The Worst Plumbing Problem: Sewer Line Issues

by on Feb 20 2013 - 37 Comments

We recently had an unexpected plumbing problem that resulted in us finding out there is a costly repair that we will need to make to the sewer line. Here’s how it happened:

A couple hours after we get home from the airport on Sunday night, our renter comes upstairs to tell us there is water on the floor. After looking for leaks, we realize it was all coming from the drain on the basement floor backing up, causing water to overflow and spread to her bathroom.

  • After a quick Google search (what did people do before Google?!?) I realized we would need the drain cleared out and the expected cost was approximately $270-$300.
  • The next morning, a plumber comes out and informs me the only exposed sewer clean out was under the toilet…an additional $130 expense bringing the total cost to $409.
  • After clearing out a bunch of roots, he is unable to make it all the way to the main (city) sewer line. He hits some resistance at 75 feet and only a 1-inch blade makes it through (vs. 4+ inches for the rest of the line). He recommends having a camera look at what is causing the issue. Another $75.
  • The next day we get a camera down there and everything looks great all the way to 80 feet, where the camera shows the issue: a leaking joint, which means the seals between pipes have broken, disconnected or corroded, allowing waste water to escape into the areas surrounding the pipe. The cost for repair? $6,700.

Before I get into the specifics of why sewer line problems really, really, really suck, I want to share the main conundrum of this all: no one knows if the line will even back up again anytime soon.

Here’s how the conversation played out between me and the plumber:

Me: So, what are the chances that it will back up again? How often will it back up?

Plumber: It will definitely back up again, but how often is the million dollar question.

Me: Or, in my case, the $6,700 question.

Plumber: No one can know when it will back up, or how often. The problem is, it’s just a band-aid and eventually it will need to be fixed. Did you want to do it or not?

Me: I think I want to just wait and see how often it backs up. If it can be put off I’d prefer that.

Plumber: Okay, well unfortunately you are responsible for the pipe all the way to where it connects to the main sewer line. Even if it’s under the road or across the street. We can snake it each time it backs up, but it’s a band-aid and not a permanent fix.

Me: Great.

So I brainstormed why sewer line repairs suck, and here’s what I came up with:

  • Expensive – I had a friend who said they were quoted closer $10k-$14k for a sewer line repair. These repairs aren’t cheap and require a lot of digging, potentially digging up of sidewalks and/or the road.
  • Doesn’t add value to the house – When you get a house appraised, they assume all the sewer lines are working correctly. In a situation like this, there is a chance that the previous owner never had issues and therefore has no idea about the problem. Even worse is if someone sells the house who has never lived in it, where they basically don’t have to disclose anything.

    Further, the inspector would not catch something like this during their inspection of the home. It’s not like they send a camera down the sewer line during the inspection.

  • It has to be done – Because we know about the issue, even if it never backs up again we will still have to make the repair. Why? Because we essentially have a “starter home” and there is no way a first-time home buyer, or any home buyer for that matter, would purchase the house without demanding we pay for the repair.

Ultimately, it’s not a great feeling to be stuck with this problem. I’ve accepted the fact that we will have to make the repair, hopefully later on when we have the money set aside for it. I’m grateful this happened now versus closer to when we are planning on selling and buying a new home.

All I know is…sewer line problems suck!

Have you ever had an expensive home repair come up? How did you react?
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Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil
 

36 comments
karinabeazer
karinabeazer

I once lived in an apartment where the water was leaking under the carpeting. It made everything smell disgusting! Even though we did not complain very much, we knew that the landlord needed to have something in the piping replaced. It was definitely a job for professionals, but all they did was put a floor fan over the wet spot. I have moved out by now, but I hope that they have fixed the problem.
http://www.normsmobile.ca/plumbing.html

MonetaryMusings
MonetaryMusings

I bet they'd knock off a chunk of money if you could somehow DIY the hole digging... if only. My sister has been successfully putting off this repair for a few years now. They have it cleared pre-emptively once a year.

Financial Black Sheep
Financial Black Sheep

Wow sounds like the worst problem to have!  I am so sorry for all that trouble you are and will have to go through.  Not to mention expenses too.  

 

I recently had sewer back up into both my bathrooms and sit in the tubs.  First plumber cleaned it out enough to have it come back in a day.  I had a funeral to jet off too, so was hoping the same plumber was coming out again with a camera.  He never came, and I came back to no useable sewer / water.  I had to call another guy who finally said it wasn't our problem (we own a mobile home), so I had to get the HOA to fix the problem.  Turned out the whole pipe was corroded and had been leaking into the ground for a long time.  I should show you the nasty, rusted pipe picture YUCK. 

