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 Replacing main drain line?
Author: rfbcville (VA)

Need advice regarding replacing main drain line.

We moved into 1960-built house 1.5 yrs ago, and since then, had washing machine line (2";) routed 2-3 times due to water back up. 3 days ago, the washing machine line overflowed again, plus the floor drain for A/C/heater backed up for the first time. (all in basement)

We called a different plumber (from list of BBB drain/sewer cleaners). He used large router to clean out from main line access in basement, and ran into a blockage after a bit. Came back next day with camera and leak detection equipment, and saw swelling then breakage in clay pipe near tap to main line. Two bathrooms connect to 3" vertical cast iron main line in middle of basement, running 20 feet to outside then another 5 feet to main sewer line connection, which runs down property line to manhole in neighbors yard.

Includes camera work already done, jackhammer about 2 foot square area around vertical cast iron main drain, then using "TRIC Trenchless Method" to "pull" pipe under slab to outside, install outside house cleanout, and re do tap into main sewer. New pipe material is "better than PVC" with lifetime warrenty.

BTW, old piping is a combination of cast iron to clay - he said the cast iron under slab had rusted/worn away -perhaps due to previously used caustic pipe cleaners (this is in addition to break in clay piping)

The quote - seems reasonable for 3 guys x 2 days work, which is what the owner-who did the estimate-said it would take. We plan to have work start next week.

What do you folks think? Sorry for long msg and thanks for input!
Rebecca



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 Replacing main drain line?
Author: jimmy-o (CA)

We don't talk prices here much, mainly because it would be impossible on a big job like that to give you a good estimate, site unseen and not even familiar with working in your area. For a big job like that, get at least one more bid. Maybe call a company that does NOT have the word "....rooter" as part of their name. Ask neighbors for recommendations. But definitely get another bid from someone.

This will be costly, and your first guy may be the low bidder, but you owe it to yourself to check.



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 Replacing main drain line?
Author: hj (AZ)

We called a different plumber (from list of BBB drain/sewer cleaners). He used large router to clean out from main line access in basement, and ran into a blockage after a bit. Came back next day with camera and leak detection equipment, and saw swelling then breakage in clay pipe near tap to main line. Two bathrooms connect to 3" vertical cast iron main line in middle of basement, running 20 feet to outside then another 5 feet to main sewer line connection, which runs down property line to manhole in neighbors yard.

We are not there so we have to rely on your description of the job, but;
1. clay pipe seldom "swells".
2. 20' of concrete floor would not qualify as needing the trenchless ppe pulling, (unless it is a finished basement that would preclude cutting the floor), especially since the outside section is only 5' away from the building.
3. Did you actually see the bad cast iron pipe in the video, or are you taking his word that it is bad?
4. His trenchless installation will cover the pipe from your toilet riser to the main, but what is he doing about the floor drain, laundry, and other connections.
5. The washing machine backing up would normally not have anything to do with a main line problem, and it backing up into the floor drain may, or may not, indicate a problem with the main line either, depending on how it is connected.
6. Sometimes a Gereral with a cannon, thinks that it is the solution to all battles. The same could be said for a contractor with an expensive pipe pulling machine, that he has to use as often as possible to pay for it.

BTW, old piping is a combination of cast iron to clay - he said the cast iron under slab had rusted/worn away -perhaps due to previously used caustic pipe cleaners (this is in addition to break in clay piping)



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 Re: Replacing main drain line?
Author: rfbcville (VA)

Sorry Jimmy-o about mentioning $. I know it is hard when the only information is words from a (non-plumber) homeowner!

Hj - can I pick your brain a bit more?

1. re the piping swelling- he mentioned both clay pipe and cast iron pipe and my impression is that it is cast iron from house to about 2 ft outside of house, then clay to the main line. I was there for the routing out part, but was at work during the video inspection, so am relying on my partner's description of what she saw on the video, and what the plumber told me on the phone. I think the swelling part may be either the wrong word or referral to the cast iron part rusting away to bare ground - is that possible?

