4 storm. Before it finally dissipated on September 3rd it would have 77 confirmed deaths with property damage estimates climbing past $100 billion. When the final tally is made, Harvey may rank as the costliest hurricane of all time surpassing even Katrina.
With the country still reeling, Hurricane Irma then made landfall at Cudjoe Key, Florida on September 10th, also as a Category 4 storm, producing an estimated 10 ft. surge as it crossed the Straits of Florida. Confirmed fatalities in the United States alone stand at 88, with damages estimated near $65 billion.
Plumbing contractors throughout the Southwest have expanded their service operations to help restore potable water access and sanitation to their communities. Many, such as Berkeys AC, Plumbing and Electric (www.berkeys.com) have begun drives collecting money, food and needed supplies such as diapers and baby formula. [A short list of hurricane relief organizations can be found at the end of this article.]
The hurricanes disrupted supplies of materials and equipment to contractors but, fortunately, it appears that deliveries are getting back to normal. What’s not back to normal are new housing construction, materials prices and the lives of those affected. It may take as long as two years before those in the path of Harvey and Irma get back to normal.
In Texas, national plumbing wholesaler Ferguson closed approximately 30 locations in Hurricane Harvey’s impact area, said spokeswoman Christine Dwyer. Following the storm, four locations suffered minor damage.
The impact of Hurricane Irma in Florida was greater, she said. The wholesaler closed 108 branches in the Florida to South Carolina market at some point during the storm.
“We had blown bay doors, water in buildings, flooded counters and yards, awnings ripped off and more than 21 locations without power,” Dwyer said. “All are up and functioning now — as most of the damage was minor — no complete loss or destruction of facilities.”
The impact of the hurricanes that have hit Florida and Texas over the last month will drag down national housing development for the next few months, Dwyer pointed out. Texas and Florida account for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s single-family starts, so this will have an impact on not just the housing industry but the overall national economy.
Ferguson learned in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy that residential construction takes at least two to three months to begin to rebound. Infrastructure must fixed first then repairs to damaged homes. Building material sales will begin to rebound within the next month.
As far as repairs go, Dwyer estimates that it will take months to see how far federal disaster funds and insurance payments go in terms of covering damage. FEMA has approved more than $23.5 million in individual assistance for people impacted by Hurricane Harvey and has set aside an estimated $163 million for those impacted by Irma, she said, but the maximum FEMA will approve per grant is $33,300.
The impact will be long lasting. Dwyer said the lesson from previous hurricanes is that it will take two years to fully recover.
Material prices have increased, especially plastic, because the Texas refineries had to close for the duration of Harvey.
“We are already experiencing rationing of PVC-related products by manufacturers because of the natural gas component in producing that product,” Dwyer said. “With many of the natural gas facilities affected in Texas and the subsequent rebuilding efforts, PVC pipe and fittings are always one of the hardest commodities to get after a major storm.”
Ferguson has seen price increases for both ABS and PVC; CW and ERW pipe; seamless and carbon steel pipe; stainless steel pipe; and import weld fittings and flanges. Charlotte has increased PVC pipe prices in September due to ethylene plant closures in the Gulf Coast. What’s uncertain, Dwyer said, is what the long-term prices trend will be. The wholesaler is hoping to get more clarity on pricing trends this month (October).
Rheem’s new construction customers were not severely impacted by the hurricanes, said John Fitzgerald, executive vice president, operations.
“For the most part, work-in-progress inventory, especially that of the larger builders, came through largely intact with some damage and theft,” Fitzgerald said. “But, according to reports from numerous builders, the vast majority of disruption was manpower and traffic related, and not a result of significant physical damage.
“I do feel there will be a sizable trailing bump to regional residential new construction activity in south Texas and throughout Florida because so many existing homes were significantly damaged,” Fitzgerald continued. “I think this will positively affect Q1 and part of Q2, but will more than likely wash out by end of Q2 in 2018.”
Rheem also took the opportunity to aid charitable organizations.
As part of Rheem’s Heart of Comfort program, the company and its employees have raised more than $28,000 for World Vision’s Emergency Disaster Relief Fund. As an international humanitarian relief agency, World Vision is helping provide urgent relief and long-term recovery to families directly affected by both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Rheem is also planning to donate excess inventory for World Vision to use in its recovery efforts before end of year.
Kohler Co. saw few disruptions to its plumbing business, said spokesman Todd Weber, but its Power Group was rushing to help in Florida, Texas, and especially in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
“Yesterday (September 27), a Kohler plane with two technicians and 3,600 pounds of service and repair parts went to Puerto Rico to assist our distributor with generator repairs suffered from Hurricane Maria and to conduct scheduled maintenance on units that have been running literally non-stop since the loss of the utility grid,” Weber said. “They will be on the ground for a week, and then Kohler will either swap out with another team of technicians or add to the two on-site, as well as likely send more parts.”
Like Rheem, Kohler is donating products to charitable organizations. The company has donated several Kohler portable generators, Kohler trash pumps, and hundreds of Kohler Clarity water filters to humanitarian organizations Operation Blessing International and World Vision. These groups have deployed these items first in Texas, then Florida and now Puerto Rico.
The United Way of Greater Houston
The Greater Houston Community Foundation
Coalition for the Homeless of Houston
Food for Florida
The American Red Cross