Early Recognition: Helping to Avoid Big Home Repairs

Repairman Repairing OvenSometimes costly, large-scale home repairs can be avoided by recognizing early warning signs. Especially when it comes to HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems in our home. Here are five common signs of potential home repair problems and what they mean:

 

Sewer line and drainage problems

When more than one drain in your home has started to work improperly, this is likely a sign there is a problem with the external line that connects to the street. There are many possible causes for a backup or blockage. Tree roots may have found their way into the sewer line or a foreign object has blocked the flow or, worst-case scenario, your sewer line has broken completely. No matter which of these issues is occurring, you should contact a plumber immediately. If it is something as simple as a root intrusion or a foreign object, the plumber may be able to remove them or complete a small spot repair before the problem gets worse. This could potentially save you the thousands of dollars it will cost to have the line replaced completely.

Water line leaks

Most people use about the same amount of water every month. If you notice a sizable increase in your bill and you haven’t modified your usage – filling a pool or increasing your outdoor watering – this could signal you have a problem. One of the first things to do is examine all of your fixtures. Dripping faucets and leaking toilets can waste a lot of water over the period of a month. Though you can visibly see a faucet dripping, the leaking toilet may be a little harder to detect. Dye testing your toilet is an effective way of checking for leaks. Once you locate the source of your problem, you can address it directly and avoid any further increased water bills.

If all of your fixtures seem to be in good working order after the visual and dye testing, and there are no other visible signs of water leakage in your house, i.e., mold spots, water dripping down walls or between floors, or warped drywall/ceilings, then it is time to contact your water company. You may be experiencing a leak on your external water line. The water company will typically send someone out to test your line and verify if there is a water line leak.

Service line troubles

Do you have patches of lawn that have suddenly become greener than the fairways at the local golf course? This can often be a sign that you have a leak in one of your external lines. When either a water or sewer line leaks into the surrounding soil, the grass is provided extra water or nutrients, resulting in a more green and luxurious appearance. If you are experiencing this, it is a good idea to have your buried service lines checked. The water company will typically check for a leak on their line. If no leak is found on the water line, contact a local licensed plumber to inspect the sewer line.

Maintaining and monitoring your plumbing is a must. A majority of Americans cannot afford a major plumbing expense if the problems become too severe, and Millennials are even less prepared. By keeping tabs on your plumbing, and having a home repair or home warranty plan, you can possibly prevent the financial burden of catastrophic plumbing failures.  Fixing a service line is a costly home repair.

Heating and air conditioning trouble

Every HVAC system makes noise, but if you notice a change in these noises, including bangs, squeaks, and creaks, it may be time to have your unit looked at. These sounds could indicate that you have a bearing or belt going out, or worse.

If your home is heating or cooling unevenly, and you have checked to make sure the vents are open and there are no structural issues with the home, it may be a sign that there are heater or air conditioner problems. This could also be a sign that there is a problem or leak with your ductwork. Another common cause of this is the location of your thermostat. A thermostat may be located in a position that does not allow it to gauge the temperature of the entire space, such as near a vent or in a smaller space of the home, causing your HVAC unit to shut off before the entire space has been adequately heated or cooled.

Shockingly simple electrical repairs

Lights that flicker in the home may be a symptom of a bad or loose light bulb, but if replacing the bulb does not solve the problem it may be due to an issue within the light fixture itself, or the wiring to the fixture. If this problem is occurring across multiple fixtures in the home, it is time to contact an electrician as the likely cause is faulty wiring within the home and this is a home repair you probably don’t want to try to do yourself.

Circuit breakers may occasionally trip if you have overloaded a circuit, but in the event the breaker is constantly tripping, even with just single lamp or fixture plugged into it, the breakers may have worn out and are no longer usable. Use caution while doing anything with the breaker panel, as power still flows to the unit, even with the main break.

To find out how to help protect yourself in the event of a home repair emergency, visit www.slwofa.com.

What’s that smell?

