National Tune Up Day: Get Ready for Winter

With fall comes cooler weather, hot drinks, sweaters and … heating system maintenance? That’s right, it’s time for National Tune Up Day!

The colder it gets, the harder our heating systems work, and the more likely they are to break down if there is an ongoing problem. No one wants their furnace or boiler to break down, and annual maintenance keeps it in good working order. However, because many heating systems are out of sight, some homeowners pay them no mind, until they aren’t working correctly.

Regular maintenance keeps heating systems chugging along, because 29 percent of home energy usage is heating-related, according to ENERGY STAR. For every year of maintenance and cleaning that is skipped, the energy bill increases by 5 to 10 percent, according to House Logic. So, an annual tune up keeps heating systems energy efficient and lasting longer, providing additional years of service.

What Does a Tune Up Include?

A tune up should include inspection of the system and cleaning of filters and coils and service, which can include testing fuel pressure, airflow, thermostat controls and pilot lights. During the inspection, a HVAC technician will examine the heating system for signs of wear-and-tear, such as cracks; look at the motor and compressor; and ensure that all parts are in good shape.

Once the system has been properly cleaned, a technician will replace any worn-out parts, such as fan blades or capacitors and, in some cases, lubricate parts. The technician will look for anything that will potentially cause a system to breakdown or cause extensive damage if left unchecked.

How Much Will It cost?

Most tune ups will cost between $100 and $200, depending on whether services include both the heating and cooling systems, the size of the home and the age of the system. However, once a HVAC system breaks down, it may cost several thousand dollars to repair. Labor costs average from $100 to $150 per hour, and that doesn’t include parts. The average repair cost is from $160 to $400 for furnaces, with the high end at $900.

The HomeServe State of the Home survey reported more than one-third of homeowners have $500 or less set aside for an emergency repair, 13 percent had difficulty finding a reliable HVAC technician when they needed one, and 17 percent required a HVAC system replacement or repair in the past year.

A tune up can prevent these expensive problems – and can be scheduled at a convenient time. When technicians must come out on an emergency after-hours call, the price increases.

Why Should a Licensed Technician Perform a Tune Up?

Homeowners should always hire a licensed HVAC technician with appropriate insurance to perform a tune up. It isn’t just about cost and convenience, it’s also about safety. Clogged flues, chimneys and filters can cause carbon monoxide to back up into the home, causing headaches, dizziness and nausea – even death. Carbon monoxide detectors can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and so can regularly cleaning out the heating system.

The technician will also check and tighten any electrical connections to ensure none are faulty and a potential fire hazard, according to the Home Advice Guide. Faulty electrical connections can short out the system and reduce its lifespan. Technicians will examine gas and oil connections, making sure they are in good working order. Dirty or leaking gas or oil connections don’t only hurt energy efficiency, but are a major health hazard, according to Energy Star.

HomeServe established National Tune Up Day, Sept. 25, in 2014 to remind homeowners to keep on top of needed maintenance. Homeowners are encouraged to mark National Tune Up Day on their calendars and schedule a home heating system tune up before it gets cold and they discover there’s a problem.

“With some simple preventive measures, homeowners can avoid potentially costly heating system issues this winter, and this is a timely reminder to schedule a tune up as soon as possible,” John Kitzie, HomeServe CEO, said.

HomeServe offers home heating protection plans, including plans that provide tune ups for homeowners who want protection from emergency heating repairs.  HomeServe also offers service plans for water, sewer, electrical and other home emergencies. All plan holders have access to a repair hotline that is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The hotline brings local, licensed and insured technicians right to their home for repairs.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives. This includes as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

An Electrical Hazard: How to Avoid One During the Holidays

It’s the holidays, and your rate payers are looking forward to family gatherings, gifts and decorating, but they probably aren’t thinking about the risk of an electrical hazard.

No one wants to think about the potential of electrical hazards causing property damage or tragedy at the holidays, but with increased visitors, cooking large meals and holiday lights, the potential for a fire, electrical or otherwise, is higher than any other time of the year.

Christmas trees are involved with an average of 160 reported home fires annually and holiday décor, excluding trees, causes 780 fires annually, with a total of six deaths, 49 injuries and $22 million in property damage each year from 2013 to 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Your Christmas tree can be an electrical hazard.

