ELKHART — Some heating and plumbing companies looked at the forecast a few days ago and saw an increased chance of furnace failures.
The folks at Church Plumbing and Heating in Elkhart, anticipating an uptick in the number of emergency calls, kept their schedule clear early this week just in case, said Mary Church, a co-owner of the company.
And as temperatures plummeted, service calls heated up.
On Tuesday, the calls started coming in. Based on just the calls she was aware of, the company responded to at least 14 requests for service, some of which sounded a bit frantic as temperatures early Tuesday fell into the lower single digits.
Heilman Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. of Elkhart, had a steady flow of work Tuesday, according to Nancy Havens, who co-owns the business with her husband, Jim.
She said they received an urgent call from an elderly couple at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and that they were able to assist.
“When we saw the temperatures were going to fall dramatically, we wanted to have as much availability for emergency calls as possible,” Havens said.
Owners at Henry Smith Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Elkhart, took enough calls for emergency heating problems that they are now busy for the next few days, said Jen Hopper, a dispatcher for the company.
Customers were eager to have their furnace serviced, but “most people have been pretty understanding. They know they’re not the only ones,” Hopper said.
All three companies said they try to give priority to customers who have health problems that can be exacerbated by extreme cold.
While some furnaces need serious repairs, sometimes the problem is as small as changing the air filter to improve heat flow.
“It’s something you can actually talk the homeowner through, doing a couple things that they might be able to get some heat until we can get to them,” Havens said.
Some customers call and say the furnace is working, but the house is still cold.
“And some homes are not insulated enough when it’s as cold as it was last night, they just don’t heat real well,” she said.
Furnaces sometimes fail during really cold weather because they run continually, which creates added stress on the equipment.
But possibly the biggest culprit for furnaces is a lack of regular maintenance.
Church said she didn’t think any of the people who called Tuesday were ones who have previously established maintenance programs. Their company touts a 61-point diagnostic check program to keep equipment in good shape.
“It has really helped our customers avoid emergency calls,” Church said.
Cold weather can also be damaging to plumbing.
On Tuesday, Todd Dies, systems service manager for Griffen Plumbing and Heating in Elkhart, said he had only received one call for frozen pipes — a problem that is common when the temperature drops below zero.
“Most of the time (the frozen pipes) are exposed to the outdoors and cold air can get into the walls,” he said.
“The best thing to do is if the pipes are on an exterior wall, just leave the faucet open to drip,” Dies said. “That, and also open cabinets (beneath sinks) to let warmer air get under there.”
Reporter Emily Pfund contributed to this report.