Just after 11 a.m. on a recent Friday, 31-year-old Matthew Avalos gets out of his company car in a two-story brick house in north Austin, Texas.
He wears a navy blue Radiant sanitary facilities T-shirt and a black face mask. He’s here to watch a large puddle in the front yard that has forced the homeowners to shut off their water.
“I do a lot of leak detection,” says Avalos. “I’m kind of the sweet.”
To find the leak at this particular house, he must first remove the metal cap from the main street valve.
“We’re just going over here to the meter side of the base, and we’re just going to turn on the water and see where this water is coming from,” he says. And after just a few seconds, he finds the culprit. “Oh yes. We have it there.”
He says it’s hard to say whether this leak was caused by the February freeze or the tree roots he had to dig to get to a crack in the PVC pipe that runs from the house to the city’s sewer system.
Either way, he says, the solution is relatively simple.
“I’m going to make what is called a swing coupling,” he says as he digs around in his van looking for a reciprocating saw, some new PVC pipe, fittings and glue. “It makes it all pretty easy to glue everything together. That way I try not to force anything together. “
Avalos says he is finally able to get less urgent jobs like this one, almost two months after the freeze.
Because for most of the past two months, the phone calls have been about the same emergency over and over again.
“Split pipe, split pipe, split pipe,” he says. And those were split pipes in houses that caused damage.
“At the start of all this, there were 1,500 scheduled calls,” says Avalos.
That’s just one plumbing company in Austin. Almost every plumber in the state has worked non-stop to meet the demand.
Avalos says everyone at Radiant worked over the weekend, taking on all possible jobs helping people after the freeze, which made him feel good.
But he never thought plumbing was what he would do. “To be honest, I was in retail,” he says. “I was in retail for seven years.”
He has worked at Walmart, Kohl’s and Academy Sports & Outdoors. And then one day, about 10 years ago, things changed.
“I was talking to a friend of mine, and he’s a plumber and he says, ‘Do you mind getting your hands dirty?’ And I was like, “No.” And he says, “Okay. Well, come on,” Avalos recalls.
He’s been doing it ever since. He says there is another area of plumbing that is boosting his old jobs.
“Yes, the money is definitely a plus compared to retail,” he says. “I know this was in 2012 when I started, but as an apprentice I made as much as I did as a customer service manager at Walmart.”
He says that the freeze allowed him to make a lot of money that he didn’t expect.
After saying goodbye to the customer, he takes his tablet to send his bosses a note letting them know he’s ready to move on.
“That’s done. Everything has been paid,” he says, clicking buttons on the screen.
Total bill for this job: $ 1,199.
And then, almost immediately, his phone rings.
“So it looks like they are sending me to my next one,” he says, leaning against the side of his van. Says there’s a leak from the second floor to the first floor through the ceiling, and there’s a bathroom above it. So I don’t know what it will be. “
Avalos says he likes that about plumbing. It can be dirty at times but he enjoys troubleshooting and troubleshooting. And in times like these, when plumbers are in high demand, he also enjoys job security.