Furnace Failure Means a Difficult Winter Until Foundation Offers Family Aid

Furnace Failure Means a Difficult Winter Until Foundation Offers Family Aid

Anita I. and her family had to be innovative to survive a winter after experiencing a furnace failure in their Dunbar, West Virginia, home.  

Anita placed small heaters in bedrooms and the living room, but the electric system in the home couldn’t handle any more, leaving other parts of the home, such as the kitchen, unheated during one of the coldest winters in nearly a decade. 

“No matter how I moved them around, there was no power to heat the kitchen,” Anita said.  

Heating the home that she shares with several of her grandchildren with space heaters was also anxiety-inducing for Anita, despite having no heat because of the furnace failure. 

“I was so scared that the house was going to catch on fire,” she said. “I didn’t sleep well at all. I was constantly getting up in the middle of the night to check on them.”  

Additionally, because her furnace failure, her home got so cold that her water lines froze six times.  

“We had no water at all – thank God that it didn’t last for days at a time,” she said. “We kept bottled water for the kids to drink, and we got smart and would plug up the sinks to keep enough water to flush the toilet and tried to be inventive. We would pray for it to warm up, because we didn’t have water anywhere in the house.”  

Anita was dreading the prospect of facing another winter without heat, little sleep and freezing pipes because. 

“My daughter and I have been praying,” she said. “We called in a company, and they said it would cost $6,000 to fix our heater, and there was no way I to come up with that money. I just started thinking: how can I go through another winter like this?” 

Then, Anita’s daughter spotted an article online about the HomeServe Cares Foundation, the charitable arm of HomeServe North America. Among other community outreach projects, the Foundation provides free emergency home repairs to qualifying homeowners that address safety and sanitary issues or improve quality of life. Anita and her daughter reached out to the Foundation for help, and Tamara (Tammy) Gross, a HomeServe customer experience specialist, was assigned to assist them. 

“Tammy made me feel so wonderful,” Anita said. “I didn’t want to feel like I was begging, and she didn’t make me feel that way.” 

Tammy connected Anita with McAtee Plumbing Heating and Cooling, a contractor with whom HomeServe regularly works, and a technician was sent out to evaluate her furnace failure. They found that the unit was over 30 years old, and it would be unsafe to repair it, so it would have to be replaced.  

“The first gentleman who came out to check and see if it was repairable, as he was leaving the house, I told him, ‘Please pray that it goes through,’ and he just gave me the biggest smile and said he sure would. The young men they sent out were very respectful.” 

The Foundation agreed with the assessment that the furnace needed to be replaced and covered the entire $3,100 cost of parts and labor. 

“God has to have his hands over your company, because I am in awe over what you did for me,” Anita said. “You were such a blessing to me and my family. I thank God for you and call you angels because you are angels to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but now I’ll be able to sleep at night.”  

To learn how you can help your members avoid furnace failure and get a good night’s sleep, contact us.

Water Heater Replaced by HomeServe Cares for Okmulgee Woman

Water Heater Replaced by HomeServe Cares for Okmulgee Woman

Typically, one of the first things Carla S. of Okmulgee, Oklahoma does in the mornings is hop into a hot shower. So, on one August day when the water was only getting lukewarm at best, she knew she had a problem. Sure enough, she ventured into her garage where her hot water heater was installed and noticed water leaking everywhere.

“The minute I saw the water in my garage, my heart sank into my stomach,” Carla recalled. “I knew that I couldn’t afford this type of emergency and started to pray for some sort of miracle.”

As someone who is on social security with no available savings, it’s no surprise that the situation sent Carla into a panic. It wouldn’t be feasible to live without hot water, and she didn’t have a backup plan or any sort of coverage on her water heater to help ease the financial burden. She did what many of us would do – vent about her situation on social media. And luckily for Carla, a longtime friend from high school, Lyle, came across her post. He is a decades-long employee at her utility company, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), a part of AEP, and he had a great idea on how he could help.

Through his job, he was aware of the work the HomeServe Cares Foundation has done for PSO customers, and he suggested Carla apply to see if she qualified for aid. The case was quickly approved, and before long, HomeServe reached out to begin the coordination of the repair. Air Assurance, a local and reliable member of HomeServe’s Contractor Network, was on site shortly afterward and began to assess what would be needed. The water heater needed to be replaced and brought up to code – a total savings for Carla of over $1,100 since HomeServe Cares picked up the bill.

