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Question DetailsAsked on 6/23/2016

Who covers the cost of digging up and retreaving jetter's head that had stuck in broken clay tile?

Licensed and Insured plumbing company was hydro jetting slow draining toilet room. Three hours into the process the jetter's head stuck in a broken clay tile and could not be retrieved. The plumber asked for $3,100 to dig up the broken clay tile, swap it with PVC and retrieve the camera. The owner does not have the budget not is the matter urgent to unclog this toilet since it is not used at all. According to the owner the broken pipe replacement could be a future project but the plumber want to retrieve his jetter as quickly as possible.

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I won't ask why if the toilet is never used (which might be why it clogged up, due to drying out inside which makes things stick a lot more), was the line being cleared ?


Unless he provided you with a statement of services or contract up front - BEFORE the work started - that stated the cost of recovering stuck/lost tools was your responsibility, that is a risk of the trade and at HIS cost - though only to dig it up, free and retrieve the tool, and repair the pipe at that particular point to pre-existing condition only, which would include making only that part of the pipe passable again. Without specific terms in the contract to that effect (and this means in advance, not on an invoice he hands you after the fact) you do NOT assume responsibility for lost or damaged tools or equipment in the course of his work on the job. How he does the job and uses his tools are his responsibility and his risk - same as if say a tile cutters saw gave up the ghost on your job - not your responsibility to repair or replace it. He may cover it out of pocket or through a claim with HIS insurance company. He may not just choose to leave it in there blocking your line.


You say he was jetting a slow draining toilet - unless the jetter was only in a branch pipe from that toilet BEFORE it hit the main line to the septic tank or sewer, especially if in clay tile drain pipe, he is quite likely stuck in the main line - which means the head can be expected to potentially totally clog off the line as solids stack up behind it, so it may only be hours or days before it is totally blocked. Could be just in a branch if a bungalow type construction in frostless area, where each branch drops from the house into the ground and then meet up to one line to the street or septic tank outside the house, but that is rare - usually there is a central line that all the drain sources drop into with quite short runs (not more than 5-10 feet typically), so if he was 3 hours into the work it is almost certain he was in the main line, not just that toilet branch.


You did not say what the breakdown between the recovery part versus total pipe replacement costs were, but typically digging up one point only and repairing it to usable condition would be about $300-600 range unless in an area with very deep burial due to deep frost depth - in which case clay tile drain is unlikely. Commonly clay tile is not buried more than about 3 feet down, so digging it up, fixing that one place, and rerunning the jetter and a camera (commonly on the jetter head) the rest of the way through the line should not run more than about $500-800.


Replacing the entire line, which may or may not be called for in this case - would have to run a camera (unless he was running one on the jetting head and showed you damage all along the line during the run) to see if you are looking at just one crushed or tree-root broken location that can be fixed to solve the problem or if the line is generally deteriorated, because clay drain line can last hundreds of years if not broken by something like heavy equipment driving over it, ground movement, or large roots.


Actually, I see you said the camera head is in there - not saying it can't happen where a rock falls in and traps the jetter/camera, but generally if you have a camera you can see places that are too unstable to want to go through - so I wonder why he advanced through an area that could collapse on him.


Total sewer line replacement outside the house can run from near or around $1000 for a short (say less than 50 feet or so) shallow run to into the couple to few thousand for a more like 100 foot or so job with burial depth over 3-5 feet, which is where shoring is generally required by law to work in the trench replacing the pipe. IF part of it is under a slab or a low headroom crawlspace, can up that cost by typically $1000 and as much as a couple thousand. An awful lot of the cost depends on site conditions, interferences, tree roots, crossing utilities, whether the conenction point to the public sewer is in the yard (good) or in the street (mandating traffic control measures and street department and utility permits and such so much more costly as a rule), etc. And of course, having to cross drives or into the street means repaving cost and such too, so can get into the quite a few thousands in the worst cases. Ditto if there is a reason to not dig up the existing line, but rather put it along a different alignment, and the idgging conditions are bad - large buolders, collapsing soils, bedrock, etc.


Certainly for a job this size, if the digout were the owners responsibility and the contractor did not give a reasonable price for just the digging out the head and repairing that one place, or they decided to replace the entire line, they should get bids from a couple of other plumbers for the job - the $3100 might be reasonable but is certainly high enough to be questioned and to justify competitive bids, which also protects against a common scam by some unscrupulous sewer drain clean scammers of claiming their rooter or jetter got stuck when it actually did not, then they ask an exhorbitant amount to free it, and sometimes offear or push to replace the entire line whether required or not.


Not saying this guy is a scammer, but the fact he was three hours (and incomplete) into a typically 1 hour or so job makes me suspicious, unless he was cutting through roots the whole way. I would be curious what his cleaning job cost estimate or bid was - because would normally be around $150-300 for this type job.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD




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