What's going on here? Do you need insurance for your sewer and water lines?

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Frank Schultz
Monday, July 29, 2013

What it is: City of Janesville officials recently heard from residents who received offers from a company that was offering insurance to cover the cost of sewer- or water-line repairs.

What you need to know: Janesville property owners are responsible for their water and sewer laterals, the pipes that connect their plumbing to the larger pipes under the street. Owners are responsible for all the sewer laterals, even the parts that extend past their property lines.

Customers are responsible for water laterals from the city's water meter on their property to the shut-off valve, which usually is located in the terrace. The meter itself is the city's responsibility.

In case of a blockage or break in either of the laterals, the property owner is responsible for the repair.

Water Superintendent Craig Thiesenhusen said a company approached the city several months ago, asking if the city would endorse the company's insurance product. The city declined.

The company, whose name Thiesenhusen could not recall, then started mailing offers to Janesville property owners.

The water utility gets calls nearly every day, asking if the offers are legitimate, Thiesenhusen said.

“As far as we know, it is a real company selling a real product, and it's your responsibility to assess your situation and act accordingly,” he said.

“The homeowners have to do their own due diligence, just as if they're buying home insurance or car insurance or anything else,” Thiesenhusen said.

Thiesenhusen couldn't say how commonly sewer or water laterals need repairs. He has worked in Janesville for a year, and two out of some 24,000 homes have needed repairs in that time, he said.

Corrosion and age can lead to problems, but so can a rock buried next to a pipe that rubs a hole in a newer pipe, he said.

Some water and sewer lines have been in the ground for more than 100 years and have never needed repairs, he said.

“For lack of a better word, it's the luck of the draw,” added.

Insurance note: Property owners might want to check with their homeowner's insurance before making any move.

Most homeowner's and flood policies do not cover water damage due to sewers or drains that have backed up, according to the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Most insurance companies offer such additional coverage, at an additional cost

Your responsibilities: The city prohibits disposal of water or waste containing fat, oil or grease that causes the city “unusual attention or expense.” The same goes for objects or substances that might cause obstruction in the wastewater system.

“Usually, roots in the sewer main or service lateral cause backups,” according to the city's website. “However, grease, rags, or other foreign objects … also cause backups.”

The city advises residents not to pour cooking grease down the sink. Put grease in a jar and then in the trash. Also avoid putting diapers, rags, paper towels, plastics, napkins and the like in the sink or toilet, the city says.

For more about grease, see an online city brochure at gazettextra.com/grease. For more about tree roots, go online to gazettextra.com/root.

For more information or for sewer or water emergencies, contact the Janesville Water Utility at 608-755-3115 during business hours. For after-hours emergencies, call 608-755-6375.

A crew will be dispatched to check problems. If the main is plugged, the crew will clear it, according to the city's website. If the blockage is in the lateral, the homeowner may have to contact a sewer-cleaning company.

Care to know more about something? Drop us a line at:

Phone (608) 755-8267

Fax (608) 755-8349

Email newsroom@gazettextra.com

Mail P.O. Box 5001, Janesville, WI 53547-5001

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