What to do when American Home Shield won’t protect us

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By Christopher Elliott

Dawn Pace’s hot water heater is broken and thanks to a dispute between American Home Shield and her plumber, she’s been without hot water for the last week. Can this dispute be settled before a holiday weekend?

Question

I have been without hot water in our home since our hot water heater stopped working last Saturday. I’m caught between American Home Shield (AHS), which is saying it provided authorization to perform work, and the plumber.

They have been pointing fingers at each other, with us in the middle.

We have a young son who we’ve sent to stay with my parents and have missed hours of work and had to take vacation time to cover. I’ve tried calling, emailing and using social media.

As of yesterday evening, the plumber had not yet ordered the water heater and was unsure if he could get one next Friday, which is a holiday. We have single-handle faucets in the showers, so they’re not working at all. We can’t even take cold showers or wash dishes.

For four nights we stayed in the hotel. Some of our expenses may be covered by homeowners insurance because we also had water damage, but likely not all of it, since the water restoration company took the fans away yesterday and their adjuster has started the process for that part of the issue.

I filed a BBB claim, but I could use help quickly. We are possibly looking at no hot water for a second weekend.

Throughout all this I have tried to be firm with AHS and the contractor but be factual. They’ve now blocked me from Twitter. I’m attaching the tweets so you can see that I was not rude.

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Given that the plumber has not ordered a replacement hot water heater yet, I have called in my own plumber to come tomorrow so we can try to have water for the weekend. My fear is that if I have them do the job I will end up paying twice. — Dawn Pace, Sayreville, NJ

Answer

I’m so sorry your hot water heater failed. Coincidentally, ours did too on the exact same weekend yours did. Cost us almost $5,000 to buy and install a new one. Ouch! There goes the kids’ college fund.

Companies like AHS should know how desperate people get when they don’t have access to running water in their home, so getting into a dispute with a plumber, and allowing it to cause a delay, is problematic.

You patiently explained your circumstances to the company by phone and then via social media, and its reaction was to block you?

Still, you had options. You could have negotiated with the plumber AHS had contracted with, or taken this up with someone at AHS’ parent company, ServiceMaster. Contacting someone there is fairly easy — corporate email addresses follow the format [email protected]. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.)

For what it’s worth, I think this disagreement would have been resolved eventually. But probably not in time for your holiday weekend. My advocacy team and I decided to jump in and ask AHS to review your case. BBB and AHS were working on this simultaneously. I’m not sure if AHS responded to me or my BBB colleagues.

Regardless, AHS agreed to cover the new hot water heater cost within an hour of ServiceMaster’s contact.

This story first appeared June 3, 2015.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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