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Mother Nature has insurance and restoration companies hopping

The Kentwood tornado adds to winter ice damage still being repaired.

July 11, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Bruno Segarra of restoration company Guarantee System repairs one of the tornado-damaged homes in Kentwood. Photo by Johnny Quirin

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Like many other insurance agents in the Grand Rapids region, Mike Brouwers’ phone was ringing off the hook a week ago, a result of the tornado that ripped through the densely populated suburb of Kentwood Sunday evening.

President of the Brouwers Agency in Middleville and vice president of the West Michigan Association of Insurance Agents, Brouwers said the amount of storm damage claims so far in 2014 is far from normal. Noting that he has been part of the family insurance business for 11 or 12 years, Brouwers said 2014 is the worst he’s seen.

“We filed more home claims this winter than we have in the last 10 years combined. We don’t normally see that kind of activity,” he said. Sunday, July 6, “was a bad one, but this winter, altogether with the ice and snow, it has really been something.”

As recently as June, Brouwers was still hearing complaints about ice dam damage from the winter that had not been completed.

Insurance companies rely on restoration companies to rush in after a natural disaster to take steps that will prevent further damage that would add more to the insurance claim. Punctured roofs are temporarily covered with waterproof tarps; missing doors and windows are boarded up securely against weather and thieves; and valuable contents are removed to secure and dry locations as soon as possible.

The restoration companies — of which there are many in the region — are usually able to begin full-scale restoration work a day or two after disaster has struck, but at this time, Brouwers said, many in West Michigan are still dealing with the winter snow and ice damage and some are having to double the size of their staff to keep up. In some cases, it may take several weeks just to put in bids for repair of damaged homes.

Don Lubben, sales manager at Guarantee System, a restoration and reconstruction company in Grand Rapids, said that on the day after the July 6 tornado, the company booked 11 new jobs related to it, and still more were expected. He also mentioned the company was still working on ice dam damage.

Guarantee System is an independent restoration company founded more than 30 years ago by Mark and Mary Smith, and today counts about 22 employees, including three licensed contractors.

Lubben said the restoration business is very competitive, with perhaps as many as 50 companies competing throughout the Greater Grand Rapids region. Guarantee operates in a 65-mile radius of Grand Rapids and works directly with insurance agencies, including the Brouwers Agency. Lubben said he calls on about 400 insurance agencies in the region to make them aware of Guarantee’s abilities and reputation.

Guarantee System is “in the people business,” said Lubben, in that it deals with distraught home owners in the immediate aftermath of emergency situations. He said the goal is to be on-site within an hour of receiving the call, which usually comes from the insurance agent but may come from the homeowner.

Lubben said that, during the winter of 2014, there was a period of at least six weeks in which Guarantee’s staff worked 60 hours a week or more trying to get caught up on repair of roof leaks caused by ice dams. In his seven years with the company, he said he never saw an event like that go on for week after week.

In very cold weather, when snow and ice can accumulate on a roof over time, heat from within the house allows some to melt underneath. In cycles of warmer and colder temperatures, each re-freeze forces ice up underneath the shingles, allowing melt water to seep down through the ceilings and walls below.

The problem is more severe on homes that have a variety of roof levels and angles, where more snow and ice can accumulate, and new homes are not immune.

Lubben said some owners of homes in the region returned from wintering down South to find roof leaks had caused serious damage. Later, some of the same individuals went to open their summer cottages and homes on the Memorial Day weekend and discovered still more damage.

Restoration companies also specialize in repair of fire damage, mold damage, sewer backups, removal of trees that have toppled onto homes, and cleaning of contents that have been through a flood or fire. There is even a category of restoration called “trauma site,” where home interiors have been stained or damaged by suicides and murders.

“We all have to do good work,” said Lubben, adding that the insurance companies “are our lifeblood. If they don’t call us again, we’re out of business.”

Another restoration firm that works with the Brouwers Agency is Rainbow International, a company headquartered in Waco, Texas, with franchises all over the U.S. The local franchise, based in Byron Center, is owned by Rich Morehouse and his son, Scott, with 14 employees on staff and another 25 or so subcontractors in the construction division.

Since he bought the business in 2006, this year has been “our best year,” according to Morehouse. Like Guarantee System, Rainbow International also booked a number of new jobs in the aftermath of the Kentwood tornado, and they are also doing a major restoration project following a large fire not related to the tornado.

Morehouse said they handled about 150 jobs this winter stemming from ice dams and roofs collapsed by snow. They still have another 100 or so jobs to complete, involving structural repair damaged caused by accumulated ice and snow.

“We are a preferred vendor with a number of companies on our commercial side,” said Morehouse.

Rainbow International mostly works directly with insurance agencies but is also frequently referred by Contractor Connection, a third-party administrator that serves the insurance industry.

“A number of people out there are awfully busy,” said Morehouse, referring to other restoration companies. Some specialize in a limited range of services, such as cleaning up smoke damage after fires. His company does just about the entire range of standard restoration services.

“We’re a one-stop company. The insurance companies like that,” he said.

On occasion, Morehouse’s crews have been contracted to work out of state as far away as Cleveland in the aftermath of Lake Erie flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy two years ago.

But Michigan seems to generate enough natural disasters of its own. Twice Rainbow has worked in the Holland area to clean up flood damage caused simply by too much rain, too fast. Many homes suffered, as well as schools and commercial buildings.

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