Moving To Houston

Moving, Packing and Utilities

While just the thought of relocating can be stressful, with planning and helpful resources, the process can be managed. In this section, you’ll learn about ways to pack, how to prepare for your move, utilities in the area and additional resources. Once you’re established in the area, a real plus is discovering how genuinely friendly most Houstonians are and how ready they are to welcome you to the city and your neighborhood. It’s not uncommon that a neighbor will greet you warmly with a plate of cookies and be glad to share resources with you.

As soon as you’ve received word that you and your family are being relocated, contact your company’s relocation representative to find out what company will be moving your goods. Ask if the moving company provides any information to help make the move easier and verify the move date. At some point, you’ll want a direct contact at the moving company to ensure you have an open communication flow and there are no misunderstandings. Your moving company also will need to ask you questions and be in touch with you directly as moving day approaches.

It’s also possible that the moving company has resources regarding storage in the Houston area, should you require additional space to place your furnishings, a boat or an additional vehicle.

As you plan your move, we hope the following resources will help make your relocation process manageable and organized. Once you’ve arrived and are established in your new community, Houston’s hospitality will make you feel at home quickly.

MOVING COMPANIES
Moving companies provide a variety of services for a range of fees. It is a good idea to speak with different movers to compare their services. To find out who the best movers are in your area, begin by asking friends about their experiences with the movers they have used. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) or other consumer organizations in your local area.

When selecting a mover, the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) encourages consumers to select a moving company that is an AMSA member. Members have all agreed to abide by the terms of the organization’s published tariffs and to participate in the Arbitration Program sponsored by the organization.

Once you have compiled a list of movers, inform them of the destination and timing of your move. Ask them about the types of services they offer. Also ask them to explain their estimates in detail and to give you a copy. Then carefully compare to see which mover best suits your needs and budget.

If you are moving out of state, you should read and understand all of the information you will receive. In addition to brochures explaining their various services, moving companies should give you a copy of a consumer booklet titled, “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” and information regarding the mover’s participation in a Dispute Settlement Program. Distribution of the consumer booklet and the requirement that movers offer shippers neutral arbitration as a means of settling disputes that may arise concerning loss or damage on household goods shipments are requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

AMSA advises that you make arrangements for your move well in advance, at least four to six weeks before the moving date. When you choose your mover, be sure you understand the following:
  • Rates and charges that will apply
  • Mover’s liability for your belongings
  • How pickup and delivery will work
  • What claims protection you have

GETTING ESTIMATES
The cost of an interstate move is usually based on the weight of your belongings and the distance they are shipped, plus the amount of packing and other services that you require, according to the AMSA. Your bill will be higher or lower depending on how much your shipment weighs and how far you move.

To help you anticipate the cost of your move, movers will give you an estimate of the price. Be sure to get written estimates from at least three different companies so you can compare their services and prices.

Help the movers calculate the cost of your move by showing them every single item to be moved. Don’t forget to go into the attic, basement, garage, shed, closets and under beds. Reach a clear understanding about the amount of packing and other services needed. Anything omitted from the estimate but later included in the shipment will add to the cost.

Most movers offer three types of estimates—nonbinding, binding and not-to-exceed.

— Nonbinding Estimates
Nonbinding estimates are not bids or contracts. Instead, a nonbinding estimate is an approximation of the cost based on the mover’s survey of the items to be moved with the final cost determined after the shipment is weighed. Since a nonbinding estimate is based on the actual weight of your shipment (rather than the estimated weight), the price will usually be lower than a binding estimate. However, when you receive a nonbinding estimate, there is no guarantee that the final cost will not be more than the estimate.

Under a nonbinding estimate, the mover cannot require you to pay more than the amount of the estimate, plus 10 percent (or 110 percent of the estimate amount) at the time of delivery. You then are obligated to pay any remaining charges for any additional services that you requested or were required to accomplish your move that are more than this 110 percent 30 days after your shipment is delivered if the services or quantities were not included in your estimate.

— Binding Estimates
Many movers also provide binding estimates. A binding estimate means that you are obligated to pay the price set forth in the binding estimate even if the shipment weighs more or less than the estimated amount.

All binding estimates cover only the goods and services listed on the estimate. If you add items or request additional services, the mover may revise the original estimate before your shipment is loaded or, if you request additional services after your shipment is in transit, your mover will bill you for these added services 30 days after your shipment is delivered if they were not included in your estimate. In addition, all movers reserve the right to charge for services necessary to accomplish delivery, even if those services are not requested by the shipper. For example, additional charges will apply if you are not prepared to accept delivery and the shipment is placed in storage or if a smaller (shuttle) truck must be used to accomplish delivery because your new home is located on a narrow street. Again, your mover will bill you for these services 30 days after your shipment is delivered if they were not included in your estimate.

