Advice With Potentially Sticky Issue with Plumber and Sewer Line Cleanout

Discussion in 'Drain Cleaning' started by RonnyK, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. RonnyK

    RonnyK New Member

    Jan 23, 2009
    Hello all,

    Over the weekend we ran into a situation and I would welcome thoughts and guidance before things resume tomorrow. Here are the basics:

    We live in a 1920s colonial with public sewer connection. Several years ago, we began experiencing intermittent slow drains, weak flushing and gurgling in our first floor sinks and toilet-- usually coinciding with rain. It would eventually clear up itself (until the next heavy rain), but the duration of each episode has gotten longer over time. This past week, with more heavy rain, we went from the above symptoms, to actually having the toilet overflow when the dishwasher and/or washing machine drained.

    We called a plumber who opined that it was a likely a clog in the sewer line and, given the connection with rain, probably a root infiltration. Our outside cleanout is in the back yard, near the rear corner of the house, and appears to go down and make a couple of turns before running straight out to the street (under our driveway). The plumber walked off the distance from our outside cleanout to the public sewer line and then began running the snake machine (with a root cutting head) and adding lengths of cable as he went. at around 45' or so, he announced he had hit "something" and then, after a bit of resistance with the cable, he said he was through the obstruction. He stopped feeding the cable and put the machine in reverse, but the last length of cable (the one closest to the machine) came back up disconnected/broken off from the rest. The plumber attempted to use a retrieval bit but was not able to grab the cable in the sewer line, which he estimated to be about 10' in from the cleanout. The plumber then told me the owner was going to bring out the camera so that they could see where the disconnect happened and mark the distance exactly. He waited nearly an hour and a half, the owner never arrived and the plumber told me that they decided the water was probably too murky to see anything with the camera anyway. The plumber advised that they would be back on Monday with a small excavator and what they want to do is excavate a small area of asphalt on my driveway (above the area where the cable broke), retrieve the cable and install a cleanout that would be a straight run to the public sewer line.

    I am kind of going along with this for now, and when I asked the plumber about cost he told me on Saturday that (a) they will probably not charge me for the weekend visit; and (b) responsibility for cost of the excavation will depend on what caused the cable to break (did it get caught up in roots and snap or was it caused by something else). From my observation, the cable appeared to just have come uncoupled as opposed to be broken but I am not 100% sure. So here are my questions:

    1. Does it make sense to do the excavation for purposes of gaining a new cleanout that is a straight run?

    2. Is it reasonable that I should be responsible for time and expense attributable to retrieving the broken cable? Should the plumber first have run a camera to see what we were dealing with?

    3. Does it matter that nothing was really explained to me first? If so, I might have insisted that a camera be used to at least try to figure out the problem.

    Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!
  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Nov 23, 2006
    disabled-retired industrial fabricator
    200 miles south of Little Rock
    In my own opinion, the price of whatever a successful first visit would have cost (plus materials if they now add a cleanout) is all you should ever owe.

    It might make sense to add a new cleanout while they are retrieving their equipment, but no, I would not tear up a driveway just for that unless absolutely necessary.

    My only experience with a camera was after a line had been cleared, so I do not know about that. But no, I would say you are not responsible for their extra time and expense required for retrieving their cable while trying to clear a clog from your line.

    No, but that does not mean they now get to twist things around to where it is somehow your fault their cable separated. This all began with a clog needing to be cleared from a line, and you should not have to pay for anything more than that unless you had first been told the initial attempt might not work but would be tried in order to possibly save you the additional expense of doing some digging to add a much-needed cleanout elsewhere. And if they are now saying that is what had been going on all along (thereby trying to justify charging you from here on out without charging you for the initial visit) but you had not been told, I would possibly dismiss them and hire someone else to complete the job unless they are truly apologetic for not having properly informed you of their planned trial and its possible complications in the first place.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2013
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  4. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    1. The excavation would be primarily for retrieving his lost cable. The cleanout would just be the most logical way to put the line back together.
    2.It is NOT your fault the cable was lost. In fact, I, personally, would NEVER use a "sectional" cable for just that reason, although "one piece" ones can also snap when they age or are abused. I had a friend who called a plumber to snake their sink. The cable got "caught" so he told the homeowner to either get the cable out or they would come back Monday and charge him for removing it. He then called me and I excavated the house cleanout in the main line, removed the cleanout plug, and pulled his snake out. It was a tangled mess and I left it like that in the yard and told him to call the company to come and get it.
    3. There is not much that can be "told to you ahead of time", because there are usually no problems, but if some develop, it would be impossible to tell you all the things that could happen beforehand.
  5. dj2

    dj2 In the Trades

    Aug 13, 2013
    RonnyK, what happened on Monday?
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