How my neighbor helped me start a utility monitoring company

There are only a handful of people who really have your back in life — your parents and immediate family are a given. Good friends after years of give and take hopefully lead you to a few more people you could say really look out for you. But your neighbors, people you say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to on the way in and out of your house, are not usually high on the list.

Mine was different. He more than had my back; His care changed the way I view problems.

The Maintenance Moment that Changed my Life

We had recently relocated from the suburbs of Boston to those of Chicago and we were out exploring the new city. It was raining, as it had been for a few days, so we chose to visit the Museum of Science. After a long but fun day, we arrived home in time for dinner to find a man in our back yard with a hacksaw and plumbing fixtures.

Not sure about how to deal with the situation, I did what any good father and husband would do: I had my wife investigate.

After a dramatic pause, I decided I should help. That’s when I met Jay, my next-door neighbor.

I’d met his wife a few times and knew her enough to say ‘hi’ but not well enough recognize her if we met at the grocery store, but I hadn’t met her husband Jay. Jay happened to be out in his yard checking to make sure his gutters were clear and that water wasn’t puddling too close to his foundation.

At some point, he noticed that my sump pump was ejecting water into my basement window-well rather that into the ground pipe. For reasons unknown, the ground pipe was clogged and water was overflowing back into the house.

Jay had recently lived through a flooded basement and took pity on us. After knocking on the door to no avail, for we were at the museum, he decided to run to Home Depot to pick up a drainage line and clamps. He then used his hack saw to cut the drainage line so that he could get the temporary plumbing hooked up. The new line was a 25’ line that channeled the water well away from my foundation, just finishing when we arrived home.

How Much is This Going to Cost?

Needless to say, I was in shock.

After thanking him profusely and asking if I could somehow repay the favor, he insisted that any good neighbor would do the same, and off he went. I don’t know what world you live in, but I’m not sure how many ‘good neighbors’ would go out of their way like this for a neighbor they had never met. I ran out and bought the best Single Malt I could find and stopped by to thank him one more time.

Jay truly had my back, and although I was grateful, I hadn’t yet learned how grateful I should have been…

The rain never let up, but I had to fly off on a business trip. About two days into the trip, I called the office to see how things were going. They mentioned that the town was flooding due to the rain and asked if I had seen the news. I hadn’t, but immediately called home. My wife knew of the flooding but was checking often to make sure our sump pump was running fine. We hung up and I went out to dinner a few hours later with a customer.

That’s when the phone rang.

My wife called to tell me that the sump pump had just stopped working. We had a battery backup system but it wasn’t keeping up. The basement was flooding. She and the kids decide to grab everything they could carry from our finished basement to the first floor. My wife started with her art supplies, my son with is Xbox, while my daughter grabbed the DVD player and our Apple TV. They quickly realized that they needed to grab more.

Luckily a colleague from work volunteered to run to my house to help out. Between them, they got everything they could carry upstairs and got most of the furniture up onto blocks. They installed a new sump pump and managed to start clearing the water out of the house. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.

The Real Impact

When I arrived home the next day, I had to search to find an open road to the house. It was the 100-year storm and the river had overflown. There were a lot of houses under water and the damage to the area was great. I got home to find that most of the water was pumped out of the basement. I used the shop vacuum to try to dry the carpet and hoped for the best as I went to bed exhausted. When we awoke the next morning, I realized that the pad was too wet and that smell of mold was in the air. We started the repair work.

We had called every water damage recovery company we could find, but the best we could get was a promise to come out in five days. The area was hit hard and we were not the top priority.

We tried to wait it out, but then we realized the carpet was gone. It took almost two days to cut out the carpet and pad, hauling the ruminants to the sidewalk. Next, we removed all the trim and cut holes in the walls to get some airflow behind the wall board. When we realized the insulation was wet, we started cutting back the dry wall and pulling out the insulation. About day four we realized that the wood vanity in the bathroom was gone and that all the book cases had to go.

The next day Serve Pro showed up and got fans on everything. They cut back more of the wall boards and removed additional wood work. A week later, the basement was dry but walls near the window were still wet. We cut those out and found water was coming in still from the window wells. It turned out that the drainage lines were clogged.

Once we cleared those, we realized the gutters were clogged so I climbed the ladder and started cleaning them out. That led to the discovery that the drainage lines that the gutters emptied to were also clogged. I hired a landscape company to replace them. They turned out to be crushed. With the gutters cleared and the drainage lines replaced, and the window wells clear, we had the basement windows sealed. Next we realized that the sump pump wasn’t sized right for the house, so we hire a company to install a Triple Safe pump and pit.

We had a second discharge line added and now had two primary pumps and a battery backup pump ready to go. The carpenter came and installed new insulation, new porcelain bathroom fixtures, new wallboard, new wains coating and new trim. He did repairs to the fireplace and changed out some speakers in the wall that had gotten wet. We painted the basement and then had new carpet installed. We capped off the repairs by installing a whole-home generator.

$32,000 later and four months of constant projects, we sat down and watched a movie. I realized at that moment, how much of a help my neighbor had been when he tried to help prevent this problem. I got it. He had my back and I had a totally new appreciation for his kindness.

I’m a Predictive Guy

So the crazy thing is I was running the predictive analytics team at GE. We applied predictive analytics to industrial assets like jet engines and turbines to determine signs of wear. We monitored large pumps and heating and cooling systems and we predicted failures before they happened. We described it to customers as ‘uptime improvements’ and ‘improved reliability.’

They loved the service because they got to run their operation without unexpected failures.

I’ve Got an Idea

That’s when it hit me.

If I applied the same technology to my sump pump, installing sensors and applying the same predictive analytics, could I have avoided this entire fiasco? What if I sent the results to a mobile app that notified me of pending problems before they happened? What if I shared this data with my home services providers so he could also watch and react, calling me with warnings of failures the same way I called my customers? Would I react and replace my pump if I knew it would fail? I sure would.

What if I built a company to do this and what if I called it LifeWhere?

No, this is really going to Be a game changer

Today people run their homes to failure. We wait for things to break. Some of these things, like our furnace or AC compressor, are very expensive to repair if we wait too long. Some of these things, like our sump pumps, cause catastrophic damage if they fail during the big storm.

LifeWhere lets us see and understand what is going on with these critical home assets, helping us plan and budget, creating an entirely different relationship with our home service provider because it creates transparency.

The data doesn’t lie. Sharing the data and the results of the analytics with the homeowner and the technician allows everyone to see and understand the problem in the same way. It also allows us to see the outcome of the repair. That transparency creates trust and trust creates piece of mind. Peace of mind that our equipment is working and will continue to work when we need it most.

Who’s watching my utilities? We are

I don’t know how many neighbors are like Jay; Neighbors that will watch over your house and make repairs for you, on their own, just to help out.

So, a question for you: Who’s got your back? Who’s watching over your house for you?

How about LifeWhere.

Born out my pain, the pain Jay tried to shield me from, LifeWhere is there for you, watching every day, all day.