Houston

Houston homes continue to recover from damage caused by hard freeze

Local plumbers say sprinkler systems and other exposed outdoor water lines took the brunt of the damage during the latest cold snap in Houston, when temperatures were below freezing for about 36 hours from Dec. 22-24.

Busted Water Pipe
Jeremiah Cooper
Pictured is a busted water pipe outside of a home in the Houston area, where recent freezing weather caused damage to plumbing lines.

Calls for service flooded the phone lines, much like they did in February 2021, and they continue to come nearly two weeks after the latest hard freeze in the Houston area.

But unlike the winter storm nearly two years ago, when sustained cold weather and widespread power outages led to damaged water pipes at homes across the region, the problems caused by the Christmas week freeze were in many cases not as severe, easier to fix and more specific to outdoor plumbing. In 2021, the freezing and subsequent bursting of interior water lines led to structural flooding and displaced many Houston-area residents, at least temporarily.

"This was, like, not even close to what happened in 2021," said Ido Cohen, the owner of GEI Plumbing Services in Southwest Houston. "I was happy to see that less people had to move out and be dislocated from the houses because of a big flood inside the house. A lot of people almost got their houses back to studs because of so much water (in 2021). Now it's more contained, with more outside issues and above-ground plumbing."

The impact of the latest freeze, while perhaps not as significant for the region in general, might still have been just as immediate and far-reaching as the weather event in early 2021. Cohen and Jeremiah Cooper, the owner of Cooper Plumbing in Northwest Houston, said their companies received just as many calls from customers in the days leading up to Christmas as they did in February 2021, with Cooper saying his company even stopped taking calls and used its voicemail greeting to direct customers to send emails instead.

And while Cooper's call volume subsided about a week after last month's freezing event – which spanned Dec. 22-25 – he said Monday he still has a waiting list of about 50 customers. Cohen said calls to GEI are ticking up again as Houston-area residents return from holiday vacations and find freeze-related damages to their homes.

"They're still dealing with a lot of low (water) pressure issues all over the Houston area," Cooper said. "I think there's still a lot of homes that don't have water. A lot of them are trying to go through insurance or don't have the funds to (make repairs). They might have 20 pinhole leaks in the house and they're trying to figure out what they're going to do."

Cooper said older homes with pier-and-beam foundations, as opposed to concrete slabs, were hit especially hard last month because they sit above the ground – allowing frigid air to travel underneath – and often have plumbing lines under the house as well.

Sprinkler systems took the brunt of the damage from the most recent freeze, according to both Cohen and Cooper, who said other exposed outdoor fixtures such as main shut-off valves, ball valves and hose bibs were among the most impacted.

"We had people who drained their lines and kept their water off a few days for the time it was cold. It just didn't help," Cohen said. "We had very strong winds, so the pipes outside couldn't take it."

The damage to homes would have been worse, Cohen and Cooper said, if the freezing weather had been more prolonged or the electricity grid had failed like it did in February 2021. Because most residents were able to keep their heaters on, their interior pipes fared well in most cases.

Houston-area residents also were better prepared this time, according to the owners of the two plumbing companies, who said that is partly because some of the region's homes themselves were better equipped for the cold. Cohen and Cooper said many newer homes are constructed with PEX piping, which is more flexible and freeze-resistant compared to copper, PVC or CPVC pipes.

Cohen said he recommends PEX, also known as polyethylene cross-linked tubing, when working on homes with old water lines or if there are bursts to multiple pipes in multiple parts of a house.

Cohen also encouraged Houston residents to identify the water shut-off valves in and outside their homes, and practice turning them on and off, in an attempt to limit the damage that could be caused by a future freeze.

"Houstonians, we deal with floods. Everyone knows all about floods," Cohen said. "The next time, I think everyone knows what to do when it's freezing. We know it is going to happen again."

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