What a fun day this has been.

This morning I turned on the hot water and raced upstairs to take a shower. There was no hot water pressure in my bathroom shower, so I tried the guest bathroom. It was better than nothing, so I used it. But the water went from lukewarm to cold in about 3 minutes.

Then I called First American Home Buyers Protection (FAHBP from here on out) to explain the problem and get help. I spoke with Mary. She called me back and said someone could have a look in a few days. I explained the problem in more detail and she said, "oh, so this is an emergency!" and found someone more quickly.

Before long, Robert from AC Plumbing called. I described the problem symptoms and he said "you've got a slab leak." That means the there's a problem in the pipes that run through the cement slab upon which my house sits. I asked him what's involved in repairing such a problem and he began to speak of jackhammers!

Meanwhile, I decided to call back FAHBP and ask how much of this they cover. The answer: $1000. Good to know.

Realizing that, I called my insurance agent to find out what my home owner's policy covers. If this was a sudden accidental problem, as opposed to a long-standing leak, I'm covered. That's good... I hope.

They suggested that I re-confirm with my Home Owner's Association (HOA) that they're not liable for any of this. I was pretty sure that'd be the case, but I called anyway. And I was right.

Robert came by around 12:30p and I gave him the tour. He did a bit of experimentation and became further convinced of the exact problem. He said that since I can't find a hot spot on the floor, we need to bring in someone with fancy electronic equipment to listen for leaks.

It was clear to me that Robert has been in this business a long time and he knew way more than the guy who came out last night.

We went to find the water meter while he made a phone call or two. It turns out that his guy was available later today but FAHBP wanted to get a second opinion.

Grr.

Meanwhile, we found the water meter (buried out behind the garage in a little box) and confirmed that it ran like mad when I re-enabled the hot water. But more interestingly, it also ran (more slowly, of course) when the hot water was off. That means there's a cold water leak somewhere as well.

"Fantastic," I thought in a sarcastic tone. Two leaks.

Anyway, he left and I called FAHBP to find out who would be giving me my second opinion. I spoke with Joanna (sp?) who had some wrong information. (Uh oh. That's never a good sign.) She thought that two companies had already seen the problem and that it had been referred to a third (Sub-Dynamic something or other) to come out and find the leak.

I corrected her and asked for the contact info at the sub-dynmaic place. She gave me their number and re-confirmed that FAHBP had already faxed them the appropriated details.

So I called that company to find out about setting up a visit ASAP and found the following:

  • they had no faxed documents (yet?)
  • they were completely booked for the next two weeks

Fuck.

I asked her to make sure to tell that to FAHBP when (if?) my paperwork arrived. I hung up and called FAHBP back. This time I spoke with Janice. I explained the situation to her. She was surprised and concerned, and said she'd send my info to the dispatch department. They'd contact someone else locally who could get here sooner and that technician (not FAHBP) would call me.

I asked, but apparently FAHBP can't be bothered to call me when they've found a new company to handle my problem. So I'm at the mercy of their speed and how busy the next place is.

I asked when would be a good time to call back if I hadn't heard anything. "Noon tomorrow, I'd guess." That's all well and good, but I have no hot water until then. I reminded her that AC Plumbing already had someone they could get out here, but she said they didn't think AC could do that kind of work.

After I hung up, I thought about it for a bit while eating a late lunch and decided to call AC back myself. I talked with Robert and he verified that his guy (Victor) could be out at 5pm tonight with the fancy leak-finding gear.

"What's that cost?" I asked. $275.

So they're both coming back out at 5pm to locate the leak. If need be, I'll fight with FAHBP about this crap later. As far as my insurance agent is concerned, I should get it fixed and then deal with them. If FAHBP doesn't get that this matters, that's their problem. I'll find another way to point that out to them.

Keeping track of this shit is a full-time job all of the sudden. Isn't FAHBP supposed to be doing this?

Posted by jzawodn at January 20, 2005 02:19 PM

Reader Comments
# jr said:

Actually, no. FAHBP's sole job is to take your money every month for a year or so, and then try their best to come up with ways to keep from paying it back to you.

Keep records (which you're doing) and receipts (which you are also doing) and plan on getting the money back in an out of court settlement.

on January 20, 2005 02:42 PM
# Tom Norian said:

Just finished my comments on your yesterdays description. OH? ;-) you meant the water was Reallly running! like gushinging!

A few inputs on your current description of the problem (glad I was able to guess at the "only other reason" but the ugliest possibilty the slab leak).

First...be careful about trying to make an insurance claim especially if you think you won't get them to pay for much anyway. Thes mold issues have the issurors running scared. Making a claim that will only pay you a thousand dollars might cost you far more in future insurance or abilty to get new homeowners insurance.