Another type of estimate used by many movers is the not-to-exceed estimate. This type of estimate is called various things by various movers, such as Guaranteed Price or Price Protection, but the end result is the same—an estimate based on a binding estimate or on actual cost, whichever is lower. Like a binding estimate, a not-to-exceed estimate must be provided to you in writing and is binding on the carrier.

— Not-to-Exceed Estimates
Not-to-exceed estimates differ though in that the binding estimate amount becomes the maximum amount that you will be obligated to pay for the services listed on the estimate. This maximum amount alternates with the tariff charges applicable based on the actual weight of the shipment, with the customer paying the lesser of the two amounts. When you accept a not-to-exceed estimate, the move is performed at actual weight based on the tariff-rate levels, with the binding estimate representing the maximum charge that you will have to pay.

The AMSA advises you to get more than one estimate and watch out for low-ball movers. If a mover you are considering tells you that he can move you for an unrealistically low price, be careful. It could mean he suddenly will remember some extra charges once your shipment has been loaded on the truck, the doors have been padlocked and he is ready to drive off into the sunset with all of your worldly possessions.

If a mover you are considering refuses to provide you with an in-home estimate and tells you he can provide an accurate estimate over the phone without ever seeing your home and your furniture, choose another mover.

Remember, it’s not just the price; it’s the total value of a professional move.

PLANNING FOR MOVING DAY
According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), the summer months are the busiest time of the year for movers. In addition, the beginning and end of each month are traditionally busier than midmonth regardless of the season. If you are planning to move during one of the times, plan well in advance so your mover’s schedule will fit yours.

Get started by contacting the movers on your list. Inform them of your destination and the timing of your move. Ask movers to provide you with a written estimate and have them explain the services listed in the estimate in detail. Carefully compare each estimate to see which company best suits your needs and budget.

PACKING
Proper packing by a trained packer using specially designed cartons and materials is crucial to a good move. Schedule packing with the mover a day or two before the moving van is loaded. If you are packing yourself, it is never too soon to start. While packing yourself can save money, movers usually will not accept liability for damage to items packed by owners.

Be present when your goods are packed. An inventory of your goods will be made, and it is important to resolve any disagreements prior to signing the inventory. Make sure all copies are legible and all items are numbered. Have valuable items listed separately. Some appliances may require servicing prior to the move. Your mover can schedule these services for you.

There are several options for insuring your goods. All household goods shipments move under limited liability; however, you may purchase additional liability coverage from your mover.

Your mover may ask you to select several consecutive days during which your goods can be loaded and a second series of dates during which your goods can be delivered to your new home. A spread of days gives you and your mover the flexibility needed to keep your move on schedule. Remember that summer months are the busiest, and some movers offer lower prices between the months of October and April.

MOVING DAY
  • Be on hand when the movers arrive.
  • Discuss the delivery arrangements fully with your mover.
  • Have beds stripped and ready to be packed.
  • Save your energy. Let the moving crew disassemble goods.
  • Read the Bill of Lading before signing.
  • Tell your mover how to reach you at your destination.
  • Keep in contact with the mover’s agent at your destination while you are in transit.

DELIVERY
Generally, your belongings will be transported in a van along with those of other families in the same general direction. This helps to keep your costs down. Delivery is made on any of the several consecutive days agreed upon before the move began. Make sure the mover knows how to contact you to schedule actual delivery. If you cannot be reached at your destination, the mover may place your shipment in storage to avoid delaying other shipments. This can mean additional charges for storage and handling.

CLAIMS
Best practices from the AMSA suggest that if any of your household goods are damaged or lost, report the facts promptly and in detail on the van driver’s copy (original) of the inventory sheet before you sign it. If you notice damage after unpacking, a claim must be filed within nine months after delivery; however, it is to your advantage to report damage as soon as possible. The mover must acknowledge receipt of your claim within 30 days and must deny or make an offer within 120 days of receipt of your claim.

When making a claim or considering a settlement offer, keep in mind the amount of liability that you declared on your shipment. For example, if the value declared on your shipment was $5,000, the mover’s maximum liability for loss or damage to the articles in your shipment is $5,000. Claims for more than this amount will be declined because they are in excess of the mover’s liability that you declared on your shipment.

MOVING EXPENSES
Tax deductions might apply to a move, but it is best to understand the law before moving so you keep the appropriate records and to comply with any necessary provisions.
Keep in mind that a move must be at least 50 miles from a current home and involve changing job locations for expenses to be deductible.

