Post Your Problems/Lawrence Walsh: Gas line protection program comes in handy, if you've got it

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As part of its annual gas line replacement program, Equitable Gas recently installed a 6-inch main line on Lehigh Street in Munhall.

After Proline Piping Co. completed the work for Equitable, the utility pressure-tested the lines between its new main line and the houses on the U-shaped street that leads from and to Main Street.

Homeowners are responsible for those lines.

"Unfortunately, our line failed the pressure test," said Carol Dixon, 65, who works a day or so every week handing out food samples at Costco.

An Equitable Gas representative came to the door, said a new line would have to be installed and asked Mrs. Dixon whether she and her husband, Tom, had gas line protection.

"I said I didn't think so," she said. She said the rep then told her gas service would have to be shut off until the line was replaced. She said he then told her that a contractor working down the street could put one in immediately.

"At the time I was so upset that I told him to send the contractor up to our house," Mrs. Dixon said.

She said a man in a white truck with no name on the doors or anywhere else on the truck arrived at their home. Mr. Dixon said he paid the man $650 in cash for the new line.

The man inserted a plastic pipe narrower than the old metal pipe, slid it through to the street and made the necessary connections. Mr. Dixon said the work took about two hours "and everything went real smooth, just like clockwork. Our gas service was then turned back on."

Mr. Dixon, 66, a housekeeper at Duquesne University, said the man offered to give him a receipt but Mr. Dixon said it wasn't necessary. He regrets that decision.

"After he left, I realized I didn't even get his name and phone number," Mr. Dixon said. "Sometimes your mind goes blank when something out of the ordinary like this happens."

When the Dixons received their next bill from Equitable, they saw that they were enrolled in the Equitable HomeWorks program and were paying $10.35 a month for line protection. That amount also covers their water line from the house to the street.

Mrs. Dixon immediately called HomeWorks, relayed what had happened and was told by the person she spoke to that HomeWorks was unable to do anything because she should have contacted the company first.

She then called Equitable Gas, explained the situation and was told it also couldn't do anything to help because the new line already had been installed.

"This all happened so quickly and I didn't think properly," Mrs. Dixon said. "I just knew that they would not turn our gas back on until we got a new pipe."

The Dixons, who have been enrolled in the HomeWorks program since 2004, wanted to be reimbursed for the money they spent to replace their gas line. They sent me an email about their problem and asked if I could help.

I outlined the Dixons' situation in an email to Scott Waitlevertch, Equitable's external communications and governmental relations manager. I also included a copy of the Dixons' email. Mr. Waitlevertch was at a conference in Nashville but acknowledged my email with one of his own.

After forwarding the email to the appropriate offices, including HomeWorks, who then called the Dixons, Mr. Waitlevertch brought me up to date.

"In order to be as helpful as possible in this matter, Equitable HomeWorks will reimburse the Dixons the $650 for the service line repair work when they provide us an invoice or receipt from the plumbing company that did the repair work," Mr. Waitlevertch wrote.

"We have also asked the Dixons to sign a waiver since HomeWorks did not authorize or provide the repair work.

"The line protection programs offered by Equitable HomeWorks are to provide customers with 'financial peace of mind' should an issue arise that is in need of repair. The Dixons have been longtime customers of HomeWorks and HomeWorks hopes this resolves the issue satisfactorily."

"It sure does," said Mr. Dixon, who was able to track down the contractor who installed his new gas line and got a receipt for the work. "Thanks for your help."

In a follow-up email, Mr. Waitlevertch said situations similar to the Dixons "may continue to arise" because Equitable Gas, Peoples Natural Gas and Columbia Gas of PA are and will be "replacing significant amounts of older pipelines and infrastructure in Western Pennsylvania" during the next few years.

"We continue to strongly encourage any customer who may experience service line, house line or home equipment issues to verify they have a line or equipment protection program before any work take place or monies are exchanged," Mr. Waitlevertch added.

"Customers should follow the processes and procedures outlined by their line/equipment protection program to ensure such programs and protection coverage are not voided in any manner.

"Should a customer not have a line/equipment protection program, they should always seek at least three bids from a qualified, licensed and reputable contractor to perform needed work. Customers should also seek and call references provided by a contractor and have a written contract, scope or work and receipt."

yourbiz - larrywalsh

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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