“I’ve known Carla for a very long time and have seen her struggle both with her physical health and financially,” said Lyle, a Customer Services Account Representative at PSO. “I can’t explain how so very proud I am of AEP’s relationship with HomeServe and the community attentiveness demonstrated through actions like this.”

The HomeServe Cares Foundation works to assist eligible homeowners with free repairs when they are faced with a service emergency. HomeServe will arrange for emergency repairs at no cost to the homeowner through HomeServe’s network of local, licensed and qualified contractors.

“HomeServe came through for me in a way I never would have imagined,” Carla said. “You’ve taken so much weight off my shoulders by being willing to help me when I needed it most. There is no way I could have come up with the money to fix this on my own. I’m so thankful for the company and the HomeServe Cares program.”

To learn more about how your customers can benefit through the HomeServe Cares Foundation, contact us.

HomeServe Lends a Helping Hand to Homeowners in Need

HomeServe Lends a Helping Hand to Homeowners in Need

During the holidays, many of us are looking for ways to lend a helping hand to our friends and neighbors, and HomeServe is no exception – and we take that giving spirit with us throughout the year.

Our HomeServe Cares Foundation and Customer First Program provide pro bono home repairs to qualifying homeowners who are facing emergency home repairs that impact safety, sanitation and quality of life that they cannot afford. These programs are part of our efforts to be a good corporate citizen by offering assistance aligned with our expertise in home repair in the communities where we have partnerships and our employees and network contractors live and work.

This allows us to help people like Shirley, a Georgia resident who had an electrical box that was a complete mess, along with leaking water lines in her basement. Shirley’s electrical service box had a melted cable and burned-out wiring and was coming away from the exterior wall. Additionally, the meter box wiring was burned as well. This was a dangerous fire hazard and was preventing Shirley’s home from getting enough power. This meant her electrical service was intermittent, usually only one electrical wall socket worked, and Shirley’s stove and refrigerator did not get power.

When HomeServe learned about Shirley’s plight, we dispatched Edward Dicarlo of EAZY Electrical and Plumbing.

“We were shocked to see she still had power because it’s a dangerous situation, leaving a lug or meter box wiring burning,” Edward said. “It could have caused an electrical fire.”

Edward made some additional repairs at no charge to make things easier for Shirley, but, while he was doing the repairs, he noticed Shirley turned the water off at the meter unless she was using it. He also noticed that, when the water was on, it poured from the pipes in the basement – Shirley needed a new water service line and plumbing she couldn’t afford. The Foundation stepped in again to make Shirley’s home livable.

“The combination of the electrical and the plumbing in this particular house cost upward of $10,000, and this customer could not have made that happen on her own,” Edward said. “I believe this is going to affect her in a great way, and it’s going to create a better living situation.”

HomeServe also utilizes our network contractors and employees to help people struggling with problems with their sewage systems, like Mary Lynn of Kentucky, who started worrying about home maintenance after she lost her husband.

“My husband always took care of everything,” she said. “It didn’t matter what it was, he took care of it some way and somehow. After he passed, I knew that I had no one to depend on to do things around the house. We’ve been here all these years [40-plus years], and things might go wrong.”

Then Mary Lynn noticed a strange depression in her yard, and she only had partial use of her facilities.

“There was a sinkhole in the yard, and I got to worrying about it,” she said. “The next thing I know, it was bigger. Then came a lot of rain and it kept getting bigger and I didn’t know what it was.”

Her septic tank had completely collapsed and wasn’t covered by her homeowner’s insurance. The cost to replace it would be $2,975 – far more than Mary Lynn could afford on her fixed income. Fortunately, Mary Lynn was able to get her septic tank replaced with the help of HomeServe.

“I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for your company and my electric company,” she said. “I will never forget how kind you all were to me, and I will never forget what you did for me as long as I live.”

HomeServe helps scores of people with free home repair emergencies every year, including Lewis of Colorado, an elderly veteran on a limited income whose beloved garden was put at risk when his outdoor faucet stopped working.

“I’ve been laid up for the last year, so my wife has been watering the flowers,” Lewis said. “Then she went to water the flowers, but the faucet wouldn’t work. It was plugged up. It must have been leaking, too, because when I paid my water bill, it was almost twice as much as usual.”

HomeServe dispatched a plumber to replace the faucet and fix the line, and the plumber took the time to explain how to drain the line and prepare the faucet for cold weather.

