As the energy crisis in Texas and parts of the South subsided, residents weren’t given time to take a deep breath, because rising temperatures revealed a new problem – frozen water pipes.
The record-low temperatures that caused many energy producers to go offline, causing lengthy blackouts across the region, also impacted individual homeowners’ and businesses’ plumbing, which faced the same issue as the grid – these water systems weren’t weatherized for the cold either. The deep chill and accompanying water line breaks impacted communities across the South, leaving hospitals scrambling to ensure adequate water supplies, accounting for at least one death at an Abilene health care facility.
One quarter of Texans were on boil orders because of low water pressure in systems across the state, either because of frozen water pipes, damage to the utilities’ systems or burst pipes in homes and businesses that drained water supplies. When those who were without water because of public and private system failures were added to the number impacted, it was estimated that half of Texas was either without water or on a boil water order. More than 1,300 Texas water utilities reported service disruptions, impacting nearly 15 million people.
Many homeowners found their own plumbing, including either the water service line that connects their home to the utility’s system or the in-home plumbing, had frozen and subsequently burst, and, as temperatures returned to normal, those once frozen water pipes burst and poured water into their homes. Plumbers were in short supply, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that finding one may be the “largest challenge” homeowners faced. Texas encouraged those with lapsed plumbing licenses to renew them and worked to allow companies from out of state to bring in additional plumbers, and those homeowners who don’t have insurance or some other way to cover the damage to their home may qualify for funds through FEMA.
Dallas-Fort Worth-area provider Crawford Services by HomeServe has seen a soaring number of calls because of frozen water pipes. Despite the staff’s own struggles – several technicians and their families took temporary shelter at the company’s depot, which retained power – technicians have been prioritizing emergency water and heating needs.
“When we heard about the problems in Texas, our hearts went out to the people struggling down there. We heard about the need for plumbing supplies and we knew we could help. It was a long drive, but it was worth it to do our part,” said Chris Hays, Hays Plumbing general manager.
The duo’s parent company, HomeServe USA, a leading national provider of home repair solutions, has seen the highest-ever monthly job volume in Texas, with more than 4,800 jobs deployed to the company’s network contractors throughout the state. Frozen water pipes meant water service line jobs increased by five times over February 2020 numbers, in-home plumbing work increased by 65 percent and call volume increased by 40 times in some areas. Nearly 75 percent of those jobs followed Winter Storm Uri, and Houston accounted for a third of all jobs dispatched.
The company brought additional network contractors to Texas to help accommodate the volume of work. Geisel by HomeServe, another sister company, sent technicians who are assisting the Crawford team. Stott Plumbing of Salt Lake City, Utah, and United Plumbing of Louisville, Ky., two of HomeServe’s top network contractors, also mobilized to send additional technicians to the area to assist.
“We have been in constant contact with our network contractors to ensure their safety during this time, and it’s a testament to their commitment to our shared customers that they were back at work, addressing emergency repairs, as soon as it was safe to do so. We are grateful for their dedication, and our thoughts are with everyone struggling with the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” said Sylvester Criscone, HomeServe Senior Vice President of Contractor Management.
The contractors are dealing with many of the same issues – Cherryl of B&C Plumbing in Spring, Texas, had major damage to her own home when frozen water pipes in her attic burst, leaving her kitchen ceiling scattered across the room. Because she wasn’t home, a neighbor spotted the water pouring out of the house and into her driveway and turned it off at the meter, but, by that point, almost everything in her home was a total loss.
However, Cherryl was receiving one call after another, because her customers were having the same issues. So, she bought a new laptop to replace the one destroyed in the flooding and got to work in her bedroom, one of the few rooms in her home that hadn’t been damaged. Amid taking care of her customers, Cherryl had to juggle having the restoration company come in and begin work while also being without water for several days herself. Getting an appointment with her insurance adjuster was several weeks out.
“I didn’t take advantage of having plumbers. They were needed elsewhere, and I could make do and wait,” Cherryl said. “I’m still in my bedroom, sitting in the bed taking calls and trying to keep up with this craziness. At the end of the day, I am very sympathetic to what everyone is going through. I know what it’s like firsthand, but we will get through this. Bottom line, I’ve got a huge mess. I’m not a selfish person and there’s nothing special about me, but I made a commitment to HomeServe and I’m keeping up my end of the deal. I’ll get to mine when the smoke clears. Things could be worse.”
HomeServe has more than 150 employees in Texas, including Crawford Services and Nations Home Warranty.