When Hurricane Irene roared through northern New Jersey in August 2011, Joseph Episcopo & Sons, in the town of Summit, were ready for it. The company had equipped its truck fleet with generators so that crews could work in houses that had lost power. Additional generators — 25 of them — were available for rental to customers on a first-come-first-served basis. Clean-up and repair work during and after Irene added “a good 5% to 10%” to the company’s customer base, co-owner Joe Episcopo estimates.

Last month, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Northeast and with much media noise about a “Frankenstorm” of epic proportions, Episcopo & Sons began planning and preparing two weeks before the storm was set to hit. The company bought an additional 35 generators, 100 extension cords, 300 gallons of gas, and 200 gallons of diesel, which it stored in the event that gas stations were closed. With 5 to 10 inches of rain expected, in addition to 75- to 85-mph winds, Episcopo & Sons bought water pumps, anticipating that crews would be removing water from flooded basements. The company also set up a landing page, listing the cell phone numbers of managers and production personnel and letting area residents know that Episcopo employees were “on call.” In the first hour after storm-level winds hit, “we got 50 phone calls,” Episcopo says.

Just in Case

Remodeling companies in the storm’s path scrambled to not only provide emergency services to customers but to simply prevent jobs-in-progress from turning into mini-disasters of their own. In Harleysville, Pa., managers at Gehman Custom Remodeling, alerted to the storm’s approach, found themselves trying to figure out how to protect those homes where the company had exterior remodeling projects under way. For instance, the company was right in the middle of re-siding a house clad in stucco and fiber cement. Gutters and downspouts had been removed and scaffolding was up. Owner Dennis Gehman says that he feared the high winds would yank the boards off the scaffolding and send them flying around the neighborhood.

Crews removed the boards, anchored them to the ground, and set cement blocks against the base of the house, with plywood propped at an angle to lead water away from foundations. Gehman Custom Remodeling was closed for two days — “Most of our guys weren’t able to get to work,” Gehman says — but sent out an eblast immediately after the storm, making itself available for emergency repairs such as roof work. As soon as the phones were back up, a customer called to take Gehman up on his offer: an oak tree had crashed through the roof and floors of his house.

Fuel Run

For Episcopo, extensive investment of time, money, and equipment paid off in the form of dozens of small- to mid-size jobs such as removing downed trees from driveways, tarping off roofs in preparation for repair, and, of course, rebuilding several roofs crushed by fallen trees. Though power went out throughout the region, generators kept the company’s lights on, and personnel could be reached by cell phone. Eleven- and 12-hour days became the norm. The company would not allow crews to work after dark. “They appreciate the overtime and extra work,” Episcopo says, “but we still want them to be safe.” Every one of Episcopo’s generators was rented. 

One issue that the company anticipated in its planning was having trade contractors available for work such as electrical. To make that happen, Episcopo shared its stocks of gas and diesel with subs. When supplies ran low and gas stations in northern New Jersey remained closed, the company sent a truck into Pennsylvania to bring back fuel. —Jim Cory is editor of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication of REMODELING.