Bad Smell!!Have you ever walked past a sewer pipe that smelled like rotten eggs? While there probably isn’t a rotting egg in the pipe, hydrogen sulfide could be present, which can be very corrosive for sewer lines. In addition to a rotten egg smell, high levels of hydrogen sulfide could also smell musty or swampy.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable and highly toxic gas known for its pungent rotten egg odor. Many might recall the scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when grandpa lights a cigar and drops the match by the storm sewer.

According to the United States Department of Labor, hydrogen sulfide is used or produced in a number of industries – such as oil and gas refining, mining, tanning, pulp and paper processing and rayon manufacturing. Additionally, it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water and volcanoes, as well as oil and gas wells. Because of their density, low-lying and enclosed spaces are attractive to hydrogen sulfide, which makes confined spaces (such as pipes) very dangerous. Prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide poses dangerous health risks, even at low levels – ranging from headaches, eye irritation, loss of consciousness, and the inability to smell to death.

A simple chemical test can help determine the levels of hydrogen sulfide to which you are exposed and can be obtained at most home improvement stores, from a local plumber or the health department. If water lines contain excessive hydrogen sulfide, a homeowner has three options for rectifying the situation:

  • Find an alternative water supply, such as drilling a new well or contacting your local water authority.
  • Purchase bottled water to use for food preparation and drinking; however, this is not a cost-effective measure.
  • Remove the impurity. There are numerous treatment options available, which will be determined by the levels of chemical impurities in the water, the possibility of bacterial contamination and the volume of water.

The best advice is to let a professional handle any kind of chemical contamination because they have the tools, knowledge and experience to do the job properly

Can I trust a warranty company?

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When you receive a warranty protection offer, you might wonder if it’s right for you. Can you trust a warranty company since many have a bad reputation for high denials and limited coverage options?

The answer lies in research – with a little bit of know-how, you can evaluate any program offer and determine if it’s the right fit for you.

Review the company

  • How long has the company been in business and have they had multiple changes to their brand name?
  • Are they partnered with any notable companies or industry organizations?
  • Read customer reviews.
  • Review their Better Business Bureau profile for accreditation and complaints.
  • Have complaints been resolved in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction?
  • Have they been recognized by the BBB or industry associations for their customer service or contributions to the industry?

Review the Terms and Conditions for each offer and note the following:

  • What are the warranty coverage inclusions and exclusions?
  • Are there hidden service fees or deductibles?
  • Are there coverage caps on the amount paid per repair or per year?
  • Are there coverage restrictions?

What are people saying online?
Google the company name with the word “Complaints” and see what appears. Also note the kind and number of complaints a company has had with the Better Business Bureau or the State Attorney General.

Contact Customer Service
Call the company’s customer service number with questions. Were your questions answered to your satisfaction? Did you have a long wait time before you spoke with a representative? Does their company website have a “frequently asked questions” section that addressed some of your questions? How well the customer service team responded to your questions is usually indicative as to the level of service provided to customers.

Are they accredited with the Better Business Bureau?
All companies are rated with the Better Business Bureau, but some companies choose to be accredited, meaning they abide by a code of ethics set forth by the Better Business Bureau and communicate with the organization regularly by responding to all inquiries and complaints in a timely fashion.

Once you’ve completed an evaluation of the company, only you as a homeowner can determine which warranty is most beneficial for you.

Do I need a water or sewer line warranty?

Newspaper Headlines

It’s not uncommon to have homeowners tell us they don’t need a water or sewer line warranty because their lines haven’t broken and will never break. While we’ve uncovered this is far from the truth – many homeowners are unsure if they need a water or sewer line warranty. When evaluating whether or not to purchase a water or sewer line warranty, homeowners must first understand the coverage details. Warranties are not the same as insurance. While insurance typically covers damage to personal property as a result of service line failures, disasters and extreme circumstances (such as fire, flood, etc.), warranties focus on normal wear and tear – such as aging, ground shifting and tree root intrusion. Problems due to normal wear and tear with the sewer and water lines located outside the home are usually not covered under traditional homeowner’s insurance policies and could be very costly to replace or repair.

