It seems to be common knowledge that freezing temperatures can wreak havoc for plumbing, plumbers, and homeowners alike. It appears as though everyone knows that frozen water in pipes can potentially lead to disastrous burst pipes. However, what about the effects of extreme heat on plumbing?
The Heat Is On
With more and more areas and people being subjected to extreme heat, this is truly a concern. According to a study by Columbia University, the number of humans exposed to extreme heat conditions tripled between 1983 and 2016, reaching ¼ of the Earth’s population. This is a staggering number of people that will be exposed to these hot weather conditions, which means that an increasingly higher number of plumbing systems are also subjected to these increasingly demanding populations and heat.
How, exactly, can the heat mess with your customers’ plumbing? Believe it or not, these high temperatures can cause your customers’ pipes to burst, just like freezing temperatures can! And it can also make trying to repair those exact pipes even more of a hassle for you and your crew.
When the temperature drops below freezing, it causes pipes to contract, and when the water freezes, it expands. This combination is what leads to those wintertime pipe burst disasters. When pipes are subjected to extreme heat, however, they do the opposite and expand. This can cause the structure of the pipe to weaken over time. When a large amount of water starts flowing through these weakened pipes, they can crack and burst.
The dry ground could also be at fault here if you live in an arid region. With the ground drying out and cracking, it pulls apart and shifts. If your pipes are running through these areas, they can be damaged with all the movement. This can cause your pipes to crack or pull apart at the joints as well and lead to massive damage and water bills if not caught quickly. With all of this said, ensure that your customer is aware of where their water shut-off valve is. You can get there to fix the damage, but you will not necessarily be able to get there in time to put a stop to the water before damage is incurred. The first person onsite, usually the homeowner or the tenant, should be able to take care of this issue as quickly as possible to prevent any massive issues.
Another issue that can occur because of the rising temperatures is a loss in water pressure. This can be due to the expanding pipes in the heat. When the pipes expand, it gives the water more area to go, instead of directly forced through your customers’ faucets. This results in a lower water pressure than usual. However, if your customer is experiencing a dramatically lower water pressure, this is probably due to a pipe that expanded and either has a large crack in it or has completely burst. Again, your customer will need to know where the water shut-off valve is, and you will need to address this as quickly as you can.
Stemming from this expansion and cracking, is tree roots taking advantage of this nutrient-rich environment. The tree roots will find these cracks and grow inside of your customers’ piping which can lead to clogged drains at the very least. There are a whole host of issues stemming from pipes expanding in the extreme heat and you do not know exactly what you will encounter when you show up, so it is important to be prepared! Some issues can be smaller and easier to fix but other issues will need complete repair and replacement.
Time Isn’t On Your Side
When trying to repair these cracked or burst pipes in extreme heat, you are up against a whole slew of issues that normally would not even be a problem. One of the biggest plumbing obstacles your crew will encounter will center around their cementing work. Once the temperature hits 90° F on the thermometer, your solvent will not stick to your part well enough to create a waterproof joint. Piling onto this difficulty, your crew will need to work extra fast to try to ensure there is enough solvent coating the parts and to get everything into place in order to set properly. When it is a dry heat, the solvent will dry quickly, giving little room for error. It can also cause the joint to fail in the future if it does not dry as it should.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your crew is working in a humid heat, the joints will take even longer to set. This will make jobs take longer because the pipes cannot be tested before the seals have set and cured. This can add considerable time to your crews’ work schedule and needs to be kept in mind when working out your calendar for the day.
If your plumbers are out working with piping in the heat, make sure that they try to find shade for the pipes if possible. If not, they can try to cool the pipes down before working with them utilizing cool, wet towels, and make sure that the solvent they will be working with is kept completely closed until your plumbers are ready to work with it. This will help it to maintain its structure and texture longer.
The most important thing to keep in mind while dealing with these extreme conditions is that you and your crew need to be out there in the heat. If the heat has that sort of effect on pipes, imagine the effect it can have on people!
Safety In The Sizzling Summer
Keeping yourself and your crew safe is the number one priority, and OSHA has created some information for those who need to work outdoors to prevent heat-related ailments and even worse, death. While there are not currently any federally mandated OSHA rules on working in high heat conditions, in late October of 2021, OSHA submitted notice that the organization will set rules specifically regarding heat injury and illness prevention.
It is recommended that you acclimate your crew to the heat and start off with them working shorter shifts during these hot temperatures. You can increase workload by 20% each day until your crews are accustomed to the heat.
OSHA also recommends offering shade for rest and supplying more water than you would think necessary! If your plumbing crew is going to be out in the hot sun, you need to ensure that they drink water every fifteen minutes. Drinking water in smaller amounts over shorter periods of time is more helpful than drinking more water less frequently. When temperatures reach 90°F or higher, your crew should be drinking at least four cups of water per hour. Even if your crew is not thirsty, they will need to abide by this rule. Hydration plays a key role in preventing heat-related illnesses and protecting your crew. Remind your crew to continue to hydrate after they leave the job site as well, as the amount of water that they lost while working is still not the same as their intake even at these recommendations. It is also important that your crew does not OVER hydrate, it is a thin line. If your plumber drinks more than 48 ounces in an hour, their sodium levels can become too low, and the symptoms are similar to that of heat illnesses.
Ensure your crew is trained to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses. While heat exhaustion is not as critical as heat stroke, if not addressed, it can quickly turn into the more severe heatstroke. Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, nausea, and excessive sweating.
If you notice crew members becoming confused, faint, developing hot, dry skin, or sweating excessively, these could be signs of heatstroke and will require that your plumber receives immediate medical attention. Immediately hydrate them in some shade and apply ice or cold towels to your crew member immediately while waiting for medical backup to arrive.
With the summer temperatures ramping up, you and your crew are up against a whole slew of plumbing issues coming at them, each with its own unique challenges. Extreme heat conditions are something that you must make adjustments for, for the quality of the plumbing repairs you are conducting, the homes you are plumbing, and the break schedule of your crew. Make sure to allow for extra time when scheduling those summer days, from longer setting times to the need for frequent breaks and hydration, you do not want to push your crew too hard. Make sure to allow each individual to acclimate to the conditions before sending them out for a full day of work. It could mean the difference between a longer day at work and an employees’ health and well-being.
Written by Catherine Lauer – Marketing Communications Specialist, Supply Smart