These plans cover the maintenance and repair of a home’s telephone, natural gas and water lines for a set monthly fee. With reassuring names such as “Line-Backer” and “ComfortGuard,” the plans are marketed as low-cost insurance against maintenance problems. However, the fine print often reveals that such plans are too costly and impractical for most consumers. At the end of this guide, CUB has a chart that explains some of the better-known plans being offered.
How Much Do Such Plans Cost?
Basic repair plans may seem deceptively cheap because they range from $3 to $8 per month, but that adds up over the course of a year. Other plans covering maintenance and repair of heating and cooling systems have monthly fees of up to about $30. One plan marketed by Nicor Home Solutions, an affiliate of the northern Illinois utility Nicor Gas, is even more expensive because it covers monthly natural gas costs, plus repairs of certain major appliances.
Do I Get Money Back If No Repairs are Done?
No. Once you sign up for the plan you lose any money you pay into it, even if you don’t have any maintenance or repair problems over the course of the agreement, which can be a year or month-to-month.
Are These Plans Offered by Utilities Only?
Some utilities offer maintenance plans, while other plans are marketed by unregulated affiliates of the utilities. With names like Nicor Home Solutions, these unregulated affiliates often are mistaken for the actual regulated utilities. Unregulated affiliates can charge whatever they want for the services they offer.
Are These Plans Worth It If I'm a Renter Or New Homeowner?
They may not be. Find out if your landlord covers such repairs. In fact, plans may exclude customers who live in multi-unit buildings, so read the fine print. Also, new homeowners may be protected from such repair costs by warranties.
Should I Sign Up for Such a Plan?
Read the fine print before deciding whether the risks outweigh the costs. Often these plans cover a very narrow category of repairs. For example, the list of what “ComfortGuard” does NOT cover for Nicor customers is longer than what it does. AT&T’s Line-Backer plan only covers inside-wire and jack repairs, which only happen about every 20-30 years, on average. Most problems originate with a phone company’s network outside the home or with the actual telephone—repairs not covered by this basic maintenance plan. Remember, these plans are optional. The money you save in bypassing a maintenance plan would likely cover the rare time you would ever need such repairs done.
What About Inspection and Appliance-Repair Plans?
Nicor Home Solutions offers plans that cover inspection, cleaning, and/or repair of the furnace, water heater, and central air conditioning for prices that range from $9.95 to $49.95 per month. Before signing up for any offer, find out if you have a warranty that already covers such maintenance. Or, you can shop around. You may be able to find better deals—without a monthly fee—through local heating and cooling professionals. You can find them listed in the phone book, or ask friends for referrals. The Better Business Bureau may be able to tell you if a heating contractor you’re considering has been the source of complaints in the past.
Nicor Services also offers appliance-repair plans, from one that charges $25 a month for problems with the refrigerator, range, dishwasher and waste disposal to a $5 per month plan covering surge protection. Be wary of these plans. Ask yourself how often these appliances break down. You may already have a warranty that covers such repairs. Regardless, the yearly savings you gain by foregoing such plans—and their monthly fees—probably would cover any repairs, if you ever needed them.
Utility Maintenance Plans
Offered by Nicor Home Solutions, an unregulated affiliate of Nicor Gas, ComfortGuard costs $4.95 per month and covers leak repairs of exposed natural gas pipes and appliance connectors up to $600. It does not cover leaky gas pipes in walls or ceilings, fireplace valves, meters, appliances, problems caused by natural disasters or third parties, or any problems outside the home, including appliances in detached garages. Nicor Home Solutions can inspect pipes and restrict coverage for unavailability of parts. (Note: Landlords and home warranties may cover such repairs.)
Offered by Nicor Home Solutions, the cost of Home Essentials varies according to customer’s estimated gas usage, plus a mark-up. It covers your natural gas costs, plus repairs to one furnace or boiler, a central air conditioner, and water heater up to $1,500 per incident and $2,000 per year. This is the company’s “Fixed Bill” plan with maintenance and repair services added on.
Offered by AT&T, Line-Backer costs $8 per month plus a one-time $4 activation fee. Frontier offers a similar service called Inside Wire Maintenance for $6.99 per month. It covers repairs to telephone jacks and the wires inside the walls of a home. Those repairs are only needed about once every 20-30 years, on average. It does not cover problems with outside wires or repairs to phones.
Water Line Protection
Offered by American Water Resources, an unregulated affiliate of Illinois American Water, Water Line Protection costs $60 per year and covers repairs to the water line from your property line to your home’s shut-off valve, up to $5,000. It does not cover pipes that run to sprinkler systems and pipes inside a home. It also doesn’t cover damage caused by a homeowner digging on his or her property, damage caused by negligence or actions of you or a third party, damage caused by natural disasters, and water line clogs and blockages.
Outside Water and Sewer Line Protection
Offered by Nicor Home Solutions, an unregulated sister company of Nicor Gas, the Outside Water and Sewer Line Protection plan costs between $6.95 and $12.95 a month and covers repairs up to $14,000 per year total: Up to $4,000 to repair or clear blockages for outside sewer lines, $4,000 for outside sewer lines, and up to $1,000 for outside water lines in public sidewalk, driveway or road opening repairs.