Two out of five Christmas tree fires started in the living room and 44 percent involved electrical hazards. One-fifth of décor fires began in the kitchen, and 16 percent began in the living room, family room or den.

Since your customers want to hear from you across many platforms – and, when they do, their satisfaction with your services increases, you may want to share some safety tips to avoid electrical hazards during the holiday season. It’s right in your wheelhouse, shareable, easily digestible and can cross platforms.

The Tree

If purchasing an artificial tree, buy one that is flame retardant – it won’t stop a fire, but it will resist burning, burn more slowly and extinguish more quickly than one that isn’t flame retardant.

If purchasing a live tree, buy one that isn’t dry – the needles shouldn’t break or pull off easily. Keep it watered daily and at least three feet away from open heat sources such as fires or space heaters. Dry trees are a fire hazard. Check out this video from the US National Institutes of Standards and Technology demonstrating the increase in flammability of a dry tree.

The Lights

Examine lights before you use them. There shouldn’t be frayed or exposed wires, broken bulbs or damaged sockets. If a string of lights is damaged or malfunctioning, it’s become an electrical hazard, so you should discard it.

Look at labels. Lights meant for indoor use should only be used indoors, and likewise with those meant for outdoor use. Lights and replacement bulbs also should be tested and certified by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to make sure they meet safety standards.

Your holiday lights can be an electrical hazard. Only use lights rated for outdoors when decorating outside.

Don’t overload electrical outlets. Don’t plug more than one high-wattage item into an outlet at a time and don’t connect more than three strings of lights together.

If you’re using extension cords, don’t plug too many lights into one cord and don’t plug too many cords into one outlet. Check the wattage the cord is intended for and don’t exceed it. Cords shouldn’t be run under carpets or furniture, pinched by windows or doors or run through high traffic areas. Don’t remove the third prong, because this grounds the cord and prevents electrocution.

If using a cord outdoors, don’t leave it on the ground, because water can get into the connection and cause an electrical hazard. Instead, elevate the connection with a brick or rock. Outside, use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) outlets to prevent water-induced shorts.

Avoid nails, tacks and staples that may pierce wires. Instead, invest in some insulated hooks that will prevent damage to the lights – and electrical hazards.

You should not leaves lights unattended. A timer can be utilized to ensure lights are switched off automatically at times when everyone in the home is out or asleep.

Store safely. When the lights are returned to the attic or the basement at the end of the season, they should be stored in a water- and pest-proof container.

The Meal

This seems like common sense, but remain aware of the stove or oven while in use. With all the visitors and activities, distractions can occur. A timer can be used as a reminder to check food that is cooking.

Be aware of potential fire hazards – clean up grease spills and keep pot holders, towels and oven mitts away from burners.

Keep an eye on wattage. Some kitchen appliances can demand a lot of power – only plug one into any one outlet to prevent it from becoming an electrical hazard. Any outlet that could encounter water or liquids should have a GFCI.

Be prepared in case there is an emergency. Ensure that fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are operating properly.

With just a little thought and preparation, your customers can have a safe and happy holiday season and avoid electrical hazards.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps utilities improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

Help Your Customers Prepare During Emergency Preparedness Month

September is Emergency Preparedness Month and, in the event of a disaster, there are several things your customers should know about their electrical service in particular, and energy safety in general.

National Preparedness Month is a great time to plan for utility and home emergencies.

Many customers are unaware of how to prepare their homes for disasters or what to do in the aftermath. Those preparing may inadvertently cause even more problems without the appropriate guidance.

Charge It Up

Customers in the path of a storm should prepare themselves by charging any devices they use to communicate, including cell phones and computers. If they have an external charger for these devices, they, too, should be charged. Any electronic devices that may be in danger of being flooded should be moved to a safer part of the home.

If you advise customers to shut down power to their homes, instruct them to turn off each individual breaker, then the main breaker. You may want to include common sense reminders that customers should not touch the breaker box if their hands are wet or if it is surrounded by standing water.  

Gas and Water

Your customers should know where the gas and water shut-off valves are located and how to turn these off as well. Despite these being out of your purview, your customers will still appreciate the information. 

Some customers may purchase generators, especially if you’re in an area that experiences frequent hurricanes, tornados or debilitating snowstorms. Many of those making such a purchase will do the research for themselves, and understand it must be installed outside and away from windows or doors by a qualified electrician.

