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How to shut off your utilities

December 29th, 2008

Chronologically, this post should have appeared a few months ago but I thought it would just get confusing if posts started appearing behind latest post.

The most important thing to know about shutting off your utilities is that you will want to start the process early.

> ON1CALL / LOCATES / LOCATE BURIED SERVICES (Estimated time to complete: 5 business days)

First you’ll want to either visit the (terribly designed) On1Call web site or call them at 1-800-400-2255, so they can mark the location of your underground services.

I was told that my demolition company / builder should make the call for reasons of liability, but I called anyway. (They can always call a second time if they need to, and I really wanted to get the process under way.)

> ENBRIDGE GAS / NATURAL GAS (Estimated time to complete: 44 days)

When we first called Enbridge in November to get our gas cut off we were told (or for legal reasons perhaps I’ll say: “what I remember being told was”) that before we could even schedule an appointment to have someone come and give us an estimate on what it will cost to get our gas shut off at the street, we had to have the gas meter shut off at the house.

I remember being agog at this policy and asking clarifying questions like “Doesn’t that mean we’re going to effectively need to move out of the house before we can even book the appointment?” and being told “Yes, I guess so.”

NOTE: If it seems like you know more than the phone-monkey you’re talking to, don’t be shy about calling back for a second opinion. You probably do know more.

To make a long story short, I think the implied conclusion that legal action was imminent for their mistake (they cost us rent we didn’t need to pay because we didn’t need to move out so early) got them to act very quickly and we got our gas cut off in a timely manner, for the minimum charge of $1200.

Surprise! Yes that’s right: A gas line is free to be hooked up (in most cases) but they’ll charge you $1200 (at least) to disconnect them. (Surely our government’s Consumer Protection Branch should be looking into this, no?)

Enbridge had another surprise in store for us (or rather: for our neighbours). It seems on some streets in Toronto, the gas connections are either ‘short’ or ‘long.’ ‘Long’ means (without any warning) they dig up the driveway of your neighbours across the street to get to the buried cut-off valve for your house. (Surprise!)

They were pretty good about refilling the hole and tidily paving over it within 24 hours, but when our neighbours drove over the ~16″ square hole, their wheel fell into it about 1 foot! (Thankfully, all Suburus have all-wheel drive and they were out of it in a jiffy.)

My complaints to remedy the situation seemed to fall on deaf ears and when they did come back to patch it (~5 days later), it looked to me like a drive-by paving. Perhaps someone just heaved a tar-laden ball of stones out the back of a truck?  It wasn’t smooth like the first job, just a sloppy patch of tar & rubble. I’m working on getting them to come back again.

But then, they’ll be back in the spring once the roof is on to dig it out again so they can turn the gas back on. (Brilliant system guys. “Ground-level cut-offs.” Look into it!)

> TORONTO HYDRO / ELECTRICITY (Estimated time to complete: 2 weeks)

Dealing with Toronto Hydro, while it did have its share of paperwork, was pretty much the opposite experience of dealing with Enbridge.

To have the power disconnected from your house you’ll need to fill out a form and return it to them. Bizarrely, this form cannot be downloaded or emailed. It must be faxed or letter-mailed. Once they have the form they can generally accommodate requested shut off dates that are more than 1-2 weeks out.

We happen to have a power pole in our front yard and our insanely knowledgeable Civil Engineer had told us (correctly it turned out) that if the power lines for neighbouring houses cross into your property’s air space, you can ask Toronto Hydro to move them so they run perpendicular to the street’s power lines.

There were no charges for shutting off power to the house or for moving the lines. There will be a fee of around $800 (I think) when they need to hook up power and inspect the house to make sure all is in order.

Also worth noting: If your builder needs a temporary power box on site during the initial phase of construction, the cost associated with this after installation and inspection is around $2000.

Instead, our kind neighbours have graciously agreed to to let our builder borrow power from their outdoor outlets during the first few weeks of construction. Once the roof is on the new house we can install the permanent breaker box and the builder can use that power.

When we were trying to figure out how to calculate the amount of power consumed, the easiest thing to do seemed to be to make the calcuation simple and steeply in their favour. Since power bills come every two months, we’ll probably do something like pay half the total bill. (A bargain compared with the options and sure to be more than we used so they aren’t out of pocket.)

> TORONTO WATER / WATER (Estimated time to complete: 2-3 weeks)

Water shut-off is the most straightforward of all the utilities. I think it only took 1 week, but since we had our first snow fall, they had trouble finding the shut-off valve. If you’re planning on getting the cut off done in winter, you might want to make a mental note of where your cut-off is before the snow arrives.

In our neighbourhood, just about everyone’s water cut-offs are in the sidewalk, but ours was up at the property line. The shut-off guys thought this meant the previous owners must have upgraded the water service already, in which case we would save ourselves the $2,175 (for 3/4″ service, $2,450 for 1″ service) connection charge.

Because we’re changing the elevation of the basement we will still have to put in a new sewer service for $6750. (*coughwheeeeeze*)  And that only takes us as far as the property line. We can either contract with the city’s contractors to bring the line the rest of the way to the house or find someone else to do it for us. (They city’s contractors are usually quite reasonably priced I’m told, since they are on site with all the equipment already.)

Posted by Colin