Home insurance

Who's responsible for broken water mains, you or the utility?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

bulldozer digging in soilForty Cle Elum households are without water, thanks to a prolonged cold snap that's frozen some city water mains.

Residents are frustrated because city officials say there's little they can do until the ground thaws, as reported by the Ellensburg Daily Record.

That's just not acceptable, residents say.

Homeowners may wonder, who is responsible for broken or frozen water mains? The local water department, or the resident?

The precise answer varies with each municipality. But often times, homeowners are responsible for all plumbing from the property line to inside the home. In other cases, the distinction lies in whether the failure lies on the homeowner's or the city's side of the water meter.

Unfortunately, I've had experience with this. While we were out of town one summer years ago, our next-door neighbor heard a trickling sound outside his open window. He traced it to water gushing out of my flowerbed and flowing downhill alongside his house.

water meter cover Our main water line had burst a few feet from our foundation. Our neighbor called the city, which quickly shut off our water at the meter. We paid for repairs because the break was on our property.

That happened the same summer that our washing-machine hose burst while my wife was home alone, upstairs. Although she discovered the flood within minutes, our oak floors already had been soaked and damaged. Our family had to spend four days in a motel during repairs.

We learned two lessons: One, replace washing-machine hoses every five years, preferably with steel-mesh hoses. Two, to prevent indoor water leaks while we're out of town, we turn off the home's main-water valve every time we leave for a weekend or longer.

Hopefully, you live in a community where the utility can remedy its frozen water mains. Cle Elum continues to explore its options; meanwhile, the forecast there for this week shows lows in the teens and highs ranging from 26 to 35 degrees.

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