A freak hailstorm that tore across Northeast Richland during Memorial Day weekend damaged potentially tens of thousands of homes and businesses, experts say.
Many property owners still may not know they have damage, however.
Roofing contractors throughout the area report huge increases in calls for inspections, estimates, repairs and full roof replacements since the storm struck May 23, attracting small armies of storm-chasing roof repairers from as far away as Texas, Arkansas and Indiana.
“Right now we’ve received about 450 calls,” said Stuart Burgin, owner of Burgin Roofing Services, considered to be the largest residential roofer in the Midlands. “That is a significant storm.”
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In a typical year, Burgin said his business replaces about 400 roofs and estimates it will replace 250 roofs as a result of the hailstorm alone. “We keep our crews busy year round,” said Burgin, who has been in the business more than two decades and employs 28 people who operate three full shifts.
“Normally we stay about four weeks behind” on work, Burgin said. “Right now, we have a backlog of about four months.”
Much like during the historic ice storm that crippled parts of the state in February, roadsides in northeast Richland County are saturated by yard signs advertising mainly out-of-state contractors seeking roof repair work.
The isolated but intense hailstorm – which featured large, dense hail – did significant damage to cars, roofs, siding and windows in an area concentrated roughly from Elgin and Lake Carolina back to Wildewood in the northeast part of town.
Insurance adjusters estimate 20,000 structures in that area were damaged by the hail, according to Burgin and other contractors.
“Normally when you have hail damage to a roof, it’s going to constitute full replacement because the hail is going to shorten the life of the shingle. So we don’t have a lot of repairs after a hailstorm,” Burgin said.
Full roof replacements are a larger-ticket item than repairs, which attract out-of-town storm chasers seeking big paydays, Burgin said. On Monday, for instance, Burgin said his company did a roof replacement on a small house in the Summit for $5,300. A recently completed replacement in upscale Wood Creek Farms cost $32,000, he said.
The S.C. Department of Insurance issued a bulletin immediately after the storm allowing emergency adjusters into the state to assist damage claims. That order originally was set to expire June 13, but it now has been extended until Aug. 1 because of the extent of the damage.
No firm totals are available yet on the damage done by the storm, spokeswoman Ann Roberson said.
State Farm, the state’s largest insurer, reported 7,450 claims resulting from the Memorial Day weekend storm in the state one week after the storm hit, which the company expected to rise. Total in-state wind and hailstorm claims for the insurer in 2013 tallied 5,360.
“We’re seeing a lot of calls,” said Brandt Bentley, a general manager for Drake Exteriors LLC, a licensed residential general contractor with offices in Elgin. Drake has inked about 110 residential roof jobs in the past three weeks, Bentley said, and five large commercial jobs.
Bentley said one of the biggest problems facing property owners who have hail damage is that their insurance companies never clearly explained to the policy owners exactly how their coverage works. Some companies, for instance, require many more hail “hits” per 10-by-10-inch square than others do, in order to approve a roof replacement, he said.
Another big problem is fly-by-night roof repairers who are either not bonded or insured, or who are underinsured.
“You cannot see (the hail damage) from the ground,” Bentley said. “If you have hail in your area, your insurance policy clearly states you’re supposed to hire a professional to come and have your roof inspected. That’s key.”
“Hail damage is really invisible from the ground unless it’s extremely severe, so a lot of people may look up and not see anything – no leaks – and say I’m fine. They should call a reputable roofer to get the roof inspected.”