I don't want to kick out my tenant... main line needs repair

Discussion in 'Drain Cleaning' started by jfowells, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Background: 600 sq.ft rental house built on a slab in 1923. The drains appear to run in a straight line from the kitchen, to the bathroom sink, to the toilet. From there it exits the wall and joins the tub drain in a little 'mechanical' closet, runs down to what I'm guessing is a 90 angle, and out of the building. Until it joins the tub, the whole thing is iron, encased in the slab - at least I think so. Does that make sense? Would pics help?

    The issue: Two months ago, the kitchen sink backed up, quickly followed by the bathroom sink and toilet. Called in a plumber who couldn't(wouldn't) bring his cutter down the hill, so used a regular snake. Pulled up some dirt and gunk. Everything fine until a few weeks ago. Same issue, accompanied by a faint sewer gas smell. Everything but the tub completely stopped up, and this time required hydrojetting to clear.

    Given the toilet involvement - it gurgles when running any faucet - I assumed the problem had to be between the toilet and where it joins the tub, which is accessible from the mechanical room… but a camera revealed a crack and beginnings of an offset somewhere around the bathroom sink. The plumber said he couldn't get past it for fear that it would get stuck, so a month's salary later I still don't know what happens at the business end of the line.

    His solution: jackhammer through the slab and replace the entire system, which means displacing a tenant for as long as it takes to redo the floors (polished concrete) and newly laid tile tub surround.

    I realize that the whole thing will need replacing. One crack means there are likely others, and that roots/mud can get in through the offset and muck things up further down the line… but even then I'm finding it hard to believe that replacing the section after the toilet wouldn't resolve the issue, at least until my beloved tenant moves on and/or I can afford to spend the $5K.

    Am I missing something? Can a partial collapse affect the function of the drains further down the line? Is it possible that a vent is clogged? (the plumbers refused to go up on the roof…)

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions, and for reading the whole thing. I can handle replacing the section from the toilet to the cleanout myself, but if it won't help anything... I just don't know what to do.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    Clogged vent does NOT cause those symptoms. It ESPECIALLY does not cause mud and muck in the line!

    If you have a valued tenant....put him up in a hotel for 5 days while you get the work done.
  3. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    I will happily put her up if I can resolve the problem by replacing the section from the toilet to where it meets the tub, but tearing out the floor and redoing everything will take weeks of work, and I'm afraid it would be less expensive to take the house off the rental market than spend the $5K I was quoted plus whatever it would cost to redo the all the floors, tile, etc.

    I know the damaged line near the sink is probably allowing dirt in, but still seems hard to imagine that a crack in the line before it reaches the toilet would be causing it to back up...
  4. Cookie

    Cookie .

    Messages:
    5,658
    Location:
    .
    One thing to consider is the lease your tenant signed.
  5. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    no lease. she understands the dilemma, and can move out for a while if I can fix it without taking out a second mortgage on my house... but she also knows that I wouldn't qualify for a second mortgage...

    I have a feeling I didn't explain my questions very well.
    1. Can a partially blocked main cause plumbing down-stream to fail? Am I misguided in thinking that only a problem after the toilet would cause it not to flush well?
    2. Doesn't it make sense to replace the main line where the problem seems to be (from the toilet to where it leaves the building), as opposed to where a small crack was detected?
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,815
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    IF there was a camera inspection, you should have received a tape or DVD of the results. Show that to a different plumber and get his evaluation. We cannot do it just based on your description. One crack does not necessarily mean there are others so you have to know WHERE the problem actually is so you can decide what has to be replaced. The drain lines are not "IN" the concrete, however, they are "under" it.
  7. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Thank you. You actually hit on the basis of my conviction that I may have hired a bad egg. He did not give me a dvd, and dismissed my request by saying 'we're just doing the camera inspection as a favor'.

    He used the locator to pinpoint where the crack is - that's how I know it's before the toilet. And alas, in this case, the cast iron emerges about 18" from the bottom of the floor of the mechanical room, and the floor of the house is 4' up. We're on a steep hill. That said, I'm assuming what appears to be a solid slab is probably a very thick retaining wall, so at some point it must sit on dirt. Just not at the point where logic dictates the problem would be.

    Is my logic flawed? Is it possible for a flaw at the beginning to cause problems at the end?
  8. Cookie

    Cookie .

    Messages:
    5,658
    Location:
    .
    "A hard beginning maketh a good ending." John Heywood
  9. Cookie

    Cookie .

