“When I came home
that evening, I smelled gas very strongly,” Dorothy said.
It’s every homeowner’s nightmare – a gas service line failure. Dorothy, a Houston resident and CenterPoint customer, learned that her gas service line, although only 15 years old, was leaking.
An Unexpected Problem
Jose Carbajo of Texas Quality Plumbing and his crew were quickly onsite, where they assessed the problem. Jose realized the gas service line was PVC, which was no longer up to code in the area.
“We’ll dig, trench, about 50 feet and install new [gas service] line that’s up to code,” Jose said.
Not only had the gas service line not lasted long, but replacing it would cost $3,000. However, Dorothy couldn’t delay, because she would have no gas service to her home until the gas service line was repaired. Leaving it as it was, was unsafe and untenable.
Financial Shock Can Prove a Hardship
Dorothy had experienced a financial shock, or a large, unexpected expense. The effects of a financial shock, such as an unexpected home repair or a sudden loss of income, can be devastating, and the United Nations estimates 40 million Americans are living in poverty. Estimates range from three-in-four to three-in-five Americans who are living from paycheck to paycheck.
Many homeowners are not prepared for a financial shock. However, 60 percent of American households endured one in a calendar year, according to the Pew Trust. Among those who experienced a financial shock, 55 percent of households struggled to make ends meet afterwards.
The HomeServe State of the Home Fall 2019 survey found more than half of Americans had a home repair in the prior twelve months. Meanwhile, one in five has nothing set aside in a “rainy day fund.”
A Solution Emerges
Luckily for Dorothy, CenterPoint partnered with HomeServe, a leading provider of emergency home repair plans, including gas service lines, electric service lines, water heaters and HVAC systems. When Dorothy received educational materials about the possibility of gas service line failures through the partnership, she signed up for gas service line protection.
“I signed up [for gas service line coverage] in July, I believe, never thinking this would happen, but it did, and I’m very glad that I had it,” she said. “When I called, the agent was very helpful, answered any questions I might have, reassured me that I was covered, which made me very happy. The contractor that HomeServe sent out was very helpful and ready to fix whatever it was.”
Jose and his team installed a new, safe, code compliant gas service line for Dorothy. It didn’t cost her a penny, thanks to CenterPoint and HomeServe.
Katy C. of Hyattsville, Maryland, had a nasty surprise waiting in her mailbox – a water bill for $1,000.
“It was usually $80 or $100,” she said of the stunning notice.
Katy didn’t understand how her bill could have spiked so high without corresponding water use, so she called her utility, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, who sent a technician out to locate the source of Katy’s high bill. The technician found more bad news for Katy. Her high water bill was due to a leak in her water service line, which allowed nearly a thousand dollars of potable water to drain into the ground. The technician explained that the leak was between the water meter and Katy’s home, and was her responsibility.
“The technician who came out said, ‘I’m very sorry to tell you, that from the water meter on this side [toward the main] is the county’s, and on this side [toward the home] is your responsibility,’” Katy said.
Katy was a first-time homeowner, having purchased her home only three years before, and she didn’t know she was responsible for the water service line.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known if this hadn’t happened.”
Katy’s first thought was to enlist the help of some of her handier friends and relatives, but learned that anyone working on her service line had to be a licensed and insured plumber to ensure the work was inspected and insured. But that meant the repair would result in a several thousand dollar invoice, a high water bill due to a leak. Katy was responsible for repairing fifteen feet of her copper water line, but she didn’t have the money on hand to do it.
A friend suggested she do some internet sleuthing and see any organization would help her with the bill for the work, and, after some online digging, Katy learned about HomeServe Cares, a charitable program operated by HomeServe USA, a national home warranty company.
HomeCare Cares Answers the Call
Katy filled out an application, and HomeServe’s customer team responded quickly and treated her with care and professionalism that Katy appreciated. When Katy was informed that she qualified for the program and the entire cost of the repair would be covered, she was flabbergasted.
“I thought, ‘you’re kidding me, are you serious?’” she said. “It all just happened so fast. I was shocked, but happy I was going to have my water fixed. I’m very appreciative, very grateful for the help.”
The local network plumber, Haynes Plumbing, was dispatched to Katy’s home, and explained the process to her, keeping her informed each step of the way and working diligently to repair her water service line leak, even in poor weather.
