‘We don’t have the equipment to keep up with that much water’

A group of Navy recruiters help clear debris from a house destroyed by a tornado in Mullica Hill, New Jersey after flash floods caused by Ida killed at least 14 people.

A group of Navy recruiters help clear debris from a house destroyed by a tornado in Mullica Hill, New Jersey after flash floods caused by Ida killed at least 40 people. BRANDEN EASTWOOD/AFP via Getty Images

  • Contractors are facing “overwhelming demand” after Hurricane Ida damaged hundreds of thousands of homes.

  • Construction costs have surged due to material shortages and a deficit of skilled workers.

  • Home-repair workers told Insider they anticipate recovery from the storm to continue into 2022.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc from Louisiana to New York during the last week of August. The storm killed at least 40 people, formed devastating tornadoes in six states, and caused historic urban flooding.

Now, recovery is underway – but experts warn that repairs will take longer and cost more than ever, AP News first reported.

“Following a major storm like Hurricane Ida, there is going to be a spike in demand for home-emergency repairs,” Mischa Fisher, chief economist at Angi, told Insider. “That demand, combined with industry-wide labor and material shortages, makes it challenging to find a high-quality pro that is both available and affordable. “

Steven Alexander, owner of Mr. Handyman in Long Island, New York, told Insider that his crew of four has been overwhelmed with water-damage requests since the storm sent record-breaking rainfall across New York.

“We don’t have the equipment to keep up with that much water, so we do what we can,” Alexander told Insider. “I’d love to spend a couple of thousand dollars for the equipment, but I just can’t find the help.”

“Right now we’re about two and a half weeks backlogged,” he added.

The construction industry was already struggling with material shortages, rising costs, and hiring challenges before the storm.

The pandemic witnessed a boom in home-improvement projects, 44% of which were delayed due to high costs and shortages, Insider’s Grace Kay reported.

Then Ida hit, piling emergency repairs on top of an already lengthy backlog.

“We saw an increase in home spending over the past 18 months – and are still seeing today – and pros have not been able to hire enough workers to meet that demand,” Fisher told Insider.

He added that the home-improvement boom combined with supply-chain issues caused costs for building materials to soar.

“Everything from flooring and roofing materials to appliances, plumbing supplies and electrical supplies, has been harder to find and, therefore, more expensive,” he said.

Alexander said Mr. Handyman usually purchases materials from Home Depot, but recently there’s been a shortage of just about everything.

“A standard item that they would have 50 pieces or 100 pieces of, they don’t have any,” he said. “Even something as simple as bathroom fans – usually, they have a dozen in stock. They don’t have any now.”

He said deck boards were the hardest to come by in June and July, and now electrical supplies are scant.

“Each month, it seems like it’s a new issue,” he said.

Both Alexander and Fisher said they anticipate recovery from Hurricane Ida to continue into 2022.

“Informally, what I’ve seen in the market is it could certainly take well over a year for people to be able to reliably get a contractor without being a colossal nuisance,” Fisher told Insider.

In order for the home repair industry to keep up with growing demand, Alexander said the market desperately needs more skilled workers, such as electricians and plumbers.

“When I was growing up … trade school was almost looked at as a negative,” he told Insider. “Now electricians and plumbers are making six figures, and people who went to college are not making as much.”

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