As a restoration contractor, you know the challenges of that we face daily. It seems like every day they become greater, especially these days with the additional pressures of maintaining profitability. So how do you become profitable in a time-consuming, labor-intensive business?

As an estimator and a production supervisor, I am always faced with the task of trying to secure a job with a lean estimate, and yet, somehow still be profitable. It seems over the last several years, as the number of fire restoration jobs seems to be getting smaller and smaller, lean estimates become even more necessary than ever. Now, in this “new normal” environment we live in there does seem to be plenty of opportunity to find work, that is if your goal is just to stay busy and not make a profit - there seems to be an abundance of those jobs.

I had a valuable learning experience a couple of years ago regarding a fire restoration project we did. My lesson was in regard to unit cost vs. time and material pricing, and understanding the efficiencies of soda blasting. 

I received a call from a landscaping contractor that had a fire in their shop. It was a large outbuilding that was approximately 110 x 78 square feet, with a height of 21 feet. The building was built with large steel rafters with wood joist to support the metal roof and walls. The fire left heavy smoke residue on all the walls and the ceiling throughout the structure. We were also advised that there were a couple of 25-foot sections of rafters and walls that were scoped to be replaced because of charring.

The property owner advised me that he discovered that he was severely under-insured, didn’t know how he was going to juggle the cost of restoration and the cost of replacement of lost contents. He had a limited budget for both cleaning and replacement, and his adjuster paid him and was done.

Considering the amount of soot residue left by the fire, I knew that the only way we could be cost effective on this project would be to soda blast the structure. Hand cleaning a project like this would be what I always dread in fire restoration, a “quick-sand” of man hours! If I priced this job by hand cleaning, I would have priced myself out of this job.

I was hesitant pricing it with a unit cost/flat rate, not with the amount of time I thought it might take to turn that building around. I decided to estimate the soda blasting job with a per-day price, which I felt was a safe bet to cover the extra time it would take muddling through the heavy soot residue. I ultimately estimated it would take a couple of technicians five to six days to complete this job. (The last thing I ever want to explain to my boss is why we are still working on a job that is over my time budget!)

My guys started the job on the following Monday, and by the end of the first day, I was told that they were more the 1/3 of the way done. At the end of day two, I was told that they just had a small area to finish, then some touch-up work, and should be finish by the end of day three. What? How could they be that far along, really? What was the quality of their work? What if everything had to be re-done? That would blow up my estimate!

As I approached, I could see the property owner walking out of his house. Before I can get out, he walks right up to my truck. I noticed he is smiling and then proceeds to tell me what a great job my crew is doing? He can’t believe how well the soda blasting is cleaning his structure. Not only is he happy with the clean-up, but the smoke odor is almost gone! He said that he had my guys even clean the areas that were designated to be replaced, and they came out great.

As I enter, it’s just as he described. The charred wood members looked like new and the heavy smoke odor through the building was also greatly diminished.

The only downside to the efficiency of the work is that since my original estimate was priced on a time and materials basis, the job came in at half the price!

For many years, fire restoration projects like this meant hand cleaning, without many real options. That has always been a very time consuming, expensive and limited process. Soda blasting is another tool to have in your chest for restoration projects when quality is needed and efficiency is paramount. Just don’t do what I did and be afraid to price with a flat rate/unit cost. It may be the best way to go and much more profitable than you think!