Water company overcharged customer for fire sprinkler system

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Summerdale, Pa. (WHTM)- John Bruetsch, Summerdale, noticed a change on his Pennsylvania American Water bill.

“Our bill jumped $26.50 a month for no reason,” said Bruetsch.

On page three of his bill, under service related charges, the “water service charge” jumped from $16.50 a month to over $40.

Bruetsch looked up the Pennsylvania American Water utility tariff. Every utility company has a tariff. It dictates what the companies can charge customers.

Bruetsch figured out the increase in his bill was related to the automatic fire protection system he has in his home. In the event of a fire, the home sprinkler system will trigger and allow water to flow from sprinklers in the home.

“The tariff says that if you have a home sprinkler system they put a larger meter on your house, but they do not charge you for the difference for the larger meter and what would be considered a standard sized meter for a home,” said Bruetsch.

Most homes have a 5/8 inch meter. Sprinkler systems require upsized service lines, typically one inch, to provide enough water for fire protection.

Pennsylvania American Water’s tariff says it “will not impose a standby charge on owners of residential structures solely because it is equipped with an automatic fire protection system” and customers “will be billed at the rate for a 5/8 inch meter” which is $16.95 a month.

Bruetsch says he called Pennsylvania American Water and explained the situation to customer service.

“They got back to me and they said you are wrong and that’s it. I never heard from them again. It was very frustrating,” said Bruetsch.

He reached out the abc27 investigators for help.

“I see your reports and you guys have a habit of getting these things straightened out,” said Bruetsch.

The abc27 investigators contacted Pennsylvania American Water about Bruetsch’s bill, citing the tariff regarding residential sprinkler systems and how customers should be charged.

A Pennsylvania American Water spokesperson said the overcharge on Bruetsch’s bill was “due to a coding error on our end”.

“We were able to resolve the issue and the customer will be credited accordingly. We will alert our Customer Service team to this error so that they may correctly respond to any similar issues going forward,” said Maggie Sheely, External Affairs Manager, PA American Water.

Bruetsch is receiving a refund of $510.76. Pennsylvania American Water is also issuing a credit to one of Bruetsch’s neighbors who was also being overcharged.

Bruetsch’s home has had the sprinkler system since it was built, 18 years ago, but the rate only changed in the last two years. Bruetsch believes the overcharge happened when Pennsylvania American Water upgraded and installed new meters.

“The words out and there are definitely people checking their bills. There may be some more phone calls coming their way,” said Bruetsch.

Pennsylvania American Water is encouraging customers residing in homes with residential sprinkler systems to check their monthly bills and call 800-565-7292 with questions about their monthly meter charges and/or their eligibility for reduced monthly meter charges.

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