“I can’t do a repair if something goes wrong, and it’s been a life saver,” Lewis said. “We were happy with the work, very pleased. It’s been cold for the last few days, so we haven’t used it, but we will soon. We really appreciate HomeServe for taking care of the problem for us.”

Most of those HomeServe assists are low- and middle-income homeowners who do not have the savings to address much-needed repairs. All indications are the middle class – which shrank by 10 percent between 1971 and 2011, according to The Pew Trust – don’t have savings for financial shocks like unexpected home repairs. In our Winter 2021 State of the Home Survey, 13 percent of respondents said they had no money set aside, and nearly one-third said they had either less than $500 or no money set aside. That number jumped up to 60 percent for households that reported an annual income of $50,000 or less.

Many times, they have an unaffordable repair that is a safety hazard, like Shirley; or impacts sanitation, like Mary Lynn; or simply impacts quality or enjoyment of life, like Lewis. Not being able to address home repairs has long-lasting impacts on their daily life.

Utilities can help their LMI customers address this financial hurdle by partnering with HomeServe to offer optional, affordable plans that enable them to address home repair issues as they arise, instead of leaving them to linger until they pose a risk to the homeowner.

HomeServe offers a suite of emergency home repairs plans to fit every need, and we have a nationwide network of pre-vetted, licensed and insured contractors who are dispatched from our U.S.-based call center 24/7/365.

To learn more about our program and how we can offer peace of mind for low- and middle-income homeowners, contact us.



Extreme Weather, Aging Infrastructure Result in Power Outages

Extreme Weather, Aging Infrastructure Result in Power Outages

Climate change has increased average temperatures, increased the occurrence and length of heat waves, increased drought conditions and increased extreme one-day precipitation events, and those conditions have stressed an already aging electrical grid, causing power outages.

In a review of global climate studies, 70 percent showed events were made more likely or severe by climate change. Of those events, 43 percent were heatwaves, 17 percent were extreme precipitation or rain and 16 percent were droughts. Extreme weather events are the leading cause of power outages, according to the Department of Energy, and a Climate Central analysis found there was a 67 percent increase in weather-related power outages, with 59 percent caused by heavy rains and thunderstorms, 20 percent by ice storms and cold weather and 2 percent by extreme heat and wildfires.

Extreme heat and heatwaves cause problems with both supply and demand – customers crank up air conditioners and powerlines sag – in Portland during the late June/early July heat wave, the power cables for the streetcars melted. Power plants become less effective – a Portland power company had to install cooling systems to prevent overheating – less energy can be transmitted across the lines and make transformer failures more likely. Heat waves are occurring three times more often, lasting longer, becoming more intense, and the heat wave season lasts an average of 47 days longer.

Extreme single-day precipitation events have risen substantially since the 1980s, and nine of the top ten events have occurred since 1996. Wind and rain can send branches or entire trees crashing into transmission lines and flash flooding can impact facilities in low-lying or coastal areas.

Extreme cold brings a different challenge – ice can build up on transmission lines, and, if it gets cold enough, even gas lines can freeze, as we saw in the polar vortex over Texas in February. The southern states aren’t outfitted for extreme cold, and, while climate change has actually reduced the number of colder days each year, it has created more extreme winter weather events and in regions that previously didn’t experience extremely cold weather.

While producers in traditionally cold regions, like the Mid-west and Central Plains are outfitted to withstand up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, polar vortexes brought the temperature down to 44 below this February in the Dakotas and Minnesota. In a National Geographic survey, 40 percent of power outages during the winter are caused by trees falling on the lines and 20 percent from animals taking refuge from the cold.

The industry has taken steps to harden the grid and make it more resilient. Spending to improve electric infrastructure reliability, security and resilience increased from $15.9 billion in 2012 to $21.9 billion in 2017 and spending on distribution systems increased by 54 percent over the past 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Smart grids allow the almost immediate routing of power around problematic areas, avoiding more extensive problems, and collect data on how well the grid is functioning and supply and demand. Hardening the grid and making it more flexible and redundant through microgrids and storage will allow sections of the grid to operate independently during power outages in other sections.

However, the ASCE noted that the grid is aging and gave our energy infrastructure a “C- grade,” noting that much of it has passed the half-century mark that is its usable lifespan and parts of it are even older.

Although the industry has worked to harden the grid by replacing poles and wires, creating ground to sky clearance around transmission lines, moving or elevating equipment in low lying or coastal areas, and upgrading facilities with stronger, more resilient and modern materials, the grid was never built to endure the weather events that are becoming more frequent.

