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Platinum Regular Contributor
tjh
Posts: 4,741
Registered: ‎01-09-2010
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Sewer Laterals

Remember our discussions about those pesky, required sewer lateral checks?

 

Well, they may not be such a bad idea after all.

 

Three days after we moved in, sewage overflow begins from the secondary cleanout right in front of our front door!  My wife was grossed out.

 

I made a hasty dash to HD in Hercules to rent a power auger.  I was able to get it unclogged for the $60 rental fee.  Was feeling pretty good.

 

Next day, overflow begins again.  I'm having nightmare visions of $5,000 sewer lateral replacement because of collapse.  I speak to the sanitation district about their "upper lateral reimbursement program" and my wife calls our realtor for plumber references while I go online to see what's available and what their ratings are.

 

I call a company that says "free camera check" and schedule an appointment for the next day.  This turns out to be a mixed blessing.  They started hard selling vai email that night, trying to get me to buy their annual checkup service.  Why have so many service contractors gone the way of the used car salesman?

 

The "technician" shows up at the appointed time and calls me at work.  He's nice enough and seems competent and my wife says he looks to be mid fifties so I know I'm not dealing with some inexperienced kid. 

 

I tell him about my earlier exploits with the auger, what the City had to say when they sent a rep out to check their lateral, and I ask him to send the camera down, so we know what's going on before we commit to work.  If that lateral is broken, no need to spend a bunch of money trying to clear it further.

 

The guy said he had to "clear the drain" BEFORE he can run the camera. He demands $430 to "clear it" and run the camera afterwards.

 

I argue that the camera should go first to determine cause so we don't waste money and time trying to "clear" a broken or collapsed lateral.  He wins.  He's got us over a barrel as, we are without sanitary sewer and, if one more "solid" rises out of the secondary clean out, my wife is going to scream.  

 

I'm shocked at the quoted amount with no guarantees of results or that the lateral isn't broken, but he's got us by the short hairs so I agree.  He also starts his sales spiel about the annual service contract and says he would like to check all of our plumbing for us, but he seems very much like the reluctant salesman who is just doing what the company tells him too.  That makes me feel a bit better, his hesitancy at hard selling their crap.  But I warn my wife to not let him inside the house or garage for any reason.  We aren't a "mark" for his company's oversell of services.

 

He runs the auger and then sets up the camera.  He comes to the door to show my wife the video camera in action and calls me and says, "Sir, I've got bad news".  The ABS lateral is partially crushed and ovaled and this has cracked it allowing a root to enter.  He was able to partially clear it but now wants $150 more to send the root cutter down.

 

Again, against my better judgment and, being 30 miles away at work, I acquiesce. Why another $150 to go in and do what he should have accomplished in the first place? 

 

Now, he spends a good hour and a half working on it.  And then shows my wife where the obstruction is below our lawn and more video of how he was only able to get a whole about 2" across through the root obstruction.  He tells my wife (a scare tactic that my wife doesn't tell me about until later) that his rooter got caught in the mess and he almost couldn't get it out.  If he hadn't been able to remove it , "his boss would have required that he dig up the pipe to free the rooter" and that would have left us with a removed lateral and necessitate emergency repairs.  (I'm getting angry just writing this.)

 

Finally, after a lengthy conversation about the condition post rootering and the agreement that we need to replace at least that part of the lateral if not the whole thing, I ask him to leave me two quotes for the City program.    In the meantime, my now angry wife, successfully argues with him for the "senior discount" and we are now out $510 for a basic rootering with bad news job.  His quotes come in at $5,000 for the collapsed section under the lawn and $7,000 for the whole, 20' section across the lawn from the sidewalk to the driveway.  This includes no concrete work or repairing of the landscaping.  Just dig, replace, refill.  And a good dose of salesmanship. 

 

Later this week, I find a local company that only does trenchless retrofits with more than a dozen, five star, gushing reviews.  I call the owner and have a lengthy discussion.  He is friendly, knowledgeable and talks to me like I might know something.  He fills me in on Vallejo's upper lateral program and cautions me on how much reimbursement to count on from them based on length and existing amenities.  I'm prepared to hear a huge cost to do this and he almost apologizes when he tells me to figure $3,000 with the City allowing us $1,500 of that through their upper lateral replacement program.  He tells me to apply to the City first to see what we get and then to contact him to make a site visit for further evaluation.

 

I breath a sigh of relief.  No more $5,000 to $10,000 lateral replacement with cut up and patched driveway to boot.

 

The bottom line is, those lateral checking programs may be worth the money.  If we had known we'd be facing this a week after moving in, it would have affected our contract on the purchase.

 

And, the corollary is, there are genuine service agencies out there interested in earning their money by helping you resolve issues rather than selling you a bill of goods involving service contracts and so called "insurance".  :smileyhappy:

 

Does anyone have any experience with the trenchless systems that they'd care to share?

 

 

 

Silver Contributor
WCreeker
Posts: 433
Registered: ‎03-30-2011
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Re: Sewer Laterals

I used Roto Rooter in Walnut Creek (we had a large sycamore tree in our front yard near the lateral) and they never tried to upsell me or do anything other than clean the sewer out, and I think it cost less than $150 (and that including cutting the roots).  They were excellent.

 

Super Contributor
Curmudgeon
Posts: 264
Registered: ‎06-14-2012
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Re: Sewer Laterals

You should know who pays for "free" stuff.  And you had warning even before they came of what type of outfit they were. 

