Contractors in Texas, Okla., see business increase due to extreme weather

Aug. 26, 2011
CHICAGO — HVAC contractors in Texas and Oklahoma have been weathering the excessive heat and drought for some time now. These weather conditions can make it tough for contractors working on projects, repairing and installing equipment in high temperatures.

CHICAGO — HVAC contractors in Texas and Oklahoma have been weathering the excessive heat and drought for some time now. These weather conditions can make it tough for contractors working on projects, repairing and installing equipment in high temperatures. However, on the flip side, the extreme weather makes for an increase in business.

According to the article “Disastrous Drought Continues in the Plains” by Meteorologist Dustin Devine, exceptional drought continues in the southern states of Texas and Oklahoma, and climate data show that Texas is in its driest ten-month period ever on record, in over a century of data.

Ben Friedman, marketing manager of Atlas Plumbing Company, Dallas, told CONTRACTOR that there are water breaks on lines that are moving in the dry ground.

“We mostly have a clay base under the surface and when it's as hot as it is the ground tends to move,” explained Friedman. “Same happens in the cold here too. With the heat we tend to see pilots go out if the water heater is in the attic of a home. With little to no air movement (and the heat of the surrounding area) pilots will flame out with no oxygen to fuel them. Gas lines tend to shift as well, and we have seen an increase in gas leaks that need repair. Those jobs tend to be $500 to $1,000 for repair or new gas service."

When asked about the excessive heat in Texas Friedman said, “It's just hot and more hot. We have to plan our days based on jobs and related heat conditions. Attic jobs in the morning, roof jobs in the morning, etc. I had to be an apprentice yesterday and worked with a plumber on a prep school gas test. They had six buildings with over 40 heating/AC units. We had to test the lines for leaks. Not only did I get a nice tan, but I was so exhausted after hour five (temperature was 105°F before accounting for the black tar roof) I had to rest so I didn't pass out.”

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Walter Pickett, owner of Pickett Plumbing, Houston, checked records to compare the amount of recent “leak” calls to the amount of calls during the same time period last year.

According to Pickett, for May 1 – Aug. 19, this year’s records show a 50% increase in leak calls over the same period last year.

“This seems to be typical anytime we have a long wet or dry period due to expanding/contracting soils in our area,” explained Pickett. “Also, the City of Houston recently passed an ordinance that requires a water leak to be repaired within 72 hours, and failure to do so is subject to a substantial fine.”

According to Firsthand, Oklahoma City has seen more than 65 days with record high temperatures, which has not been experienced since the 1980s.

According to Seth DeHart, vice president of Dehart Air Conditioning, Chickasha, Okla., a typical Oklahoma summer has about 20 days of upper 90°F temperatures to 100°F or higher temperatures, but this summer there has been more than 60 days of 100°F-plus temperatures.

When asked if there has been an increase in business because of the extreme heat in Oklahoma, DeHart said that the excessive heat has been good for business, but hard on the employees since they are out in it every day.

“We’ve seen two weeks that it’s been 112°F to 114°F,” said DeHart. “Overall it’s had a positive effect on the business this summer. There are a lot of service repair calls. The most calls we are getting are for air conditioners with age or that were poorly installed. These systems are really struggling and failing first. Many of the units that are not serviced regularly and kept clean are the ones that aren’t performing as they should when it’s 110°F or 112°F outside. We’ve seen a lot of that this summer.”

According to Bob Dense, president of Dense Mechanical Contractors Inc., Enid, Okla., the residential service department has received an unusually high number of air conditioning repair requests, and the extreme heat has not prevented his work force from performing as needed for normal construction jobs, plumbing and HVAC.

“We have had to limit our call responses to our regular customers first, with any time left over for non-regular customers,” said Dense. “Our commercial HVAC service and repair has experienced a similar scenario.”

At Roto-Rooter Oklahoma, Tulsa, Okla., the company is taking extra steps to make sure employees don’t get sick from the excessive heat.

“It has been taking us longer to do the same amount of work due to the heat,” said Kyle Brierly, vice-president of Roto-Rooter Oklahoma. “We have to take breaks to cool off, we try to be very proactive, so no one is injured by heat stroke. This requires a regimen of breaks and fluid intake. This year was especially hot, so we also supplemented with Gatorade, and electrolyte tablets and we supplied the men with "cool ties" (those neck wraps that have little beads in them that stay cool).”

About the Author

Candace Roulo

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.      

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