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Corroded drainage pipe under the slab. What to do??

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: Mar 20 2004

We had heard that if you own an Eichler - be prepared for three major expenses - radiant heat, roof and drains. Well, we've already done the roof - now it appears its time for the drains. As you know, the drainage system from the kitchen goes all the way under the slab to the other side of the house - any problem with the pipe and you're in trouble. We now have a big hole in the atrium ($2,000) exposing a thoroughly coroded galvanized pipe, with the plumber saying that it's like that all the way through to the sewer line on the other side. The plumber is offering two solutions for fixing this - the first is to install a tank outside the kitchen with a pump that will pump the waste water over the roof and onto the other side (@ ~ $6.000) - seems goofy to me. The other solution is to dig a hole deep enough out to the sewer line and install a new drainage system for gravity to drain the waste water out to the sewer on the kitchen side of the house (@ ~ $10,000)!

Has anyone had a similar experience, and if so what happened and how well was the fix done? I need to get quotations from other contractors/plumbers, as $10,000 seems excessive just for a hole with a pipe in it. Might as well fix the driveway too, while I'm at it!

Thanks in advance

Chris J.

Joined: Jan 4 2004

Hello Chris and welcome,
If you have not done so already, it is wise to spend a couple hundred dollars and have a sewer company scope and photograph your main and branch sewer lines. The snake/camera really does a nice job of evaluating the condition of the entire system.
I have an old school approach to the lateral/branch sewer replacement issue: it makes sense doing a proven, permanent repair to these problems. Any nuevo techniques (such as re-lining, etc.) have yet to be proven over time. The non-replacement methods may "fix" the problem, but it is a gamble for long term use.
I don't know the layout of your property, and the relationship of walkways, driveways, etc, to the trenching required for a new line, but I want to say that the most that I've seen plumbing cost in one of these replacements is $3,500 (and on my job sites, I'd say we've had about 30+ lateral replacements occur, either because diesign called out for it, or field conditions required it). The rest of the cost is typically very labor intensive: saw cutting and chipping concrete, digging trenches, etc.
If I were your General Contractor I would recommend the following:

1.Have the lines thoroughly scoped to evaluate the condition and location of the lines.

2.Have you manage your own labor to trench and saw cut the concrete
(you can rent a Gas powered concrete saw for about $100), and get labor at Labor Ready or CLP for about $16-$17/hr. or I think there might be other sources of general labor that don't cost $75-$90/hr

3. Find a good plumber that is willing to come in and install the drains only;Forget about paying a plumber to dig ditches; plumbing is a skilled trade.

4. If $$ is a problem, you can always saw cut a 10" trench across the driveway and patch it for a fraction of the cost of removal and replacement; recouperate, and do the driveway when it is affordable.

You can significantly cut labor costs (maybe by $2000 or more) and avoid having an exposed pipe carrying raw sewage over your roof that is driven by a pump that will eventually fail, and requires a dedicated electrical circuit (and power) to run; where you can have gravity eliminate the need to use energy (and if the power fails or browns out, what will you do?)

It is a tough break, but there are solutions, and trust your gut if the situation seems dubious. You can email me if you have further questions.
Good Luck


Joined: Dec 3 2003

4 days after moving in to my eichler everything started to overflow.

The first plumber I called told me he couldn't use a snake because my cleanout is on the roof and it would be $500 to use a jet.

The second plumber I called used a snake from the roof, proving the first plumber didn't know what he was talking about. But then he told me my sewer line had collapsed.

The third plumber I called used a snake from the roof and cleaned out some serious roots. Then used the camera which showed the sewer was not collapsed, proving the second plumber didn't know what he was talking about.

Moral of the story, get lots of opinions and don't tell them what the last guy said! I completely agree with renman, in my opinion the camera is absolutely worth every penny because then you know exactly what the state of your sewer line is.

BTW, the last plumber said what they do to replace the sewer is something called "pipe busting", so they only have to dig up under the slab where the pipes connect to a sink, toilet, etc. I think it means they put a new pipe through the old pipe everywhere else. I don't know if that's what renman was referring to as relining, he sounds like he knows a lot more than I do! Anyway, the estimate they gave me was to replace it all (not including the lateral, which is the line between the house and the street) for under 5k.

Good luck!

Joined: Apr 5 2003

I'll repeat that second opinions are worthwhile for plumbing. We had a clogged kitchen sink. A neighbor recommended a plumber he uses for minor work on renovations, so we called the guy. He couldn't get a snake down the drain because of two tight elbows and glued-in plastic pipes behind the kitchen trap. He suggested opening up the wall, cutting the pipe to add a cleanout on the outside wall, then snaking the clog out.

He managed to open up the wall fine, but spent two hours trying to snake out the drain before giving up -- he'd sometimes catch the clog, but the snake would let go before he could pull it up or break it up. He finally recommended that we dig up the atrium to find the drain line and cut the pipe there.

We ended up calling Roto Rooter the next day. Their guy unclogged the pipe in 10 minutes, and explained that he would have had *no* problem unclogging the pipe from the roof vent (and, in fact, that's their preferred way to attack many clogs). He suggested that the next time we have such a clog, we *don't* open up the wall.

The lessons I learned:

1) The Roto Rooter plumber who spends eight hours a day unclogging pipes is really, really good at what he does, and is easily worth $125.

2) Plumbers vary greatly in quality and in the solutions they're willing to consider. Definitely get a second opinion before doing anything that involves cutting pipes or digging holes.

The "do everything possible before cutting pipe" is illustrated by another story in our neighborhood. Neighbors also had a clogged sink and in the course of the work, someone applied a bit too much force and the drain pipe broke. It turned out the kitchen drain was very corroded (too much Liquid Plumber), and the pipe broke off at the slab -- no way to attach a new piece of pipe, and jack-hammering the slab to try to expose more pipe seemed a lost cause. They ended up trenching around the house to run a new drain line from the kitchen to the main sewer. They also got a nice, new driveway...

Joined: Mar 21 2003

This sounds SO familair. We too had a broken/corroded pipe under our kitchen floor, underneath the cabinent actually. The floor had to be jackhammered up which damaged the radiant floor heat ( under the kitchen cabinent) and a nice 2 foot by 4 foot hole was dug into our slab. It was gross,messy and stinky. The company I used was great. Get lots of opinions from EXPERTS. The company was plumbing/heating and contractors. So when the radiant pipe had to be cut and repaired they called in their heating expert. It turned out fine in the end only took only one complete day of mess and aggravation. And was only $1,500 minus the camera fee actaully. Sorry, I live in Portland. I did all the cabinent removal which kept costs down . In hindsight we should of had all the pipes filmed before buying the house. This was an old huge leak. It kept backing up and we were calling Roto Rooter too often. Glad it's all behind us now. I feel your pain but FYI the insurance company probably won't.

Joined: Oct 13 2003

My husband and I are currently remodeling our S.F. Eichler and we did extensive plumbing work. The plumber we used was amazing. He has a great deal of experience with radiant heat and slab homes. If anyone is interested, please email me at: staceyandjason at staceyandjason dot com. (I already emailed this info to chrisjj)

Joined: Mar 23 2003

hi chirs what year was your house built and where are u located?

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