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January 18, 2014

BACK-CLOG: Local plumbers busy with frozen, busted pipes

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In Jerry Bryant’s nearly 40 years in the plumbing business, he has never seen the amount of frozen pipes that area homeowners have experienced in the past two weeks.

“I can’t remember having this many freeze ups in my life,” Bryant said of the damaged pipes in Southern Indiana, where his company Bryant and Sons Plumbing works.

Bryant said his business has been flooded with calls from homeowners since the temperature plummeted to and stayed around zero last week. So many homeowners have had pipe issues stemming from the weather that area plumbers can’t keep up with the increased requests for service.

“We have turned down 50 or 60 calls the last couple weeks,” Bryant said.

He said it is a misconception that letting a faucet drip will prevent pipes from being damaged during winter months, adding that the drip method will not prevent freezing in water lines outside of the home. Bryant also said even with standard pipe insulation, water can freeze in a pipe and cause it to burst. He said using heat tape to insulate a pipe is the best chance a homeowner has to prevent pipes from freezing.

He recommends that homeowners run water through all the faucets in their homes for at least 10 seconds two to three times a day, as well as flushing toilets and running clothes washing machines to prevent freezing and subsequent bursts.

“That would probably cure 99.9 percent of their problems,” Bryant said.

Richard Stemler, owner of Stemler Plumbing in Jeffersonville, said his business’ service calls have increased 300 percent since the temperature recently dropped. Stemler said his plumbers typically make about 25 house calls a day, but that number recently increased to an average of 100 a day.

Even with the increased workload, Stemler Plumbing has not been able to keep up with the calls coming into its office.

“I’m turning down an average of 10 calls a day,” Stemler said.

When temperatures first dropped, Stemler said the majority of calls his business received was for frozen pipes, and after the temperature rose above freezing, the calls coming in were for burst pipes. Stemler also recommends homeowners allow water to run though all their home’s faucets when temperatures get near and below freezing.

“Letting your water run is, by far, cheaper than it is to pay the plumber,” Stemler said, adding that the costs to repair damage to a home caused by water spilling in from a burst pipe is typically much more than extra water usage and the services of a plumber.

He said dealing with frozen and split pipes can burden homeowners in many facets.

“We understand the stress from the weather, the economy, especially right after the holidays, and now you have a mess to clean up,” Stemler said. “Clean up is not a quick fix and is definitely stressful for a homeowner.”

He recommends that homeowners stay calm and realize they are not the only ones coping with frozen or burst pipes.

“Give us time to get there, and have patience. You are not alone,” Stemler said.

Gabrielle Grant, a service manager at Greenwell Plumbing in New Albany, said the recent weather had required the company’s plumbers to put in extra hours.

“Last week our guys were working 7:30 in the morning until 8 or so at night. It was like that all week. We were averaging 60 calls a day. And most had the same problems, frozen water lines or busted water lines,” Grant said.

She said Greenwell Pluming usually runs nine crews, but because of the increase in calls, the company had 11 to 13 crews working at one time.

Grant said the surge of calls was good for business, but the company still empathizes with the stress homeowners are dealing with.

“The business was good but you are dealing with people with high stress,” she said. “Nobody wants to call a plumber, and you don't want to hear people upset.”

Grant said the temperature became so severe, even letting water run through the pipes will not always prevent freezing.

“You were talking wind chills of negative 20 to 30 degrees. Some customers said they let pressure run and the lines still froze. There was not much you could do with those temperatures,” she said.

Grant said the volume of calls returned to normal this week.

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