Restoration companies are getting to work rebuilding South Jersey as beleaguered homeowners clean up their storm-damaged properties.

The hurricane is expected to put a damper on new construction, at least temporarily, but could give the building trades a much-needed boost in home-remodeling for months to come, experts said.

Colonial Carpet Cleaning and Restoration based in Middle Township spent Monday morning ripping out flood-damaged walls from a home in Sea Isle City. The amount of work to be done in even a single home is mind-boggling.

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The process started with demolition as the lowest 2 feet of wall had to be cut and removed from the interior to reach insulation that had soaked up contaminated flood water. Damaged flooring, too, has to be replaced.

Multiply that by the tens of thousands of homes that were damaged in the storm and it adds up to a backlog of work that is expected to last for years.

“This is a three-year problem. This isn’t going to go away soon,” said Phil Calenda, president and owner of Millennium Custom Homes in Livingston, Essex County.

He recently offered some advice to the state’s contractors on behalf of the New Jersey Builders Association. “These jobs require you to be the extreme professional and do a lot of hand-holding of the client. They are scared, confused, and assume everyone is out to cheat them, including you,” he wrote. “Just make sure they understand the value you bring, the understanding that you have, and that their rebuild takes top priority with you.”

Calenda said clients are likely to be more emotional over unexpected storm damage than they would be for a typical addition they might have been planning for years.

“When you’re doing an addition, you have certain expectations,” he said. “But now you’re dealing with displacement and extra costs of things. For example, I just got my power on after two weeks. It has cost me $50 per day to run my generator. People might have a $3,000 bill for a hotel that they weren’t expecting. You’re dealing with a lot.”

Ken Weber, owner of Cape Islands Carpet Care & Restoration based in Somers Point, has been busy working with homeowners in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

Weber, who lives in Ocean City, said a priority for homeowners should be preventing additional damage that could be caused by neglecting flood damage now.

“Probably the most common problem is wet insulation in a crawlspace. You have to tear up the sub-flooring. We also cut away the first 3 feet of the drywall to get to that insulation, which tends to wick up the water,” he said. “You need to address it now or it’s going to grow mold.”

He separated the damage he has observed into two categories: dryouts like the property in Sea Isle City that needed repairs to its walls and floors and more extensive rebuilds.

“Probably for the dryouts, we’ll have a good three months of work. For rebuilds, you’re looking at two-and-a-half years of work,” he said.

Weber said homeowners should hire a reputable contractor who is licensed and insured for both liability and workman’s compensation.

“Get a list of references, too,” he said.

Concept One Cleaning Systems Inc., based in Estell Manor, expects to get more cleanup jobs after contractors begin home remodeling.

“We’ve done some small jobs for people who had a damp carpet. But we’re expecting to get busier once restoration work begins,” President Donna Grzybowski said. “We were blessed. We didn’t have a lot of damage here. Just some scattered power outages.”

The storm is expected to stifle new home construction and sales this fall, said Rick Van Osten, spokesman for the Builders League of South Jersey.

“Overall things were starting to pick back up. Permits were up,” he said. “But with the storm damage across the state, not many people were out putting deposits down on homes. That side of the industry has been impacted.”

But Van Osten said home builders will have lots of renovation work to keep them busy.

Van Osten said the state’s building industry has had daily conference calls to keep tabs on damage totals and plan for its members’ storm response. Among the participants were building trade groups from New Orleans, victim of Hurricane Katrina, and Springfield, Mo., where a tornado in Joplin last year killed 161 people and caused the costliest damage of any disaster in Missouri state history.

Judging from the experience in those places, Van Osten said New Jersey can expect months of storm repairs.

“Unfortunately, it might be one of those unintentional consequences in helping the construction industry, especially the remodeling industry,” he said.

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