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Sandy's been good for business for Western Pennsylvania cleanup companies

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Following these steps can help ensure a contractor you hire is credible:

• Be suspicious of any contractor who tries to rush you, especially on non-emergency or temporary repairs.

• Never pay for work up-front.

• Get three written estimates for the work and compare bids.

• Check the credentials with the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general's office to see if the firm has any outstanding complaints.

• Always have a written, detailed contract that clearly states everything the contractor will do, including prices for labor and materials, clean-up procedures and estimated start and finish dates.

• Never sign a contract with blank spaces, which a crooked contractor can alter after he's obtained your signature.

• Don't believe a contractor who says he's supported by the government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not endorse individual contractors or loan companies.

• Avoid paying with cash; use a check or credit card instead. This creates a record of your payments to the contractor.

Source: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

Hurricane Sandy has become a boon for local disaster restoration companies.

Companies in Western Pennsylvania said they've received dozens of calls looking for cleanup help, for everything from unexpected roof leaks to trees damaging houses.

For the Rev. Walter Dworak, pastor of St. Philip Roman Catholic Church Parish in Crafton, it's the fourth or fifth time in the past couple years that crews have cleaned up a water leak in the church's nearly 100-year-old school. Heavy and steady rain that has fallen since Monday night snaked its way into the building.

“It's coming from the roof,” Dworak said shortly before crews from FireDEX Pittsburgh, a disaster restoration crew in Hampton, placed fans in the building to dry out walls. “It could also be leaks in the mortar, or the caulking. We haven't diagnosed the real problem. We've had roofing crews here and insurance companies.”

Claude Odom, operations manager for Servicemaster of Greater Pittsburgh in Oakmont, said he's had 15 to 20 calls so far. “What we've seen is fairly minor, numerous but minor. It's higher than we would see after thunderstorms, but it was what we were expecting.”

It's not just old buildings like the Crafton school that are being affected, said Jim Fanning, general manager of FireDEX.

“We've seen a mix. Commercial buildings, brand new buildings, homes. It hasn't stopped raining, and that allows water to pond on roofs. Normal rains last an hour or two or they evaporate. This has been a wind-driven rain. When you're looking at a roof as to why it's leaking, sometimes there's no evidence as to why,” Fanning said.

Other companies said they've been finding the same problems. Customers who have never had problems before are suddenly finding water-soaked carpeting, stained ceilings and walls and streams of water in basements from the force of wind driving rain.

Some restoration companies have been subcontracting work to area roofing companies to repair damage as well, finding loose shingles or holes in roofs caused by fallen branches.

There are more than 20,000 disaster restoration companies across the United States, from “larger chains down to little mom-and-pop shops with a mop and a bucket,” said Patricia L. Harman, spokesman for the Restoration Industry Association in Rockville, Md.

Not all insurance policies cover storm damage, according to insurance experts. Some companies require separate flood insurance, and have to determine whether damage is wind- or flood-related.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday said homeowners in the state won't have to pay deductibles on claims stemming from damage caused by the hurricane. Insurance companies have instructed their claims adjusters that hurricane deductibles should not be applied to claims, he said.

Joella Black, whose family has owned Total Restoration Services in Greensburg for more than 30 years, expects to receive more calls during the next couple of days, as homeowners do most of the cleanup work themselves to save some money.

After homeowners have ripped up carpeting or cut away drywall, Black said, they'll call her company to spray for mold or mildew.

“People don't call you right away,” Black said. “They're just devastated by everything. By the time they're seeing what they want to do and get a hold of their insurance company, they decide whether they want to take care of it themselves.”

She said her family company has been busy with nearly two dozen jobs throughout Westmoreland, Indiana and Fayette counties.

Odom said his company has also sent crews to help out in New Jersey, and they're working on a flooded PNC Bank branch outside of Ocean City. He said the local branch of the restoration company often sends crews to help out with areas harder hit than the Pittsburgh region, including last year's Tropical Storm Lee in Harrisburg for 6-8 weeks.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at




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