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The calls came in Monday night, and by the end of the week, Aaron Mulder received 800 messages from local residents asking for help with their broken plumbing.
“We really tried to do it in the order they came in just because I think everything, everyone, is an emergency right now,” said Mulder, owner of local franchise Mr. Rooter Plumbing from San Antonio. “And it’s unfair to put one emergency before the others.”
Mulder has five trucks making service calls and prioritizes private customers with active leaks that are the result of frozen pipes bursting under pressure during last week’s devastating winter storms.
With Texas already at high risk for storm-related damage from hail and hurricanes, a Texas Insurance Council spokeswoman told the Texas Tribune that she expects hundreds of thousands of applications to be filed after the storm thaws – not just for homeowners, but also renters, business owners and car owners.
Since Sunday, Jacob Casanova of Casanova Plumbing Services has been providing 13-hour days with cups of hot coffee and repairing broken pipes throughout the Northside area of Stone Oak.
Casanova, a 20-year-old plumber, skillfully cut into walls and repaired pipes while answering call after call from desperate homeowners asking them to give him an address and promising he would be there in about a day.
Despite moving slowly and tackling the treacherous road conditions despite rising temperatures on Friday, plumber and his apprentice John Crouch held on to it and tried to reach as many homes as possible.
But his waiting list grew and people were desperate for help.
On Thursday, the President and CEO of the San Antonio Water System, Robert Puente, said there were about 100,000 water leaks across the city. This situation was caused when the water in the pipes freezes, expands and stresses the pipes to the point of rupture. This SAWS estimate is based on the low water pressure many residents experience and the 3,500 daily calls the agency receives.
Mulder said some of the calls he received were from people who had lost their water service but didn’t know why.
“It was frustrating because of the lack of clarity … from the water company about whether or not people had water or whether it was really frozen, so everyone assumed my water was just frozen,” he said. “A lot of those lines that we thought were frozen … they sort of resolved themselves.”
In other cases the situation was dire. “I’ve been to three people’s houses they came home to and there is water coming out the front door – the drywall in every room has been completely destroyed, the floors are buckled up,” Casanova said.
Although most of the service requests involved repairing two or three broken pipes, the work meant Casanova was able to restore water to homes that, in many cases, had also been without power for days.
Until Friday morning, at least 75 other homeowners were waiting for the repair service – and thus for water.
The daily job of a plumber is plugging sinks and toilets and installing water heaters. Casanova, an independent contractor, is one of 43,240 plumbers, pipe fitters, and steam fitters in the state, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But that didn’t make it easier for residents to find a plumber who isn’t fully booked for the next month. The backlog came as some local plumbers took down phone numbers and waited for the storm and only dispatched technicians when the streets were cleared. Every request was the same – to repair leaky pipes.
A small auto repair shop on WW White Road collects melted snow to flush toilets. The company is across the street from a pumping station on the San Antonio Water System, where water was distributed to community members without any plumbing done. Photo credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report
“Every call I get sounds like the same person over and over again,” said Erik Velasquez, office manager at family-run Parker and Sons Plumbing. The calls kept coming in, up to 60 or 70 a day, or twice the average, and mostly for repairs in residential areas.
About that many were on the waiting list as of Friday, planning to work through the weekend. And the major plumbing work, which involves digging trenches under a structure, has been put on hold.
“At the end of the day on Monday, I think we were already secured until Thursday or Friday,” said Velasquez. “As soon as we could get the vans back on the road, some of them worked until 8 a.m. [at night]. We tried to do as many repairs as possible. “
No plumbing company charges additional fees for repair calls, although the price may vary based on the type and size of the plumbing. “We’re trying to help the San Antonio community,” Velasquez said. “If anything, we’ve discounted prices.”
Casanova said he had a price book with set fees. “This is the price we base on whether you are on the north side of San Antonio, the south side, the west side, the night, the day or the Christmas vacation. That price never changes. “
The city has warned residents to beware of fraudulent and unqualified contractors trying to take advantage of a crisis and posted a list of registered plumbers at sanantonio.gov/DSD. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners also maintains a list of licensed plumbers.
Kelly Tison, who lives in the Oaks in Sonterra, was without water for 30 hours after a pipe burst in her garage last week. Although the damage was minimal, the water had to be turned off to stop the leak.
She found a plumber online via the Nextdoor social media app in the neighborhood, agreed to the price, and he came the next day despite the weather.
“The other calls I made weren’t even answered, so I was glad to have a real human to answer,” she said on Nextdoor Messages. She later questioned the $ 824 bill for 15 minutes of work and reached out to the company to negotiate.
“While I still think the amount I paid was way too much, I appreciate that they were quick to respond to my call while it was actively snowing and fixing my problem,” she said .
After the San Antonio Freeze, the city is waiving permit fees for sanitation emergency repairs to help people get their pipes back in order faster. And on Thursday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the city would ask the federal government for funding and reimbursement of pipe repairs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Nirenberg and District Judge Nelson Wolff also issued an emergency ruling against price cuts for goods and services.
Although businesses are generally allowed to set their own tariffs for services, lowering the price after a natural disaster is against the law and complaints can be filed with the Attorney General or the Board of Plumbing Examiners at 512-936-5200 (Press 4). .
Mulder, who is waiving his usual $ 109 emergency fee on weekends and holidays, said the plumbers are mostly not enjoying the disaster.
“This is one of the things that we as plumbers put up with,” Mulder said. “We were all very busy – we already had a busy schedule for it. So this is more of a misfortune for us.
“Although a lot of people [say] Plumbers have to kill right now because they have so much work that it is actually very difficult for us because these are not the kind of jobs that are really profitable for us. And at the end of the day, we don’t want to turn a big unfortunate event into a big profit. “
Disclosure: Erik Velasquez is a brother of JJ Velasquez, editor of the San Antonio Report Audience Engagement.