— Deductible Moving Expenses
You can deduct the reasonable expenses of moving your household goods and personal effects and of traveling from your old home to your new home. Reasonable expenses can include the cost of lodging (but not meals) while traveling to your new home.

— Who Can Deduct Moving Expenses?
According to the IRS, if you move to a new home because of a new principal workplace, you may be able to deduct your moving expenses whether you are self-employed or an employee. To be eligible, you must meet both the distance test and time tests.

Movers may call the Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040 or visit www.irs.gov to request a free booklet explaining exactly what can and cannot be deducted.

TEMPORARY STORAGE
Temporary storage in Houston is relatively inexpensive compared to storage costs in many other areas of the country. Self- and warehouse-storage space is available in all sections of the city. Check on security arrangements at specific storage units, liability for loss or damage and availability of units.

— Selecting a Self-Storage Space
According to the Texas Self Storage Association, it’s important to carefully read the contract you are asked to sign. If there are provisions that you don’t understand, ask the manager to explain them. If you still don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable with the explanation, don’t sign the rental agreement, which is a legal contract. Make sure there are no blank spaces and that any verbal promises made by the manager or staff are in the written rental agreement. Following are things to do when choosing a self-storage space:
  • Visit the self-storage facility and ask to see a space of the size you think you may need. If climate-controlled space is available, compare the climate-controlled space to the nonclimate-controlled space.
  • Check for cleanliness, convenience and security.
  • Ask about the office’s operating hours.
  • Keep a copy of the written rental agreement.
  • Obtain and read a copy of the rules and regulations of the facility, if any.
  • Insurance is the responsibility of the customer, and storage facilities are generally not responsible for the contents of your unit. It is always a good idea to insure the goods you are intending to store, and it should be offered to you at the time you rent your unit. Sometimes the facility collects the premium from you directly. Before you buy insurance from the manager, check with your own agent because sometimes your homeowners or renters policy will cover you at no extra cost.

— Important Guidelines
  • Ask the self-storage company if they are a member of the Texas Self Storage Association; it ensures the company is operating professionally.
  • Use the best lock possible to protect your valuables.
  • Purchase insurance on your property, either through the facility or with your own agent. Remember that the storage operator does not insure your goods.
  • Prepare to give at least 10 days’ written notice before you plan to move out of your unit. This is required by the contract you sign.
  • Don’t store prohibited items, such as tires, food or flammable items. Check the storage facility’s rules or your contract for a complete list.
  • Your property could be sold at a public auction if you stop paying rent on your unit. Texas Property Code Chapters 59 and 70 dictate the state’s rules for self-storage operators.

— General Storage Information
  • Do not store hazardous or toxic materials, flammable liquids or gases or foods. If you are not sure you should store something, ask the staff.
  • Do not store any combustibles. Do not store items, such as propane tanks, old paint, cleaning fluids, gasoline or other things that might create or intensify a fire. Why risk your possessions just to keep a few cents’ worth of leftovers?
  • You alone are responsible for providing insurance on your property. You must buy insurance coverage yourself and you must pay the premium yourself; the operator does not insure your goods.
  • Only the tenant is legally entitled to enter the storage space unless other arrangements have been made with the self-storage facility; for example, if you want friends and members of your family to use your storage space, you must list them under access rights on the rental agreement.
  • Visit your self-storage space on occasion to check the condition of your possessions; occasionally move or shift your goods so that you see all sides of them. Report any problems immediately.
  • When moving out of storage, give at least 10 days written notice. Take everything, and don’t leave any trash. Leave the unit in broom-clean condition. Remove your lock.
  • If storing bedding, clothing or furniture covered in fabric or property that may be affected by changes in temperature, it may be wiser to rent climate-controlled space to provide a better storage environment for your personal possessions. Be certain that everything stored is dry because any moisture may cause mildew. If you move during rain, dry off your goods before placing them into storage. Do not store anything that is wet; moisture is bad for virtually all property or goods.

