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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We can’t respond to all of the calls’: Roofers swamped as they manage fallout from January storm

By Riley Utley For The Spokesman-Review

Typically, December through March is the offseason for roofers – a time to rest, train and prepare for the next roofing season. This year, that was not the case locally.

Spokane and the greater Inland Northwest got hit by a massive windstorm on Jan. 13. Thousands were left without power, two people were killed and many trees fell due to winds up to 70 mph.

“It really increased business,” said Rebecca Aldana Rojas, co-owner at Stay Dry Solutions. “All these people probably wouldn’t have even thought about replacing or repairing their roof this year, and then all of the sudden the windstorm comes through and is exposing all these issues with their roof that is affecting their home, and then the volume of phone calls massively increased. I would say it probably increased by times four each day.”

Business has increased with it. According to Russ Zhuk, permit tech II in the development services center at the city of Spokane, in 2019 the city had 93 roofing, siding and/or window permits with the word “roof” in the title field in 2019 and 167 in 2020. This year 288 permits have been filed with “roof” in the title.

Zhuk noted this number does not include roofs on building permits, such as a new deck or remodel that might include a roof.

Still, there have been three times more roof permits this year than in 2019 and about twice more than 2020.

Meanwhile, there’s a big backlog in roof repairs and replacements.

Both Rojas and Alex Zhelez, general manager at Avidus Roofing, said they are booked for the foreseeable future.

“We had probably about 200 calls that we got for the three-week period after the storm, and we’re still getting calls through,” Zhelez said. “It kind of reminds me of the 2015 storm that came through the Spokane area and took out I don’t know how many trees, but I know it was in the thousands. I know some of the jobs are still coming through from 2015 due to the people not noticing the damage.”

Zhelez said there have been so many calls, the company has been referring would-be customers to other roofers.

“Our appointment line got booked up,” Zhelez said. “We’re running probably 90 appointments a month per estimator. They are full-time, booked out and on it. We’re pretty busy as far as that goes. We can’t respond to all of the calls, so we say, ‘Hey, if there is another company out there, you are more than welcome to call them and ask.’ ”

Rojas said her company has given out 100 more estimates than they normally would this time of year.

“One of the main challenges we’ve faced is, we are such a small company and just trying to keep up with the volume and keep our customer service level great with a smaller team,” Rojas said. “The biggest way that we’ve overcome that is by doing teamwork. As an owner, just being really hands-on with my team and my partner, who is also really hands-on out in the field, so we can make sure people get great customer service even though there are so many customers.”

The windstorm added delay onto an already slowed timeline for getting a roof replacement or repair. Raw material has been backlogged due to COVID-19.

“The biggest challenge for the roofing industry, at least in the Northwest, is material,” Zhelez said. “We have so many jobs that are on the schedule waiting to go, and the suppliers are about 11 to 12 weeks out. We can’t get the material in time, and it’s kind of a domino effect from last year because we are in the middle of COVID. The suppliers had lockdowns and the material got used up, and the stock got very small.”

He said that if someone were to call right now an estimator would be about three to four weeks booked out. If it was an emergency, they would prioritize and try to get it on the schedule quickly.

“If it’s an insurance job and there is a significant amount of wind damage, we try to prioritize those or at least make sure there is not exposed sheeting or decking,” Zhelez said. “If we run into that problem where someone calls saying they have exposed plywood or sheeting, then we send out our emergency team for them to at least do the temporary covering before the estimator can go out there and go through the process.”

Rojas explained that when an estimator inspects a roof, the customer often thinks they want a repair when in reality what they need is a full replacement. She said the company makes sure to provide evidence that a replacement is warranted, especially after a big storm like January’s.

Both Rojas and Zhelez noted the importance of these inspections and how vital it is to keep roofs in good shape.

“When the shingles fly off, it’s like the ‘check engine’ light turning on,” Zhelez said. “It indicates that the life of the roof and shingles were compromised.

“Going in there and slapping a couple shingles on is only a temporary patch before the next wind comes in.”