There’s a saying in many states that goes, “if you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute.”
You hear it all the time in Texas, and it’s only a slight exaggeration.
As temperatures climbed from subzero to the high seventies in six days, residents were cleaning up the damages from the massive winter storm that froze many parts of the U.S. and the entire state of Texas.
And when the sun made its coveted return, every Texan that makes a living in hydraulics, including swimming pool service and repair, was assessing a state that is full of burst pipes.
Jason Lehman, owner of The Water Connection in North Richland Hills, said that more than 90 percent of his pool route has extensive damage.
“At the equipment, all the pipes are cracked and shattered to a million pieces. The filters are lifted off and ripped apart. On the main pumps, it’s like the Hulk ripped them apart and just shredded them,” Lehman said.
And while most of the equipment is showing its scars, he hasn’t yet seen the damage done to heaters, which will remain hidden until the pumps are fired up, at which time he expects to see the heaters throwing water.
Like virtually all Texas pool service techs, Lehman was completely snowed in for five days. He was busy, though, fielding phone calls from concerned pool owners desperate to protect their backyard investments, but helpless to do so in the absence of electricity.
For those rare customers who maintained power during the days following the storm, he instructed them to keep their systems running 24/7. As for the rest, he told them to try to break up the ice in their spas, thread empty milk jugs on a rope across the surface of the water and put empty Gatorade bottles in the skimmers.
Lehman had two or three customers who kept power for the duration, and he noted that those homes seemed to be located near hospitals or fire stations.
“If we had known that we were going to get no power, I would have shut off the systems and drained them all, pulling all the freeze plugs and drain plugs. I would have drained the equipment, taken the pump lid covers off, and opened the air releases.…” Lehman said.
Complicating the matter, Lehman says most of his customers have pool configurations with waterfalls and shear descents. The water would have needed to be drained all the way to the back of the waterfall or it would have frozen and expanded, causing major structure damage, which is exactly what happened.
“There is nothing done cheap on a Texas pool,” Lehman said.
These pool owners will be replacing all of their equipment and all of their plumbing, and Lehman says it is going to be very expensive.
“A lot of these homes carry a two percent deductible on their house. At two percent, even the million-dollar houses have to pay $20,000 before the insurance company pays a dime,” Lehman said.
Hamstringing any repairs is the pool and spa equipment shortage that was already a weird feature of life during Covid.
“Here we are, we have a new Federal energy efficiency code and new electrical code in Texas, you have to use variablespeed pumps, you can’t use the old stuff, and oh – by the way – you can’t get them, because the manufacturers can’t meet the demand. And that was true before the entire state of Texas froze,” Lehman said.
Lehman said he anticipates a lot of swamps when North Texas starts getting hot, which is generally around mid-April.
In Spring Branch, Texas, George Martinez, owner of J M Pool & Spa, said he was still trying to get his head right six days after the lights went out.
Like everyone else in his neighborhood, Martinez and his wife lost all water on Sunday, February 14, and a week later, the water was still off.
They woke up without electricity on February 15, although it was returned for 3 hour increments per day for the next several days, a fact for which was very thankful.
Martinez and his wife have a 600-gallon hot tub in their backyard, and aside from the snow, this was their only source of
This is Texas? Photo taken in North Richland Hills, Texas, February 19, 2021. Photo credit: Jason Lehmann, The Water Connection. water. In fact, it was the only source of water for several of his neighbors as well.
“I got word out to my four neighbors that live close to me that I have a hot tub and they all showed up with buckets. My neighbor that lives across from me has four kids with one of them in diapers. We’re simple people, and this has been a strain,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the anxiety was overwhelming each time the power turned off, and with 8 inches of snow on the roads, they weren’t able to leave the house for a week. Seven days after the snow started falling, they were finally able to get to his son’s house just so they could take a bath.
“I’m not a complaining type guy. We get dealt the hand that’s dealt our way and just do what we can. My family is good, and my customers are cool, but it’s just been a trying time, man – it really has,” Martinez said.
Martinez says if anyone wants to help, donating to the San Antonio Food Bank would be valuable, and they do a great job of distributing food to the people who need it.
As far as his pool business went, he said that while his customers knew that severe weather was on the horizon, they all planned to simply keep the pumps running. No one had considered a black-out.
“That presents a whole different argument and strategy because when the temperature is 10 degrees and the power turns off, the pipes freeze pretty quickly. Then when they turn your power back on and the pump engages, it’ll blow your pipes up,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the damages that he has seen or heard about are probably only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
“So far, we’ve had a bunch of Jandy three-way valves go out – just crack right down the middle. And this is not a dog on Jandy by any chance – I love Jandy, but when the pump pushes the water, the ice acts like a bullet and the most vulnerable spot is going to blow,” Martinez said.
He expects that he will be seeing a lot worse in the coming months, and is anticipating a flood of phone calls as things begin to thaw.
He notes that in addition to the pool and spa equipment shortages, there is also a shortage of PVC, which will make replumbing housing a priority and swimming pools a challenge.
In August, 2020, Hurricane Laura, which helped to cause the fire at the Biolab chemical plant in Westlake, Louisiana, also caused limited physical damage to Westlake Chemical, a manufacturer of PVC. This, and planned outages at other PVC plants have dramatically reduced the availability of PVC, a fact the construction industry has been facing for months.
Martinez said pool distributors were all having trouble supplying PVC already, and he has a feeling the industry will be in a hard predicament finding PVC.
“Something tells me that this run on pipe is going to be huge,” Martinez said.
He plans to organize an area-specific network of reputable pool repair technicians to try to get pool owners taken care of as quickly as possible.
“It’s not about money. Money doesn’t matter when you don’t have water and electricity,” Martinez said.
40 miles south, Becky Clayson, owner of B & R Pool and Spa Service in San Antonio, also lost power and water for 24 hours at a time during Texas’s freeze.
She said with everyone in the city running water at a slow drip to prevent their pipes from freezing, the water tower was drained. Then the pumps which help supply water to the tower froze, so it took some time before water was restored.
“We were melting snow to flush toilets. It was a pretty hectic week,” Clayson said.
On the whole, Clayson counts herself among the more fortunate to have weathered the storm, and as the temperatures began to warm up, she spent time building a snow man with her great granddaughter.
So far, she’s only received one call regarding broken pipes, but she expects to see more in the coming days.
“I’ve been pretty blessed,” Clayson said.
Good job Aryanna & Zoey, We like your style!