SELF-STORAGE PACKING TIPS
  • Fill boxes to capacity: Partially full or bulging boxes may collapse or tip over while stored.
  • Label your cartons and goods: This will make accessing items much easier.
  • Books and documents: Pack books flat to protect spines; use small boxes to avoid cartons that are too heavy to move easily. Put heavy items on the bottom.
  • Dishes and glassware: Glass items should be individually wrapped; use blank wrapping paper for best results; “nest” cups and bowls, stand plates and platters; fill air pockets with wrapping paper or foam peanuts; don’t put breakables under other boxes.
  • Mirrors, windows and screens: Wrap all glass well; store it on edge, not flat.
  • Lamps: Pack lampshades separately; use blank paper to wrap lampshades and other property that may be damaged by ink stains from regular newsprint.
  • Furniture: Stand sofas and mattresses on end; disassemble beds and tables; wrap legs in wrapping paper; keep upholstery off the floor; place loose, light plastic dust covers or sheets over furniture.
  • Appliances and electronics: Clean appliances thoroughly. Refrigerators and freezers must be defrosted and dry, and washing machines must be completely drained. Remove doors of appliances and store them separately; desiccants (drying agents) should be used and containers checked and emptied regularly. Take apart lawn mowers and snow blowers, making sure all fuel is completely drained.
  • Bicycles: Wipe a few drops of oil on bicycles and tools to prevent rusting, then store these items away from furniture to avoid oil staining.
  • Clothes: Wardrobe boxes allow you to store your clothing on hangers. Shoes can be stored in the bottom of the wardrobe boxes while folded clothing can be stored in boxes or dresser drawers.
  • Raise the floor: Put pallets or a grid of 2 x 3s on the unit floor to give better air circulation under goods; leave a walkway or aisle to the rear of the unit. Don’t overpack the unit!

— Determining the Right Storage Unit for Your Needs
  • Unit Size: 5’ x 5’
    • Equivalent: 25 square feet; hall closet, small bedroom or office
    • What Will Fit*: Boxes, clothing, small furniture, toys, business records or about 50 file boxes
  • Unit Size: 5’ x 10’
    • Equivalent: 50 square feet; Walk-in closet
    • What Will Fit*: Mattress set, sofa, chest of drawers, dining room set or about 100 file boxes
  • Unit Size: 7.5’ x 10’
    • Room Equivalent: 75 square feet; Large walk-in closet
    • What Will Fit*: The furnishings of a one-bedroom apartment: Desk, patio furniture, washer/dryer stacked, boxes and miscellaneous items or about 150 file boxes
  • Unit Size: 10’ x 10’ 
    • Equivalent: 100 square feet; Average-size bedroom
    • What Will Fit*: The furnishings of a one-bedroom apartment with refrigerator, washer/dryer and patio furniture or about 200 file boxes.
  • Unit Size: 10’ x 15’
    • Equivalent: 150 square feet; Large bedroom
    • What Will Fit*: The furnishings of a two-bedroom apartment or small house with refrigerator, washer/dryer, yard furniture, boxes, and miscellaneous items or about 300 file boxes
  • Unit Size: 10’ x 20’
    • Equivalent: 200 square feet; One-car garage
    • What Will Fit*: The furnishings of a three- or four-bedroom house with major appliances, garage extras, boxes and miscellaneous items or business files and inventory 
  • Unit Size: 10’ x 30’
    • Equivalent: 300 square feet; Extra-large garage
    • What Will Fit*: The furnishings of a four- or five-bedroom house with major appliances, boxes and miscellaneous items or business files and inventory

*Actual contents will vary based on the size of your belongings.
Source: Texas Self Storage Association (www.txssa.org)

YOU’VE ARRIVEd in HOUSTON
Now that you’ve settled into your new home and neighborhood, it’s time to take care of a few immediate tasks, including applying for a Texas driver’s license, registering your vehicle, licensing your pets and establishing utility service. These are the tasks that could not be done ahead of time because your new Texas address is required to complete them.

TEXAS DRIVER’S LICENSE
Once you’ve set up residency in the Houston area and have a local address, one of your first stops will be to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to apply for a Texas driver’s license and to register your vehicle. According to the DPS, new residents are required to get a Texas driver’s license within 90 days of moving to Texas. New residents with a valid out-of-state driver’s license and who own a vehicle and would like to obtain a Texas driver’s license will need to provide proof of Texas registration, proof of liability insurance, a Social Security number and an out-of-state license. The only examination required is the vision test.

If the out-of-state license has expired, a new resident will have to take a written and a driving examination as well as the vision test. Those who do not own a vehicle will not have to show proof of insurance but will be required to complete an affidavit of nonownership. At the time of application, new residents will be required to surrender their valid or expired out-of-state driver’s license. The fee for an original driver’s license for people over 18 is $24, and it expires in six years. For a full list of fees, visit the website at www.txdps.state.tx.us/DriverLicense/.

All original applicants for a driver’s license or an identification certificate must present proof of identity satisfactory to the DPS, as well as take written, driving and vision tests. For information about documents that may be presented as acceptable proof of identity, go to the Texas DPS website at www.txdps.state.tx.us.