 

You can often manage for a long time with a partly cracked lateral.  I think the one at my folks managed for 40 years or so, and it was made of the junky "Orangeburg" tar-paper pipe.  We went through a phase early on of having to have it cleared every couple of years (or less), but then we started putting down a dose of root killer about once a year (NOT right after having it cleared, and doing it when the drain wouldn't be used again for a few hours).  I think it only had to be cleaned once in the last 15 years.  We thought about replacing it, but it had a long routing around the back of the house and under a concrete driveway at the side.  We DID disclose the situation when we sold.

 

I've always thought ABS pipe shouldn't have those problems, but I suppose poor installation (maybe not properly compacting the soil around it) can make anything go bad.

 

 

Platinum Regular Contributor
tjh
Posts: 4,741
Registered: ‎01-09-2010
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Re: Sewer Laterals


Curmudgeon wrote:

You should know who pays for "free" stuff.  And you had warning even before they came of what type of outfit they were. 

 

Agreed.  But one is often forced to make on-the-fly decisions when there is crisis about.  And, we had raw sewage coming up through the secondary clean out less than ten feet in front of our entry doors.  Add to that a displeased wife who's ready to call the first name she finds in the phone book and, it's easy to get "forced" into going against your better judgment. 

 

I had a similar experience five years ago when my AC was dying and I did the research.  Then, hot weather began, the spouse was getting angry and I went with a well rated, recommended HVAC firm without getting competing bids.  I ended up with what I wanted but without all the pricing comparisons I was seeking and, they estimator/installer started hard selling pretty bad as the install began.  A friend who is an HVAC contractor in San Diego looked at my system when he came for a visit and told me I probably overpaid by $500 to $1,000.

 

In hindsight, I found out I mixed up the online ratings of two local companies I had narrowed to when I was trying to arrange service while holding down my job at the same time.  But, that's a dual edged sword.  I'll be adding a one star review to the Yelp ratings for this company and mentioning the hard sell techniques they use.

 

In my own defense, I wasn't swayed by any "free" offer and had only noticed that in their ad with the same skepticism you have.  But, I didn't know what kind of an outfit they were until after I had set the appointment and I received an email that night from them with hard sell written all over it.  But under the circumstances, I was in no position to wave them off.  If I did, the divorce attorney would have cost me more than their stupid bill.

 

You can often manage for a long time with a partly cracked lateral. 

 

And I would too if that's all it was - a crack.  But, in this case, the lateral is partially collapsed with serious root intrusion.  My wife saw the video live and said the pipe was flattened, the root was large and swollen almost completely obstructing the pipe and the plumber was only able to bore a hole about 2" in diameter through that root.

 

Products like "root killer" are something I'm inclined to believe promise way more than they could ever deliver.  A solution in a bottle like Marvel Mystery Oil, or Fix-A-Leak in a can.  Drano could kill roots for crying out loud.  But then, if something can kill roots, how is it that it won't kill the tree.  And, if the roots die, how is it they get removed so that they no longer hang up the incoming solids and block the flow?  I could see some chemical compound killing off a tangle of smaller feeder roots perhaps and they could break off or decompose and flow out to the street.  But, I can't envision this happening to a lump of wood a couple of inches in diameter as is our case.


We DID disclose the situation when we sold.

 

That is quite upstanding.  And prudent.

 

I've always thought ABS pipe shouldn't have those problems, but I suppose poor installation (maybe not properly compacting the soil around it) can make anything go bad.

 

So did I.  My last house was ABS DWV system and I never once had a blockage or problem in 30 years and the pipe that is exposed under the house seems to be in excellent shape.  However, having said that, both houses have plastic pipe hangers and both have many places where those pipe hangers became brittle and broke off.  I'm in the process of replacing those hangers at the current house now.  Drain pipe supported only by it's own structurally integrity is a failure waiting to happen in my book.

 

Collapse upon install of the lateral was a possibility mentioned by the plumber that came out.  He said he had seen such installs in this area where the backfill was improper and it crushed the pipe like this.  But, he also said that usually, the problem it created was  "belly" in the line and not a collapse like this.

 

He suggested that collapses created a leak which attracted roots (the nearest tree is a very large redwood more than 40 feet away!  This intrusion is 30 feet outside of that tree's dripline.) which grew to this point and started blocking the solids which led to this mess.  But, the trenchless guy I talked to, the one I feel so much more comfortable with, said that there was a bad batch of ABS in the Vallejo/Benicia area back in the 80s (this house was built in '89) that was used and resulted in early failures as the plastic weakened early at about 10 years old.  The funny thing was, I've heard that about such ABS and PVC installations in other communities in the past.  In Antioch, we had the famous Shell Oil/polybutylene water laterals lawsuit.  

 

"Bad pipe".  Who knows?

 

Super Contributor
Curmudgeon
Posts: 264
Registered: ‎06-14-2012
0

Re: Sewer Laterals

There are definitely times in home ownership where you are under the gun to "do something", and it's painful not to have good sources at hand.  Had one of those myself recently where I thought my "go-to" guy wasn't available and I just dreaded dealing with some random plumber.

 

If the pipe is reasonably accessible, then replacement is the best long-term solution.  I haven't dealt with the trenchless replacement process, I'd be curious how it turns out. 

 

As far as living with the pipes goes, it's really a multi-stage process.  The root killer does not dissolve existing roots.  The first pass is to really get a thorough cutting and clearing of the existing roots.  This generally means sending down multiple passes and a fair bit of time with something that is like a hole saw.  It may need a second pass a few months later.  Then the root killer after a few months when the roots have grown back enough to catch and pick up the stuff rather than just have it flow by.  If you do several rounds of root killer 6 months or a year apart, it may become sufficient to knock out that section of roots without killing the tree.  I know it *can* work reasonably well in some circumstances from personal experience; it's not "marvel mystery oil".