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Question DetailsAsked on 1/4/2017

Cost broken sewer line est. $1600. If foundation footing between the location would cost $2650.00. 2nd opinion?

Tub not draining. No backups from toilet, etc. Plumber said he pulled mud from pipe on roof?

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You don't say how deep your sewer line is (i.e. how deep is frost depth in your area, or is it deep because of topography over it), but that estimate is on the high side by a factor of two or three, in my experience, for just a single point problem, which is undoubtedly what he is assuming - but may not actually be the case.

Depending on how definitive the "mud" description is (i.e. was this definitely "soil" or could it just be sludge from the sewer lines), without a camera run you really don't know WHAT the problem is, how severe it is (i.e. one spot or a bad section or general line degradation, and slight blockage or pretty total collapse), so personally I would have a sewer and drain cleaning guy out for about $250-400 and first try to run a camera to see where the blockage is and how complete it is and whether it is broken or separated pipe or roots or sludge blockage or what, then full-diameter rout or jet out the line at least to the blockage point (or all the way to street if able to get through or past the blockage), then rerun the camera to see exactly what the damage is after the blockage is removed if that can be done through the pipe.

A contractor with both jetting and full-diameter mechanical scraping tools as well as camera would be much preferable, because for grease and fiber buildup full diameter scraping is much better (though a jetter with on-board camera to prove the pipe was completely cleaned as it is pulled back out works too), but if there is a displaced or broken pipe letting dirt in or rocks jutting down into a broken pipe, jetting is more likely to get past it and let you see the condition of the rest of the line before making your decision. That is important because you preferably do NOT want to get into a single-point repair only to later find there are more bad spots down the line, though if the line is pretty well collapsed and the camera cannot get in from the other end sometimes you have no choice - but at least the camera should show if the pipe has genearal deterioration or not.

I have seen cases where people (especially with broken clay pipe and corroded cast iron) chase multiple failures down the line with repairs every 6-12 months for years on end, when if they could have had a camera run the entire length to show the general poor condition of the line they would certainly have decided on total replacement up front, which might cost only as much as a few spot repairs.

Could just be a normal blockage and the pipe itself is fine, could be a bad joint which is letting some soil in but not a major concern if cleaned out every decade or so, or could be (on the other extreme) an indication o0f badly aged or corroded pipes and you will want to be replacing the entire buried portion, not just a segment.

BTW - make sure the sewer cleaning guy has a radio transmitter on his camera - that way when he gets the camera to any damaged or totally blocked section which is going to need digging up (if that is the case), he can walk around on the ground above with a locator detector and locate the exact spot within a foot or so and mark it, so when the digging down to fix it commences the hole is the right place to directly intersect the point to be repaired. The older method of measuring the amount of jetting tool or camera cable to the blockage gives a good measurement of how far down the pipe the problem is, but unless you know EXACTLY how the pipe runs through the house and underground and can measure that, is not very accurate - and not within a foot or two normally anyway.


One very important thing to consider - because the tub is not draining but evidently all other water sources are, and you said nothing about backup into the tub (or whatever your lowest elevation drain location is) when other water usage points are used, this does not even sound like a sewer line problem to me unless that tub drainage goes through a separate sewer line down into the ground before joining up with the line from all other sources, which would be real unusual. Usually basin, toilet, and shower/tub all feed into one line or branch. Sounds to me like a clogged tub drain, which is about a $100 or so repair normally - or even DIY with a hair retrieval tool and maybe some Gel Draino if the hair remover tool does not clear it all out.

IF it is just a tub drain clog (within inches of the tub outlet) then that would bring up the issue of the first plumber's integrity. If you did not see the "mud" come up on the snake, it could be that he made that up or even wadded some clayey soil onto the tool end to show you and that is why he went up on the roof to the vent pipe, where you could not see what he was doing. Unless there is specific reason to suspect a clogged vent line, which would normally be indicated by the water in the traps being pulled down when the toilet is flushed typically (and NOT a failure of a drain to empty), it is pretty rare for plumbers to go up to the roof vent - normally a suspected clog would be accessed from a toilet drain riser pipe by removing the toilet, or from a cleanout plug.

In fact, almost no plumbers that I have seen even routinely carry ladders on their truck, which in itself might be an indication of him being iffy if he goes around with one. Not saying that guy was a crook, but there is a known scam going around of unscrupulous plumbers and sewer cleaners going on the roof (where the homeowner will not go or the plumber even says they CANNOT go while he is up there, for liability reasons) and then claiming he found a blockage or collapsed pipe or such from up there through the vent line, where you cannot verify it.

Also, if he went up there first, rather than verifying that only the tub was clogged and FIRST cleaning that drain and trap out as would be the normal fix for a single drain not draining with no backup from other sources, that would be a giant red flag to me - and would make me report him to the licensing board ande local consumer protection agency for possible fraud.

Not having been there to see what he did and in what order, so I am not saying he was a crook, but a possibility to consider - and one reason I recommend doing a camera run to check out the pipe situation visually (and be sure YOU see the image as well as the operator - and color camera is MUCH better at seeing the condition), and while there even if there is no blockage in the main sewer line, have it cleaned all the way to the street or septic tank anyway. That is something that should be done every 5-20 years or so anyway, with the frequency depending on amount of (beneficial) high-volume hot water use in the house (dishwasher and full washing machine loads or long HOT showers), and on whether garbage disposal use is high or oil/grease is dumped down the drain (which are bad for sewers because they respectively promote sedimentation in the lines and grease buildup, which reduces the inside diameter of the pipe).

Good Luck

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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