Call the Texas DPS Driver’s License Office in Houston at (713) 681-6187 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday for information on locations and to obtain a booklet on Texas driving regulations. Bureaus are located throughout the area.

AUTO REGISTRATION/TAGS
According to the Texas DPS and the Department of Motor Vehicles, new Texas residents are required within 30 days of moving to Texas to get a vehicle inspection and register and title their vehicle. New residents must have their vehicles pass inspection before having it registered and titled. After having it inspected, owners should take the following to their county tax office:
  • Inspection certification
  • Proof of liability insurance
  • Vehicle’s odometer reading if it is less than 10 years old
  • Original out-of-state title, proof of registration, proof of sales tax payment or current foreign or military ownership document
  • Completed Form VTR 130-U
  • Following fees:
    • Registration fee
    • Title application fee of $28 or $33 depending on the county
    • New resident tax of $90

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and nonresident students attending accredited Texas schools on a full-time basis are not considered state residents. Fees for registration and certificate of title, which must be paid in cash, can include registration (front and back license plates), title application, use tax and a new-resident fee.

Other fees might include the safety inspection of your vehicle (varies with year and model), any needed repairs and any notary fees. The newcomer’s county tax assessor will have the most recent information. Registration and license tags also must be renewed every 12 months. Texas residents can renew registration and tags by mail, in person or online. For more information about fees, visit the Texas Department Motor Vehicles website at www.txdmv.gov/vehicles/registration/register.htm.

Every 12 months, all Texas automobiles must undergo a safety inspection. New automobiles have a sticker that is effective for the first two years, after which the automobile must be inspected every 12 months. State-regulated inspection stations carry a designation as such and can include dealerships, garages or auto service centers. A vehicle that passes inspection will be issued a sticker that must be displayed in the lower left-hand corner of the front windshield.

REGISTERING TO VOTE IN TEXAS
To be eligible to register to vote in Texas, any U.S. citizen residing in Texas must meet these requirements:
  • Be at least 18 years old on election day.
  • Not be a convicted felon (unless sentence, probation and/or parole are completed.)
  • Not be declared mentally incapacitated by a court of law.

In most Texas counties, the Tax Assessor-Collector is also the Voter Registrar. In some counties, the County Clerk or Elections Administrator registers voters. You may obtain an application from the county Voter Registrar’s office, the Secretary of State’s Office, libraries, many post offices or high schools. You can also visit www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/ where you can request an official, postage-paid application. Or you can download an informal application that will need a stamp before mailing. You also can register to vote when you apply for or renew your driver’s license.

PET LICENSING
The state of Texas requires that dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age and on a one- or three-year basis thereafter depending on the vaccine used. In addition, when traveling with a dog or cat, have in your possession a rabies vaccination certificate that was signed by a veterinarian. Check with your veterinarian about other vaccines that are available for a wide range of diseases.
All dogs and cats over 3 months of age that are being transported into Texas must have been vaccinated against rabies within the last 12 or 36 months depending on the vaccine used.

In Houston, the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) enforces city ordinances that encourage annual rabies vaccination and licensing of pets and requires that all dogs are confined in a yard or on a leash. BARC investigates animal bites and encourages spaying or neutering to control the unwanted animal population. The kennel is open for adoptions, customer service and enforcement from noon to 6 p.m. every day except Monday and Thursday when the facility is closed.

In Houston, cats and dogs must be licensed. City license tags cost $10 if the animal has been spayed or neutered. If the pet owner is more than 65 years old, the first-year fee is $5. Tags cost $50 for animals that have not been spayed or neutered. Any veterinarian can vaccinate animals and provide license tags. Licenses must be renewed annually. For more information, call (713) 229-7300.

Annual vaccinations can prevent several fatal animal diseases, such as distemper and parvovirus in dogs and upper respiratory viruses and feline leukemia in cats. Dogs also are susceptible to heartworms, a disease carried by mosquitoes. All dogs should be tested and then given daily or monthly heartworm tablets.

Houston has a “pooper scooper” ordinance that makes it illegal to be out in public with your pet without carrying a pooper scooper, plastic bag or some other kind of disposal device. Violation of this section is punishable upon conviction by a fine of not less than $75 or more than $500. Each violation of this section is a separate offense. For more information, visit www.houstontx.gov/health/quicktips/scooperlaw.html.

If you have an exotic animal, need general information or need details for issues, such as dog kenneling and horse restrictions, contact the city of Houston animal control at (713) 238-9600. For Harris County, call animal control at (281) 999-3191.

