October 20, 2021

Coronavirus has kept plumbers busy

Plumber: 'I've never seen it this busy'

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Pat Kinsella’s busiest time of year usually is the winter holidays. Come Thanksgiving and Christmas, home cooks overload garbage disposals, guests clog the toilets, and Kinsella gets called to clear the pipes.

Christmas came a little early this year for Kinsella, owner-operator of a Roto-Rooter franchise serving La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties. Since the novel coronavirus forced everyone to stay at home, Kinsella’s phone has been ringing non-stop. He’s logged calls at a volume he previously saw only during the holidays.

“I’ve never had such a busy summer,” said Kinsella, a sole proprietor for 41 years. “I’ve probably had three to four additional calls per day since the outbreak of the pandemic.”

Simply put, being home all day has put unusual strain on the average home’s plumbing. With some restaurants closed or limited to take-out only, people are cooking more, and the volume of food going into the disposal has risen sharply. Home commodes are getting a double workout because office and school facilities aren’t, well, sharing the load.

Kinsella said the pandemic call volume was highest during the most panicked weeks of spring when people hoarded toilet paper and emptied the store aisles. At that time, Kinsella unclogged pipes filled with paper towels and dinner napkins used in lieu of toilet paper.

“That has alleviated,” Kinsella said. “People are getting back to normal usage, and it’s lightening up just a little bit.”

Plumbers haven’t been limited to emergency jobs and repairs, however. Just as home improvement companies have prospered at a time when people are re-evaluating their yards and living quarters, plenty of stuck-at-home families have turned a critical eye at their kitchens and bathrooms, too.

Mike Grasser is officer manager for Grasser’s Plumbing & Heating in McNabb. He estimated business is up 50% since the pandemic struck, and the majority of his calls were not emergencies but rather remodeling jobs.

“When the pandemic first hit, nobody spent any money for the first few weeks,” Grasser said. “But then when they got their stimulus, people got fed up and ordered repairs and upgrades, bathroom and kitchen remodeling.”

John’s Service and Sales in Oglesby reported much the same thing. Don Finley, vice president of store operations, said they’ve had their share of emergency jobs, but most of his crew is busy with installations, ranging from tankless water heaters to sinks and faucets and new toilets. Finley said appliances also are flying out the door, and he’s had trouble keeping some items in stock.

“I think because people aren’t traveling or taking vacations, they’re making home improvements,” he said. “I’ve never seen it this busy.

“It’s a weird year, let’s put it that way.”

Kinsella said he thinks it will stay weird. Many workers and school children will stay home this fall, and that means additional strain on pipes that will keep him busy through autumn. Fall happens to be the start of Kinsella’s busy season, and he expects tree roots to be a hassle in the months to come.

As Kinsella explained it, dry conditions make thirsty tree roots seek out sources of water, and they inevitably find their way inside plumbing titles. Getting rid of roots is the mainstay of Kinsella’s business (hence the company name), and the extended dry spell of July and August will, he’s sure, mean plenty of root jobs this fall.

Homeowners can ease the strain by limiting what they put down both the toilet (bathroom tissue and wipes only, please) as well down the garbage disposal. There, the list of no-nos includes coffee grounds, egg shells and even rice and pasta, which expand in moisture and create clogs.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.