RFIndependence
RFIndependence

that really sucks! most of our building problems have had to do with plumbing so far, but we caught them early thankfully. Having a water pump mean we don't depend on the sewage system and that is a relief. I would fix it now because who knows what worse problem you can get down the road... sounds like delaying a dental problem...

Eyesonthedollar
Eyesonthedollar

Why do plumbing problems always happen when you go on vacation? That same thing was an issue at our rental property, but we knew it before we bought and weren't going to buy if the owner didn't fix it or drastically lower the price. He did neither, and we waited for several months. His original quote was $10K-$12K, but then he got another one for $4K and had it fixed before we made an offer. I would get a few quotes for sure. 

JustinatTheFrugalPath
JustinatTheFrugalPath

I know what you mean about house repairs sucking. Our roof started to leak a year ago and it really sucked. We were just about out of debt when we were plunged back in.

I wish you luck with your sewer problem DC.

iHeartBudgets
iHeartBudgets

Wow, sorry to hear it man! Sounds like you're stuck with it :( . But, look at it this way, you are adding value to your home, because in it's current state, it's probably worth $20k - $30k less if someone knows it needs this repair. Plus, most potential buyers would just walk away. So it is an investment to get you back to the proper selling price.

TacklingOurDebt
TacklingOurDebt

Big issues like that always suck! Our family home had \ has the same issue with roots. Our basement flooded a number of times when I lived there, but we always managed to clean it up quite quickly. Then my father got into the habit of having the pipes snaked every year, because, come Spring it can easily flood again. A few years ago my father had the pipes snaked but the guy couldn't get all the way through, like yours. A few months later a snow and rainstorm hit and my parent's basement flooded so bad that they lost everything that was down there. Not a pretty picture.

RobertaRenstromNyquist
RobertaRenstromNyquist

Gary just had that done about a year ago. You are learning the love/hate relationship of home ownership. There is no such thing as a safe home purchase. Even new homes can experience problems. But, fortuantely, overall, the good does outweigh the bad.

DebtRoundUp
DebtRoundUp

I hate sewer work.  I have a post in the works about my main drain issues, where instead of paying the $5000 they said it would cost, I fixed it myself for only $20 and about 4 hours worth of work.  The issue was not what the plumber had thought.  Saved my butt some serious cash.

Ugifter
Ugifter

Clay pipes are common in Toronto, where my in laws live.  Years ago they had done the line from the house to the road, digging up the front yard, etc.  The week before our wedding (rehearsal dinner at their house, all of my family staying there, etc), the lines under the basement floor started backing up!!!  So they had to jackhammer out the floor, temporarily turn the water off and replace a bunch.  They had to decide if they wanted to do just the main line, or to go to the unused basement bathroom as well.  They didn't know where the lines ran, they'd just have to take out the floor and follow the pipe, so they opted not to do the whole thing (not the best decision, imo).

SenseofCents
SenseofCents

Ugh that stinks! We have some home repairs that need to be done before we sell. Not looking forward to that.

AverageJoeMoney
AverageJoeMoney

I feel your pain, DC! My worst homeowner problem ever was roots in the sewer line. You're right on: they come back again and again and until it's properly fixed it's going to happen again. Ours ended up being seasonal. When it rained heavily (mostly in the spring) our basement would flood. I waited three years. In retrospect, I should have taken care of it sooner, but at the time, I had a ton of other bills that were priorities.

FrugalRules
FrugalRules

Wow, sorry to hear about that DC! And to come home from a nice vacation to boot. We had something like this very thing happen a number of years ago, but thankfully it was while we were renting and the landlord had to foot the entire bill.

GregatClubThrifty
GregatClubThrifty

Yuck! We have actually had a very similar thing happen - without the leak...at 10 PM...the night before we were supposed to leave on a vacation. It was not long after we bought this house. Luckily, the cost was not even close to what you are experiencing because we had no leak. Sorry man. That sucks.

JamesClarkson
JamesClarkson

@karinabeazer Water leaking can lead to very serious problems! I think it is wise to consult with a professional. If you are having sewer line issues, serious repairs will be necessary. I think that many of those foul smells are a result of mold in the carpet. When water builds up under your carpet fungus tend to flourish.

