Philly Wants You to Get a Sewer Line Warranty: Should You?
A clogged or burst sewer pipe is never in the plans. Yet, sometimes disaster strikes when you least expect it. One day everything seems fine, and the next, the street looks like a construction zone with jackhammers and machinery digging out a large hole in the asphalt. Somewhere underground, a pipe has burst, and now it may be the property owner’s responsibility to fix it.
In the case of Ted Matey, owner of a traditional rowhome in Northern Liberties, the pipe that led away from his house to the street had a small crack that initially leaked a little when it rained. But over time, he says, “It was basically a time bomb waiting to happen.”
Matey knew the repair would cost him several thousand dollars between the plumbers and concrete work it would require, so he put it off as long as possible. “It was a slow burn that got progressively worse over the period of two years. Then at the end it was a rush to get it fixed because it felt like the whole thing could “blow” at any moment and cause all sorts of nasty water to come flooding into my basement,” he says.
Unlike other utilities, most homeowner don’t know the state of their underground sewer pipes prior to purchasing their property, and that leaves them open to unwelcome surprises. Sewer repair can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000 for a full replacement, a costly and unexpected emergency, and most homeowner insurance policies don’t cover this type of repair. Because of Philadelphia’s older housing stock, with a median age of 95 years old, and the range of materials used throughout the decades (and centuries) to build the underground sewer network, breaks are frequent and often unpredictable.
The Philadelphia Water Department is swamped with requests for sewer repairs each year. In many instances, these requests turn into work for private contractors, at the homeowner’s expense. This past year, City Hall sought the help of American Water Resources, now offering Philadelphia residents a program called the Water Line and Sewer Line Protection Program. For a low monthly fee, around $8 a month, homeowners can get some protection against possible future breaks in the form of a sewer line warranty.
What’s The Catch with the Sewer Line Warranty?
As in any contract, details matter. This product isn’t technically insurance, and isn’t regulated by the Philadelphia Insurance Department. It’s a warranty program that helps cover costs for “normal wear and tear.” American Water Resources restricts claims based on how the damage was created. It doesn’t cover damage that was a result of work done by the homeowner, a third party, a natural disaster, or faulty installation. It does cover repairs to blocked or clogged pipes, excavation costs, permits needed, yard reseeding, and inspections.
Matey eventually did get his sewer fixed, at his own expense. If he had to do it over again, he says, he would get the sewer warranty.
“A homeowner can easily get stuck with a surprise several thousand dollar bill for a very un-fun house expenditure. It’s not a few thousand to fix up your kitchen, or get some new furniture – its several thousand dollars to fix a pipe you never see or think about. And if you don’t fix it sewer water could flood your basement,” he says.
More than 17,000 people have signed up since the program was launched in 2018, and it’s easy to see why. In a world where you can buy insurance on anything from flood damage to electronics to your own wedding, getting a little piece of mind about the pipes underneath your house might make sense.