2. Re 20' concrete - the basement has drop tile ceiling with fluorescent fixtures and some electrical outlets, but not considered finished by any means! Are you saying it is generally less expensive to jack hammer than do the trenchless? I am figuring either way they will have to do some trenching outside to install house clean out. (I think this guy said it would cost a lot more due to labor costs to jack hammer the entire thing)

re 4-5: Another plumber came out twice to "root" the line at the washing machine connection and really didn't come back with anything - ie didn't seem to run into a big clog, so he put some Clobber down, and things worked for a while. BTW he used a smaller rooter since the opening wouldn't allow for larger machine. The washing machine is about 25 feet from main line/toilet riser. I am not sure how far that smaller machine could go in the line, but maybe it didn't go far enough into the main line? So that is why I don't think the problem is with the line from washing machine to main line (the floor drain for A/C is nearer to washer than to toilet riser/main line access.)

It's hard to know what to do - the first plumber (who couldn't solve problem) was a referral. Jimmy o, I don't think this plumber is a franchise or part of a chain, even though he has rooter in the name (not roto or mr). Even though this plumber will charge $450 for video/diagnostics if we don't use him, a 2nd opinion is probably a good idea - what are the good questions to ask on the phone to pre-qualify their abilities to do the job?

Thanks

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 Re: Replacing main drain line?
Author: hj (AZ)

1. re the piping swelling- he mentioned both clay pipe and cast iron pipe and my impression is that it is cast iron from house to about 2 ft outside of house, then clay to the main line. I was there for the routing out part, but was at work during the video inspection, so am relying on my partner's description of what she saw on the video, and what the plumber told me on the phone. I think the swelling part may be either the wrong word or referral to the cast iron part rusting away to bare ground - is that possible?

I have never seen cast iron rust away to bare ground especially in a house. Any caustic products a home owner can buy are so diluted that it would be a stretch of the imagination to figure out how they could damage the pipe, unless used constantly over a very long period. I would be cynical about any camera work that you did not get an archive tape of what he saw. Neither material will "swell".

2. Re 20' concrete - the basement has drop tile ceiling with fluorescent fixtures and some electrical outlets, but not considered finished by any means! Are you saying it is generally less expensive to jack hammer than do the trenchless? I am figuring either way they will have to do some trenching outside to install house clean out. (I think this guy said it would cost a lot more due to labor costs to jack hammer the entire thing)

A concrete cutting company with an electric or propane saw could cut that out in short order and the cost varies but for you floor should be about $120.00 or so figuring $3.00 per lineal foot on each side. You would be paying a huge price for him to bring the trenchless equipemnt in and he still has to cut some concrete so you might as well apply that cutting towards making a trench about 1' wide.

re 4-5: Another plumber came out twice to "root" the line at the washing machine connection and really didn't come back with anything - ie didn't seem to run into a big clog, so he put some Clobber down, and things worked for a while. BTW he used a smaller rooter since the opening wouldn't allow for larger machine. The washing machine is about 25 feet from main line/toilet riser. I am not sure how far that smaller machine could go in the line, but maybe it didn't go far enough into the main line? So that is why I don't think the problem is with the line from washing machine to main line (the floor drain

If the washing machine, only, backs up the problem is in its drain line. If the washer water backs up into the floor drain then the problem is in the common line after both of them connect together. We don't know if that is before or after the main line he is planning to replace.

I question whether he is actually going to install a new tap into the main line, because that is very seldom necessary, and if it is, it could be a job for the city's sewer personnel.

You have not given me anything, so far, that would convince me to say, "You are getting a good job. Go for it." In fact, from what you have written, my first, second, and maybe all the way up to tenth, or more, impression is to say, "get another company to check it out first". One other thing;

YES, I think you can cut the floor, dig a narrow trench, dig down outside, replace 20' of piping, and pour the concrete for a lot less than $4,000.00. But that is just my impression never having seen the actual job.



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 Re: Replacing main drain line?
Author: dlh (TX)

i dont know about that hj, but they will have to cut concrete and dig holes to make the connections so what is a few more feet?

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 Re: Replacing main drain line?
Author: redwood (CT)

On the whole BBB membership is a good thing or is it? A company pays a membership fee, and in a dispute with a customer there is the additional steps of resolution of the dispute with the BBB complaint system including mediation and arbitration. They supply customers with a list of their member companies.

I would suggest that you widen your search as a BBB search in my local yielded 3 companies all with rooter in their name. Maybe just try the local yellow pages companies pay to be in those as well and their ethics may be the same as or, exceed those of the BBB member companies.

I too have never seen a swollen clay pipe on my camera!



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 Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: rfbcville (VA)

Thanks for good info y'all...and another question!

