Steve Lang has weathered cycles in the roofing business many times during his 40-year career, but his Bell Gardens company has never seen anything like the wild swings recently.
With El Niño expected to bring deluges to dought-stricken California, homeowners are rushing to fix their roofs — and overwhelming the roofing industry.
"We are all working overtime and have been for months," said Lang, president of the 100-member Roofing Contractors Assn. of Southern California. "We can only take on so much. I can't just go out and hire 20 new roofers. They're all working."
Similar tales are told by people who clean and repair rain gutters, fix sump pumps and trim trees around Southern California.
The National Weather Service has predicted that the area from San Diego to Los Angeles has a 60% to 69% chance of "above-normal precipitation" this winter because of the El Niño weather phenomenon. That has even disaster-seasoned Californians a little worried.
"This one has been a trigger for me," said Los Angeles artist Wendy Edlen, 70. "We've had our roof about 17 years and we know we should have had it taken care of before now."
Edlen was able to get two appointments with roofers two months ago and got one bid she found reasonable. Her best hope is that the work might begin by late November.
Some property owners have complained on Yelp about the difficulty of getting cost estimates — let alone getting work done.
"I never received a return phone call," said one-star reviewer Constance S. of Glendale recently. "I called them back again and was told that they wouldn't be able to schedule a free estimate until at least January of 2016."
Others have been told it might be as late as March before their roofs are fixed or replaced.
Contractors who have multiple roofers to call on are also finding them booked.
"We're getting about 10 times as many calls as we usually do this time of year," said Gary Abrams, also known as the Home Doctor, who has been repairing and remodeling homes for 35 years. Abrams subcontracts work to three roofers and said that "they are pretty much all backed up."
Handyman Roy Persinko is a generalist who can inspect a roof, check a sump pump, install lighting and more. And he is plenty busy.
"People have gotten the message. They know what is coming," Persinko said. "El Niño comes up from customers on every phone call. 'What should I do?'"
One thing would be to have trees checked for health. Millions of the state's trees have already died during the drought. And some of the trees still standing may be stressed beyond recovery.
The potential dangers were illustrated in Pasadena during the summer, when a pine tree toppled and fell in Pasadena, briefly trapping 33 children, injuring eight of them.
Homeowners who want to ensure that their trees can withstand the rain, or who want weak trees felled safely, have arborists like Your Way Tree Service in Tarzana booked to capacity.
"We are much busier than normal. People want to take precautions," said Monica Latorre, a receptionist at Your Way Tree Service. "We are working seven days a week just to try to accommodate the number of people who have called."
Rain-gutter cleaners are also turning away business, unless the callers feel they can't wait.
"We're booked for months, several months," said Pat Bresnahan, who runs Bresnahan Rain Gutter and Cleaning.
Then there are the Californians who want to save as much of the El Niño rainfall as possible. They, too, can expect a delay in hiring the experts who will install rainwater storage systems.
"We can't take jobs in L.A. County right now until things settle down a bit," said Albert Barlow, owner of Rain Water Systems in Santee. Barlow's company specializes in rain barrels and other systems that help harvest rainwater.
The advice to homeowners: "Don't give up," Abrams said. "Keep calling and trying to find someone who can do the job."
And don't get desperate and settle for hiring someone unknown to do your roof, Lang of the Roofer Contracting Assn. warns; they could do more harm than good to your home.
"The overflow of needed roof repairs has and will continue to bring out more than the normal amount of workmen claiming to be licensed contractors, who are not," Lang said. "Find a reputable licensed contractor, and wait for them."
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