Weary water heaters. Overtaxed toilets. Dishwashers doing double duty, running twice a day instead of the usual once. The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has caused families to hunker down, is hitting household plumbing hard.

"People are at home now. They are working from home. The children are home. The plumbing systems are being put to the test, working harder than normal," said Lance McChristian, a master plumber with Hero Plumbing, Heating & Cooling in Minneapolis. The result? The systems are breaking more than normal, too. The company has been flooded with calls, he said.

"From what we are seeing, [members] are working strong hours," said Scott Gale, business manager with United Association of Plumbers Local Union No. 15, which covers Minneapolis, St. Cloud and central Minnesota. Plumbers are working 10 hours of overtime per week, on average, Gale said. This time of year can be busy, he noted, with seasonal rains taxing drain pipes, and snowbirds returning home to discover problems. But this year brought an uptick in work compared with a typical spring.

How to arrange a safe visit

No one relishes a surprise plumbing issue, but during the pandemic, a broken pipe or toilet can also bring a sense of dread about having to call a plumber to make a house call. But there are ways to ensure safety — for plumbers and their customers.

Given the nature of their work, plumbers wear protective gear. The pandemic has only heightened their focus on safety. When a customer calls Hero Plumbing for help, for instance, a call center asks a series of questions: Have you been exposed to COVID-19? How are you feeling?

Customers should ask the same of their plumbers. Also ask for details of their safety protocols, and look for these key steps: Plumbers should maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet and wear safety goggles, a face mask, gloves and booties over their shoes when they enter your home. Many also wear face shields. Plumbers should spray down all tools and equipment between jobs, and disinfect any work area before they leave. Ask if you can pay over the phone with a credit card or send a check later.

Customers should disinfect the area before the plumber arrives. Clear the path and open doors so your plumber has fewer obstacles and doorknobs to touch. Stay in a different part of the house while the work is being done, and wear a mask. Consider communicating by phone, to limit face-to-face interactions. Don't get close or peer over a plumber's shoulder as they work. After they leave, wipe down the work area, and all light switches and doorknobs along their path, just in case. □