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Raising a stink

January 15, 2015

Sunday, January 11

As Eric and I idled away our Sunday morning drinking espressos and watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, a knock came on the door. Bang bang! Maxwell’s silver hammer came down on our heads! “I think you have a sewage leak,” said Mel, our neighbor. We threw on our coats and went to investigate.

Holy crap!! A cesspool was forming around poor Mel’s back stoop, which is only about 15 intimate feet from our bathroom. It smelled awful. I have to say, though, that when Eric graded the side of our house to drain away from our foundation, he did a magnificent job. (Ours is the house on the left—the one that cries out to be painted.)

pool of sewage between houses

sewage around back stoop

Of course, it had to be a Sunday. Eric called one of those 24/7 rooter services that don’t charge extra for weekends. Then we went to Costco to shop in denial until the plumbers were scheduled to arrive.

By running the water, we could plainly see where it was burbling to the surface, straight out from our bathroom’s waste line, in the hedge that runs down the lot line. The rooterman (I made up that word … I like it) set to work draining the swamp, so to speak, and digging a pit around the spot where the waste line turned to run toward the street. A little action really turned up the volume on the smell.

repair pit full of water

The failure of the line did not surprise me. I knew that the old concrete (yes, concrete in places, clay in others) drain tiles were in bad shape, but I didn’t know that the tiles I could see in an eroded hole in the ground were sewer. I thought it was an old French drain.  Well … poop. Okay, enough with the jokes.

The estimate to fix the broken line, install a cleanout, jet the line, and scope it came in at a cool $3K … in line with the info Eric dug up online while Rooterman dug up the problem.  No one expects plumbing to be cheap, right? But … when Rooterman jetted the line, water geysered up out of another hole 40 feet downstream. So now we had two breaks a long ways apart, and a lot of bad ancient drain tile in between. Fixing the second break would more than double the price. Okay, we’re up to $6,600, and I was starting to freak. I knew that the entire line was suspect and could blow at any time. To do the job right, it should all be replaced. But replacing it all would bring the bill to nearly $11,000.00. I cried.

Rooterman worked far into the night to prepare the fixit pit for the second break. Meanwhile, Eric and I paid a late-night visit to our favorite grocery store with the clean restrooms. As we entered the store, Eric picked a penny off the ground. It had come to that.

I did not sleep much. I got up twice to look at the estimates and once more to haul my snuggly cat, Checkers, to bed for comfort. (I’m sure Eric would have comforted me had he not been sound asleep.) And then I made a decision. We’d have the two breaks repaired and wait until spring (or whenever the remaining line fails) to get a bid from our regular plumber. I finally fell asleep, imagining that I could smell the sewage through the wall … but Duke may have farted.

Monday, January 12

Come morning, Eric agreed that we’d take the “cheap”-but-risky route. After staring at 11 grand, $6600 was looking downright doable (funny how that works). We both worked from home that day, keeping an eye on progress and making trips to the grocery store every few hours. I reminded myself that the staff who worked the night shift weren’t the same folks who were working the next day … no one would recognize us. We had not showered since Saturday, and if this routine went on much longer, we would start to look—and smell—homeless.

In between bathroom runs, we reflected that although we were spending a lot of money, it felt kinda nice to sit back and let professionals do the work. This was not a DIY project. I was glad that the rootermen had fine, dry, sunny weather to work in … not the January norm in this part of the country.

worker digs second pit

broken clay sewer tile

sewer pipe on our lawn

Toward evening, Rooterman had the job sewn up. We could use our plumbing again! (Our water had never been turned off, and we could grab water for coffee and drinking, and small uses like brushing our teeth, but no showers, laundry, dishwashing, or flushing.) The excavations had to remain open until the city inspector signed the permit. We showered and flushed to our hearts’ content. There’s nothing like indoor plumbing. It’s just the greatest invention!!

new cleanouts in repair pit

Tuesday, January 13

I worked at home again and waited for the day’s action to begin. The inspector arrived before 9:00 and pronounced us good to go. I was beginning to feel like we were getting over the hump, and the sticker shock was wearing off … or resignation was setting in. Two new rootermen showed up and spent the entire day capping the new cleanouts, filling the excavations, and tamping soil. They even removed a layer of contaminated soil from Mel’s side of the hedge and hauled in clean topsoil. (We’ll buy some sod and make it look better than it did pre-spill.) By day’s end, you wouldn’t have been able to tell anything had gone wrong. Good work, guys!

finished and graded cleanouts

new topsoil next door

clean sidewalk next door

Wednesday, January 14

Our original rooterman stopped by to make sure all was well and to accept final payment. By then I was inured to the price and just wanted to put the whole episode behind me. It’s only money, right?

So that concludes our smelly adventure. If you haven’t done it lately, now would be a good time to go hug your toilet and flush a (small) flower into your sewer line as a gesture of appreciation.

finished repair

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From → Exterior

17 Comments
  1. You poor things!!

  2. Oh no! I am sorry to hear this. Our sewage backed up into our basement one time because our tenant was flushing paper towels. It was disgusting!!! At least yours was outside!

    • We had a backflow issue several years ago … not pretty. Plumbers DO earn their pay. I’m glad I’m a writer!

  3. How awful, I’m so sorry!

  4. wow….I can’t believe the cost! But then when I consider all the work….I guess it makes sense.

  5. Crap! (no pun intended!) I hate house stuff like this. It’s not like you spent $6,600 on a beautiful renovation of a room or bought a fabulous antique. It’s like tires on a car, necessary but not very fun to buy. It looks like rooterman and his team did a very nice job. I guess we always look for the silver lining, right?
    Have a fun, less expensive weekend!
    xo,
    Karen

  6. It’s exactly like buying tires!! Except smellier. When I think of all the fun stuff $6600 would buy … sheesh. But being able to flush is worth a lot, too! All we need now is a Seahawks win!

  7. This is a funny story, and it is nice to see you know where the priorities are! A clean flush is worth so much 🙂 And think of the fun stuff you can have because it didn’t cost 11,000!

  8. I am commiserating with you since this also happened to us. We brought the price down by “lettting” Charlie do the digging and pull our the old terra cotta. The plumbers laid the new pipe only. It made me laugh that your husband did such a great job grading the foundation that most of the (ahem) mess flowed over to your neighbor’s yard. I know, in hindsight (tee hee) you would have preferred the neighbor to have been kept out of the cesspool. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    • That’s why we didn’t go for the high-priced option. We–I mean Eric–can do a lot of the labor and keep the cost down. Fortunately we have nice, rock-free soil. Not many people can say that! Glad it’s over!! (For now.)

  9. Africadayz permalink

    Oh dear; the worst kind of problem. I too like the word ‘rooterman’. Very succinct! We have a company here called Roto Rooter for just his kind of work.

    • Oh wow, we have Roto Rooter in the states. They must be worldwide! This was a different company, but similar. It’s fun to find out what’s the same and what’s different all over the world–thanks to blogging!

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