It sucks but thats the world we live in. Insurors get hit by trial attorneys and we get hit by premiums to pay those attorneys.

The statiticians at the insurance companies reliaze that there is a correltion between a person making one claim and the likelyhood of future ones and add to that unknown costs (even with exclusions) from mold and stuff and they get chicken quick.

There is a history of this stuff by address. A friend of mine couldn't get insurance on a house he was buying because of a claim the seller had maid on a small water damage burst pipe. The $2500 collected buyt the previous guy probably makes premiums on the house cost $400 more a year and with less coverages too.

Second thought.

Ask the expert plumbers (the ones you trust) if it wouldn't be cheaper to completely bipass the underslab pipes by running new copper pipes from outside the house to the water heater then maybe from the attic down?

It could be that all the underfloor pipes are at the end of their useful life and its time to replace the lines. We're talking sheetrock and stucco at that kitchen sink under the window might be a bitch...but pounding up all the floors is hardly a small undertaking.

You mentioned home owners association...single floor condo's build on slabs? I haven't seen so many but I've worked mostly on 100 year old victorians so I've got odd biases.

If you're having the problem many others in your complex or neighborhood have also had it. Talk to a manager or a maven sort of a neighbor and find out who else has had similar problems and the various experiences and solutions they came up with. (and what they'd do differently if they had it to do over)

on January 20, 2005 03:05 PM
# Christopher Baus said:

Ahh man, this sounds like a nightmare. This is type of thing that always makes me wonder if home ownership (especially a 40 year old house built for seasonal use like mine) is worth it.

on January 20, 2005 03:09 PM
# Joseph Scott said:

Unfortunately I'd agree with jr. I had nothing but grief and pain trying to get my home warranty to cover anything. Although I dealt with a different company, I experienced many of the same things that you are describing.

Each time I'd call about the same issue the person on the other end would have a different story. Plumbers that they were supposed to have been contacted would either not have the info they needed or have incorrect info. I had a plumbing leak (not as bad as what you are describing) that they felt would be fine to wait on for two or more weeks, in the mean time my walls were getting destroyed.

Needless to say I was not impressed and opted NOT to renew my home warranty when the time came. Amazingly they had the guts to then call me and to try and guilt/scare me into renewing. I explained to the guy that I realized that he was just doing his job and then turned on the flames to really let him have it. He still wouldn't give up and I had to hang up on him.

It is sad, but it won't surprise me if you have to drag them to court kicking and screaming. Through sad experience I've discovered that these wonderful home warranties are one of the biggest scams in the process of buying a home.

on January 20, 2005 03:15 PM
# david said:

Just watch out getting your homeowners insurance too involved. Just the fact that they know you have an incident that MAY result in a claim goes in a nation-wide database and can affect your premiums in the future - even if you move and get insurance with another company. Even if you have a low deductible (why do you have a low deductible?) it often is not worth filing homeowners unless it is several thousand dollars worth. Also, should anything else come up in the future, some insurance companies will drop you if you if you file as few as 3 claims (no matter the size) in as many as 6 years.

on January 20, 2005 03:22 PM
# V said:

I would second david's opinion. Don't tell your HO insurance company about the incident unless you need them to cover several thousand dollars worth of work. You can get kicked out and then you'll be running around looking for any insurance company to cover you at any cost as you need coverage to make your lender happy.

on January 20, 2005 05:05 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Thanks for all the advice and comments so far.

The warranty thing was a one-time gift of a $300 payment from someone else.

As for fighting with the insurance company, yes, it'll depend what this whole ordeal costs. If it's just a few thousand, I'll cover it myself. If it's $10,000, I'll be beating down their door.

on January 20, 2005 05:51 PM
# rr said:

Don't say another word to your agent unless you plan to file a claim. Just a phone call can be enough to get it in your file, sad as that may be.

on January 20, 2005 08:03 PM
# rr said:

Oh, and if you do file a claim, plan on getting cancelled either soon or on your next renewal. Fun.

on January 20, 2005 09:15 PM
# Tom Norian said:

On the insurance thing...not to stick up for the guys but to try to explain thier view of the world a bit more...

A warranty, does claim to cover ongoing operation of stuff. The home warranties are typically given (often by the realtor or seller) at the time of sale to cover their own butts a bit on some specific sorts of items. Typically the hot water heater would be one of them, as might heaters etc. Like a car warranty, they don't presupose to cover everything (the car warranty won't pay for new tires or brakes routine necessary maintenance like oil changes and certainly not cleaning or damages due to hail).

You'd need to look at the warranty and see what it claims to cover...just because its called a warranty wouldn't mean it would cover anything.

As for the home owners insurance, remember that Insurance isn't a maintenance contract. Paying insurance isn't meant to pay for a new roof, or paint, or plumbing...it is meant to cover Damages from accidents typically.

