Sewer Line Failure Causes Financial Shock

By: Bill Eller

Andrew had a sewer line failure and water was spreading across his living room. Despite his best efforts, he was losing ground.

“We had a shop-vac in there, trying to get the water up, and we couldn’t keep up,” he said. “We were filling a five-gallon [reservoir], a ten-gallon and a two and a half-gallon within seconds.”

A Pair of Problems

Andrew and his family had suffered two blows – a sewer line failure and a burst water line. The water, building up 20 feet below the street, sought any accessible exit, and that just happened to be the sewer line serving Andrew’s home. The water poured into the collapsed sewer service line and, through it, into his house.

“I was sitting on the couch, watching TV, and my dog sounded like he was drinking something, so I looked,” Andrew said. “The main sewer cap, which is pressurized, was leaking water. Not even seconds later, it blew the pressurized cap off the valve, and water was just gushing. On Sunday, it happened again, and it was 24 hours of nonstop water. I had to remove the washtub sink from the laundry room and run a pipe into the sump pump just to control the water.”

A Loss of Facilities

The water was turned off and Andrew and his family couldn’t use the facilities because of the sewer line failure.

“It’s like camping, but at your house,” said Lisa. “I’m washing dishes in a tub in the backyard.”

The family weren’t able to shower, wash clothes or use anything requiring water or sewer service, leaving them to depend

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on the mercy of family and friends as they tried to navigate life without water or sewer service.

“Some parts of the (water system) are several decades old,” Bill Wright, Niagara Falls Water Board Superintendent of Operations said. “In this [neighborhood], they’re 60 years old, and, downtown, they’re 100.”

And, with older public infrastructure comes aging private infrastructure as well. Many service lines are reaching the end of their usable lifespans and homeowners will continue to have unpleasant surprises as they fail.

“Many homeowners don’t realize the complexity of a water system or sanitary system,” Mike Eagler, Niagara Falls Water Board Supervisor of Outside Maintenance said. “So, when something goes wrong, they don’t grasp the concept of what it would take to have it repaired. I work for the Niagara Falls water board, I know how to do the repairs, but, when [the emergency home repair plan] is offered, I’ll be one of the first ones to sign up for it. That’s how much I believe in it.”

A Potential Financial Shock

Then came the bill – because the break was so deep below the road and would require heavy machinery and trench boxes, the preliminary estimate was $20,000, a staggering amount that would require Andrew and Lisa to take out a loan in order to have full use of their home.

Andrew and Lisa had experienced a financial shock, or a large, unexpected expense. The effects of a financial shock, such as an unexpected home or car repair or a sudden loss of income, can be devastating to homeowners on a fixed income, and the United Nations estimates 40 million Americans are living in poverty. Estimates range from three-in-four to three-in-five Americans who, while not necessarily in poverty, are living from paycheck to paycheck.

Many of those struggling in the day-to-day are not prepared to endure a financial shock, yet approximately 60 percent of American households endured one in a calendar year, according to the Pew Trust. The most expensive median cost was $2,000 among those who suffered a financial shock and, afterwards, 55 percent of households struggled to make ends meet.
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The HomeServe State of the Home Fall 2019 survey found that more than half of Americans had a home repair in the prior twelve months, while one in five has nothing set aside for a “rainy day fund.”

HomeServe Was There to Help

Luckily, the Niagara Falls Water Board  signed a partnership with HomeServe, a leading emergency home repair plan company. The board sought assistance in addressing Andrew’s sewer line failure. Working together, the water board and HomeServe were able to help Andrew.

HomeServe network plumber The Plumber 72 Degrees came in to fix the sewer line for Andrew. The Plumber dug beneath the road and, while it was open, the water line was addressed.

“We thought they might not be able to get here until Monday, because all the utility lines needed to be flagged, but we came home last night and the backhoe was sitting there,” Andrew said. “They showed up this morning at 6:30 a.m. and got right to work.”

 

Customer Service Excellence is Key

Providing an excellent customer service experience is one of the founding pillars of Joel Tucciarone’s business.

“If it wasn’t for the customer, we wouldn’t be here,” Joel said. “They’re at the forefront.”

Niagara Falls Councilman Kenny Tompkins was pleased the water board and HomeServe alleviated Andrew’s sewer line failure.

“I personally think I would be willing to buy this [emergency home plan] for my own house,” Kenny said.

Andrew and his family were relieved they would return to life as usual.

“[HomeServe and The Plumber] came here, willing to help us out, when we were in a very bad situation,” Andrew said.

 

NLC Service Line Warranty Program partners with municipalities to educate homeowners and offer affordable protection against potentially costly service line repairs. The Program uses a network of local plumbers who have gone through background and drug screenings. The Program’s 500-seat call center is staffed 24/7/365 to answer claims calls and dispatch contractors to address homeowners’ emergencies.

The Program is provided at no cost to cities, and partner cities can receive royalties based on participation.

To find out how you can help your residents achieve peace of mind, visit www.utilitysp.net.