Cleaning up all that snow

HUBBELL – Halfway through what’s so far been a harsh winter in the Keweenaw, homeowners and non-tourism private businesses are starting to feel an economic impact from snows that started early and haven’t much slowed down.

All that snow has to be plowed and shoveled, and contractors in those businesses are having banner years. But for the owners of businesses and homes being plowed, or having their roofs shoveled professionally, the bills are adding up.

“We kind of consider it white gold for the plowing contractor,” said Moyle’s Ed Marcotte, who coordinates Moyle’s snow removal contracts for businesses such as Festival Foods, Taco Bell and McDonald’s, as well as the Copper Country Mall and other Moyle properties.

“It’s unfortunate for the individual that has to pay for the extra work, but it’s great for the contractor,” he added.

Some businesses, like Houghton’s Tadych’s Econo Foods, try to keep down costs by buying necessary snow-removal equipment and scheduling their own employees to do the work.

Store manager Scott Rubich said heavy snows still increase costs as man-hours add up, and the store still has some extra expenses when it hires contractors with heavy equipment to move the huge snowbanks piling up from daily plowing.

But generally, he said, planning ahead keeps the costs manageable, even when snowbanks and costs are higher than normal.

“In my company, I’m the store it probably affects the most, so we gear up for it for the winter,” he said. “I can control it by making sure we use our guys as much as possible, but I can’t control nature.”

He’s already wondering whether he’ll have to schedule employees to shovel the roof for a second time this year.

For homeowners without their own plow or snow-blower, it can be harder to control costs. Most small-scale truck drivers charge by the hour or per visit, and those visits are adding up.

A few plow drivers offer monthly contracts, but it’s important to have a clear agreement of when plowing should occur in those cases.

Dan Riutta Contracting charges customers by the hour for clearing snow and ice off of roofs, and Riutta said his crews have been on the run.

“This has been the busiest year we’ve had in a few years,” he said.

The good news for home and business owners, he said, is that snowfall isn’t so extreme they should have to shovel the roof more often than in other years. Modern buildings designed not to need shoveling should still be okay barring unusual problems, and older homes that should be shoveled once a year can probably keep to that schedule as well.

But waiting too long to shovel can lead to longer and more costly projects, he said.

“If you have it done before the snow hits 120 inches, or generally by about the first week of January, it’s less costly because the snow is still soft,” Riutta said.

Normally, he said, shoveling and basic deicing of an average sized single-family home with a gently sloped roof would run anywhere from $250 to $450. But multi-story buildings, steep roofs that require special safety equipment, ice that’s begun to damage a roof and other challenges can increase the price.

Hourly rates vary among contractors and unlicensed shovelers, but Riutta said there are advantages to working with an established business whose rate might seem steep at first glance.

“We’ve been doing this for many years and we’ve developed techniques that help you to get efficiency for your money,” he said.

Another advantage of a contractor, he said, is that contractors are insured against accidental damage or worker injury.

“If it’s someone just shoveling as a side job and that person gets hurt or does something wrong, the homeowner could be exposed to potential lawsuits,” he said.