Water Pipes Burst Across Texas, Setting Off a Hunt for Plumbers

After the big freeze in Texas comes the big thaw -- and the big demand for workers to repair the broken pipes and sagging roofs the retreating ice and snow will reveal.

It could take months for contractors to fix the damage the massive storm inflicted on Texas, said Greg Sizemore, a vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors. The magnitude of the problem could be much larger than Hurricane Harvey, which was confined mostly to the Gulf Coast. Other states are also in need of contractors, and the industry has been facing a shortage of construction workers because of Covid-19 health and supply issues, Sizemore said.

“In the midst of the emergency, in the midst of the desperation, people are going to have to dig a little bit deeper to be patient,” Sizemore said. “Don’t throw good money at a bad solution.”

The Sunday storm throttled U.S. oil production by nearly 40%. Fracking stopped and grain shipments stalled. Many of the state’s 29 million residents must get their own homes up and running before pitching in to restart the economy.

Water is, as always, the first need. Even while ice and snow still cover homes, the demand is acute, with many plumbers pushing appointments into March.

Waiting and Hoping

For Aaron Carpenter, 39, the water pipe he heard rupture in his attic on Sunday evening was the least of his worries. He, his wife and three kids had to bunk with friends to keep from freezing in their house, which didn’t get electricity restored until Thursday morning. Now, the realization has set in that the Carpenter’s home in a suburb north of Fort Worth has no running water.

“The struggle is just that helpless feeling you have. You just want to take care of your house, but you can’t,” said Carpenter, who works at a bank. “There aren’t a lot of things you can do, other than wait and hope the damage doesn’t get too bad once the pipes are frozen.”

Still, Carpenter considers himself lucky. He shut off the water valve right away, avoiding any damage. His landlord also was able to schedule a plumber to come out before the weekend.

Adjuster Army

Insurance companies also are getting flooded with calls, and claims adjusters will soon face a tremendous backlog. Brian Haden, founder and president of Haden Claims Services, which works on behalf of policyholders, says that the next 72 hours will be crucial as the state starts to thaw.

“We are anticipating, within the industry, that we will see more claims out of this storm than any hurricane in Texas ever,” Haden said.

In a state where it takes 13 hours to drive from Dalhart in the Panhandle to Brownsville near the Mexican border, disasters usually are isolated to a region, perhaps a coastal hurricane or tornadoes ripping across the West Texas plains. This storm spared no one, even in the farthest corners of South Texas that rarely see temperatures below freezing.

Insurers are deploying adjusters from across the U.S. to help, according to Camille Garcia, a spokeswoman at the Insurance Council of Texas. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. has already sent workers to help handle claims and has resorted to handling some virtually, spokesman Chris Pilcic said in an email.

Housing Hassles

The bulk of the damages will likely be to residences, said Chris Peck, who leads the Dallas office of JE Dunn Construction, a Kansas City, Missouri-based builder. Peck sent crews to schools, hospitals, government buildings and other commercial construction projects that the company built to check on water and gas. It will take a few days, though, for the extent of the problems to become clear, he said.

“It will certainly put a strain on the contractor community to respond,” Peck said.

Texas requires that contractors, including plumbers and electricians, hold licenses, an effort to protect residents from substandard work. That also hinders the ability for plumbers to come from other states to help out, Sizemore said. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners must agree to accept an out-of-state license, known as a reciprocity agreement.

Even with an army of plumbers, the work will take time, and time can breed desperation. Sizemore said residents should beware of unlicensed, fly-by-night workers.

“You’ve got these land sharks that are going to prey on a community,” he said. “Don’t let an emotion or circumstance dictate something you’ll regret.‘’

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