When considering whether or not to invest in a water or sewer line warranty, consider the following:

Age of the home
It’s common knowledge as products age, the failure rate increases. While newer homes with PVC pipes may be at lower risk than a 50-year-old home with clay pipes, the age of your home can help determine your need. As homes age, so does the infrastructure supplying water to and removing waste from them.

Types of pipes and length of lines
Do you know of what materials the water and sewer lines inside and outside of your home are made? Some materials are more prone to problems and have shorter life expectancies than others. Knowing what the lines are made of can help determine the level of risk. In addition, the longer the line, the greater the risk of failure and the higher the cost to replace them.

Weather
Weather conditions can affect a pipe’s life expectancy and conditions as they swell with changes in temperature and ground shifting. If the area in which you live is prone to heavy rainfall, droughts or extreme temperature changes – your infrastructure could be at risk.

Plants
The closer your water and sewer lines are to the ground’s surface and  plants and trees, the greater the chance of roots permeating the pipes. It only takes a small pinhole for a root to begin to infiltrate the line, which may result in a leak, clog or break.

 Cost
What is the cost-benefit ratio? Should you pay a small monthly fee for the warranty or do you have enough in your emergency fund to pay for a repair that could cost from $1,300 to $3,500 or more?

Fine Print
Check out the Terms and Conditions of the warranty. Do they adequately cover your particular situation?

Company
Before buying any product, do your homework; research financial stability, outstanding consumer complaints, etc.

Time
One of the many benefits of participating in a maintenance or warranty program is the ability to make one call to solve the problem. If your service line breaks, consider the time invested in locating a qualified, local plumber and scheduling the visit, which may require taking time off from work and is disruptive to your daily routine.

Call before you dig

Shovel in Dirt

Have you ever started to shovel in your yard and hit something hard? While you might think it’s just a rock or clay – it could be your water, sewer or gas line and accidentally puncturing it could be costly and potentially dangerous. While most utility and service lines are buried several feet beneath the ground’s surface, some areas have very shallow lines, which increase the chances of hitting a utility line located on your property. According to “The Top 5 Home Repairs You Should Never Do Yourself,” homeowners often get into trouble when they attempt to modify a plumbing system, like rerouting, repairing or replacing sewer pipes. Should a homeowner choose to repair or replace a utility line, a utility line location service is available to help determine the location of the lines.

Call Before You Dig is a federally-mandated national program that provides homeowners a utility line location service. By calling 811, the service will provide a locator who will help a homeowner locate the utility lines on their property to keep them from inadvertently hitting an underground line while digging. Even repairing a failed water or sewer line caused by root infiltration could disrupt service to neighbors if a homeowner is unaware that the underground lines on their property are connected to a shared line, which could result in a hefty repair bill and city-imposed fines.

Homeowners can have the utility lines on their property marked for reference – what a great idea! Knowing where the water and sewer lines outside the home are located will enable homeowners to monitor ground conditions for potential leaks or breaks via soft spots, pooling water or foul odors.

Calling 811 is simple from anywhere in the country. The number routes the call to a local call center that works with your local utility companies. Simply tell the agent your address and describe the intended project. Within a few days a locator will mark the approximate position of the pipes, lines and cables at your residence so digging can be done safely or noted for future reference. The locators will use color-coded flags as markers for the appropriate utility line:

  • Red – Electric
  • Orange – Communications and Telephone
  • Blue – Water
  • Green – Sewer and Drainage
  • Yellow – Gas
  • Purple – Reclaimed Water
  • White – Project Site

To contact your local 811 center, visit http://www.call811.com.

Average Cost of a Service Line Repair or Replacement

iStock_000000798259Large - BackhoeAs a property owner, you are responsible for maintenance of the water and sewer lines that run from the exterior of your home to the public utility connection. Should a line for which you are responsible break, spring a leak or clog, the repair can cost an average of $2,600 or more. If a sewer line breaks under the street before the tap (which is still the homeowner’s responsibility), the repair could be $10,000 or more. That’s an out-of-pocket expense that is both unanticipated and can wreak havoc on a family budget.  Usually repairs to the service lines on your property are not covered by a homeowner’s policy and the city in which you live is only responsible for public service lines. 

