Official-looking letters about your water pipes may not be what they seem


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Thousands of Triangle homeowners periodically get official-looking letters with ominous warnings about their underground water pipes.

Those letters offer insurance to protect you from paying thousands if that pipe fails.

For the homeowner, responsibility for water pipes begins at the meter box in the front yard and runs all the way to the house.

When you get an official-looking letter that appears to be from your utility warning you of “sudden breakdowns” and “hidden defects” – it might worry you because you don’t want your water to suddenly stop flowing into your home.

Those letters are not a warning from your utility.

They are from a third party like HomeServe USA.

In the Triangle, HomeServe has a partnership agreement with Dominion Energy to use its name and logo.

The optional insurance policy says for $4.95 a month, it will cover you for underground water service line replacement.

Every year the City of Raleigh says it experiences between 300-350 major water main breaks in its distribution system.

CBS 17 Consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia wanted to know how often does the pipe between the street and your home fail.

Ed Buchan, Raleigh’s Environmental Coordinator, said those home service lines tend to be trouble-free if they were installed within the last 30 years or so.

“A lot of it depends on the material they are made of and how long ago it was installed,” Buchan said. “More often than not, newer service lines installed from the ’80s on generally last a long time.”

Raleigh has a lot of housing stock that’s been built in the 1980s or later.

For older homes, built in the 40s, 50s and 60s, your water pipes may be more prone to problems depending on what they’re made of and their condition.

In some cases, very old service lines may need to be replaced.

“A plumber could expose the line,” said Buchan. “They’d see what material it’s made out of and give you a guesstimate on how it’s doing and if it needs to be replaced.”

If you’re buying a home in an older neighborhood, he says you should check and see if the water service line has ever been replaced. If it has, that’ll reset the age-deterioration clock.

“Service lines that are newer are going to be in good shape for a while,” said Buchan.

He says more water service line pipes are damaged accidentally than by age.

“If you’re doing any sort of digging or excavating in your front yard, make sure you have some idea where the service line is,” Buchan said. “That is where we see the most problems.”

Repairs to water service lines can run between $2,000 and $3,000, so should consumers buy those policies? The answer? It depends.

“In our experience, generally, if you do have a newer home, built from the mid 80’s onward, it’s not going to be a pressing issue right now,” said Buchan.

However, an underground service line insurance policy may make sense if you live in an older home, once you calculate the risk versus the cost of replacement.

The choice is yours.

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