“I felt so bad for them, out there in the rain and mud,” Katy said. “It was a lot of mess.”
Katy is determined that none of her family or friends be caught unaware of their responsibilities, the way she was.
“With the lack of knowledge and experience, I didn’t know there are [warranty] plans you can buy for repairs,” she said. “Now that I know that, I’m spreading the word to all my friends and family who are buying homes.”
HomeServe is committed to serving its partners’ communities. To this end, HomeServe Cares is a program to aid disadvantaged homeowners in communities it serves who are faced with a service emergency and don’t have a service plan or the funds to cover an emergency repair. HomeServe Cares leverages the company’s existing service infrastructure and financial resources to aid homeowners in need.
If you have any questions about HomeServe or the HomeServe Cares program, please contact us.
When Robin Tusa of Tusa’s Plumbing was at Tijuana B.’s Fort Worth, Texas, home, she noticed something odd: When they plugged in her equipment, they turned off their television.
Tusa, a HomeServe USA network contractor, was at the home to unclog a sewer line when she noticed the issue.
“I had come out to this residence to take care of a main line stoppage,” she said. “I took care of the stoppage for them and we found roots in the line, so I came back to jet. When I went to unplug the outlet, that’s when I saw they had turned the TV off to allow me to have electricity to run the machine.”
Tijuana explained she had been having issues with outlets popping and catching fire, a sure sign of faulty power outlet wiring.
“Some of our outlets, when we plugged them in, it would trip the breaker,” Tijuana said. “The one in my room caught fire.”
Tusa knew just what to do: She called HomeServe and advocated for her client, asking if there was anything that could be done to help Tijuana. She knew the issue could be a potential safety hazard.
“I reached out to some of my contacts and ended up getting [help] through the [HomeServe] Cares program,” Tusa said.
There was no way to know whether it was a minor power outlet wiring problem requiring a quick fix or a serious one that could run into thousands of dollars to re-wire the home. The problem needed to be examined by a qualified electrician, but Tusa had faith that HomeServe would deliver.
And HomeServe did, sending out Chris Riggins of CER Electrical Services to examine the outlets and electrical panel – at no cost to Tijuana.
“I recommend HomeServe to all my neighbors and my family, because I know they’re on a tight budget,” Tijuana said. “This is a way to help them save.”
The power outlet wiring problem was quickly remedied, the faulty circuit repaired, and the safety hazard no longer threatened Tijuana and her family.
“A lot of the other home warranty customers don’t take care of their customers the way HomeServe does,” Tusa said. “A lot of the other companies, you get bonuses if you deny everything and you look for reasons not to get it covered. At HomeServe, they take care of their customers.”
BPU and the Unified Government (UG) first partnered with HomeServe USA, a leading provider of home repair service solutions for residents and customers in 2016. Services include water service line repairs, sewer line repairs, and in-home plumbing plans, among other things. HomeServe provides homeowners with an affordable, cost-effective way to manage the unexpected expense and inconvenience of home repair emergencies. Many are often unaware that such repairs are not covered by basic homeowner’s insurance policies or by the local utility and usually have to take on the burden of repair costs themselves. Participants have seen positive results since the launch of the home service repair plans, skipping the hassle and inconvenience of finding a contractor and paying costly repair bills.
Below are some up-to-date usage statistics on the program.
6,347 customers are covered for a home emergency repair
12,207 coverage contracts are maintained
446 covered repairs completed, saving customers over $300,000
100% customer satisfaction maintained!
Residents can learn more about the services by calling the HomeServe toll-free at 1-866-219-2162 or visiting www.HomeServeUSA.com.
How the Program Works:
Once enrolled and a claim needs to be made, HomeServe selects a contractor in their network for the customer. HomeServe will assign and deploy the contractor, with all HomeServe Contractors fully vetted.
Three Step Claims Process:
In the event of a home emergency, customers call the toll-free emergency repair hotline; this number can be found in the contract document.
A local, licensed and insured contractor (in HomeServe’s approved Network) will contact the customer to confirm the day and time for when the repair will be completed.
Once repairs are completed, the claim is processed and HomeServe pays the contractor directly.
Verification of Work:
The contractor explains the work to be performed to the customer before beginning the work. Then, the contractor demonstrates to the customer to that the work is complete before leaving the worksite.