UTILITIES
— Electric Utility Services
Since 2002, Texas has been a deregulated energy market, which means most consumers have the power to select their electricity provider. Deregulation provides increased competition and more competitive pricing. Now, Texas consumers can compare rates, dependibility of service and customer service to find the perfect company that fits their needs.

Since the introduction of deregulated electricity, many new providers have stepped into the market to offer more options and services. The Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) continues to monitor and regulate the delivery of electricity to ensure that all consumers are protected. In addition, all electricity providers must be certified by the PUC (www.puc.state.tx.us).

There are different types of electric providers in Texas and in Houston. It’s important to know the difference when choosing a provider as well as who to call if there’s a power outage. Some electric companies, known as the local-wires company, preserve the poles and wires that transmit and distribute electricity to your home. They are responsible for sending out employees to fix damages during an emergency outage. You can identify your local-wires company by looking on your electricity bill. In the Houston area, the main electrical provider is CenterPoint Energy. To the north in The Woodlands and the Conroe area, the electrical provider is Entergy.

An affiliate electricity provider is an electric company that was split from your area’s original electric company that produced and sold electricity. The affiliate, also referred to as the incumbent provider, only sells electricity and provides customer service.

The competitive retail electric provider offers lower pricing, alternative energy choices, innovative customer service options and special promotions to gain your business. The city-owned utility is a nonprofit utility that is owned and operated by the city. City-owned utilities do not have to allow competition within a regulated market.

The municipally owned utility is a nonprofit utility that is owned and operated by the municipality. Utilities owned by the municipality do not have to allow competition within a regulated market.

— Utility Resources
To learn more about utility choices in the Houston area, visit the following informative websites:

Texas Electric Choice (www.powertochoose.org), maintained by the PUC, enables you to shop for electricity providers by price, length of contract and fuel source. Customers can find several dozen available offers by connecting to the website and entering their ZIP code or wires company. After reviewing available products, customers can simplify their options based on price, fixed or variable rate, renewable energy products, contract length and individual provider offers. The website also includes links to an Electricity Facts Label for each offer to allow for direct comparisons among the providers.

There are also links to a Terms of Service document, which contains important information regarding deposit policies, cancellation fees and other contract terms that can affect overall cost. If customers are interested in a particular offer, direct links are provided to sign-up pages to start the enrollment. Retail electric providers (REPs) are required by law to provide accurate and current information to customers, and they are now expected to honor prices and terms posted on www.powertochoose.org.

Customers who believe an REP is not honoring an offer on the site or is posting misleading information can file a complaint with the PUC at www.puc.state.tx.us or by calling (888) 782-8477.

Houston Consumer Choice (www.houstonconsumerchoice.com) helps Houstonians compare various electrical providers. By entering a ZIP code at the website, a consumer can select a plan, compare available providers’ services and make a selection.

Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy (www.texasrose.org) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to affordable electricity and a healthy environment. The website provides straightforward information to consumers, and members advocate for energy efficiency programs, fair customer-service practices and customer education at the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Call (512) 472-5233.

— Gas
CenterPoint Energy supplies gas to Houston-area residents. Service requests may be completed over the phone or online. To apply for service and obtain information, call (713) 659-2111 or visit its website at www.centerpointenergy.com.

— Water
The city of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department provides water and sewer services, which are available to city of Houston residents by calling (713) 371-1400. Billing is on a monthly basis and is based on water usage. Water system improvements have earned a “Superior” public water supply rating for Houston since 1995. To promote a higher standard of quality, the Surface Water Branch joined the Partnership for Safe Water in 1996. The Houston Public Works Department tests and treats the water above and beyond state and federal requirements.

Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) provide water and sewer services to many Houston-area neighborhoods. Be sure to ask a real estate agent or landlord if a new home is in a MUD.

— Cable Television
Comcast is the dominant cable operator in the Houston area, servicing more than 1.7 million homes. Services offered include cable television, high-speed Internet and digital telephone. If you’re planning a move, let the Comcast representative know as there may be discounts that apply. Learn more by visiting www.comcast.com or by calling (800) 226-2278.

AT&T also offers its U-verse services in the Houston area, providing digital television, high-speed Internet and digital home phone service. Visit www.att.com/uverse/ to check availability in your area of Houston.

— Satellite Television
DirecTV (www.directv.com) and Dish Network (www.dishnetwork.com) are both available in the Houston area. Check with your real estate agent or neighbors about companies offering services in your area.