They may understand that a transfer switch should be installed and power to their home turned off at the breaker. However, they may not realize that these are safety mechanisms meant to protect your linesmen from the potential of backfeed and electrocution after the initial danger has passed and power is being restored.

Detector Maintenance

Communicate what they should do and why they should do it in order to impress upon them the importance of these safety measures. In addition, customers should be encouraged to purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors, with battery backups, of course. Not only is this a good practice in general, but a large proportion of CO deaths occur in homes where a generator is being used. Your customers may think having their generator in a secure, enclosed space like a garage is convenient, but it can also be deadly. Emergency Preparedness Month is the perfect time to perform these maintenance tasks.

Electrical Issues

Following a storm or flood – especially a flood – is when your customers face the most danger from electrical-related causes. The most obvious is from downed powerlines. Your customers likely know that they should stay away from downed lines, but may not realize that, if live, they can electrify the ground for up to 35 feet away – especially if it is saturated with water. In fact, your customers should avoid flooded areas altogether, not only because of the danger of drowning or infection from contaminated water, but because it could be electrified by a submerged power line.

They also may believe that their car’s rubber tires will protect them from electrical shock, and they may be surprised to find out they absolutely should not drive over downed wires.

Customers also should be aware that, if a line is touching something, or an object is lying on the line, they should not touch that object. Most customers know they should leave downed lines alone and call emergency services, that there is no safe way to approach or move a potentially live line, but some may not know the risk of being shocked from a distance or how even a small amount of water can be very conductive.

Portions of customers’ homes may flood during a disaster. Although they may be aware of the dangers of mold and the necessity of drying out their rooms and making repairs to water-damaged floors and walls, they may not think of the electrical system nestled within and out of sight. Remind customers their electrical system can’t be returned to service until it has been examined by a qualified electrician if it was exposed to water. Any devices that have gotten wet also should be examined.

Your customers want you to reach out to them. Studies have shown that regular communication improves customer satisfaction. Emergency Preparedness Month, Electrical Safety Month and the beginning of hurricane season in mid-August are good times to remind them about basic electrical safety.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

Furnace Tune Up: Better late than never, but right now is even better!

Furnace Tune Up: Better late than never, but right now is even better!

It might not feel like it right now, but colder weather is right around the corner. That makes it the perfect time to make sure your customers’ heating systems are prepared to handle the inevitable – plummeting winter temperatures. Waiting until the first cold day of the season is not the right time to find out if a heater is functioning properly, so it’s time for furnace tune up services.

Did you know that, on average, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems together run over 2,000 hours each and every year and that replacement of either a heating or cooling unit can cost thousands? That’s why we are working to promote National Tune Up Day, a yearly reminder that scheduling an annual furnace tune up takes just a few minutes but can save a whole lot of money and hassle in the long run.

During a tune-up, a competent technician typically goes through the following important check-list of system tasks:

  • Check safety systems and controls
  • Check/adjust thermostats
  • Check/adjust burners
  • Check/clean pilot
  • Check/clean gauge and flush low water cut-off
  • Check filters and belts
  • Check flue pipe and chimney draft
  • Check oil motors and pumps
  • Check/clean blower assembly
  • Check condensate line if applicable

While many Americans don’t expect to have to deal with a home emergency, over half of the respondents in a 2018 HomeServe survey reported having a home repair emergency just in the past year – and furnace tune up and HVAC repairs topped the list. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To learn more, click here.

Network Contractor Calls HomeServe Cares to Help Ensure Customer Safety

Network Contractor Calls HomeServe Cares to Help Ensure Customer Safety

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.”

Is Old Wiring Risking Your Customer’s or Member’s Safety?

Is Old Wiring Risking Your Customer’s or Member’s Safety?

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.

Many homes have an old wiring system – more than half of American homes are 50 years old or older, and the median age of American homes is 35 years old. National Association of Realtors recommends that houses 40 years and older be renovated or sold “as-is.”

Home Inspections by Licensed Electricians

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.

Everyday Safety

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 can range from an inconvenience to a serious danger, and the cost can range from $70 to $120 per outlet and switch and $1,000 to $3,000 for copper wiring, depending on the size of the house. However, one in three homeowners don’t have even $500 set aside for an emergency home repair, according to HomeServe USA’s State of the Home survey.

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.