Business heats up for foul-weather friends; plumbers’ tip: detach hose from tap

With winter temperatures around the south Island hovering around the freezing mark, and the rest of Canada keen on pre-Christmas gloating as the West Coast struggles with a touch of snow, Victoria’s plumbers are preparing for what can be a hectic season.

With snow, cold and wind comes the spectre of freezing pipes, crawl-space disasters and furnaces that aren’t firing on all cylinders. That has some of the region’s skilled trades working around the clock.

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“There hasn’t been too many calls about frozen pipes yet. Not sure it’s been that cold, but that can change,” said Stew Millet, owner of Miles Plumbing. “I’ve owned Miles for 35 years and we’ve been through two or three bad ones. And when we get one call we get 100, but we’re not there yet.”

Millet said his gas-heat division has been run off its feet as homeowners make sure their heating systems are working.

Jason Dupuis, owner of Good Grade Plumbing, said he and his nine employees are working steadily.

“We have gotten busier because of the cold. I think everybody is when there’s a cold snap,” Dupuis said, noting most calls come from people who haven’t done much in the way of regular servicing but now need repairs.

Both men said older homes with copper lines and insufficient insulation are definitely at risk when there’s a serious chill in the air.

Millet said extended periods of cold along with wind are the real culprit. “It’s the wind that we find tends to freeze things,” he said, warning people to ensure their crawl spaces are protected.

“You get a bit of a reprieve if it’s not windy,” he said.

Millet and Dupuis agreed that one of the biggest problems is that people leave their garden hoses attached to outside pipes.

“You have to worry about those hose bibs open to the elements,” Millet said. “Some people will wrap them, but ideally there’s a shut-off inside. And never leave the hose hooked up. That holds water in the system.”

Millet said because Victoria tends to have mild winters, it’s not ingrained in people to winterize their homes. We don’t have that top of mind because we haven’t been punished enough.”

Dupuis said many people with older homes were punished seven or eight years ago when the city endured a prolonged cold snap.

“We hit –12 for a few days and every plumber was busy dealing with frozen pipes. I’d bet that snap fixed a lot of the pipes that were going to break,” he said.

In terms of the rest of the house, homebuilder Ron Bickford of Rob-Ron Construction said it can’t hurt to check the weather stripping on all outside doors.

“If you have big drafts, replace and improve your weather stripping,” he said. “And the biggest heat loss tends to be through the attic ceiling. Check that and have a minimum of R40 insulation. That’s your best bang for your buck in terms of energy savings.”

Winter preparation also has had an impact on Victoria’s retailers.

Mike Black, owner of Capital Iron, said he has heard a lot of people asking for “the kinds of things people would normally be asking for in Calgary or Toronto.”

People want the usual winter outerwear, shovels, ice melt, ceramic heaters, long underwear and emergency preparedness kits. But there are also a few odd items that are becoming more commonplace.

“People are asking for calcium chloride,” Black said, noting some people have been using it to manage moisture in trailers, cabins and basements.

Black said it’s difficult to manage winter inventory in a place like the capital region, where true Canadian winter weather is hardly the norm.

“Typically, what happens with the ice melt and shovels is you buy and hopefully it gets you through the winter. But the stuff we sold this year, some of it we hadn’t sold in two years,” he said, adding that Capital Iron sold out of old and new stock last week so it has brought in more.

Mark’s stores on the Island also have been able to use some of their winter stock from years past.

Vancouver Island district manager Tammi Kitchen said the store, formerly known as Mark’s Work Wearhouse, didn’t have to place any special order this year despite the cold.

“We were in good stock positions and able to bring things in from storage from previous winters,” she said. “When the snow came and the amount it came in we were a bit shocked, but I feel the stores were really ready and prepared.”

Mark’s has seen a surge in traffic at all Island locations.

“When the weather started turning and it got cooler, we saw an increase,” Kitchen said, noting the in-demand items are jackets, boots, gloves, long underwear, warm socks and hats.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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