be more than a sideline.

“Everything we do is really steady, and hasn’t really changed a lot,” Cannon said. “When I started doing gutters, they had that seamless gutter machine.

“There’s nothing that can replace that product. We’ve tried a few things, but it’s just going to be around forever. With the waterproofing, the drain tile just makes sense. There’s not much you can do to improve that.”

Know a business that could make for an interesting “My Biz” feature? Let us know via michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

• Owner: Tom Cannon

• Business: Tomlinson Cannon

• Address: 3466 Dolphin Drive SE, Iowa City; 2351 Blairs Ferry Road, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: 319-774-3422

• Website: tomlinson-cannon.com

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