Crap. I’ve got a water leak. And I’m freaking out.

Monday was Memorial Day. I had several things I wanted to accomplish. I ran a couple errands in the morning, and when I returned home, I noticed a puddle of water at the edge of my property. When I went inside and turned on the faucet, I had no water.

I grabbed my iPhone and dialed 311. This is the city’s “citizen contact number” and they really are quite helpful with a lot of things. 311 is like the main telephone operator. You report a problem and the 311 staff routes the issue to the appropriate department. I’ve used it to report a fire in a neighbor’s home; pets and other animals that have been hit by cars, and on Memorial Day I used it to report my water outage.

Of course, since it was a holiday, everything was closed, including 311. I found an emergency number for the City’s Water Authority and I dialed it with great urgency. Here’s how the phone call went:

Me: Hi, I am calling to report a water outage at my house.

Operator: Um, there’s no outages anywhere. I can’t really help you.

Me: Well, there may not be any large-scale outages, but my residence has no water.

Operator: What’s your address?

Me: 1234 Main Street.

Operator: Oh, yeah. We turned off your water line.

Me: Right. I’m aware of this. Can you tell me what’s wrong.

Operator: I don’t know.

Me: Okay, let’s start with this: who reported that I had a leak?

Operator: I’m going to put you on hold.

Some saxophone remixes of popular 80’s hits are piped into my iPhone while I’m on hold.

Operator: Your neighbor at 1238 Main Street called in the leak.

Me: What time was the call made?

Operator: I don’t know.

Me: Could you look to see if there’s a timestamp on the ticket?

Operator: I’m going to put you on hold.

More sax music.

Operator: They called it in around noon.

Me: Okay.

Operator: Just so you know, the leak was on your side of the property, so the City is not responsible for it. The repairs are going to be at your expense.

Me: Noted.

Operator: I just wanted to inform you of this.

Me: Would you send someone out to turn my water on?

Operator: You have a leak.

Me: I understand. But I want to observe the leak so that I will know how to describe the problem to the plumber I hire.

Operator: It’s a holiday. Why do you want us to turn your water on? By the way, you will be billed for the leaking water, and the city may give you a citation.

Me: As I said, I’d like to see where the leak is coming from.

Operator: I’ll try to send someone out, but it’s a holiday.

That was one of the most painful telephone conversations I’ve had in a while. But it would be nothing compared to the next conversation I’d have.

I decided to go outside and inspect the leak. I have a tool that helped me lift the lid off the hole where my water meter is located. So I poked around for a few minutes.

That’s when my neighbor opened his garage door and walked over to where I was kneeling.

Neighbor: Hey. I called the city. You had a leak. And I swear that it wasn’t me messing around this time. I didn’t turn off your water. There was a genuine leak. (Note: about a year ago, this neighbor of mine turned off the water line to my house just because. I reported him and I believe he was given a warning or citation by the city).

Me: Can you tell me what happened?

Neighbor: There was water gushing from this hole.

Me: Okay.

Neighbor: Did you see the note the city left you?

Me: A note? No, I didn’t see anything.

Neighbor: Yeah, they left you a note. It’s on your garage door. Close your garage door and you’ll see it. The note says that you have a leak. I read it. Hope you don’t mind.

Me: Okay, thanks for letting me know there’s a note.

Neighbor: Hey, would you like for me to turn your water on for awhile? That way, you could fill some buckets or some water bottles so you won’t be thirsty.

Me: I have some bottled water.

Neighbor: Are you sure you don’t want me to turn your water on for a little while? Do you need to poop or anything?

Me: Poop?

Neighbor: Yeah, you’ll only have enough water for one flush. But if you fill some buckets, you can fill your toilet’s tank and flush it a few times. You know, if you have to go poop.

Me: Um, I don’t have to go poop. But maybe I should fill a bucket just in case.

I went inside and filled my kitchen sink with hot, soapy water. And I filled a bucket, too (just in case!). And then I went outside and thanked my neighbor and told him he could turn the water line off again.

After this conversation, I went inside my home and burst into tears. Why? It was too much to take. I had an anxiety attack and felt alone and frustrated. šŸ˜¦

And then my librarian brain kicked in and I told myself I needed to find a plumber. I wiped my tears, used some eyedrops, and fired up Safari on my MacBook Pro.

The first thing I did was send out a tweet asking if anyone in my town knew of a good and trustworthy plumber. A twitter friend and fellow librarian from ABQ who lives in Chicago replied, not only with a company’s name, but also their phone number. (I love Twitter!)

I wasn’t able to reach this company, so I navigated my way to the Better Business Bureau’s web site. Once there, I did a search for plumbers within a 5 mile radius that had a rating of A+ – A-. Thankfully, I found several. I called each of them, but I got their voicemail.

After making several phone calls and reaching no one, I made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t have water that day.

At 7:00AM on Tuesday, I started calling plumbers again. Most of them were “booked” the next two weeks. But I didn’t give up. I finally reached a company who had a cancellation that morning. So, by 8:30 AM the plumber was at my house. By 3:30 PM I had a new water line from the street to my house. WooHoo!

So here’s the take-away: On a holiday, a plumber will charge you up to three times the normal rate. If you can afford this, go for it. If not, fill some buckets using your neighbor’s hose and make peace with the fact that you’ll be without water for 24-48 hours.

Use your resources and social networking friends to find a good plumber. And once you’ve found one, here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Will they give you a variety of options for fixing the problem?
  2. Do they charge by the hour or by the job?
  3. Does each plumber make up the price, or do they have a published list of fees for common plumbing problems?
  4. After the plumber gives you his recommendation, ask him what he would do if this were his home. By asking this question, you give him a chance to “walk a mile in your shoes” and re-think his response and solution.
  5. Does their work have a guarantee or warranty?
  6. Do they double or triple their fees on holidays?
  7. Ask for a quote before they commence the work. Look over the itemized invoice. I noticed that the fee to dig the holes was the most expensive item. This prompted me to have the plumbing company replace my entire line, not just the broken section. In essence, I saved myself the hassle and expense of having to pay the digging fee the next time a leak or break occurs.
  8. If they make an error, will they fix it and not bill you for their time and supplies? This is an important one because the guy who fixed my leak accidentally punctured my sewage line. He informed me of this right away and told me he’d replace it at his expense. (Thank God)

You’ll be astonished at how much power you have at your fingertips! Good luck! šŸ™‚

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a hot shower. šŸ™‚

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