A year ago, the snow removal business was so slow locally that John Monahan temporarily had to relocate his business to Delaware.
This year, his Aurora-based Downeast Seamless Gutters and Roof Raking business is having no problems finding work — and piles of snow to plow or remove.
“We did a job on Center Drive in Orrington Saturday on a home with a two-car garage, and I’ll bet we took between 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of snow off the roofs,” said Monahan, who has owned and operated the business for 10 years. “It took us about 31/2 hours to finish.”
Monahan said the garage was particularly bad with snow piled as deep as 38 or 39 inches in some spots.
“There was so much snow up there weighing it down, the roof actually popped back up to how high it was supposed to be as we cleaned it off,” Monahan recalled. “There was this loud popping sound of snapping wood, and there was a visible crack in the snow about 35 or 36 feet long.
“I told [the homeowner] I bet he was a storm away from using his deductible, and this was Saturday, just before we got hit again.”
Penobscot County and many parts of Maine and New England have been taking plenty of hits from Mother Nature this winter, forcing many home and business owners to set their sights high, elevate their thoughts and maintain lofty aspirations.
In the past week, thick layers of accumulated snow have caused some flat-roofed commercial buildings around the Northeast to collapse and are contributing ice dams on many homes. Problems start like this: The sun or warm air from the attic begin to melt snow lying on a pitched roof, but the runoff refreezes before it drips off, often over the cooler, lower edge of the roof. The ice forms a barrier, and the pooled water can leak into the home.
“The biggest mistake people make is they procrastinate and wait until it’s too late to do anything about snow and ice buildup on their roofs,” said Ray Mailloux, owner and operator of R&M Exterior of Bangor. “People need to be more proactive, because once it leaks, it’s too late.”
The good news is that many people appear to be acting before it’s too late, and that would explain why business is booming for Monahan, Mailloux and others who specialize in snow removal, both at ground level and above.
“I’d say we’ve done 15 to 18 jobs in the last week, and typically this time of the year, we ice-fish,” Monahan said with a chuckle. “We’ve been busy. We’ve got roofs to do every day this week.”
Mailloux says this is one of the busiest winters for roof snow and ice removal he has seen in his 28 years in the roofing business.
“This is the worst year we’ve had in terms of accumulation,” he said. “I just recently put my ad in the paper and have done several jobs already.”
While Mailloux and Monahan are roofing professionals, they’re not the only ones who are busy. Many nonprofessional roof rakers and roof removal individuals or outfits are turning snowdrifts and ice formations into cash.
“You can’t waste much time right now as far as finding jobs,” Monahan said. “There’s a lot of competition.”
Downeast and R&M are established businesses with employees who are experienced and insured for injury and workers’ compensation, but the next-door neighbor or the guy off the street with a shovel, a ladder and a roof rake usually isn’t.
“I have three decades of experience in roofing. Others have a pickup and a ladder and no safety equipment or knowledge on how to do the job right,” Mailloux said. “They may create more damage to a house than they’re up there to prevent.”
Not to mention the issue of liability.
“If they’re not doing it themselves, folks need to follow the same rules for roof workers as if they were having their driveway paved or shingles put on,” said Terry Grindle, president of the Roland Grindle independent insurance agency in Brewer. “The guy off the street with a pickup truck you should be a little leery of. He could be qualified and do a very good job, but you always run a risk.”
The risk could be the worker being injured, the homeowner being sued for liability, the house being damaged by shoddy workmanship — or all of the above.
And then there’s the issue of what your homeowner’s insurance policy covers.
“Your standard homeowners policy will cover water damage to the structure from water backing up under the shingles from ice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your contents are covered if they get soaked,” Grindle said. “There are a lot of policy restrictions or exclusions out there. You really have to just be aware what your policy says and review it if you don’t.”
Like many people, Grindle cleaned off his own roof.
Ray Plourde Jr., a retired Air Force and Air National Guard technician living on Larkin Street, was outside Monday armed with a ladder, an ax, a roof rake, and some special salt that’s safe for roofing and gutters.
“This is about the fifth time I’ve done it this season,” said Plourde, a 69-year-old Houlton native. “Before we had the new roof put on, we had leaks in the bedroom and the living room.
“Now, we have a little bit of an ice problem underneath the snow and between the dormers, and the back side is terrible, so I try to keep an eye on things and clear it regularly. It’s a pain, but it’s Maine.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.