— Telephone Services
Service for the Houston area, including most of the surrounding cities, is provided by more than three dozen service providers. For a complete list, visit the Texas Public Utility Commission of Texas website at www.puc.state.tx.us. Base residential rates include a local access line, touch tone, state and federal taxes and surcharges. Rates (including taxes and surcharges) vary from $25 to $46 depending on the services requested. Long-distance service and custom-calling features, such as call forwarding, call waiting and call notes, are available for additional monthly fees. Check the local phone directory for contact information on other available local service providers.

The city of Houston and the immediate surrounding area have three area codes: 281, 713 and 832. When calling from one of these area codes, 10-digit dialing is required for local calls. Three other area codes 409, 936 and 979 are part of the larger 10-county Houston metropolitan area. When calling from the 281, 713 and 832 area codes to the 409, 936 and 979 area codes, long-distance charges are assessed.

When you call to request telephone service, be prepared to provide the following information:
  • Complete address for installation
  • Optional calling services that you would like, such as additional line, call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling or call notes
  • Previous phone company information, including phone number and location
  • How you would like your White Pages directory listing to appear
  • Credit information, including your place of employment and Social Security number
  • Your preferred long-distance phone company

AT&T requires an average of one to three days to connect your telephone, and the one-time installation charge is $39. Additional jacks inside the house are extra. The installation charge will be billed to customers with satisfactory credit histories while others might have to pay in advance. If building a house, arrange to have the telephone company wire it before interior walls are completed. This will prevent the need to put holes in the walls and save time and money.

LOCAL GARBAGE SERVICE
There is no fee for residential garbage collection in the city of Houston. Garbage and light trash are collected weekly. Heavy trash is collected only on a call-in basis for some neighborhoods while others may have monthly or bimonthly heavy-trash pickup. There is no garbage collection on municipal holidays. Some subdivisions opt to contract local garbage companies to collect refuse. Fees for these services usually are included in the homeowners association dues.

In the city of Houston, the Department of Solid Waste Management’s basic garbage collection services consist of the following:
  • Once-per-week residential garbage and yard waste collection
  • Once-per-month collection of heavy trash (large, bulky items)
  • Neighborhood depositories
  • Dead-animal collection

— Residential Garbage Collection
Currently, homes get garbage collection service once a week on an Automated Garbage Collection System. Automated collection is a technologically advanced system that employs a specially fitted refuse truck. A sidearm grabs and lifts a special container, dumps the garbage into the truck and returns the container to the curb. Residents participating in the program receive a 65- or 90-gallon can from the city, specially designed for automated collection.

Automated trash collection is cleaner, safer and more efficient than traditional manual collection. In the past, the department has incurred as much as $4 million in workers’ compensation costs each year using manual garbage collection.

The containers used for automated garbage collection are manufactured using 50-percent recycled materials. This is the highest percentage of recycled plastic used in refuse containers in the country. In fact, these containers are manufactured from plastic collected in Houston’s curbside recycling program.

— Tips on Residential Garbage Collection

How to set out your garbage
  • Household garbage should be put inside the city-provided container. The handle of your container should point toward your house. (Arrows on the can should point towards the street.) The container should be placed at the curb between 6 p.m. the day before and 7 a.m. on the scheduled collection day. The container must be accessible to the automated collection truck and not be blocked by obstacles, such as trees, parked cars, mailboxes, basketball hoops and poles, holiday arches and powerlines. (Drivers will not move improperly placed containers.) Containers must be removed from the curbline by 10 p.m. on the day of collection and stored in a secure location.
  • The city of Houston recommends that you double-bag any dusty, loose material to prevent litter and place any sharp objects in metal containers (such as coffee cans) to prevent injury.

What not to put in your garbage can
Your garbage container is for disposing of regular household garbage only. Certain items should not be disposed of in your garbage can either because they are too heavy for our equipment or because they may harm our employees, your property, neighbors, pets and the environment.

Do not put the following items in your garbage can:
  • Household chemicals, including batteries, fluorescent lights, paints and thinners, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, cleaners, ammonia and bleach, motor oil and other automotive fluids, pool chemicals, aerosol cans and photographic chemicals—Take your household hazardous waste to the Environmental Service Centers
  • Construction, demolition and remodeling debris, including rocks, dirt, plywood, bricks, stone, concrete, mortar, sand, sheet rock, insulation, flooring, shingles, siding, steel roofing, sheet glass, mirrors and other similar items
  • Dead animals
  • Computer equipment—the metals can be harmful to the environment; should be taken to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center or Environmental Service Center
  • Recyclables and yard trimmings

Acquiring a garbage can
Should you be a new resident to an area that is serviced by the city of Houston or a contractor, you will be issued a 90-gallon garbage container for your household garbage upon request. Please call 311 to request a container. Should you have more garbage than can fit in your one container, you may obtain an additional garbage container by enrolling in the Add-A-Can Program.

