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Plumbers’ business heats up in winter

Larry Beiter, a plumber with Mr. Rooter, cleans a sewer at a house in Oklahoma City. For a number of reasons, wintertime is a busy season for plumbers. (Photo by Maike Sabolich)

Larry Beiter, a plumber with Mr. Rooter, cleans a sewer at a house in Oklahoma City. For a number of reasons, wintertime is a busy season for plumbers. (Photo by Maike Sabolich)

By April Wilkerson
Dolan Media Newswires

Oklahoma City — The wintertime growth spurt of tree roots and the increased, or inappropriate, use of household toilets during the holidays have more in common than a person would think.

They both add up to the busiest time of the year for plumbers.

Once the weather turns cold, frozen and bursting pipes cause the obvious problems requiring a plumber’s expertise. But that’s not the only culprit. For one Mr. Rooter franchise specializing in drain cleaning, tree roots wreak the most havoc.

“Tree roots grow more in the wintertime than in the summer,” said David Duck, owner of an Oklahoma City Mr. Rooter. “But people think the opposite. In the summer, the leaves come out and people think the tree is growing, but it’s mainly growing on the top. In the winter, the sap goes back down into the root system and it grows more. So that’s why roots are stopping up sewer lines more in the winter.”

Mr. Rooter’s number of jobs per week average 160 to 170 in the summer, but in recent weeks, that number has increased to 220 to 230, Duck said.

If tree roots don’t instigate a sewer setback, the holiday use of toilets can. A small household of two may swell to 15 during the holidays, and before anyone knows it, more than Christmas cheer is overflowing.

“You’ve got Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s parties. People don’t know if they’ve got a partially stopped line, and everyone starts using it,” Duck said. “Nobody thinks about drains because you can’t see them.”

But the culprit is sometimes more childlike. With excitable children toting around new toys at Christmas, sometimes the inevitable will happen, said Kirk Weese, owner of Herman’s Plumbing in Midwest City.

“Little kids like to flush things like action figures to see if they’ll go down the toilet,” Weese said. “We’ve seen a little bit of everything. They’ll flush socks or whatever they see laying around.”

At the holidays, people also tend to send more grease down the kitchen sinks, which hardens faster in the cold weather, he said.

Herman’s also services heaters and has recently been “swamped” by calls to fix malfunctioning heaters. On a late December afternoon, Weese said Herman’s had 10 trucks making service calls in the Oklahoma City area. To avoid problems, Weese recommends that homeowners have their heaters serviced and tested for cracks and carbon monoxide leaks before the cold weather has a chance to take hold.

A recent heavy snow also put a stop to many plumbing services. High snow drifts made digging for a line difficult, Duck said, and icy roofs meant dragging heavy equipment up high was far too dangerous. That was in addition to the challenge of getting a truck out to someone’s house and finding a place to park.

“If you were able to get up on the roof, you could come off it faster than you were going up,” he said.  “I tell my guys not to take any chances. Ninety-five percent of the people understand this.”

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