Without getting into the history of insurance forms, named perils versus more blanket converage which depends more on exclusions to limit whats insured, the basic principle of insurance is more often to make you whole after unnexptected occurences.

Now you didn't expect the pipe to break sure...but its not so much your homeowners expectation but the general expectation of a knowlegable party and its not so much the curing of the problem but the damages resulting from the problem.

Its quite likely that an insurance company would pay for water damages cause when you knocked a hole in a pipe when hammering in a nail to hang a picture.

That might require fixing the pipe, the wall and the flooring. (however you'd be in a tough spot in terms of future insurance not because of their fear of future stupidity on your part ((well, perhaps)) but a large part due to the unknown future costs due to mold and mildew and how our law and tort systems develope on those topics).

Better to have a $5000 deductible or at least think of your policies that way rather than file on some dumb moves we might make.

If, you had earthquake insurance, you might claim that your pipes broke due to a local quake which would be provable on local instruments. The resulting damages from the quake to your pipes and putting things back together would likely be covered (but the earthquake policies have huge deductables preventing everyone in an eartquake zone from tapping into reserves to get their whole houses painted due to the inveitable cracks that appear all over peoples houses even if they aren't sturturally damaged.

If what you have is a matter of old pipes that finally gave out, the "giving out" part might be sudden, however the language in the policies is usually pretty clear that its the damages not the replacement of older plumbling that would be covered.

If you had old wiring that caused a fire, if your house burned down the wiring would be replaced, because the Fire damage is covered...but if it just sparked and stopped working you're going to pay for the new wiring for sure.

With the pipe burst if the leaking water caused damages you'd have coverage...but the fixing of the leak is much more of a warranty sort of issue which is by no means the concept of what you pay for in homeowners insurance (well people WANT to think it means lots of things but thats not whats being sold).

Still, ask around, particularly with other homeowners. Sometimes there might be some class action or agreement. If say, some local city contractor had done some work on local water lines and accidentally boosted the water preasure in your line up to 250 psi (and you didn't have a pressure reducer at the curb and a few other esoteric factors) and that period unusual high pressure blew out lots of peoples pipes....

Its possible that that contractor's liabilty policy might pay for your large plumbing bill. Insurance companies can't skirt that sort of thing very easily especially if there were code and spefication errors made by that party....the insurance companies wouldn't warranty the work of someone who performed work on your house but they would pay for damages that a contractor caused to your house while he was working on your neighbors.

So ask around and try to see if there was a cause other than the lines just getting old and rusty.

(also ask around, as I reccomended before, of how other people in the complex dealt with similar situations most effectively, including perhaps help in finding or avoiding certain contractors).

I feel for you though, its a really ugly problem to be faced with a potentially mega plumbing issue in a crisis...maybe the leak detector guy has some modern arthroscopic tool to reline the pipes...they re-line larger sewar pipes these days with stuff thats almost like a really long ballooons that they blow up then stick to the walls of the old lines.

Being able to take a slower approach to larger work sure would save you money and give a better long term result.

on January 20, 2005 10:16 PM
# Mike Woodhouse said:

While I sympathise fully, I can't help but feel just a teensy bit pleased that this nonsense goes on just as much in the US as it does here in the UK. Pain is clearly global.

on January 21, 2005 02:42 AM
# Bill Nalen said:

Just wanted to leave me 2 cents regarding the insurance. We had some roof leak damage last year amounting to about $3000. Their inspector came and filed all the work, and we promptly received a check for the damage.

At the end of the insurance year we received a letter saying they would not renew our coverage. I called my agent and they confirmed that once an incident or two have occured it's nigh impossible to get coverage. I ended up getting coverage at a much higher rate as a result. It's going to cost me more than the $3000 I got back in damages.

The reason is that home insurance is for catastrophic damages, not minor things like you would file for your car. So, based on my experience I'd strongly recommend leaving the insurance company out of this. Or at least talking with your agent to see if this will cause a rate increase or a drop of coverage.

on January 21, 2005 06:40 AM
# Bill Nalen said:

Oh, and I'll second what rr said, if you call the agent at all, they are required by law to report the incident to the company, no matter if they pay or not, no matter if they send someone or not.

If you've called, you probably already have an incident against you.

on January 21, 2005 06:42 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

Magic words when dealing with insurance companies that don't deliver what they're supposed to: "bad faith." It's astonishing how much their attitude can change when they realize that you know the correct legal terminology.

Nick

on January 21, 2005 07:16 AM
# Barnaby James said:

I had a similar home warranty when I bought my house but never used it. Sounds like they pretty much count on this and try to make it as difficult as possible to collect. Since you live in a HOA development, you might ask the HOA if anyone else has had the same problem - it might make it easier to track down the problem. Paying for the diagnostic service yourself is definitely the right thing to do.