Acquiring an additional garbage can
Houston residents are provided their first 90-gallon container serviced at no cost. The fee for servicing an additional container is $7.50 per month (plus tax) for a minimum subscription of one year. This fee will be added to your water bill upon request through the Add-A-Can service. A 90-gallon container and a sticker for your second and/or third container will be issued to you. The sticker must be affixed to the front of the additional container for it to be serviced by the Solid Waste Management Department crews.

Extra bags of garbage
Extra bags of garbage only will be collected if they have a special sticker attached. This “Tags for Bags” Program allows residents the convenience of purchasing “tags” instead of additional cans if they require extra service only occasionally. Tags for Bags sticker is $1 each.

CURBSIDE RECYCLING
In Houston, curbside recycling is the largest and most popular recycling program, with more than 162,000 homes receiving biweekly service. Curbside recycling began as a pilot program in 1990 with 27,000 participating homes using the bin method of recycling.

Curbside recycling requires residents to place newspaper, magazines, telephone books, aluminum and tin cans, advertising mail, corrugated cardboard, plastic soft drink, milk and water containers in the same bin. Each bin holds 18 gallons of recycled material and is itself made out of 25-percent recycled plastic and 75-percent virgin material. Used oil is also collected and is placed next to the bin in clean containers with screw-on tops. The city now accepts plastics #1–5 and #7.

Subdivision chairpersons act as liaison between the community and the recycling division. Recycling information also is presented by the recycling staff through presentations at civic club meetings, area schools and trade shows. In addition, the recycling staff distributes brochures and handbooks.

FREQUENTLY ASKED CURBSIDE RECYCLING QUESTIONS

Q. How do I get a recycling bin and/or a second green bin?
A. If you live in a curbside recycling area, you may request a bin by calling 311, the city’s help line. The 311 operator should provide you with a service request number for your records. The city will deliver the bin, and you also may use a paper bag.

Q. What items are accepted in the Curbside Recycling Program?
A. Newspaper, magazines, color ad inserts, office paper, unwanted mail and telephone books; tin, aluminum and empty aerosol cans; and plastic bottles and jugs with a narrow neck and broad base (marked with a #1 or #2 recycling symbol), used motor oil and corrugated cardboard. Keeping all paper items segregated, you may place all of these materials together in your bin. Overflow materials can be put in a separate paper grocery bag and placed on top or on the side of your green bin. Corrugated cardboard must be broken down into 3x3-foot squares. Used motor oil, if placed in its original container or an empty one-gallon milk or water jug will also be accepted.

Q. My neighborhood does not have curbside recycling. Where can I take my recyclables?
A. Neighborhood depositories will accept the same recyclables accepted curbside except corrugated cardboard. The depositories do accept glass bottles and jars. Also, the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center at 5900 Westpark will accept the same items as the Curbside Recycling Program with the addition of glass bottles, jars, antifreeze, latex paint and car batteries. For more information, call 311 or visit www.gogreenhouston.org.

Q. Is there any place in the city that will accept Styrofoam?
A. Styrofoam in peanut shape is accepted by Mailbox, Etc. They can be reached at (713) 667-5116.

Q. I have lots of plastic bags. How can I recycle them?
A. You may take your plastic bags to your local grocery stores. Most grocery stores recycle these bags. Until additional resources become available, you are encouraged to utilize the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center at 5900 Westpark, Abitibi Recycling’s Metrowide Newspaper Recycling Program and other recycling drop-off centers near your neighborhood.

Q. My neighborhood does not have curbside recycling. How do I get curbside recycling?
A. Neighborhoods that would like to be considered for future recycling expansion are placed on a waiting list. When resources become available, you will be notified if you provide the following information (in writing) so you can get your neighborhood added to the list:
  • Name of neighborhood or subdivision and garbage service day
  • Name, address and phone number of a contact person
  • Map of the desired area clearly showing all boundaries
  • Number of homes in the subdivision (must have of 100 and/or be adjacent to an existing curbside recycling neighborhood with the same garbage day)
Mail your letter to the Solid Waste Management Department, 611 Walker, 12th Floor, Houston, Texas 77002 Attn: Curbside Recycling Program.

Q. How do I start a commercial recycling program?
A. To start a commercial recycling program, go to www.houstonsolidwaste.org.

There is a lot to think about when moving to a new city, but Houston offers an array of top-notch services and support to make your transition easier and more enjoyable.

 

 
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