From the Forum – One of our pipes is sagging and is causing major backups

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One of our pipes is sagging and is causing major backups:

“We have been having serious backups in our pipes (about every two months) for the past year. We finally had a plumbing crew run a camera through our pipes and it looks like we have a belly (where the pipe is sagging) in our sewer line right before (4ft in front of it) it connects to the city line. It is on our side and not the city’s so we are responsible for the repair.

Our rowhome has the original pipes from 1913. The plumber told us it would be about $10k to replace the 10-15ft section of pipe that connects our line to the city line. It would be about $7k just to repair the belly section. Has anyone else had to deal with this in older rowhomes? What was your experience? Do you have any suggestions or tips that we should be aware of before they come out and do the final estimate?”

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19 Comment

  • No experience with sewer pipe repair, but a few months ago we did need to replace the wastepipe running from our second floor (100 year old Petworth rowhouse). The major expense & hassle comes from ripping out walls/ceilings/floors (and in your case, it sounds like digging up your front yard), so we asked our plumber to replace anything that could be replaced while taking care of the pipe emergency. It only added an extra $2-3K, and I sleep much easier knowing that we won’t need to go through that sort of destruction/inconvenience again for a long time.

    In addition to getting the whole sewer pipe replaced, I’d personally look to see whether your water lines are new; if they’re lead I might consider replacing them while you’re digging things up.

  • Hello – I would get a second, third, and fourth opinion. I lived in a condo-converted rowhouse until this past year, and about 2 years ago we had the same issue come up., The first two plumbers told us that the sag was on our side, and needed to be fixed. The third was honest, and told us he thought it was on the city’s side.

    It took some doing, but we got the city to come out and check out the pipe, and sure enough it was an old unneeded trap on the city’s side causing the issue. City fixed it for us free of charge, and we were good to go.

  • gotryit

    Suggestion: do the digging yourself, or with hired help – just ask the plumber how much access they need. Then get bids for replacement of the length of pipe, which should be in the hundreds – not thousands of dollars for a plumber to do.
    We had a ~$5,000 quote for replacing ~6 ft of lead pipe in front of our house, which came down to $2,500 (still way overpriced – hands were somewhat tied at that point) and ~a day and a half of digging for me and my friend.

    • If you do the digging yourself don’t forget to call and get someone to mark the power/gas lines before you start.

      • gotryit

        Good point – thank you! Plus, it’s free / no questions asked.
        Also, if you’re digging with metal tools (duh), be careful around a lead pipe line because it’s soft enough that a sharp blow can puncture it. Sad lesson learned.

    • Does it really take a day and a half of 2 people’s digging to expose the water main? I thought that was a great tip until I fully realized how much time you’d said you’d spent on it.

      • gotryit

        Probably a bit exaggerated – it was a while ago. If you ask me again in 5 years, I’ll probably think it took a week.
        There was a few feet of clay and about 3 feet of length was in an awkward place under the porch.

      • Seems like a decent trade-off in order to save $5K. Even if it took all weekend, that’s a big chunk of money in the bank

        • Right – when a man-day will run you about $100-$150, and a couple of shovels cost a few bucks more, it makes it quite worthwhile.

  • also, depending on where the water service comes into your house, and how your place is situated in relation to the main, you could potentially just replace the service with a new one and it could be cheaper. i was able to do that with my place — they dug only the part around the main, and bored a new hole through the ground into my basement and in through the foundation about a foot away from the original line. since it was a straight shot, they could bore instead of dig. if your line takes any turns, you probably have no alternative than to dig it up. we capped off the old service on both ends, and the patched the new borehole with hydraulic cement in my basement and haven’t had any problems.

  • Get a license hispanic plumber and it will cost you 1/3.

  • What do you mean “a belly?”

  • If it is 4ft from the sewer it is probably in public space. Most people’s front yards (rowhouses anyway) are actually public space (for example I own a rowhouse with a bay window that extends past the front door, that bay is in public space, my lot actually starts at the front door).

    DC Water needs to be informed of all this by a licensed plumber, your opinion is worth nothing to them. So you need to find a licensed plumber who will look at the job knowing it isn’t for him to bid. Profit margins are high on a job like this as they need to pull permits and hire day laborers, both of which are opportunities for them to rake in the dough.

    Anyway, good luck and be tenacious with DC Water, they will probably try and tell you it isn’t their problem but it probably is. Get your plats from DCRA so you know exactly where the public space is and find a licensed plumber who understands that he is really there as a consultant and to be you ambassador to DC Water, not to bid a job.

    Alternately, if it is actually your problem and your basement is unfinished it may actually be cheaper to put in a backwater valve or sewer injector.

    • “Most” people’s front yards are not public space. This is mainly true ONLY for the L’Enfant city. I live in CH and my property line goes right to the sidewalk.

      • On my block in CH (and the ones to the north and south, and so I assumed all the rest, too), “our” property stops at our front porch. Everything else is some other not-private-property-but-still-usually-my-responsibility designation. We had to get the plats to do a retaining wall, and had it explained to us then.

  • I wonder if this is your running trap. I would get a second opinion just to be sure.

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