IOWA DERECHO 2020

Storm chasers 'filling a void' for roof repairs after Cedar Rapids derecho

Homeowners need to research companies and ask questions

Workers place tarps Aug. 17 on the roof of one of the apartment units at Westdale Court Apartments, 2155 Westdale Drive
Workers place tarps Aug. 17 on the roof of one of the apartment units at Westdale Court Apartments, 2155 Westdale Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Whether you call them “storm chasers” or “restoration contractors,” out-of-state roofing companies are going to be necessary to meet the enormous need for repairs after the Aug. 10 derecho, industry members said.

“They can be helpful because they are filling a void maybe the local contractors cannot fill,” said Justin Sullivan, executive secretary for the Iowa Roofing Contractors Association, based in Des Moines.

The group’s members — mainly roofing companies in Iowa — already were operating at 80 to 90 percent of capacity before the storm, Sullivan said. Now, with thousands of roofs to fix across the Corridor and uncertainties like an international shingle shortage, getting roofs repaired quickly poses a challenge.

Young Construction, with offices in Mason City, Waverly, and since April, Cedar Rapids, had crews in Cedar Rapids neighborhoods soon after the 100-mph winds finished whipping the city. They helped residents put tarps over holes in their roofs and connected with people who recently had their roofs repaired to make sure they didn’t have further damage, said co-owner Tami Young.

“In 19 years of business ... I’ve never seen anything like that,” Young said. “It was just like a hurricane.”

The first step for homeowners with damaged roofs is to call their insurance company’s national phone number, Young said. Local agents likely will be busy, but the national call centers likely have more people available to answer questions and process claims, she said.

The Roofing Contractors Association has a “find a contractor” website at iowaroofingcontractors.com where users can plug in their ZIP code and find nearby contractors. Sullivan said a “local” contractor in this case might be someone from Mason City, Des Moines or even southern Minnesota.

“The best practice for a consumer to protect yourself is to use a local, either state of Iowa or local, contractor,” Sullivan said. “I would tend to avoid companies that are known as storm chasers. I’m not saying their workmanship is greater or lesser, but if you have questions two to three weeks or even two years from now, that storm chaser has probably gone back to Texas, or Oklahoma or Colorado where they are from.”

Aspen Exteriors may sound like it’s from Colorado, but the roofing company is based Minnesota and owner Joe Jelinek is from Cedar Falls. The company focuses on storm repairs and sends crews where there is need, Jelinek said.

“When a town like Cedar Rapids gets hit really bad, the number of roofing companies that have a brick-and-mortar store there is so minimal they’d never be able to get the work done in time before water starts leaking into people’s homes,” he said.

Young said local contractors might have better access to shingles, of which there is a shortage because of manufacturing reductions due to COVID-19. RoofingContractor.com reported a lack of workforce and transportation issues in China have reduced production of aluminum, plastic, slate, timber and rubber as well as roofing nails.

Homeowners should vet roofing contractors, looking at ratings with the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor. Ask company reps if they are licensed and insured and if they can provide you with references.

The BBB warns against paying in full in advance to reduce potential losses if a company does not do the work.

When homeowners do find a roofer and shingles are delivered to the house, homeowners should watch the materials so they aren’t stolen, Young said.

Getting a roof repaired could take as long as 60 days, Sullivan said, given the amount of damage in Eastern Iowa.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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