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As the weather wreaks havoc on pipes, plumbers are hard to come by

What do you do if your pipes freeze in this horrifically cold weather and panic sets in?
What do you do if your pipes freeze in this horrifically cold weather and panic sets in?

It was a real cry for help on a Jamaica Plain neighborhood Facebook page, but it sounds like a voice-over from a horror flick: Call it “BOMBOGENESIS.”

“A water pipe just broke, and the water was pouring through the ceiling,” a homeowner wrote. “We’ve turned the water off and tried to get a plumber to come, but the least wait time for one is about 1 week, is there anyone who can help out?”

Um. Well. No. There’s no one to help. The snow is piling up, the temperatures are dropping to plumbing-busting numbers, the wind is blowing, and all over town, plumbers are so busy they’re no longer even answering their phones.


In Boston, plumber Isaac Ash recently got 400 calls during a four-day period. “We are just two plumbers,” he said, laughing a joyless, exhausted laugh, and hustling off the phone. “I’m at a job,” he said.

Not that anyone needs the mayor to tell us this, but at a press conference on Wednesday Marty Walsh confirmed what too many Bostonians have learned the hard way:

“I know one thing right now, there is a shortage of plumbers in the city of Boston and probably in the Commonwealth,” he said.

The city couldn’t immediately provide figures showing just what kind of per capita plumber deficit we’re facing, but an informal Globe survey on Wednesday and Thursday found that most plumbers weren’t even answering their phones.

Too busy to talk about being too busy, they were working hours traditionally associated with medical residents. One showed up at a home in Brookline on three hours of sleep.

“I don’t even know where I am,” he said as he headed out to another job.

In Canton, Bill Healy, with Patriot Plumbing & Heating, has been working 19-hour days and couldn’t even help his sister, in Laconia, N.H., who sent him a picture of her burst pipe. “We’d never get there in time,” he said.


With the horrible weather continuing, and Plumbers Without Borders nowhere in sight, the heatless and pipe-challenged were turning to nontraditonal sources.

“I’m not a plumber; I’m a real estate agent,” said Kate Ziegler, of Jamaica Plain’s Arborview Realty. But clients, particularly first-time homeowners, were frantically texting for advice.

She walks them through various remedies — try a blow dryer for frozen pipes — and has been giving advice with an eye on the next storm: Establish a business relationship with a plumber before the bad weather hits.

Plumber Tom Parker of Patriot Plumbing and Heating made his way back to his truck to get equipment needed to fix a boiler issue. Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff

With storm stress mounting, the plumberless are relieving tension by joking about their situations on social media.

“After my furnace broke down when it was literally one degree outside yesterday, I realized America needs more plumbers and less programmers,” tweeted Dave Greten, a marketing operations manager from Marblehead.

When the heat in his condo went out recently, he took refuge with a friend in New Hampshire, where he spent hours on the phone wooing plumbers. He finally scored, then rushed back to Massachusetts for a 3 p.m. appointment, only to wait until 7 p.m. for the overwhelmed plumber to show.

By then, overtime rates had gone into effect — $195 an hour, up from $135. But what’s money? “I was just thrilled he showed,” Greten said.

In Somerville, Ryan La Sala landed a plumber only after his landlord called in a favor, but for a few hours it looked as if his pipe issues were beyond even professional help.


“He was blunt,” La Sala said. “He said our best option was to wait for the weather to warm up.”

La Sala began lighting candles and reheating a mug of coffee to give himself the illusion of warmth. For his part, the plumber left to get a needed part and finally did unfreeeze the pipe after a long, tedious process.

His heat is back on, but La Sala doesn’t have a warm feeling.

“I’m grimly resigned to this happening again,” he said. “Our house isn’t getting any newer.”

The threats posed by wind, snow, flooding, and freezing temperatures are getting to many people psychologically.

For example: The plumbers’ advice to keep a trickle of water flowing from faucets to prevent pipes from freezing feels like water torture to some. Some can’t handle the sound of endless dripping. Others are worried their trickles are too meager to be effective but fear a more vigorous stream might overflow the sink.

Meanwhile, as if the actual weather weren’t bad enough, a term being used to describe Thursday’s storm — bombogenesis — was causing additional stress, said Cambridge therapist Kyle Carney.

“It’s not the snow that worries them,” she e-mailed the Globe. “It is the use of the word ‘bomb’ in describing this weather event in the context of a world with Trump and the escalating nuclear issues with North Korea.

“The worry goes something like this,” she explained. “The wind will pick up, causing a tree to fall on their house (one they should have taken down earlier), they will then lose power and be cold, then the pipes will burst, a fire may start, then they will have to go to a shelter or be homeless in this terrible cold. What will happen with the kids, pets? How long will they be without power, since many will have no power? The worry just keeps building.”


Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.