Subzero weather kept plumbers busy

By Blake Spurney

NEWTON—Those in the heating and plumbing businesses are still playing catch-up on a slew of service calls that cascaded in during a week of frigid temperatures.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” said Paul Goerzen with Graber’s Plumbing and Heating. “We’ve got an on-call guy who has been pretty busy with people frozen up, and when it thawed out, some people have realized they have breaks. That keeps a guy on his toes.”

Darence Munsell with Master Plumbing said the calls he received were too numerous to count.

“Well, we’re just now in this week getting busy because have to wait for the pipes to defrost,” he said last Friday. “Now that the temperatures are rising, we’re going like gangbusters.”

Common problems plumbers saw included flooded basements and damaged drywall and floors caused by ruptured water lines in attics. Goerzen said he saw icicles hanging from pipes in basements. He had to go way back to 1989 to think of a time when cold weather caused so much damage.

“When it gets super cold, we always have some that come in, but nothing like this year,” he said.

Homeowners can take steps to minimize the risk of damage caused by freezing temperatures. Munsell recommended that people got into their crawl spaces. After one shuts off a flashlight, cracks or holes can be detected by light coming from the outside. He said cracks and holes could be sealed using spray foam.

“You’ve got to keep the space warm in the crawl space,” he said. “If they have any holes, that’s not happening.”

Goerzen said one always should leave a small trickle of water flowing from indoor fixtures to keep the water moving. He also recommended leaving cabinet doors open to let warm air circulate around the pipes.

Goerzen said whoever was on call during weather events worked until he got too tired. He said people had been pretty understanding when told that there wasn’t much that could be done for frozen pipes.

“A lot of times, if they’re frozen up, there’s not much we can do until they’re thawed out and see if there’s any leaks,” he said. “We don’t have any pipe-thawing tools, per se. We just tell them what they can do until they unthaw their own pipes.”

Not everybody is getting in on the workload bonanza. Jake Kirkpatrick, owner of Kirkpatrick Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling, spent the week in isolation after one of his customers tested positive for COVID-19. He said he was getting 10 calls a day from people with frozen pipes and furnaces on the blink.

“Some didn’t leave messages because the answering machine said I couldn’t do any work,” he said. “It probably would have been my best time of year, and I couldn’t do it.”

Kirkpatrick said one caller reported that she was using buckets of water to flush her toilet. Then her sewer pipe froze, leaving the toilet completely inoperable.

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