In Houston, some service technicians are carrying something in their pickups never before needed: ladders.
Since Hurricane Harvey ravaged parts of Southeast Texas, heaters, pumps and filters are being mounted on tall platforms as a precaution in flood-prone areas.
To hear some techs tell it, these set-ups aren’t always ideal for service. Replacing and repairing equipment is hard enough when the pad is on the ground. Now imagine doing that work a full story up.
James Behringer, manager of Miller Pools in Pasadena, Texas, encountered equipment pads elevated at least 10-feet tall, requiring him to perform routine tasks while “tippy-toeing around the plumbing,” as he puts it.
“One of them has a stairway up, but then you have to walk around the edge of the heat pump,” Behringer said. “They don’t always have rails or anything like that.”
And as William Esposito, owner of Esposito Pools, observes, leaning over a ladder to rotate a pressure valve “does not look wise.”
He also notes that his ladder was on soft, unstable ground. “Nothing to hold onto but the raised, unsupported plumbing,” he said.
Beyond risking injury to empty a pump basket or cut the plumbing, there are other problems. Professionals complain of priming issues. How do you replace a heater that’s above your head? And poured concrete pads have been known to settle. Esposito suspects these high-rise pads will be more prone to tilt.
“Not sure how stable the pad legs might be if a heavier tech had to climb on and off the pad to do some work,” he said.
These are the sorts of things service pros must contend with in a post-Harvey Texas.
They may have to get used to it.
“It’s not a super common thing right now, but I have a feeling it will be,” said Daryl Williamson, construction manager of Cody Pools’ Houston location. “I think Harvey is going to push that a little more.”
The growing trend of raised pads mirrors a new ordinance requiring homes to be built 1 foot above the 100-year floodplain — areas where there is a statistical chance of flooding every 100 years. It’s the first time the Houston City Council amended its floodplain regulations in a decade, according to the Texas Tribune.
Some technicians question the necessity of elevating equipment. Their argument: Since you can’t predict how high water will rise, why bother?
Paul Oman, however, is confident in this approach. As general practice, he installs equipment 3 to 4 feet above the floodplain — not the veritable skyscrapers some techs have dealt with.
He began doing this before Harvey. When the hurricane touched down, pool components went unscathed.
“At the homes where we raised the equipment pads, none of those homes had equipment damage,” said Oman, CEO of Texas Pools.
A check valve will generally prevent any priming issues, he says. As for serviceability, he believes it’s easier when the equipment is chest-high.
“You’re not bent over, working close to the ground,” he said.
Plus, Texas Pools takes aesthetics into consideration. To ensure the platforms do not stick out like sore thumbs, the firm builds them out of treated lumber, composite materials or steel to blend with the environment.
Oman said he’s even getting calls to retrofit ground-level equipment to elevated pads.