Cottage Grove, Oregon, the state’s Covered Bridge Capitol, boasts many beautiful older homes in quiet neighborhoods. The city’s so picturesque that it’s been selected as an All-American City, Green Power Community and Tree City USA.
However, those beautiful old homes may be hiding an ugly surprise – one that city officials are determined to counteract. Plumbing, including water and sewer service lines, has a lifespan, and the most resilient material used in plumbing, copper, tops out at 80 years, while others have varying lifespans, with other materials only lasting around 40 years at the most.
Since Cottage Grove was founded more than 160 years ago, some homes have plumbing that likely is reaching the end of its usable life. City leaders kept that in mind when they agreed to partner with the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company.
“There are a lot of older homes in town, and it’s a good thing to provide the ability to protect [homeowners] and help them out financially,” Trudy Borrevik, City Recorder, said, adding that some of the city officials also have older homes and have enrolled in the program.
There have been many problematic plumbing materials used because they were inexpensive or the consequences of using them weren’t known at the time of installation, such as lead water lines or Orangeburg sewer lines, now frequently referred to as “coal tar-impregnated toilet paper tubes.” These materials are more prone to sudden failure.
An Optional Home Repair Plan
The Service Line Warranty Program provides emergency home repair plans that cover water and sewer service lines and interior plumbing and has been endorsed by the National League of Cities and several state municipal leagues, including the League of Oregon Cities.The national program has a network of contractors across the country, all of whom must pass background and drug tests, maintain an A rating with the Better Business Bureau, have a high post-service customer satisfaction score and be properly licensed and insured.
Nearly 140 jobs have been completed for Cottage Grove residents, saving them nearly $123,000 in repair costs.
“I would say the program has proved its benefit,” Borrevik said. “A lot of people have older homes, and this gives them a way to take care of their sewer and water lines.”
An Education in Homeowner Responsibility
In addition, the service line warranty program provides educational materials on homeowners’ responsibility to maintain their water and sewer service lines, mailed out to residents at no cost to the city. It’s also popular with residents – in a HomeServe State of the Home biannual survey, 88 percent of respondents agreed that cities and utilities should inform homeowners of their liability, while 42 percent either didn’t know who was responsible or erroneously believed the city or utility was responsible or that their homeowners insurance would cover the repair.
Borrevik has worked in city government for more than 30 years, so she’s seen residents in distress when learning they are responsible for their service lines. That’s why she appreciates the educational aspect of the program, allowing residents to prepare for an eventual line repair.
Those with fixed or low incomes are particularly vulnerable to the financial shock of an emergency home repair, with nearly 60 percent of those with household incomes at $50,000 having less than $500 dollars or no savings at all put aside for emergencies. One of the reasons Cottage Grove partnered with the service line warranty program was to protect those vulnerable residents.
Flexibility is Key
Borrevik added the partnership is flexible, with the city able to ask for changes in promotional mailings to cut down on residents’ confusion. She praised the city’s relationship with its current account manager, pointing out most of the calls the city has received regarding the program are positive, and confirm that the city has vetted the program.
“The citizens are happy [with the program],” Borrevik said.
That’s important, because Cottage Grove is a small city, and city officials don’t only know their residents, they feel accountable to them – which is why it’s imperative that they only endorse programs that will benefit residents.
“It’s just a good quality program, and I think our residents are lucky to have it,” she said.
To learn how you can provide residents with peace of mind, contact us.