Got burst pipes? Plumbers race to get Texas’ water flowing again


It sounded like something exploded in Joe Ellery’s kitchen. Water flowed from the cupboards under the sink.

He ran outside to turn off his main stop valve as water filled his kitchen, flooded the dining room, and hurried down the hall.

The Ellerys are used to cold weather – they moved here from Colorado four years ago. After the last major winter storm there, they paid thousands to replace a damaged sewer system. That was enough and they moved to North Texas. But this week Ellery called a plumber with a burst pipe and no running water.

Joe Ellery (above) tries to process things while plumber Geovanni Marino (below) describes the extent of the damage and repairs needed to Ellery’s Haltom City home.(Tom Fox / Employee Photographer)

Many homeowners will not know if they are having problems installing it until North Texas emerges from its freezer. And that will keep the plumbers busy for some time. Earlier this week, Governor Greg Abbott said he would grant exemptions for plumbers with expired licenses or plumbers from other states to work in Texas. On Friday, he said more than 320 plumbers had already renewed their licenses and officials were asking other states for reinforcements.

On Thursday, the Ellerys booked an appointment with Baker Brothers Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electrical, a company with offices in Dallas and Fort Worth. With the temperature still in the 1920s, Geovanni “Geo” Marino and Nick Paulk arrived at the Haltom City house in a large blue company car to investigate the damage.

“Here’s the situation,” Ellery said, showing them around the kitchen and telling them what had happened earlier in the week.

They had done everything they could to keep their pipes intact: the faucet dripped into the sink, the cabinet doors were open to let warm air in. But Texas pipes just aren’t as insulated as they are in places used to this type of weather.

“If it’s an outside wall, there’s not much you can do about it,” Ellery said.

Marino, 29, took off his jacket, draped it over the closet door, and went under the sink to take a look.

Ellery shows the section of split pipe that caused his misfortune.Ellery shows the section of split pipe that caused his misfortune.(Tom Fox / Employee Photographer)

He cut a hole in the back wall and exposed the copper pipes that carry the water to the house. After pulling away a thin layer of warped black foam, Marino discovered the problem: a 1-inch cut lengthways along the pipe. He removed the damaged section and gave it to Ellery.

“Your trophy,” said Marino.

“For my insurance man,” said Ellery.

Marino and Paulk, 22, replaced the line with PEX pipes, a plastic that is more flexible than PVC or copper and more resistant to extreme weather conditions. Paulk turned the water on again and soon water was flowing into the sink.

Down a job. Still a lot to do.

“The next one is a kitchen breakout,” said Marino, standing in front of the blue company car after packing up with the Ellerys. “You have no electricity.”

“That’ll be fun,” said Paulk.

* * *

North Texans were warned to worry about their pipes on Sunday as temperatures plummeted. Drip taps. Wrap exposed outer pipes. Those who did not prepare before freezing or who do not have adequate insulation behind their walls are at greatest risk of disaster.

A sign advises customers entering a QT in South Arlington that they will not have running water on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.  The city of Arlington urged residents to save water and boil water after a possible main water break.  (Tom Fox / The Dallas Morning News)

When the temperature dropped below freezing – to -2 ° C on Tuesday – the pipes froze. Once blocked by ice, pressure of liquid water builds up in the pipe after it thaws. Then, like the Ellerys’ house, things boom.

For teams like Marino and Paulk, the winter weather crisis meant long days to respond to emergency calls while they dealt with their own problems at home.

Marino lives in Benbrook and uses a well for his water, but that system is frozen. He hasn’t had time to fix it since working on others’ homes. Paulk ran out of gas and he had no hot water, he said. He spent a few cold nights at his Grand Prairie home.

You have been working on burst pipe calls for several days in a row. There wasn’t much they could do earlier in the week when temperatures were still well below freezing. Now plumbing teams are showered with calls from people who – as ice thaws and water begins to flow – realize the extent of the damage.

