A programmable thermostat will help save up to 10 percent...

A programmable thermostat will help save up to 10 percent on your bill, according to Jeff Wilson, author of "The Greened House Effect." Credit: Photos.com/Photos.com

It’s a homeowner’s nightmare at this time of year: Plummeting temperatures and no heat in the house.

It was just such a nightmare faced by the Orazem family of Livingston when they discovered they had a gas leak in their home.

Dad Richard Orazem did what any responsible homeowner would do: He called National Grid and reported the leak. That’s what we’re always told to do, isn’t it? If you smell gas anywhere, report it. Lest some house or apartment building explodes.

National Grid came by and said that there was a leak behind a clothes drier. Orazem needed to call a plumber to get it fixed. In the meantime, National Grid put a lock on the gas meter, cutting off the gas. And the heat.

Not a good thing at this time of year. Particularly lately, when we’ve gotten a blast of of polar air and some snow and rain. The Orazems cranked up the space heaters, 11 of them, in a bid to keep the house warm. Hope they kept the water dripping in the tub as well. I’d be worried about freezing pipes. It got so cold that Orazem’s wife, Mary, took their 11-month old daughter to stay with her sister-in-law.

The Orazems had a plumber come over and fix the leak, a $175 repair. Simple enough. They had to pay another $350 to check for asbestos around the pipes. Because anybody who’s had any work done on a heating system lately, and I’m one of them, knows that nothing happens without addressing any asbestos issues, even if the asbestos wrapping around your pipes is intact. And it ain’t cheap.

Here’s where the Orazems’ nightmare begins: Having completed the repair, the Orazems were told they had to pay $1,500 in filing fees in order to obtain city Department of Buildings authorization to turn the gas back on. Following that, it would take seven to 10 business days for the gas to actually be turned back on and for the heat to start flowing again.

That’s real money no matter who you are. And not even to fix anything. Just to get your gas service turned back on. An administrative fee. On a $175 repair. And then to have to wait that long to actually have the heat turned on after you’ve paid everything off? Outrageous.

So here’s the lesson that you can’t help but learn: Do all the right things and get hosed.

Orazen reached out to Borough President James Oddo’s office. Oddo was able to cut through some red tape. Tuesday was set to be heat day at the Orazems. The baby could come home.

There has to be a simpler way, a fairer way for homeowners to be treated. A $1,500 fee on top of money spent on repairs is nothing but punitive. Talk about having someone over a barrel: A family needs their heat turned back on in the run-up to Christmas. Talk about getting Scrooged.

While he was able to help the Orazems, Oddo isn’t stopping there. He wants to meet with National Grid, the Buildings Department and members of the plumbing industry to see how something like this can be prevented in the future.

We need heat and hot water. We already pay high utility bills. We shouldn’t get dinged again when we find ourselves in need. Yes, the city needs to make sure that the gas pipes are in good working order. But the homeowner shouldn’t have to pay through the nose for it. Top-level political intervention shouldn’t be needed.

Give homeowners a break.


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