Water main breaks

A water main break closed westbound Cold Spring Lane near the ramp for Interstate 83, Baltimore transportation officials said. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun / January 30, 2014)

City officials say the insurance program for broken water pipes they’ve been publicizing likely won’t be available for several months, and possibly not until autumn.

Baltimore first announced the insurance – which officials call a service contract – last year in connection with the approval of a system-wide overhaul of water meters, warning residents they would want to buy the insurance in case pipes break during the work.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for Baltimore Department of Public Works, said recently there is a very small chance pipes could break during the overhaul of about 400,000 water meters in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. But he warned the age of Baltimore’s old infrastructure means that homeowners’ pipes are at constant risk of breaking if they've not been maintained.

He said if a contractor is negligent and breaks pipes during the overhaul, the contractor will be held responsible for damages, not the homeowner. 

"The vast majority of water lines issues will not be related to the water meters," Kocher said. "This is an attempt to give homeowners piece of mind." 

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has encouraged residents to buy HomeServe USA Corp.'s insurance, which — at less than $9 a month — she called "very affordable."

HomeServe will offer insurance to property owners for $3.99 per month for water lines and $5.49 per month for sewer lines or $8.49 for both. As a marketing promotion, water customers who sign up within the first year will be charged only $1 per month for their water lines that year. As part of the contract, the company will also provide $150,000 a year to Baltimore to help pay for repairs for low-income or senior residents unable to afford the insurance.

City officials have emphasized that the insurance is optional.

Last winter, the city responded to 856 water main breaks and 1,266 public service lines that needed repair or replacement. When a break occurs on the property owner’s side of the line, the city maintains that the owner is responsible for the repairs.

City officials are advising residents to contact HomeServe USA directly. For more information, visit www.homeserveusa.com, email publicworks@baltimorecity.gov, or call 1-888-752-6740. 

According to the Better Business Bureau of Connecticut, customers have filed 303 complaints against HomeServe in the past three years -- including 144 problems with service and 47 billing issues -- with 277 complaints resolved successfully.  

In 26 cases, the Better Business Bureau found that the company made a "good faith effort" to resolve the complaint, but the customer was still dissatisfied.  

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater