Old iron pipe / water heater replacement

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by Axel, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. Axel

    Axel New Member


    I am having a rather brutal experience with a plumber I am dealing with who was referred to me by a friend. I purchased a fourplex in downtown Montreal. I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with Montreal, but we have some pretty old buildings! Mine was built in 1875, young compared to others. Now the issue(s)!

    I hired a plumber who had done all of the plumbing and electrical work in a large 12 unit residential building for a friend. So, having a fourplex with four apartments, I thought that this would be an easy job compared to what he has done.

    There are old iron pipes running through the two highest apartments (second and third floor. Some of the exposed pipes were already converted to copper pipes on the second floor but the rest are all the original iron pipes. Also, the water heaters were 18 and 20 year old Ruuds. The water when not run for a few hours was full of rust! I asked the plumber to exchange all iron pipes and install new water heaters.

    I was thinking of using flexible piping, but he advised me against it as the temperature in the winter can go as low as -40C in bad winters. He said that if a flexible pipe froze, you could not easily unblock it. Inserting something into the pipe to unblock it could rip the pipe. So, we went with copper flex piping.

    1) He went ahead and replaced the riser coming up to these floors but left one pipe in the wall that is iron. He said that it was screwed into a wooden beam and he couldn't replace it. Is this true, or is he just not willing to do the work?

    2) Pipes running under the floor to the kitchen and bathroom sinks have been left in iron. He said that he couldn't change them because they ran through the beams and were under the floor. I contacted another plumber who told me he could change them using a fishing device going under the floor. Does this sound possible? Also, would that mean that he is using flexible piping that could freeze? Does the floor really need to be opened? Can it cause issues with the beam/structure if it is replaced since this is an old building?

    3) He said that the increased water pressuer from most of the risers that he replaced will push out rust particles/chunks sitting in the old iron pipes that remain. I saw the iron pipes that he was able to remove and they were full of all kinds of rusty crap!!! I was amazed that water got through them! Can they still block up? Will the improved water pressure really clear the crap out? Or, is this just not true?

    4) I asked him to replace the valves or add valves to each sink/tub/shower/toilet so that the building was at code. I noticed some changes and not others. In one instance the old shut valve was still there and a new one!!! Is this normal or am I being royally screwed?

    5) I had to bring the water heaters to the building myseld as well as other materials. Having to put the electric water heaters on their side and transporting them in their boxes up narrow stairs created a few dents. The plumber said this will do nothing as there is insulation between the outer and inner metal tank. Should I be worried? Also, will the remaining iron pipe on the risers push debris into the new water heaters and damage them?

    6) So far this guy has not verified his work on two occasions. Once I opened the water when I came home to find out that he and his assistant had gone without re-opening and checking their work. I opened the water and soon discovered that water was running in the wall down from the third floor into the second floor bathroom and already coming down onto my fireplace on the first floor! He wouldn't pick up his phone, ended up coming over a day later (we had no water) and then blamed me for it. It turned out he forgot to close a valve on a pipe he was working on! Yesterday, when he left I discovered that a joint was mildly leaking under a tap. I have already paid about $1000 to change some of the risers, install two water heaters, and install about 5 valves. Is this too high in terms of cost considering the work is still not complete? A friend of mine finds this reasonable. Please remember that I had to bring the water heaters to the house, and also the other materials.

    Any and all help/comments from plumbing professionals would be greatly appreciated!!!


    a bientot!
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2009
  2. Cookie

    Cookie .

    So far as the price, you got a bargin.
  3. kingsotall

    kingsotall Plunger/TurdPuncher

    They are finding out why, Cookie.
  4. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    Just because he worked in a big building does not make him qualified to do ANYTHING. Those workers often just follow orders from a superintendant or foreman, so they can put their brains in "park" until the day's work is over. But repiping is very different from new work, so that experience would be completely irrelevent. Dents on the heater are cosmetic, BUT they should not happen even if the heater is transported on its side, (that is how I carry ALL of mine), or go up and down stairs. If you are buying the heaters and materials, then I would expect you to deliver them to the job, or pay extra for me to go get them. I do not know what "screwed into a beam" means, nor WHAT he would push into a frozen pipe to unthaw it, but NEITHER is logical. The added volume, not pressure, WILL move debris, but there is a better chance that it will get caught somewhere in the pipe and create a "log jam" than there is that it will flow through the pipe and come out at a faucet. He "forgot" to close a valve so it is your fault because you wanted water in the house and opened the main line. If you paid him $1,000 that is probably more than he should get, and in most cases, since I doubt that he has a permit, inspection, OR license, when he finished this botched up job, you could tell him, "Goodby, good luck, and see you in court if you expect me to pay you anything." You need a "real" plumber who knows how to do the job.
  5. Axel

    Axel New Member

    I would like to know if it will really be necessary to replace the remaining iron riser pipes or can I leave them in place? Also, if they are replaced, can they be fished through the floor/wood beams where the existing pipes are, or will the floor need to be opened to replace the pipes?

  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    Horizontal pipes are usually the ones that get blocked and corroded. Risers can also, but it happens less frequently. As far as HOW the new pipes would be installed, that is an "on the job" decision made after looking at the actual installation.
  7. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Yakima WA
    I would look seriously at having the whole building's plumbing examined and replace all of the galvanized pipe. This is way beyond a DIY job, and I would have a real plumbing company (or two) evaluate and give you bids on the job. Galvanized pipe will continue to cause problems forever. Sounds to me like the fellow you had was more of a handyman than a real plumber.
  8. Axel

    Axel New Member

    Actually, the guy is a trained plumber. The problem is he is doing my job as well as another huge job taking up his days and another couple of jobs on the weekend. Meaning that the hours worked out on my place are spread out, and it's creating issues. I don't think that he is interested in replacing the rest of the iron riser piping as it is too big of a job for him to do right now. I am obviously really pissed off as I was told it would be done. Now, there are all kind of excuses about having to open up the floor, etc. Do you honestly think a plumber could replace the old iron pipes with copper flex without opening the floor? Another plumber I've spoken to on the phone said he could with flex piping, which I don't think would be appropriate for this climate. Also, as per my current plumber, he said the existing pipes are running through and secured into the building's wooden beams.

    The reason this guy is so busy is that his rates are reasonable and he has several clients. As I mentioned above, he was referred by a close friend who has used him on several of her rental properties. Here in Quebec, plumbers/electricians/etc charge rates that vary so greatly it is rediculous. Paying more doesn't mean you'll get a better job. Mind you, I won't throw this guy anymore larger jobs. I've learned my lesson.

    However, I would like to get others thoughts on the replacement of the remaining iron pipes running to the sinks and one part of the risers. When I saw the pipes that were replaced they were filled with tons of rusty crap. On top of it, the previous owner hadn't changed the water heater in over 20 yrs in the two apts I am working on. I am amazed they didn't leak as they were full of black/rusted water and sediment.
  9. Doherty Plumbing

    Doherty Plumbing Journeyman & Gas Fitter

    Penticton, BC
    1. Yes it's possible. Ofcourse anything is replaceable but it's really how much $ do you want to spend? Somethings require a fair amount of destruction to get at it.

    2. I would say the floor needs to be opened up, atleast a little bit. It's hard to say without seeing the job myself. But you always need enough room to get your hands in there and work, etc etc. Some damage is 100% unavoidable.

    3. Ummm.... Wrong. This will cause MAJOR problems with your fixtures. You could probably do it if you cut a line WIDE OPEN at one end and just blasted water out for 20 mins. But who's gonna do that and risk doing some major water damage.

    4. It's not code that all fixtures have shutoffs in an apartment building, atleast not in the Canadian National Plumbing Code. But it's a great idea. Him not doing it is just lazy I would guess.

    5. The damage is merely cosmetic. He is right on that one. However all the old piping going into the tanks should be replaced. If you can't replace ALL the pipe then you should atleast install a basic strainer (or filter) on the cold inlet of the tank. You'll be amazed at how often you'll need to clean this.

    6. The cost is pretty reasonable that's for sure. You're definitely not getting ripped off. In fact I'd say you're getting what you're paying for.


    Get rid of this guy and hire someone more reliable. You may pay more but you're also not gonna do $30,000 worth of water damage to your building.

    Going cheap isn't always the best route.
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