Hang in there!

on January 21, 2005 08:02 AM
# Tom Norian said:

I'm not sure on that "required by law" comment. Your agent has some lattitude and he's more likely required by "company policy". Where he/she draws the line has a lot to do with what sort of buisness person they are. Having a self employed individual in between allows a lot more lattitude or that sort of thing even if the individual only sells products of one company.

Entrepeneurs, almost by definition, know how to stretch and kluge things, and forget things that would cause them lots of trouble and hurt their buisness reputation. If your agent is bad at what he does he'd report it to the company before you and he understood the particulars. He'd explain with a wink or two the possible scenarios but geneally encourage you to report the data factually later when you had the details (and clearly state that he'd do what it would take to get the insurance to pay along the lines of the coverages you paid for).

The "required by law" could pertain to auto insurance where an accident on publilc roads is also a driving infraction. They might, as proffesionals in a field licecnsed by the state in which they operate in, have a requirment to report a driving accident however I don't think they could be requried "by law" to report if you asked their opinion about whether they were coverd if you maid dropped and shattered a rare vase in the middle of your dining room floor.

Another "required by law" aspect...some of the reason for those limmited warranties could stem from requirements people have when selling appliances, consumer protection rules than can't be agreed out of (and which might include rights of recision). The home warranties sort of free some aspects of post transaction regnogiation of purchase terms.

on January 21, 2005 08:16 AM
# Charles said:

It could always be worse. My dad built an apartment building, after a few years the underground pipes started bursting. It took considerable effort to discover the problem, the ground had a rare combination of minerals, so the metal pipes turned into an electric battery and the metals electroplated out of the pipes into the soil. The pipe walls would become as thin as paper, then cave in. They had to dig it all up and replace all the pipes, and bring in neutral clay soil to pack around it.

on January 21, 2005 09:02 AM
# trashtalker#1 said:

Wow! Good luck! If these leaks have been going on a while (and the rate at which the water meter indicates the water is leaking), is there any potential for geological/foundation damage?

on January 21, 2005 09:20 AM
# Bill Nalen said:

"required by law" I was just repeating what the agent told me. I suppose they might have misrepresented the position.

on January 21, 2005 10:10 AM
# Socal said:

Our house, built in 2000 in Southern Calif, is built on a slab. I was worried about running into this issue eventually, but was suprised to see that they only ran drain lines in the slab. All of the pressurized water pipes (hot and cold) are run through the walls/ceilinings.

on January 21, 2005 12:45 PM
# mo said:

I cannot believe that after only 4 months in our home in Florida, we have a slab leak. It has saturated the carpet in a bedroom, and the baseboard has pulled away from the wall. This just happened today. The "leak detection" man came in and found the leak was actually in the kitchen, and has to cut a whole in the counter base, and possibly tear up saltillo tile, which is almost impossible to replace. He recommended strongly we have our house repiped, to the tune of 4,000 to 7,000 dollars. Of course, homeowner's does not appear to cover any of this, and this type of thing is apparantly common here in Florida. I have heard lots of similiar stories, but come on...I feel rather duped somehow after a home inspection, and not being warned about the slab leaks around our development.
My home was built in 1990 and I have lived in it only 4 months. I suppose I should just accept the ups and downs of home ownership and stop whining.......???

on April 20, 2006 04:37 PM
# Bella Bathrooms said:

You must not say another word to your insurance company unless you plan to file a claim. They will log everything from your first phone call. If your bill is going to run in to then it maybe worth your while.

on October 27, 2006 01:15 AM
# Edith said:

We recently had a simular problem, but we used trenchless pipe restoration. It is great - they use an epoxy pipeliner that repairs the inside of the pipe. It saved us a bunch of money.

The guys that helped were great - accurateleak.com - It is a cool technology.

Edith

on April 28, 2009 06:04 PM
# said:

I'm going through a similar situation. We purchased a house 6mo ago and it has developed a slab leak. The home warranty company originally said it would cover up to $2k. They sent their "leak detection" plumber, and he also said the warranty would cover $2k. He recommended a re-pipe of the hot water line for $3,800 and said we would be responsible for the difference ($1,800). I decided to go with a cash out and use my own plumber to do the repipe, as the HW company said we could go that route. Now several weeks later they're telling us they will only pay $500 bucks. Apparently the plumber said that he could demo the concrete and fix the leak for $500. Only problem is that i would have to demolish the kitchen to get to the pipe, as it runs underneath our cabinets. I guess the leak detection plumber is disgruntled that he didn't get the work. So here we go with BBB complaints, Angies list, etc etc, and probably small claims court.

on January 27, 2010 09:51 PM
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