Sometimes they only walk a few minutes from one house to another. In other cases, they are sent to another county on roads covered with ice and snow.

Many with burst pipes were quick to shut off the water to their home when the plumbers arrived. Marino and Paulk would find the problem, replace the pipe, and turn the water back on. To keep track of things, Marino took a photo of every broken pipe he replaced on his cell phone.

Maintenance workers repair the broken pipe at Rosa Mendoza's Piedmont Addition home in Dallas on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.  The family's pipes burst Tuesday and had no constant power supply.

“Next week will be very busy,” said Paulk. “I bet the calls will roll in at that point then.”

* * *

After the water in Ellery’s kitchen started working, the team drove a frozen pipe to the nearest homeowner in Saginaw.

Brian Worrall opened the door, wearing a heavy winter jacket and gloves to ward off the chill in the house, and ran back to his kitchen to grab a face mask. In addition, the plumbers and customers remain masked to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

“So what’s up?” Asked Marino

“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” said Worrall.

Worrall said his power went out earlier this week. His house has a fireplace that they used to generate heat. He was outside splitting firewood when his wife came outside and screamed.

“Water!” She screamed. “Kitchen!”

Worrall walked in and found water coming out from under the dishwasher. He ran outside to shut off the water, digging through the snow to find the valve. After the family lost both electricity and water, she went to see Worrall’s sister-in-law.

“You can get really upset about this, but what are you going to do?” Said Worrall. “You just have to take care of it.”

“We just came from one like this, but yours broke under the sink,” said Marino. “That shouldn’t be that bad.”

Marino repairs under Ellery's sink.Marino repairs under Ellery’s sink.(Tom Fox / Employee Photographer)

The plumbers took out the dishwasher, cut into the wall, and reached behind the countertop to access the plumbing. Somewhere nearby, Worralls Radio was playing the Bee Gees. Paulk hummed along.

Feel the city collapse and everyone tremble

And we stay alive, stay alive

“It’s right here,” said Marino, trying to remove the pipe.

“The pipe?” Said Paulk.

“I found the leak,” said Marino.

He felt the small cut in the top of the pipe, but couldn’t find a good angle to remove it. His dry hands were covered with drywall dust, and were scratching and bleeding. Paulk entered when Marino took out his cell phone. The screen was lit with missed calls and messages. He saw that a friend had called and he called back.

“What’s happening?” Marino said on the phone. “I’m at work. What’s wrong? What’s wrong with it? No light? No, you want to be there to make sure. If you can’t be there, shut off the water to the house so you don’t have to worry.”

Marino said even people he didn’t know would call him because friends were giving his number. He wants to help, but doesn’t have the time to take every call. It’s all the same story, however – pipes frozen or burst, or people are worried about one or both of these things.

“Everyone knows I’m a plumber,” he said. “I don’t answer half the time. I already know what they are asking. I hate to say no. “

After a few minutes, Marino removes the pipe and holds it up for Worrall. The small gap is almost identical to the one in the Ellery’s kitchen.

“It’s amazing how much water got through the water in such a short time,” said Worrall, picking up the broken pipe. “I’ll have it framed. Winter 2021: One more thing. “

Rosa Mendoza and son David Sanroman, 7, smile as power is restored while she prepared a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for him after a power outage in their Piedmont Addition apartment in Dallas on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.  Mendoza's whistles burst Tuesday and had no constant strength.  (Juan Figueroa / The Dallas Morning News)

Paulk and Marino cut a new copper pipe and insert it. Marino soldered the faucets and turned the water back on. The pipe held. No leaks.

Marino took notes on his company iPad – and a photo of the broken pipe for his own record – and collected Worrall’s payment. All in all, about $ 1,000.

He sent a message to the company’s shipping department to say they were done and waited in Worrall’s driveway for the next job. The text came in a few moments later.

“It looks like the next one is in the basement,” said Marino. “Flooded home.”

He and Paulk got into the big blue van and drove to the next job.

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