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Kent and Morgan Shields could not initially get a plumber to come to their Garden Oaks home, where pipes froze and then burst in their garage and also in their pool. And they had trouble finding the materials they needed to cut off the water flow to those damaged pipes, having asked their fellow community members and searched local hardware stores and come up empty.Then one day last week, Kent saw a plumber’s truck outside his neighbor’s house and pounced on the opportunity. The plumber had what the Shields family needed – copper caps measuring ¾ of an inch.“We gave him (bottled) water,” Morgan said. “We actually traded water for these caps.”The copper caps were put to use last Saturday, Feb. 20, when Kent and Morgan got another plumber to come by and seal off the pipes in the garage and pool from the rest of their house. So they were able to turn their water back on, even though the City of Houston remained under a boil water notice until the next day because of low pressure in its main system.All in all, Morgan said she and her husband were “so lucky” to have avoided more extensive damage caused by last week’s frigid winter storm, which brought prolonged power outages, water-supply issues and busted pipes to the entire region. Others were not as fortunate.Many residents in area neighborhoods such as Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and the Heights were plagued by busted pipes, which in some cases caused water leaks and damage inside their living areas. That left them scrambling for plumbing materials and professional help.Jeremiah Cooper, whose Cooper’s Plumbing company serves local neighborhoods, said he and his small team of plumbers received about 3,500 calls last Wednesday, Feb. 17. Cooper said it got to the point that they were overwhelmed and stopped answering the phone.He said he’s booked for more than two months with jobs, which in many cases are proving more extensive once work begins.“Every job we go to, we go in there and we think there’s only one burst,” Cooper said. “By the time we’re done with that house … we’ve seen upwards of 20 copper bursts in the attic in one house. The problem there, when you have that many burst, it can be almost a whole-day process. These jobs take a while to do.”Cooper said he’s encountering lots of busted copper pipes as well as those made from CPVC, which is more chlorinated than PVC pipe and can withstand hotter temperatures. He also said he’s seen holes in galvanized steel pipes, which he called a first as well as an indication of how severe the cold weather was last week.With such a demand for their services, Cooper said he and the other plumbers he works with are prioritizing customers without running water in their homes as well as elderly residents and families with children. He said his company also is having to put jobs on hold because there is a shortage of plumbing materials in the region.Cooper said Tuesday that some plumbers he knows in other states, including as far away as New York, were in the process of driving to Houston to bring more supplies and manpower.Considering the lack of materials and available plumbers, Morgan Shields said she and her husband plan to wait a few weeks before having their garage and pool pipes reconnected to the rest of the home.Cooper said he had charged between $400-$4,500 for the jobs he had completed since the storm, depending on the extent of the damage.“We understand the situation, so we’re keeping the prices the same (as before),” Cooper said. “Even though (the cost of) copper has gone up like double, and fittings have gone up like double, we’re still charging the same prices.”Cooper and Whitfield Sprinklers owners Lorenzo Whitfield, who repaired some damaged sprinkler systems in Timbergrove on Tuesday, both said the havoc wreaked by the winter storm is a boon to their businesses. Cooper said his staff was forced to move out of the garage it used because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he hopes they can move back in with this uptick in work.Whitfield said the damage he’s witnessing, although widespread throughout the region, is not necessarily unusual.“Every winter, it’s always like this. It’s just not this bad,” he said. “You have people that do not winterize. They just think it’s not going to get as cold. But it happens.”
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