Austin neighbors turned into volunteer water heater repair heroes

The February freeze wrecked Texas a lot. Power grid interrupted. Broken water system. Defective water heater.

But throwing his unit was the last thing Ramesh Yerraballi wanted.

To save countless water heaters, including his own, Yerraballi put together a YouTube video showing people how to fix their water heaters. With the help of his neighbor Ben Nippes, he also worked to fix water heaters for neighbors and for four families in affordable housing.

“These units will go to the landfill,” said Yerraballi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas. “The environmental impact of sending something that works perfectly to the landfill has motivated me more than anything.”

While Yerraballi welds for a hobby, he’s not a plumber. It took some research to find out what to do. After looking around the device, he found cracks in the copper pipe. The solution: Solder the cracks closed.

He worked with Nippes, a guitar repairman, on repairing other water heaters. Yerraballi’s wife, Sameera Balay, made videos.

“I suddenly realized that hundreds of units were broken in my neighborhood alone and people were asking me how to do it,” said Yerraballi. “There is no way I can go to all of them. And so I stayed up until about five in the morning that night putting together the first video. ”

The YouTube video has been viewed more than 900 times.

Ingrid Ristroph, whose water heater had broken for more than a week, said she couldn’t get a new one for 30 days. She watched Yerraballi’s video and decided to fix the device herself. After their efforts were successful, Ristroph repaired units for more families.

“When I saw how easy it was, I got the supplies myself so we could help other people,” said Ristroph.

Yerraballi and Nippes asked those they had helped donate to charity.

“By and large, my MO is all fixable,” said Nippes. “It’s just a question of the effort.”

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