http://aceplumbing.com/drains-and-sewers 

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @MonetaryMusings Hmm I'd be interested in hearing about how it goes with your sister, assuming she ends up repairing it before me.  I've even tossed around the idea of buying my own snake and renting it to people, assuming that I will have to rent it ever 6 months or so ;)  Good to hear they only have to do it once a year, and pre-emptively at that.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @Financial Black Sheep Oh man...I'd be interested in seeing those pics, actually haha.  I'm not the only one who has to deal with it....and there is NEVER a good time.  All I know is that once we do it it should be good for as long as we own the house.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @RFIndependence I'm thinking summer I will have it done.  Right now the ground (and road, and driveway, etc.) are frozen and covered in ice. I  guarantee it will go quicker when the ground isn't frozen, which hopefully will bring the rate down.  I do plan on getting quite a few quotes.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @Eyesonthedollar I am definitely going to get a few quotes!  I thankfully have time to research this issue.  I'm really leaning towards having it done this summer.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @JustinatTheFrugalPath Thanks, I just hope I get to do the repair on my own terms, on my own time.  It would be really unfortunate if it started to back up once/week and I had to have them install it in the freezing cold...which I'm sure is more expensive than when the ground is thawed out.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @TacklingOurDebt Ah that's terrible and I definitely appreciate you sharing that with me, because the big question is "when?" should we go forward with having the pipe fixed.  We do have a sub pump, which I think would pump out a decent amount of the water but I'm not sure that's a good thing to rely on...makes me wonder if I should just go forward with the repair this summer.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @RobertaRenstromNyquist Had no idea Gary had it done, funny how I hear everything from you.  You are the missing communication link ;)  Yeah the good outweighs the bad, but I'm almost upset at myself for not considering this expense.  I have thought about and listed out countless issues that could come up but this isn't one of them.  I've accepted it and it's a matter of "when" we should get it done...perhaps wait until the summer or maybe even next summer if it hasn't clogged at all until then? I'm essentially gambling here ;)

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @DebtRoundUp That's awesome!  Wow....$5k is a lot for something you could fix in $20 with 4 hours of work.  Unfortunately with our issue it's not even something accessible.  Most of the costs is actually getting down to the pipe and of course making sure it's done properly...I'm assuming they warranty their work so they have to insure against that.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @Ugifter Yikes that sounds like a big project...but then again that's why sewer line problems SUCK!  There is no easy or inexpensive way to fix them.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @SenseofCents Lilterally, it stinks! haha yes home repairs aren't fun, and I'm glad we are years away from selling.  But I'm also jealous that you will be moving to a new home!

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @AverageJoeMoney I'm going to keep a close eye on it and keep thinking about my options.  I appreciate you sharing the seasonal aspect.  We do have a sub pump in the basement that will help get water out if there is issues...and honestly I could rent the snaking machine and do it all myself for $50 + a loss of time spent doing it.  That way I could make a more informed decision.  I think it's a matter of how often it clogs for me...I'd prefer to put this off for 3-5 years if I can just because I can pay for it in cash vs. getting financing...though I would be tempted to pull the trigger if we get a renter to sign a 1 year lease and just pour all the profits towards the bill.

RFIndependence
RFIndependence

 @DC @ Young Adult Money I don't know if that is a thing, but like dentist schools receive patients or marketing schools do real projects for real companies, maybe the local trade school can help? And your school donation may be tax deductible? *dreaming*

RobertaRenstromNyquist
RobertaRenstromNyquist

 @DC @ Young Adult Money

I should qualify my answer somewhat. Water backed up into Gary's basement and he had the Roto-Rooter clean out the pipe to the street. I don't think that he was told that he needed to have the main line replaced. So, it is different in that respect. However, I'm pretty sure if it happens once, it will happen again. He had to disclose that he had the line bored out on the documents when he put the house up for sale. Oh, you'll be amazed at what will come up that wasn't considered. I can't think that it happened a lot 'cuz chronic backing up does leave a "smell". Your basement didn't smell to me at all. I think that you are wise to gamble for now.

DebtRoundUp
DebtRoundUp

 @DC @ Young Adult Money Yeah, your situation is more complicated.  I just wanted to try to fix mine since they said it was screwed up.  In hindsight, I think they just wanted to charge me a lot of money for something easy to fix.  They didn't take the time necessary to properly diagnose the issue.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @RobertaRenstromNyquist I see...so Gary had the $300 problem not the $6,700 one :P  I know many people who have had to have their drain snaked so I don't think it should raise any flags to buyers.  Our issue on the other hand....we should maybe just get it over with this summer and get on some financing plan.  The sooner they do it, the sooner we start paying it down, and the sooner it can be behind us!

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money moderator

 @DebtRoundUp There are a few small replacement jobs I want to do related to plumbing (sink next to laundry, shower hardware, etc.) that I may just "give it a try" since the worst i can do is get stuck and have to call a plumber...which is exactly what the option to NOT doing it myself is.  Usually worth giving it a try if you are just going to have to pay anyway, and who knows, maybe you'll save $5k ;)