Omar Ramirez stands sweating outside a home in the Southbank neighborhood as workers scramble up the roof to lay asphalt shingles, a material known to absorb a lot of heat.
It’s only 11 a.m. and it’s already 37 degrees outside with temperatures expected to hit 101 before the day ends, but for Ramirez and so many other outdoor workers, working through heat warnings is just part of the job.
With temperatures breaking records before summer even begins, outdoor workers plan their day in weather conditions that constantly test their physical and mental stamina.
For Ramirez, the owner of Techline Roofing and Restoration in Canyon Lake, that means his team’s day started at 6:30 a.m. to make sure it ends before the worst of the heat hits.
To keep his employees safe, he’s instituted more breaks, hydrated and worked slower — even if it means the project won’t be completed on time.
“Looks like we’ve got two more months of this stuff… if[the]job is taking a little longer outside, it’s because of the heat,” Ramirez said. “Our jobs take longer. We did one last week which took us four days when it should have only taken us two due to the height (of the house) and the heat.”
Not only roofers suffer from the heat.
Workers in industries like construction, outdoor maintenance, and home improvement also deal with the elements.
“When the sun comes out in full force in the morning, it’s just like, here we go again,” Hunter Paine said. “It’s a mental game because a lot of times your body or your mind is telling you to stop and just stop and sit in the air conditioner … but just knowing that I have to get my work done to get paid (helps) to push me through.”
As a former Navy NCO turned pool maintenance worker, asserting oneself through hard work comes naturally and has come in handy at times when the heat becomes unbearable.
Paine tends about 65 pools a week and, like the roofers, starts early to avoid heat spikes. He wakes up at 5am and is at his first location by 6:30am so his day can end by 2pm, but sometimes the day drags on and it becomes almost impossible to resist the heat.
“(One day) I was out cleaning pools until 3:30 and it was 103 or 104 degrees and there was a point in the day where I had to take a break of about 30 minutes because I had a thought It was like, ‘If I don’t stop for a little bit, I might pass out,'” Paine said.
Knowing your limits is an important part of any physically demanding job, especially in the heat, and Daniel Cabrera has years of experience listening to his body and knowing when it’s time to throw in the towel.
Cabrera buys and renovates homes from San Antonio to New Braunfels and often finds himself in situations where he has to quit early. This can cause project delays, but when it comes to his well-being, it can be the best option.
A few weeks ago, Cabrera found the heat too much for a job that involved lifting and placing wood.
“I look at the guys and I’m like, guys, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty worthless right now,” Cabrera said. “Something I can normally carry and put in and pick up just feels like it’s four times heavier. I thought we just have to go.”
Working with metal tools can also be challenging. Grabbing something as simple as a crowbar can burn your hand, and that’s not the only thing that has the potential to burn you at work.
Cabrera recalled that he once worked in an attic and the lack of ventilation brought the temperature to 140 degrees on a 105-degree day.
“It was the first time in my life that I was burned — not by the sun,” Cabrera said. “I literally felt my skin so tight just from baking all day.”
While understanding one’s limitations is an essential part of the job, not everyone has the luxury of stopping for the day.
David Vega is someone who learned this the hard way, and while he handed in his tools a while ago, he still uses his years of experience to oversee a crew and watch them try to get through it.
“I do work that doesn’t require that much physical effort, but it’s hot as hell, man,” Vega said. “It’s like an oven and just standing around and guys helping… it just sucks. I don’t want to be there, but you know you’re an adult and you have responsibilities, (so) you put it away.
Working under harsh conditions just to earn a living is all too well known to the project manager and he constantly witnesses others going through the same thing. One thing has always stayed the same.
“It’s not about your comfort, it’s about getting the job done,” Vega said. “We have to make this money to pay the bills … we have to go to work, so we do that, and we get used to suffering and operating at a pain threshold that most people don’t understand.”