When paying for snow removal, do research

Most residents in the region are used to the snowy conditions the winter season brings.

However, cleanup following a recent heavy snowfall may be a task you would rather leave to a professional.

“Historically, your Better Business Bureau recognizes that problematic businesses look to take advantage of victims during any weather-related emergency, and the record-breaking lake effect snow event currently impacting the Erie area is no exception,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Western Pennsylvania. “We are already seeing out-of-state contractors marketing online to Erie residents through Craigslist and social media and door-to-door solicitation for snow removal services.”

Winter storms and their impact are far from over, with more snow expected in the Warren area and region this week. Roofs with several feet of snow built up could become an issue as ice dams build, preventing melting snow from draining off roofs. Water can back up behind the dam and leak into a home, causing damage to walls, ceilings, insulation and other areas.

While it is not unusual for contractors from different construction-related industries to mitigate ice dams by providing snow removal from roofs, it is important for consumers to do their research before making a hiring decision.

Besides removing snow and ice from roofs, safety is most important. Don’t jeopardize your well-being. The BBB can help by providing a list of area BBB Accredited Businesses offering ice and snow removal or search “Snow Removal Services” on bbb.org, or contact the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry.

Here are a few questions provided by the BBB to consider when hiring a contractor to remove snow and/or ice:

¯ What are the fees? There is a wide range of fees being charged for ice and snow removal. Make sure to ask questions like: Is the hourly fee per job or worker? Does it include removal of snow from driveways and walks? Some companies are charging a “flat fee” plus an hourly fee just to go to your home; ask what is included in the “flat fee.” Is salt or sand included? Obtain all of this information in the form of a written contract and avoid paying the full fee in advance.

¯ Is the company insured? Make sure the company has current liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

¯ Can you verify the company’s information? Check the contractor’s vehicle for marketing with the business name, phone number and a Pennsylvania license plate. Contact BBB or search the company name for a BBB Business Profile, which includes a three-year complaint history for the company.

¯ Is the company registered? Make sure a company is currently registered with the PA Attorney General’s Office. Check to see if a contractor is registered here. PA law requires most contractors to be properly registered with the state.

¯ What is the service time frame? Expect that a contractor may not be able to provide immediate service following a major, unexpected storm. Many contractors are receiving a lot of calls and are unable to set up appointments for several days. Obtain at least three estimates.

¯ Does it sound too good to be true? Understand that there is no guarantee that the problem won’t happen again. Many contractors are having customers sign waivers stating that they aren’t responsible for damage incurred by their ice and snow removal and there is no guarantee against future ice build-up. Read all of the fine print in a contract to understand the terms of service.

For more information, check out BBB Winter Storm Damage Tips on the Natural Disaster Resource Center at bbb.org. To track and report scams happening locally, search BBB Scam Tracker.