Polar Vortex Take Two: Tough on contractors, good for business

Jan. 29, 2014
Contractors are seeing: Countless frozen pipe situations. Frozen pipes under the ground. Furnaces not keeping up or running all the time. Fireplace pilots going out do to high winds. Frozen sewer lines causing sewer backups in homes. Dangerous conditions for employees working outside.

Throughout the Midwest, East Coast and Southern United States, freezing temperatures and snow are wreaking havoc in many ways. graphic

From traffic jams and car accidents to cancelled flights and school closings, many people, including plumbers and HVAC technicians, are being affected by Take Two of the Polar Vortex. Even though it’s been a tough few days for contractors, there is a silver lining, the extreme weather is good for business.   

Plumbers are coming across a multitude of frozen pipe situations, furnace problems, backed up sewers lines, etc.  

According to Tara Wise, controller at Dalton Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Inc., in Cedar Falls, Iowa, contractors are seeing countless frozen pipe situations: many are in mobile homes and under the ground. Contractors are also working on frozen sewer lines that cause sewer backups in homes.

“It’s been next to impossible to thaw the pipes, so we’ve been cutting and repiping," said Wise. "This is more time effective and costly for customers and us.”

Work conditions

Not only are these contractors working long and hard hours, but they too need to be careful of the freezing cold conditions while on the job.   

“These are dangerous conditions for our employees working outside thawing pipes, deicing exhaust vents, chimney liners, etc.,” said Wise. “Luckily we have avoided any cases of frost bite, but we have had a couple close calls. A couple times our on-call guys have been on calls for over 24 hours…other guys have helped to alleviate the heavy work load, but it definitely has had an impact on all of the employees.”

Wise added that the phones at Dalton Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Inc. have literally rang non-stop some days.

“This is great for business, but we have all welcomed a tiny “break” for a few days,” said Wise.

According to Kelly Warwick of Roth Heating Company, Oak Creek, Wisc., in the last few weeks, employees have been going on multiple overtime calls every night and weekend and even more during business hours.

“Currently, we are only taking calls for people without any heat and have been a previous customer,” said Warwick.  “We've had calls for no heat that caused frozen pipes, frozen boiler systems, frozen houses that took out the furnace, and many other calls.  We've had to turn away probably just as many calls as we've actually gone on.

“There was one night during the last cold spell at the beginning of January that we had six guys out in the field until after midnight going from frozen house to frozen house, thawing boiler pipes, so that we could even get the heat running,” added Warwick. “It doesn't matter if it's a business or a residence, everyone is having problems. It's finally above zero today, so maybe it will calm down a little bit ... we'll see.”

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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