However, there has been push back from regulators who see these necessary fixes as costing members too much, and from property owners, who, among other things, are often against trimming trees back to the extent needed to prevent line damage.

Although trees have many benefits to a homeowner, they also can be dangerous and expensive if not maintained properly – the University of Connecticut Eversource Energy Center has found that 90 percent of power outages were caused by tree failure during storms in the forested Northeast.

The average cost of a small tree trimming job is $85, but for more complicated or larger jobs, the average cost runs $475. DIY tree trimming is only recommended for small trees – nothing requiring a ladder. In fact, DIYers may only make the problem worse and accidently kill the tree, making it a greater hazard. Additionally, while homeowner’s insurance may cover repairs and tree removal following a windstorm, the costs associated with a fallen tree rest on the homeowner, if the tree hasn’t been maintained.

When members lose power because of an errant tree limb, not only are they without lights, they may be without heating or refrigeration or a surge related to extreme weather may damage or destroy an expensive piece of electronics. Low-income members also face having to replace an entire refrigerator’s worth of food, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that food for a family of four costs between $146 to $289 a week. If a homeowner needs to relocated to a hotel, it will cost an average of $186 per night. Being without heating, in particular, is dangerous for seniors and other at-risk members – there was an estimated 700 deaths because of hypothermia in the Texas polar vortex. Most of all, there are a percentage of members who depend on reliable electric to run life-saving devices that provide oxygen or dialysis – more than 1.5 million adults are on supplementary oxygen and thousands on home hemodialysis.

When a power outage occurs, causing members unexpected expenses and potentially putting them at risk, they will first turn to their co-op and expect a quick reconnection. The problem may not be on utility distribution lines, but the member’s connection to the grid. In that case, when they are already dissatisfied, the utility has to educate them about their responsibilities, and some will be unhappy to learn this information in the wake of a power outage. Additionally, they will be without service until they are able to have the connection repaired.

A partnership with HomeServe can provide protection for members – our emergency home repair plans can shield low- and middle-income customers, seniors and other at-risk customers from the financial shock of an unexpected repair and some of the ancillary costs associated with a lack of power, such as food spoilage reimbursement or hotel stays. To learn more about how HomeServe can help co-ops protect their members, contact us.


Economic Shock Impacts Industry with Unpaid Utility Bills

Economic Shock Impacts Industry with Unpaid Utility Bills

The pandemic has put many Americans into economic shock – the sudden and unexpected loss of income – and millions are struggling with unpaid utility bills because of it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many states imposed shut off moratoriums to ensure those who were impacted by the dramatic economic downturn this spring would continue to receive services.

As the pandemic has continued and the economy limped into fall with a 7.9 percent unemployment rate, states are now rescinding moratoriums or allowing them to expire, as utilities struggle to meet their service and financial obligations with a reduced cash flow. However, many consumers are still struggling financially, and Congress has not come to an agreement on a second stimulus bill.  

An estimated 179 million Americans are at risk to lose utility service as moratoriums expire and unpaid utility bills come due. Unpaid electric and gas bills are expected to total more than $24 billion by the end of the year, a debt that is four times larger than last year’s. Indicators signal that the economic shock isn’t yet over – a Census Bureau survey reveals that one-third of Americans continue to struggle to pay their bills. Meanwhile, the shift to working and schooling from home means that residential utility bills have climbed and it is anticipated that these costs won’t decrease any time soon. 

Navigating this new normal is a struggle for both residents and utilities, as some communities are offering one-time assistance – primarily through CARES Act funding – for unpaid utility bills, while others are suspending late fees. However, many households have not signed up for payment plans, and utilities – especially smaller, rural utilities –  are nearly pushed to the breaking point, as they lose revenue while still having to maintain normal operations. Municipal utilities also are struggling, especially as many municipal budgets took a one-two punch from lost tax revenue and increased demand on services during the pandemic.  

As we continue to struggle with this pandemic, the way forward isn’t immediately clear – while public health concerns demand that the water and power stay on, those same utilities must be given some sort of relief to continue to operate.

“Their cash flow is becoming more strapped because they’re not collecting that money from ratepayers, but there are still incremental costs to providing service. As you get further down the line, [utility] commissions are having to decide, ‘Do we want to allow to have companies recover these arrearages?’” Lillian Federico, an S&P Global research director, was quoted in the Washington Post.