With nearly 350 homes burned to the ground and potentially thousands more in need of cleaning and repair, local home builders, remodeling and construction companies stand to see big increases in business.
Not wanting to be insensitive, they’re letting homeowners come to them, but the calls have been coming.
Housing and Building Association President John Cassiani says members are already drawing up estimates, talking to clients, counseling them on options and doing the work that can be done now.
The association has hosted meetings to discuss the best ways to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the Waldo Canyon fire.
He says the association’s goal is to help local contractors get the work and try to steer homeowners away from out-of-town companies that fly in just for rebuilding efforts.
It’s still too early for a lot of the work to begin, Cassiani says. It will take at least a month and maybe a few before people can hammer out arrangements with their insurance companies and before homeowners will decide if they want to rebuild in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood on the northwest side of Colorado Springs.
Keller Homes built a lot of the houses in Mountain Shadows and several of those lost in the fire.
“We’re pretty involved in that part of the community,” said Pam Keller, co-owner with her husband Dave.
Keller is still actively building in part of the Peregrine neighborhood north of Mountain Shadows, she said.
Many of the company’s employees live on the Westside, and Keller said the first few days after the fire were devoted to helping affected friends and employees. But in the past week, Keller said more than a dozen homeowners have consulted with the homebuilder about what comes next.
“Everybody is in a different stage,” she said. “Everybody is devastated, but they all have different levels of attachment to their homes.”
Some people built their homes; others were the third and fourth families to live in them. Some know they want to rebuild in Mountain Shadows and others are looking at new neighborhoods.
“Some people have never built a home before and they might have trouble visioning it,” Keller said. “We want to help them understand how it works.”
Of all the homeowners who have consulted with Keller Homes, Keller said none of them wanted to same floor plan they had before. Some of the homes that burned were 20 or more years old, she said.
“People might be in a different place in their lives,” she said. “They might not want the same floor plan. Or they might just want one targeted more at today’s customer.”
She said Keller can handle the uptick in business. And won’t take on more than it can handle with quality.
“Fortunately, we’ve seen a big increase in business the last six months,” she said.
But homebuilding was slow for a long time before that. And there are a lot of capable contractors Keller knows and trusts who can come back on board if there are more projects.
Colorado Springs City Council President Scott Hente was sure he’d lost his home when he saw aerial photographs early on.
But the home is still standing and fully repairable, he said.
“My goal is sometime in August to get back in,” Hente said.
That’s a pretty quick turnaround time, considering the house was hit by fire in two spots. Firefighters put out flames on the deck that caused some water damage inside the house. The fire also damaged floor trusses and his in-floor-radiant heating pipes.
“Remember, I’m a homebuilder,” Hente said. “I built that house and I like to think nobody knows more about that house than I do.”
Hente, who co-owns Robert Scott General Contractors with Bob Ormstom, started working on repairs this week.
“I’m like everybody else,” he said. “I want to get back into my house as soon as possible.”
Hente said some neighbors have approached him and asked him to rebuild their destroyed houses. Some are anxious to get started and get back into their houses as soon as possible.
Many who didn’t lose their houses have smoke damage and soot stains to scrub out. Those homeowners have kept Matt Colligan, president of American Water Damage of Colorado Springs, busy.
“The phones have been ringing consistently, which has been nice for us,” Colligan said.
Colligan sold his Champion Windows franchise in December to start this restoration business and hired Blaine Parry, who has more than a decade of fire and smoke restoration experience, as his operations manager. Colligan didn’t expect to be doing a lot of fire work when he opened his doors this winter. But he’s prepared for it. He’s invested in 70 Odorox Hydroxyl Generators to remove the stench of wildfire smoke.
It takes three to four machines three or so days to deodorize an average-sized home, Colligan said.
“It’s a 100-percent green, chemical-free odor elimination system,” Colligan said.
People can stay in their houses while the machines work. They deodorize “soft content,” including carpets, furniture and clothes. He said he anticipates a waiting list for the machines will begin to form soon, based on his recent call volume.
He’s also getting calls about cleaning up soot. The company uses a chemical sponge to wipe away both visible and invisible carcinogenic ash and soot inside the home, and pressure-washes the exterior of the house before cleansing it with chemicals to cut through the acidic residues.
“This is going to keep us busy for a while,” he said.
Holladay Brothers Construction is getting two to three calls a day from homeowners whose houses were damaged in the fire.
General manager Mark McAninch said most of the calls have been about damage to exterior finishes. His staff has been writing estimates for repainting, residing and stuccoing homes, he said. But none of the actual work has started yet.
“We’re anticipating that it’s going to get real busy here in the next couple weeks,” McAninch said.
Both American Water Damage and Holladay were busy before the fire, repairing damage from a heavy hailstorm in early June that the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association said was the fourth most expensive natural disaster to hit Colorado.
Trying to keep up with that business and get ahead of anticipated work recovering from the Waldo Canyon fire, McAninch said he has job postings up and he’s already planning to hire three new people to add to his staff of 13.
Colligan said he would also be hiring.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But we’re still flushing out how much work this will be. I want to hire, but I want to do what’s right for the business and hire at the right time.”
Wait and see
While everyone knows there will be a lot of work to do, contractors and builders are waiting for insurance companies and environmental assessments, Keller said.
Businesses are just beginning their meetings with clients, getting an idea about what they will want to do or what they think they will want to do – once they know what they can afford to do. And it’s hard to say when the real work will begin.
“Once we start building,” Hente said, “we’re building a house – and I know how to do that.”