Monday, December 11, 2006

Back Yard Archeology, Part I

4 years ago we replaced 110 feet of sewer line from house to city main. It was the original line from the 30's. I was really surprised to see that it was ceramic. Last year we replaced 100 feet of water line, also original. It was galvanized pipe, and it was nothing but rust. We thought we were done.

The washer/dryer are in our basement/crawlspace. The kitchen sink and the washer have a separate line leaving the house and meeting the main line in the yard. It has stopped draining.

When we had the water line replaced we had a "D'oh" moment when we realized half the price was going to be the plumber digging it up. Jae and I took care of that, with the help of some day laborers, and saved about a 3rd of the price. This line is not very long, maybe 15 feet. So I started on the digging, hoping to either find a small section that could be replaced, versus the whole thing, or at least save the money of digging it, if we have to replace the whole thing.

The fun is multiplied by the fact that the sewer line crosses two gas lines and the water line. That means digging with a trowel to avoid cutting those lines.

I dug up the end where it leaves the house. To my astonishment, I discovered a cleanout buried under about 2 inches of dirt. When we moved in, to our knowledge, we had no cleanouts. When the main line was clogged it had to be augured from the roof, via the vent for the toilet. When we have had this washer line run, it has been done from the basement, which has very steep steps and is tough space to work in. So that was the first time I broke out into laughter. This was the beginning of the laugh-or-cry. Picture below.

I got close to the where the gas lines should be and started digging with a trowel, following the washer line. After awhile, I became convinced the whole thing was fairly new PVC, unlike the other ancient lines that had been replaced. I decided there was a good chance the pipe was good and the most likely place for roots to get in was the joint where the washer line met the main line. Because I am so intelligent and know so much about plumbing.

I decided to dig up the other end, the end that joins the main line, and see if the roots where getting in there. The ground is really hard there, making digging with the trowel almost impossible. Also, every strike with shovel or post hole digger struck something non-dirt, mostly ceramic fragments of the old main line. You can see where this is going. I hit the shiny new PVC main line and put a hole in the top of it. I collapsed in despondency. Picture below, with duct tape to prevent dirt from falling in.

At that point I almost decided to just pay the professionals whatever it was going to cost them to do the rest. After all, there were still 2 gas lines and a water line I could damage. But you see, I'm not that useful around the house. I have few mechanical or home repair skills. I'm just not interested. Sometimes I feel a bit pathetic, though, and the thought that I couldn't even dig a damn hole to save us money was too much.

I went back out and started following the line from the house side, again, carefully excavating around the gas lines with the trowel. I dug 4 inches further along the line, yes, 4 *&^% more inches, and I found the baseball size hole in the washer line. The first sign was the dampness of the earth. The second was when I could barely dig through the roots with my little trowel. This time my near hysterical laughter brought Jae outside to make sure I was OK. Picture below. The yellow pipe on the right is one gas line, and the gray pipe on the left is the other. The broken sewer line is obvious.

The plumber has now been here and told us he could replace the bad section in the washer line and the section I damaged of the main line for $300, if I do the rest of the digging. I'm about to resume excavations.


shadowfax said...

Ha! Reminds me of the time I thought I could save time and money by renting a backhoe and trenching out the space for a new water main.

Two dents in the house ($0, wife's contempt)
One destroyed Irrigation system (>$5,000)

I got to drive a backhoe (Priceless)

Live and Learn. Or live, anyway.

Josh Gentry said...

Live, anyway. You do tend to do things on a more dramatic scale than I. As you say, you did get to drive a backhoe. I can't rival that, but you'll think the water drill is cool when I post pictures of that.

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