Repairing homes from tornado damage follows a hierarchy of needs.
First roofing, then electricity, then gas, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Residential repairs after the March 31 tornado have followed that pattern, and contractors say demand for their specific services has peaked at different times over the past several weeks.
"It's pretty much every trade that goes into a home," said Josh Ritchey with Titan Roofing and Construction. "It's electricity. You've got heat and air. You've got guys who just do siding and guttering, and there's even concrete work. Some of these houses are fully leveled; they're having to completely rebuild from scratch."
Ritchey said his business gets several calls a day from homeowners asking about repairs; however, most of the calls now are from those whose properties sustained relatively minor damage from the tornado, like a few roof leaks. After the tornado hit, most of the calls were from homeowners whose houses suffered major roof damage.
"The ones who got hit with the very large debris usually got on it very quickly," Ritchey said.
Like other contractors, Ritchey said he is also getting calls from people who initially hired out-of-state workers for repairs who may not be licensed to work in Arkansas. That has repercussions for getting insurance reimbursements.
"You can't be sure," he said. "Especially if they're coming from, like, Colorado. I heard people say they were coming from way out. I'm like, 'If they don't do something right, how are you going to get them to come back and fix whatever it is?'"
People were understandably desperate for immediate work in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, calling Titan Roofing to put on tarps amid rain showers. Roofers were working seven days a week.
Just as they are without a roof, houses are uninhabitable without a working electrical system. Levi Holbrook, an electrician at Globe Electric, said most damage he's working on is exterior, such as to service connections or main panels.
"It's kind of a normal day for us, honestly. Replacing service takes us about a day to replace the main panel and the meter socket," he said.
However, those parts are "the brains of the electrical system," Holbrook said, so fixing them commands a high cost and a whole day of work.
Power surges during the tornado damaged electrical infrastructure in houses built before the building code required surge protectors. This has applied to several houses, since many the tornado damaged were built before surge protectors became customary -- between 1950 and 2000. Damaged wiring and outlets in those houses has necessitated safety testing. A few houses have had to have overheated circuits repaired; however, none of the power surges resulted in fires.
Demand for electrical work peaked immediately after the tornado hit, during the first three weeks of April. Workaday service work is more common than repairing or replacing tornado damage.
Summit Utilities, similarly, reported a strong effort to repair natural gas infrastructure immediately after the tornado. The damage included falling trees breaking lines above-ground and underground lines.
Plumbers have done similar work, repairing, for instance, sewer lines broken by ripped-up tree roots. As with all other repairs, much has been waiting on customers dealing with insurance before getting work done.
Austin McAdams of Sub Zero Heating and Air said the HVAC company is most commonly doing complete system installations with duct work now. Demand is surging, with up to 40% of the business's work being done on tornado-damaged properties. Business is up from the time of the tornado to the present more than during that period of time in prior years, and Sub Zero is expanding, having recently added two employees.
Violent winds toppled outdoor air conditioning condenser units, and refrigerant is leaking in some homes. Line set tubes that connect condensers to evaporators may have to be replaced.
McAdam doesn't anticipate demand declining for at least the next three months. "Everything's just been so devastated and wrecked from this tornado," he said.
HVAC repair work can take from two hours to fix a toppled condenser to an all-day installation for a total system replacement, for which workers will show up early in the morning to beat the late-spring Arkansas heat. Much of the work is done in attics, which can reach up to 140 degrees.
"When you have guys who are qualified for the job, they do the job right, and they've done it repetitiously, repetitively over a few years, they know how to get in there, get to it and get it done the right way," McAdams said.
"These homes, they're being restored. It's going to take such a long process," he said. "Some of these houses are getting new roofs. They're dealing with the insurance companies that have already gone out there with adjusters and given them a synopsis of everything. And that's when they call us, and we're starting to see influx in call volume, just because that process has taken place."
Given the scale of the tornado damage, contractors flooded into Little Rock in search of clients.
Ritchey, from Titan Roofing, noted that there are a huge number of people with still-damaged houses. He said a huge problem in the wake of disasters is scamming, and he recommended customers avoid contractors who want up-front payment and to check contractors' ratings from the Better Business Bureau.
"In the aftermath, there'll be a lot of people who hired somebody who wasn't licensed, who didn't have a good reputation. There's plenty of people who will take the money and run, and that's one of the scariest things," Ritchey said. "Generally, most good companies can go ahead and start the work and get paid after they get some work done."
"Don't just hand over your check," Ritchey said. "It's better to wait, check them out and make sure they're actually doing the work. Check out their references, and make sure they're local."`