The telephones are ringing as often as the rain is falling at Cole Roofing Co. in Baltimore.
Customers with leaking roofs and clogged gutters have made business "insane" during the past few days, said William Cole, the company's vice president. "Our call volume has been out of control trying to keep up."
Similar scenes are playing out across the area, as roofing, basement waterproofing and other home improvement companies struggle to meet customer demand.
Heavy rains began saturating the area this past weekend, leaving many homes and businesses with water problems. That has left several improvement companies with waiting lists of two days to as much as four weeks before they can address some issues.
"We have to hire new people," said Robert Bollinger, president of Budget Waterproofing in Linthicum where calls have been averaging about 300 a day since Sunday.
Bollinger's crews, which were cut two years ago when business slowed because of dry conditions, now have a three- to four-week waiting list on calls to bail out basements.
"That's the problem. It's a feast-or-famine business."
Many home improvement crews say they're telling frustrated customers whose homes can't be immediately serviced to be patient, not to panic and to make sure the people they hire are licensed by the state.
Periods of persistent and hard rain during the past few days have made many repairs impossible, leaving many companies to do nothing more than answer telephone calls and provide estimates.
Roofers like Cole said they're assessing damage during the breaks in the rain and attempting temporary repairs.
"It's hard to do things that are permanent repairs when it's raining, so you're trying to appease people and slow down what's happening to them."
Calls to Pat's Gutter Service in Roland Park have doubled in the past few days, said office manager Tracy Brown. Workers have been called in from their days off to help address the influx of calls about overflowing gutters that need to be cleaned.
Area utility companies also have called on more workers to help assist in outage problems.
'Worse than snow'
Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap said the phone company has experienced some outages this week and that call volume is twice the norm for this time of year. She said Verizon has deployed extra workers to restore affected service.
"Water is the enemy of the telephone network," Reap said. "It's worse than snow and ice."
About 90,000 people have had their power restored to them by BGE since the downpours began Saturday. A BGE spokeswoman said the company increased field personnel by 100 yesterday to about 400 people.
Area contractors said customers have had mixed reactions to their home damage and the wait they're facing.
Adrian Palazzi, owner of Stop Leak Waterproofing in Dundalk said "people have been very understanding." But Gregory Wentworth, president of Basement Systems The Flood Busters in White Marsh, where more than 1,000 calls have come in this week, said he has dealt with less cooperative customers who believe "they're the only ones with the problem."
Cole said he tries to be upfront with customers. "If somebody we've never done business with calls us, I'd say probably two days at least" before we can get there, he said. "For my current customers, I'll get to them in 24 hours."
Contractors say they understand customers' frustrations because some repairs can cost several thousand dollars.
"It's a panic because it's your home," said Brown of the Roland Park gutter service. "You don't want water in your home."
But while customers may be in a hurry to fix their water problems, they should do their homework before hiring someone, experts say.
Tom Shaner, executive director of the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association, said consumers should be sure businesses are licensed by the state's Home Improvement Commission.
And he said customers should get businesses' license numbers and confirm them with the commission, which can be done through an online database.
"Don't let somebody tell you they're licensed," Shaner said.
Tips for hiring contractors
Be sure the contractor is licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Customers can check at www.dllr.state.md.us/license/occprof/hom eim.html or by phone at 410-230-6309.
Ask for references.
Get a written contract.
Don't pay more than one-third of the contract price as a down payment. Never pay in full until a job is completed.
Get a copy of the contractor's current liability insurance certificate.
Establish a timeline for when work will be completed and what will happen if the timeline isn't met.
Check for complaints against the contractor, available from the Home Improvement Commission.
[ Sources: Maryland Home Improvement Commission Web site; Tom Shaner, executive director of the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association]