    Messages:
    5,658
    Location:
    .
    Is there an outside cleanout? Did they run the camera from the cleanout to the street?
  10. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    As you already know, there is possibly a very expensive solution to this problem. Right now all that we can do is speculate on how serious this is and until you get a comprehensive evaluation, that all we can do. You need to get a complete internal inspection on tape/DVD before making any decisions on what to do. Then you can explore your options based on facts and not speculation.
  11. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Messages:
    3,249
    Location:
    Land of Cheese
    As with most things expensive, it's probably best to get several estimates from different companies. Let them do their own inspection and diagnosis.

    The guy with the lowest quote might dig it up and then find that there is additional repairs needed. The guy with the highest price might do the same thing.

    In the end, you are still not going to know with 100% certainty what the facts are, but you will know whether your plumbing system works properly or not.
  12. mliu

    mliu Member

    Messages:
    101
    Location:
    California
    Pics would help. Is there a cleanout or any other access to the drain pipe from inside the mechanical room? If so it may be better to run an inspection camera upstream from that point.

    In any case, you definitely need some additional inspections from different plumbers & contractors. Even if the first guy is 100% correct and well-suited to do the job (and its sounds like he may not be), you would still want at least one "second opinion" before undertaking a repair/rennovation of such a large scale.

    Question to the experts on this forum: I know it's possible to do pipe-bursting and replacement for water supply lines, but is such a thing ever done for drain/waste pipes? Or perhaps horizontal drilling? Obviously holes would still need to be cut into the slab at the fixtuers to connect in the drains, but if such techniques are possible, it would save having to cut a trenches through the length of the floor.
  13. MACPLUMB 777

    MACPLUMB 777 TROJAN WORLDWIDE SALES RP

    Messages:
    679
    Location:
    Houston, Texas, United States
    There is a way of pulling ether a pipe patch for the cracked piece or reline the whole pipe from inside to the outside,

    You just have to find the right contractor
  14. freeflow

    freeflow Semi retired master plumber

    Messages:
    10
    Location:
    alabama
    My thought exactly, why not get a plumber or a GOOD drain cleaner to take a machine to the roof and run cable down all the stacks ,if he hits a stoppage that blades WILL NOT go thru and he pulls back mud on cable, get ready to bust floor and dig if cable goes thru run plenty of water and then jet and the last thing camera again( if I get cable and blades thru line and it washes out ,no need for me to camera) .I know its easy for me to say here in alabama but I have given many a 2nd opinons and saved the customer big bucks ,I hope you find a good solution to your problem
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2012
  15. freeflow

    freeflow Semi retired master plumber

    Messages:
    10
    Location:
    alabama
    stoppage

    If line is broken inside house, it will have to be located and repaired.Some stoppages are sludge stoppages,this is when cable and blades go thru stoppage but it does not open up,this is when you need a jetter or a plumber with plenty of patience who will run the cable in and out (we call it work a line out here) until the sludge starts to move and you can run water with your blades and open the line.Believe me these sludge stoppages are alot harder to open than a root or a paper stoppage.Find a plumber you can trust who is more interested in opening your line than digging up your floor.The time involved can be expensive but a days worth of cableing is cheaper than jackhammering up a floor. Remember IF A CABLE CAN GO THRU THE STOPPAGE IT CAN BE OPENED!
  16. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    thank you!

    Those who suggested getting a more patient guy with a snake were right. The next day I called out another plumber, who spent the time required to make sure that the line was clear, not just letting some water through. In the end the guy with the hand snake who charged me $300 beat the 'well respected' company (not one of the 'rooter' people, for the record) that sent out 6 guys with a hydrojetter and camera, charged me more than a month's salary, then tried to convince me to rip up my floor and start over. They promised to give me a good price. Argh.

    Anyway, problem solved. Lesson learned. Next time I'll trust my instincts without thinking twice.

    Thank you all who took the time to offer suggestions.
  17. mliu

    mliu Member

    Messages:
    101
    Location:
    California
    So what was clogging the line? What about the crack? And did you ever get an inspection video of the line?
  18. jfowells

    jfowells New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    general schmutz, lots of grease.

    I didn't get a video of the inspection - the guys said it was a courtesy, so couldn't do it.
    From what I saw, though, the crack is pretty minor. It will of course need to be replaced eventually - or maybe lined - but for now the system works and my tenant is happy. Reckon as long as I can convince her to put bacon fat in a can and food scraps in the compost, we're good for a while.

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