Contractor Deployment Application:
When a customer calls to make a claim, a HomeServe agent will offer to send a text link to the customer. A customer will have the ability to track the location of the contractor along with the contractor’s picture and reviewsthrough this link, similar to the Uber process.
Reprinted from Kansas City BPU Connection, Winter 2018. Click here to view the newsletter in its entirety.
Many homeowners never wonder if their house has an old wiring system, plugging all sorts of devices in for regular use. But are residents putting a 21st century demand on a 20th century electrical system?
In today’s technology-dependent world, we are putting a greater strain on our home electrical systems than ever before – we’re not only plugging in appliances and lights, but computers, game consoles, cell phones, tablets and a host of other electronic gadgets.
If homeowners don’t know when their home’s wiring was last updated, it may be time to have a licensed electrician inspect for fire hazards. These can include deteriorating wire insulation, corrosion and improper wiring. To meet today’s electrical demands, homes should have 12 American Wire Gauge, and an electrician can determine whether a home has the thinner 14 gauge. Prior to purchasing a home that is 50 years old or older, it should be inspected by an electrician. Regular checkups should occur every five years thereafter.
Homeowners should take a proactive approach to electrical safety in the home. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that 10 percent of fatal fires are caused by electrical malfunctions, and malfunctions account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation. In addition to having a licensed electrician do an all-over inspection of the home, there are many things homeowners can do to make the home as safe as possible for loved ones.
The National Fire Protection Association notes homeowners should use bulbs that don’t exceed a light fixture’s recommended wattage. If the recommended wattage is unknown, a 60-watt bulb or smaller should be used.
Eliminate the use of extension cords, increasing the number of outlets if necessary. The more heavy-duty gauge the extension cord, the better. A 16 gauge is the smallest gauge that should be used. The smaller the number, the thicker and heavier the cord. Cords should never be covered by rugs or nailed or stapled down, because they could overheat or malfunction.
The U.S. Consumer Protection Agency recommends that any outlet in an area which may be exposed to water, such as bathrooms, kitchens or laundry rooms, have a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). This device monitors the flow of current to prevent anyone from receiving an electrical shock. A GFCI is designed to sense when electricity is not flowing from the “hot,” or smaller outlet socket on the right, to the neutral, or larger outlet socket on the left. If a conductor, such as water, has been introduced, the GFCI can sense very small imbalances and shut off current within a fraction of a second.
Tamper resistant receptacles (TRR) are outlets that resist attempts to insert any object other than a plug into them. Spring-loaded shutters cover the outlet socket and will prevent anything from being inserted into a single socket. They are recommended to be retrofitted in any home where children live or visit, and the National Electrical Code, a safety code widely adapted across the country, requires all electrical outlets in new construction to be TRR outlets.
Troubleshooting Old Wiring
In addition to these changes, homeowners should be aware of potential problems before they turn into big ones. Dim or flickering lights, unusual noises or a burning smell may be a clue that a licensed electrician is needed.
If lights dim when running a large appliance, the circuit may overloaded, especially in older homes whose electrical systems aren’t designed to handle the power demands of a modern home. If the lights dim when appliances aren’t running, a serious wiring issue may be occurring that should be addressed by an electrician.
If lights consistently flicker throughout the home during high winds or a storm, the service line entering the home at the weatherhead. This fitting connects the overhead electric line meets the home’s service line, and may be in poor condition. Flickering even in good weather can be a sign of an outdated system or one that is seeing overuse.
If a faint buzzing sound exists, facing plates or devices are hot to the touch or a smell of burning plastic is detected, these are all signs of an overheating electrical system, and a licensed electrician needs to be brought in to address the issue immediately.
Buzzing can indicate the electrical wiring is improperly grounded or overloaded, and if the circuit breaker is buzzing, it too could be overloaded or have a bad connection. Also, a frequently tripping circuit breaker is an indication of faulty wiring.
Older home with fuse boxes should have the fuses that meet the recommended amperage to avoid a fire hazard. Again, frequent tripping means the box is being overloaded. No matter what sort of electrical box exists, all of the circuits and disconnecting switches should be clearly labeled.
Electrical malfunctions be costly and dangerous. Heating equipment malfunctions cause one in five residential fires each year, while carbon monoxide poisoning – which can be caused by faulty HVAC systems – causes 15,000 emergency room visits and nearly 500 deaths each year. In addition, gas leaks injure more than 50 people and kill an average of 14 annually.
