WATERLOO — It’s certainly an unusual sight for January — a crew putting a new roof on a home — but the mild winter thus far has made it possible.
“We haven’t really stopped at all,” said Jason Westfall, president and CEO of Abe Lincoln Services. “We’ve worked right through the winter. Anything above 40 degrees we’re banging away.”
Nine workers were at a Geneva home earlier this week, pulling off the old roof, sizing and cutting plywood, and affixing tar paper. Westfall estimated they’d be done in two days.
Westfall started his company in 2002 with three workers; today he employs 15. The 1991 Waterloo High School graduate originally intended to focus on kitchen and bath construction but noticed there was a greater demand for roofers.
“I kind of filled that demand,” he said, noting that he services clients primarily in Seneca County and eastern Ontario County.
He named his company Finger Lakes Roofing, but soon realized the generic name prevented him from standing apart from other contractors. He later settled on Abraham Lincoln Roofing because it would be listed under “A” in the phone book, and Abraham Lincoln is one of this country’s most recognizable figures.
Today, the company is known as Abe Lincoln Services, reflecting the other work it provides in addition to roofing: siding, windows, exterior carpentry, gutters and insulation.
“We’re full exterior,” he said. “Everything on the outside of the home we do.”
Westfall, who declined to disclose the number of roofs his company does annually, estimated that 55 to 60 percent of his business consists of roof installation, with the other services making up the difference.
He does not advertise, noting that roughly 90 percent of his business comes from referrals. Westfall is planning to open an office in Auburn to grow his business in that city and Cayuga County.
“It’s a good, healthy market for us,” said Westfall, adding that he’s also looking to relocate to a different spot on Routes 5&20, and add a sales office.
Normal weather patterns limit Abe Lincoln Services to doing roofs from mid-March through mid-December, with October and November the busiest months. Westfall prides himself on training his workers well, safety — all workers wear harnesses — correct roof installation and customer service.
Workers undergo a full training program, and Westfall holds occasional “toolbox talks.”
“We really hammer it home that you install by the book,” Westfall stated.
Westfall said he responds to 200-plus calls for roof repairs a year — many of which his crew did not install. He promises his customers he’ll be responsive if they have an issue with a roof installed by his crew.
“We’re going to go over and fix it,” he said. “If it’s our roof, we’ll fix it.”
The greatest challenge facing his business — and other roofers nationwide, he said — is a supply of reliable workers.
“Manpower is at a premium,” Westfall said. “It’s tough to find people. It’s hot and heavy work. ... It’s a dying trade. It’s dangerous, seasonal, and it’s a young man’s job. Once you hit 35 years of age you’re old in this business.”
Rising workers’ compensation and liability insurance rates have affected the industry too.
Westfall said when he founded his business, there were six or seven roofing contractors serving the Waterloo and Seneca Falls area. Today, he said there are just two.
“It’s weeded out the fly-by-night, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Westfall said about the more onerous rates and permit regulations.
Westfall makes a point of buying his supplies locally, at Ferrara Lumber in Seneca Falls. Despite the drop in oil prices, shingle and tar paper prices remain stable.
“Whether it’s $80 a barrel or $30, the price of shingles stays the same,” he said.
A positive evolution in the roofing business he’s witnessed over the years is better quality. He said more aggressive sealants in shingles mean they can stay on in 130 mph winds.
“But it’s all in the installation,” Westfall cautioned.