As a homeowner, you are responsible for the portion of line beneath your property that runs from the main connection to your home and like most repairs – if this line breaks it can be a very expensive repair. But just how expensive?

While actual costs may vary, HomeAdvisor.com shows that the national repair average of a sewer line repair is approximately $2,600 and approximately $1,030 for a water main. Keep in mind these are national averages for repairs and a variety of factors contribute to these costs such as the length of the line, depth and location of the problem.

Let’s take a look at what kind of factors contribute to a line replacement.

  • Problem Identified – Maybe you smelled raw sewage or noticed extreme damp spots in your lawn. The bottom line – you know there’s a problem and now you need a plumber.
  • Locating a Plumber – If you’ve never had the need for a plumber before and aren’t currently enrolled with a repair service, the process begins with combing through local plumbers to find an affordable and trustworthy plumber in the area. Your research might include whether they are licensed to do business in your area, whether they are knowledgeable to obtain permits to dig and verifying their accreditation status with the Better Business Bureau.”
  • Evaluation – Once you locate a plumber (or two), you’ll need to assess the situation. The plumber will come out and inspect the line and determine the problem. They’ll likely give you a quote and you may want to get a second opinion depending on the cost.
  • Factors Affecting the Cost –  There are a number of factors that contribute to the cost of a repair – such as the length of the line, location of the problem, and general plumber fees. Much like going to a mechanic or lawyer, you will have to pay people for their time and depending on how long the repair takes, the costs could add up quickly. The type of pipe you have may also affect the cost. It’s possible in some older homes you are using outdated pipe that is difficult to repair, resulting in a replacement need. The location of the problem can also cause headaches during a repair. It could be in a difficult-to-reach location, buried deeply under the earth or possibly the result of root intrusion from poorly placed landscaping.
  • After-the-fact Costs – Once the repair is made, it may not be the end of costs. If you had an unknown water leak you could be responsible for a hefty water bill if the leak went unnoticed for quite some time. Additionally, if the leak was significant enough, there may be landscape damage needing to be repaired. 

Replacing lines often requires digging, which involves a long, deep trench or trenches to remove the old pipes and install new ones at a cost of approximately $50-$250 or more per foot, depending on the length of the line, depth of the pipes, ease of access, local rates and code and permitting requirements. An average sewer replacement from the house to the public sewer system can cost upwards of $3,000; however, if the repair is complicated or the pipe is in the street it could be upwards of $7,000 to as much as $25,000 or more. CostHelper readers report paying $4,500-$13,000, or $50-$100 for per foot traditional replacement of 50′-100′ of sewer line, for an average cost of $7,493, or $106 per foot.

However, not all repairs require digging. Many plumbers offer trenchless sewer replacement, which uses a machine to push the old pipe out while installing a new pipe at the same time. Though less invasive on your yard, the cost can still run between $60 and $200 per foot, or an average of $3,500 to $20,00 per household. CostHelper readers paid an average of $232 per foot.

The bottom line – a water or sewer line replacement isn’t as simple as one phone call to a plumber on your own. There’s research, quotes, phone calls and hassles, which could be eliminated with warranty repair services.

 

 

Sewer problem warnings

Repair water pipeSewer backups are a nasty business, from the mess they leave behind to the expense of having the repairs completed and potentially ruining family treasures. It’s important as a homeowner to educate yourself about the warning signs of a sewer problem, long before a backup occurs.

Look for:

  • Soggy ground when it hasn’t rained.
  • Irregular bumps or low spots the yard.
  • Foul odor or sewer gas smells, such as rotten eggs.
  • Gurgling sounds.
  • Slow drains.

If you suspect you have a sewer problem, contact your warranty provider first to send a technician out for repairs. If you do not have a warranty provider, contact a local, certified plumber who can inspect your sewer line with a camera and locate any problems in the joints.

Protecting your home from sewer problems starts with learning what not to put down the drain. Learn more about what to keep out of the sewer here.

Early detection is the key to preventing larger problems for your home.