Southwest Florida has earned a new nickname post-Hurricane Irma — “Blue Roof Nation.”
It’s been a year since the powerful Category 3 hurricane made landfall on Marco Island with 115 mph winds that left thousands of homes and businesses throughout Lee and Collier counties with roof damage.
Jim Myers, a homeowner in Bonita Springs, says his roof is still covered in blue tarps that are starting to deteriorate.
“We are part of the blue roof nation,” Myers said. “That’s all that we have.
“It’s actually held up until the past couple weeks, when we’ve gotten the heavy rains and storms and winds, and it’s started to rip and tear, and I’ve been concerned.”
Hurricane Irma: One year later
Myers and his wife signed a contract with Home Depot in November to replace their roof after Irma, but he said the materials for his roof haven't arrived yet, even though the job was supposed to be done in March.
“We have kind of thrown up our hands and can’t do anything but laugh anymore. … It’s ridiculous,” he said.
While homeowners are dealing with the headaches of their ongoing Irma-related repairs, construction professionals are facing their own obstacles that are causing delays.
Hurricane Irma surges through the Florida Keys with damaging winds.
Construction contractors have one thing in common — a shortage of skilled workers.
Roofing companies like Kelly Roofing in Naples had to more than double their staff from 100 employees to 250 to keep up with the overload of service calls after Irma.
But finding quality workers hasn’t been easy for Ken Kelly, president of Kelly Roofing.
“Now we need more workers, but we simply cannot recruit them and train them fast enough to keep up with the demand," Kelly said.
Smaller companies like Brett Hurt Construction in Fort Myers are also struggling to find good help.
“Skilled workers are a dying breed,” said owner Brett Hurt, who had to halt his ongoing remodeling jobs after Irma to tend to emergency repairs. “I think there has been a gap in people wanting to get into the trades, therefore there is a lack of trained and skilled workers.”
Finding skilled workers has been a growing issue for those in the construction industry over the last decade, but after Irma hit, professionals in Collier are coming together to find solutions to the shortage.
“We had a workforce problem prior to Irma, and it’s only been exacerbated since Irma,” said Kathy Curatolo, chief executive officer of the Collier Building Industry Association. “We’re not finding young people having a desire to go into these areas, but we have to re-educate people about these types of careers and get some young people into the industry.”
Curatolo said the CBIA is working with educators throughout Collier and Lee to put together initiatives to attract workers and create short-term certification programs while also discussing long-term solutions.
While roofers and contractors are exhausting themselves with work, Curatolo said Collier is also having difficulty finding qualified county inspectors, which is causing inspection delays.
Permit and inspection delays
Nearly 25,000 roofing permits have been submitted in Lee and Collier since Irma hit last September, with an average of more than 1,000 requests submitted monthly, according to data on the county’s websites. That’s 10 times the number of monthly permits pre-Irma.
Collier County’s Building Division Director Richard Long says they are working as fast as they can to keep up with the number of requests coming into their office daily.
“We have retooled and are currently issuing reroof permits in two days. Prior to Irma there was normally a one-day turnaround, but we are working as fast as we can,” Long said.
Long said Collier commissioners approved the hiring of eight additional full-time positions along with several full-time temporary workers to aid with the influx of requested permits and inspections.
But the real problem isn’t with the number of permit applications coming in, it’s the inspections that follow.
“All (permits) have been issued,” Long said. “We are averaging about 130 reroof inspections per day and have been doing so for the past several months.”
Curatolo, with the CBIA, said inspections are running anywhere from five to seven days behind.
Supply wait times
Even if the labor shortage and inspection delays improve, repairs can't be made if materials aren’t available.
Kelly, the roofing company president, said one of his biggest hurdles is the delay for tile roofing supplies to be delivered from manufacturers. The delays are causing four- to six-month wait times before a job can even start.
Supply problems began before the hurricane when tile manufacturers began eliminating product lines.
“Almost any roof that is older than 5 years old is highly likely to have a discontinued tile, so even if you have one broken tile on your roof I cannot go and buy a replacement tile,” he said.
Kelly said most insurance companies are required to replace your entire roof if the material needed for repairs is discontinued, so that turned simple roof repairs into replacements.
“It might be an annoyance today that they couldn’t find your tile, but it’s also very lucky that you did not lose your whole roof and everything inside your home,” Kelly said.
But Kelly said he gets product in every week from tile manufacturers, and that is allowing his roofers to work at a steady pace.
Unlike Kelly Roofing, who is partnered with Boral, one of the largest tile manufacturers nationwide, other roofers who came from out of town after Irma don’t all have the convenience of guaranteed supply.
“Some roofers who came from out of town, they get pushed to the back, and their wait is even longer than ours for product,” he said.
When looking for a roofer in Southwest Florida, most professionals advise to hire locally.
Collier and Lee won't see a full recovery, professionals predict, until 2019 — and that’s if Mother Nature decides to give us a break throughout the rest of hurricane season.
"Look, we've been very blessed, and we have had a good August," Curatolo said. "If anyone knows the big guy upstairs, we better be praying to him, ’cause let's hope to see the same thing in September."