Question what can be seen by video camera - My partner was shown the picture of the clay pipe break on the video, the toilet was flushed, and she saw (on video) the water flowing through, then slowing and backing up once water hit the break in the clay pipe, which apparently was outside the house. She didn't see the video while camera was going in or being pulled out - ie from cast iron toilet riser out through main drain. When the plumber/owner came to give the price, he said it was $4500 because the cast iron pipe under the house had been eaten away and had no bottom.

1) Should the plumber have seen the rusted out bottom going in or would he be too focused on finding a break, and not seen it until pulling out the video camera?

2) From working in a drinking water treatment plant, I know cast iron pipes can rust out if there is enough contact time with caustic chemicals. Is it possible the break in the clay pipe has been there for a long time, and when owners (including ourselves) had plumbers put down Clobber or Draino or ... the chemicals behaved like the water flow seen on camera -- hit the line break and then backed up to the cast iron part and remained there for a while?

Certainly, another quote would be good, if only for my peace of mind. I saw a YP ad for someone else who has video/leak locating equipment.Plus I want to clarify scope of work with this plumber to make sure I know what he is including in his price. Thanks.

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 Re: Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: redwood (CT)

I would want to be there to witness the camera inspection... I would also want a tape of the inspection (provide blank VHS cassette.)

Did you pay for this first video inspection?

Less than honest individuals have been known to provide a false tape to a customer to sell a new sewer line. When I do a camera inspection I want the customer to see what I am finding in the pipe. Its not rocket science and what you see is what you got! It is either a nice round pipe or something looks ugly. Sometimes it takes a little rocket science to know what the ugly thing is but if there is something ugly it clearly doesn't belong in a pipe. A badly rotted Cast Iron Pipe will appear egg shaped with the pointed part of the egg at the bottom, possibly having gravel visable in places. Post back with the answer of whether or not this was a free video inspection.

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 Re: Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: dlh (TX)

redwood, he stated that the price is included with the quote if he goes with that company if not then he would get a bill for it.

so not free

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PLUMBERS "Protecting The Health Of The Nation"

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 Re: Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: redwood (CT)

Well then in that case before you pay anything You want a taped copy witnessed by you. Location and depth of the pipe marked every 10' interval house to street, change of direction, and defect. If they will not provide that information to you to provide for other bidders the information they have is useful only to them and in no way shape or form should be paid for! Get another contractor to get additional opinions and only pay for a camera if they will provide the information stated above!

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 Re: Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: rfbcville (VA)

Right-e-o! He did state up front the price for videoing the line and the price for leak detection services, and that if we had him do the work, he would credit that $ towards the work. He did this because he didn't want to provide the service for free, and then have us use info to go to another plumber. I have no problem with that because he is using his equip and knowledge to diagnose problem.

BUT, I didn't think to ask him to make a copy of video. I paid him $ for first call where he rooted out stuff, but haven't paid him yet for video/leak work. Before doing so, I will ask for a copy and marking out of leak detection results in return for $ if we don't end up using him.

Thank you SO MUCH for good input. I will keep you posted.

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 Re: Replacing main drain? Is rusted cast iron obvious on video?
Author: redwood (CT)

Alright! Sounds like you are ready to deal yourself a good hand in the negotiations. Post back with any other questions and do let us know how you make out!

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 Re: Replacing main drain - conclusion
Author: rfbcville (VA)

We ended up having half of the job done - replacing the main drain from outside house to the connection to the main drain, since there was no question of a problem there, and leaving the 18 ft part from the toilet stack in the basement to the outside alone for now.

It was about 10' of 4" cast iron pipe leaving the house to the terra cotta tee connection to main sewer line (8" pipe, buried 6' deep. The connection was broken at the tee and it looked like it had been allowing leakage for a LONG time. Anyway, they replaced cast iron with 4" PVC and job done.

The cast iron is corroding, unfortunately - I looked at the pieces that were removed as well as the part coming from the house - the inside bottom is thinner than top and black inside stuff flakes up when I poked at it with screwdriver. The one good thing about clay soil is that it doesn't allow alot of drainage, so even if there are corroded bits in the bottom underneath the concrete basement floor, hopefully it won't stop things up, so we can wait to replace that part.

Thanks everyone for your helpful information! Cheers

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 Re: Replacing main drain - conclusion
Author: redwood (CT)

Congratulations on having a reliable sewer line. Glad we could help you out.

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