OCEAN CITY - Working on rooftops is hardly the ideal job for someone who says he is afraid of heights.
But Teric Stell, 37, of Ocean City, has made a career out of scaling scaffolding and navigating the pitched attics of three-story Victorian shore homes as if he were a bighorn sheep.
"I didn't like heights at all. It was something I had to overcome getting into roofing," Stell said. "You push yourself through it. I learned to work safe."
Stell owns Stell Exteriors, a roofing and siding company with offices in Ocean City and Williamstown. His business installs roofs on new residential construction, replaces old roofs and puts up vinyl exteriors and railings.
"I have a great group of project managers who oversee all the crews. They've been with me a long time. They're like family," he said.
Stell started in the roofing business while still in high school in Williamstown when he went to work for his friends' fathers. After graduating, he began doing roofing work for a developer in 1994 and soon started his own business. In 2009, he moved to Ocean City, where he opened a second office.
"We hand-nailed everything. We didn't use guns. Now that's a thing of the past. I don't know anyone who hand-nails now," he said. "I was the kid who carried the shingles and cleaned up the garbage on the ground. Now I'm the boss and I feel proud about that."
Smaller contractors such as his company are facing stricter scrutiny from federal regulators in the wake of the recession and housing-mortgage collapse, which has slowed construction nationwide, Stell said.
Regulators used to focus more on the larger companies, but the whole industry has contracted in recent years, he said.
"It's a lot stricter than when I started as a kid. When I was a kid, I had a couple close calls I'd rather not mention," he said.
Construction in the United States is responsible for about 8 percent of worker injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 71,600 construction workers were injured badly enough to miss work in 2011. Mondays were an especially bad day for worker injuries, according to the bureau's detailed analysis.
Stell said safety is of paramount importance in the roofing and siding business. He is answerable to Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules for his workers at every job site.
"You need a lot more equipment per job and it's a lot slower paced, even when you're on a low-slope roof where you don't feel like you need a safety harness. But in OSHA's mind you do," he said.
His business has picked up in response to damage from Hurricane Sandy. His company got a lot of emergency calls in the days after the storm to repair leaky roofs. Now these hurricane jobs are being meted out as homeowners get insurance approvals.
"A lot of people are still waiting on their insurance companies," he said.
One of his crews spent Wednesday working on a third-story rooftop of a home on Chelsea Avenue in Atlantic City. Homeowner Edward Cohen said his roof sustained some damage from various storms over the years, so he decided to replace it.
This kind of treacherous work is not a do-it-yourself job, Cohen said.
"If I were 20 years old and knew what I was doing, I might," he said. "But I wanted it done right."
New Jersey has seen a lot of interest lately from out-of-state contractors who are keen on capturing some of the post-storm business.
"Anyone with a pickup truck and a ladder can do a roof. But if they do it wrong, you're going to know about it," Stell said. "We've been approached from guys wanting work from Ohio or Texas. The problem is, they're not certified with the manufacturer. Who's going to pay to fix their mistakes? The homeowner."
About 80 percent of his company's work comes from new roofs or roof repairs. But Stell said he would like to expand his company's siding and railing business.
Materials have improved considerably in the past 20 years, particularly when it comes to withstanding powerful wind storms.
"The shingles have gotten much better. They have a higher wind rating now. The architectural-dimension shingle is standard now. When I started, it was a special order," he said.
These shingles interlock in a way that prevents wind from seeping underneath to pry them apart, he said. As a result, they last much longer than a traditional tab shingle.
Stell Exteriors does most of its work in Somers Point and Ocean City. The company is also licensed in Pennsylvania.
Stell said he always recommends name-brand materials such as Deck-Armor instead of cheaper tar paper. And he suggests removing the old roof before replacing it with a new one to guard against leaks.
Roofs can cost between $6,000 and $10,000, depending on the size, among other things, he said.
"When people's roofs leak, people take it hard. It's hard on them," he said. "I like that we can go there and fix it. You almost feel like a doctor, especially if you're good at it. Plus, it makes it look nicer. When we're done the whole house looks like it's gotten a facelift."
Contact Michael Miller:
Location: West Avenue, Ocean City
Owner: Teric Stell, Ocean City
Founded: 1995 in Williamstown; Ocean City location added
Employees: 35 to 40
Revenue: Not disclosed