Post Your Problems / Lawrence Walsh: It takes phone calls, emails to resolve Brookline couple's water woes

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Amanda and Dylan Hower experienced freezing pipes and low water pressure for an entire week in their Brookline home earlier this month.

They asked a plumber and a representative of the Pennsylvania American Water Co. to come to the house to assess the problem.

“Each suggested that we may have a clog/crack in our service line from the main [line] to our house,” said Mrs. Hower, 27, a housing specialist for the Pittsburgh Housing Authority.

Because they’re enrolled in a gas line and waterline protection plan from Equitable Gas Co.’s HomeWorks program, they called Equitable, relayed what the professionals had told them, emphasized that no work had been done and asked what would be covered by their plan.

When no one responded after two days, Mr. Hower called again. The 27-year-old software engineer for Maya Design couldn’t believe what happened next.

A HomeWorks representative said their claim wasn’t covered because HomeWorks couldn’t confirm that the [service] line was broken or leaking.

“My husband could not get any other information from him and didn’t catch his name because he was rudely trying to disconnect the call as soon as he could,” Mrs. Hower said. “[He] did not even explain what led [HomeWorks] to deny the claim.”

She believes HomeWorks contacted the water company and accepted as fact whatever it was told without any investigation on its part.

That didn’t sit well with Mrs. Hower.

“In our attempts to contact [the water company] over six days, they didn’t even know that we were in their service area, kept saying there was a water main break when there wasn’t and gave us other misinformation,” she said.

She said it took an email to her city councilwoman, Natalia Rudiak, to get a Pennsylvania American representative to come out to the house. She wanted someone to insert a miniature television camera into the waterline or conduct some other test to determine what was causing the low water pressure. It turned out the waterline was too small for a television camera.

In an email to Equitable, Mrs. Hower emphasized that she and her husband had paid for the line protection a year in advance and are still enrolled in it until Friday unless they renew it. She got no response; the person she had emailed had been laid off and the company failed to initiate an automatic response that would have told her that.

The Howers hired a plumber. He charged $4,000 to replace the old lead waterline from the house to the main line because it was leaking under their concrete sidewalk, moved their outside water meter into the basement for easier access and will replace their sidewalk and part of their front steps when weather conditions permit.

Mrs. Hower said the plumber and a Pennsylvania American contractor worked together to replace a broken valve. “We are not sure how it broke,” she said.

The Howers contacted me by email when they weren’t able to get any satisfaction from HomeWorks. I forwarded their email to the same Equitable employee they had contacted, a person who had been responsive and helpful in the past.

It turns out he lost his job when Peoples Natural Gas Co. bought Equitable Gas, a purchase that became effective on Jan. 2.

I called Peoples spokesman Barry Kukovich, summarized the Howers' problem with HomeWorks and forwarded the emails they had sent to me. He got right on it.

When he called a few hours later, Mr. Kukovich said he had spoken to a HomeWorks decision-maker who said the program was familiar with the Howers’ situation. He said the couple’s line protection plan pays up to $2,000 for a claim and that HomeWorks would pay them that amount.

“Because of the extreme cold we are experiencing, this is one of the worst times to have this kind of problem,” said Mr. Kukovich, referring to the couple’s freezing pipes and low water pressure.

He said the Howers would receive the money after signing a liability waiver because the plumber they used had not been hired by HomeWorks.

That’s good news to the Howers, who are expecting their first child in June.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone number(s). Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call.

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