Quick Safety Tips
Repair or replace damaged electrical cords.
Don’t remove a plug by pulling on the cord, grip the plug’s plastic housing instead.
Don’t overload electric outlets.
Don’t put carpets over extension cords; they may overheat.
Don’t staple or nail extension cords to floors, ceilings or walls; you may cause improper grounding or arcing.
Unplug appliances before cleaning or repairing and unplug appliances that don’t work or are sparking.
A partnership with HomeServe brings your customers emergency home repair plans that deliver best-in-class service from rigorously vetted local contractors. Learn more about how a partnership can benefit utilities and their customers at www.homeserveutility.com.
Home Maintenance is a key factor for aging Americans wishing to remain in their own homes, or in the modern vernacular, those who prefer “aging in place.”
According to U.S. Census data, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to rise 35 percent from 2010 to 2020, and a growing trend for this population is to continue living independently. A comprehensive study on aging in place by AARP explains,
“this means to grow old in the home where one raised children or in another non-institutional setting in the community. During a lifetime, people develop connections to place and form relationships with neighbors, doctors, hairdressers and shopkeepers. They become intimately familiar with the route to downtown, the rhythm of summer concerts at the band shell park, the best places to get a coveted burger and personalized greeting. These associations, of value to both the individual and the community, cannot be quickly or easily replicated in a new environment. In essence, they can play a pivotal role in successful aging.”
A group of Georgia Institute of technology researchers conducted a comprehensive study of how aging affects one’s ability to perform home maintenance tasks. This study explored the issues that older adults have with maintaining their home and issues that they might foresee in performing those tasks in the future. The researchers also investigated the services, products, technologies, and remodeling options older adults considered or used that could help them.
There were 44 participants between the ages of 66 and 85 and they conducted 11 group interview sessions. They were asked to fill out a Background Questionnaire and Technology Experience Questionnaire at home and return them to the experimenter at the time of the interview.
From the interview responses, the researchers developed a list of the most difficult home maintenance activities. These included cleaning, outdoor, home upkeep, repair, indoor update/remodel, movement within the home (specific to performing maintenance tasks), and other. The vast majority of the commentary related to these difficult categories.
The total number of comments made by participants that were related to difficult home maintenance tasks was 316; nearly 70% were cleaning-related or outdoor-related. Difficult tasks categorized as cleaning included vacuuming, tidying, changing bed linens, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the toilet, taking out the garbage, and general cleaning. Outdoor tasks included mowing the lawn, painting the outside of the home, cleaning the gutters, or general outdoor tasks.
An additional 16% of the difficult tasks mentioned were categorized as home upkeep by those aging in place. This category of tasks included HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) maintenance (e.g., changing or replacing the furnace filter), pest control, replacing light bulbs, roof replacement, and maintenance of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
The study concludes that:
“These results present opportunities for interventions that can help older adults remain independent in their homes longer. By understanding the nature of home maintenance problems older adults encounter while aging in place, as well as their solutions for managing difficult home maintenance tasks, interventions and redesign efforts can be more effective and address the areas of greatest need. To that end, home service providers, technology developers, home designers, and senior agencies can enable aging in place.”
Home warranty companies provide home services that can address several important aspects of safely aging in place:
Proactive attention to a problem – a person with a plan is more apt to call for service on a small problem before the issue becomes worse, and potentially dangerous. Once on-site contractors can check other systems to ensure there are no additional issues and if any are discovered they can be fixed immediately.
Expeditious response – while it may take days for a contractor from the phone book to arrive, a home protection plan company has a defined and short response time
Careful screening/vetting – home protection plans provide consumers access to fully-vetted, licensed and insured local contractors. This dramatically reduces the risk related to allowing a stranger into one’s home, particularly for elderly people living alone.
HomeServe assists homeowners with over 450,000 emergency repair jobs each year, covering plumbing, HVAC, electrical and gas. To accomplish this, we have a mix of both directly employed service technicians and a network of over 1,000 contractors across the country to meet the demands of our 3 million customers. It is therefore our job to take the customer’s call, identify the nature of their problem, confirm coverage and deploy the job to a HomeServe technician or network contractor as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A partnership with HomeServe can bring home repair programs backed by world class service to your customers. Learn more about how a partnership can benefit utilities at www.homeserveutility.com.