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Plumbers hit supply snag as calls mount to restore water service

The winter storms knocked out power and water across Texas last week. Some people still don't have access to water after pipes burst in homes statewide.

AUSTIN, Texas — Plumbers across Texas are fielding record-breaking call volume.

"It's going to be weeks before we catch up," Brett Bidwell, the owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, said. "Hopefully within a month, we're back to normal, but I've never dealt with a disaster on this scale, so it's kind of hard to gauge."

Demand for plumbers skyrocketed after Central Texas endured extreme winter weather that knocked out power and water service, prompting boil water advisories across all metropolitan areas.

"We're getting well over 1,500 calls a day coming in," Daniel Lawlis, the owner of Daniel's Plumbing, said. "We can't even keep up with the volume calls; it's coming in through Yelp, Angie's List, and it's coming in through Facebook."

Lawlis said his crews have been working 16- to 20-hour shifts handling calls for broken pipes and broken tankless water heaters. 

"There was a freeze in 1989, and in Houston when I got in the industry in 1997, I'd always heard about the great freeze in Houston in 1989 and how they were, you know, 18-hour days. It's like, there's no way, that's not possible," Lawlis said. "This is probably worse."

Because of the long hours and high demand, plumbers are facing a shortage of some supplies, namely tankless water heaters.

"You're not going to believe me when I say that we had to meet our supplier at a remote warehouse in Buda at midnight to pick up a bunch of tankless water heaters because there is such a frenzy to get these tankless water heaters," Lawlis said.

RELATED: Plumbers continue to respond to influx of service calls following winter storm

Local suppliers are running out faster than usual. It's led Bidwell to ramp up his orders from out of state to supply customers and get water running again.

"The backlog for tankless water heaters looks like it's going to last for a little while," Bidwell said.

Along with the heaters, plumbers are short-handed enough to trade parts from each other's vans if they can't find it at home improvement stores or suppliers.

"It was even like copper fittings, like half-inch couplings and stuff, we were having to buy out among the trucks and kind of run around and keep each other supplied because we're having trouble at supply houses, not to mention the long lines and just the rush to get parts," Bidwell said.

RELATED: Water pipe bursts expected to get 'exponentially worse' as things start to thaw out

Lawlis described it as similar to "It's a Wonderful Life," with plumbers only ordering what they absolutely need from suppliers.

"We ordered 105 of them and the suppliers were like, 'OK, how many do you need right now?'" Lawlis said. "They delivered another 30 today and I was like, just let's spread it around. We don't want to take everything."


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