Need help with plumbing

26 Replies

One of my units in a 6-plex in Tucson, AZ has clogged drains. The plumber tried to snake it out but he couldn’t. He tried to scope to see what’s going on but he couldn’t see. He thinks there is probably some leak or pipes may be dissociated, he is now suggesting to open the floor and put new copper tubes if needed. He gave me a quote of roughly 2400$ just for this and I have to pay the handyman for fixing the floors later. He is also suggesting to hydro jetting of the drains for other units because he saw roots in some of the drains . He is quoting 250$/hr for this work and he is not clear how many hours the work would take . 

Please advise me whats the reasonable charge for this kind of repair?

Thank you so much 

Piping in older home is a major expense driver on the property management side. Pipes can be relined or replaced. Typically full replacement with PVC from cast iron or tar paper is the only solution that is worth it. Jetting the pipe does not always work, they would need to jet at multiple fixture points back and forth and plumbers rarely do. 

Hi Harish,

I don't kow the scale of the repairs, but have you thought about the renter annoyance factor of it.

In an instance like this looking at the possible downside is intelligent.

Things such as:

1.  Have you thought about how long it will actually take (vs what the contractor guesstimates)? Resident lack of showers, lack of water closet, lack of washing dishes, etc...

2.  All 6 units will have to put up with foundation shaking jack hammering. When will that happen, and how long will it REALLY take? Will it start at 7am when your renters sleep until 9am before going to work? Will it go on for days?

3.  How long must the renters not enter the apartments. Several hours, one day, one week, several weeks? Where will they stay? What about their pets?

4.  Are you able to/willing to offer offsets for these (possibly MAJOR) inconveniences to the renters if needed?

5.  Will you experience move outs because of this? Can you afford empty units? How long can you afford empty units?

6.  Turns cost money, are you prepared for any move outs due to this.

7.  Etc...

These are just some of the things I think of if major renter disruption MIGHT happen.

Good Luck!

If the property is older than 50 years old, be prepared to shell out some serious dough for new sewer pipes. But I’ve had some old cast iron sections of pipes replaced without replacing all of them. Good luck!

@Harish Nandipati as you may know, nothing is very reasonable right now on pricing. One of your biggest concerns should be whether you’re dealing with someone knowledgeable and who seems like they will get it done with integrity. Try to get a solid word of mouth reference even if it’s from a Home Depot pro desk and get another quote for the sake of hearing his idea of how to fix.

@Harish Nandipati also, with respect to opening the floor, I see you’re in AZ. If this is in a slab I understand how he could need to cut it open, however, if this is on a subfloor (6plex) opening the floor is not standard, as replacing flooring would cost you more than redoing drywall from the floor below it. He doesn’t care about your cost on floor replacement, but if it’s tile, and various surfaces, you could be in for way more construction than you need. A good drywall finisher could have your ceiling patched from underneath in 1 day. A tile job or flooring job could cost you more time and money.

Thanks for your input.. unfortunately this is on the first floor and I may have to jackhammer the slab and open up the pipes. May be there is no solution. I hope my tenant is ok to adjust with all this . I acquired this property just 4 months ago and he was telling me about the problem even before I bought but it was a wholesaler deal so not much Ron for negotiation. I will definitely try to get 2 to 3 quotes ..

Thanks every one again for your valuable input 

We had a circa 60's building where some of the old in-wall vents were clogged & that resulted in poor flow & what appeared to be blocked pipes. Then as I rehabbed the units the years of amateur plumbing fixes were revealed. One set of drains from a shower had at least 5 vent 90's in it behind a wall & below the floor to get around beams & studs. Some of the 90's were restricted with the proverbial hair/soap rats we find. Running a snake down was impossible so I tore it all out replaced it with 2inch PVC.

My BIL had a plumbing issue in the slab of his Scottsdale home & insurance covered some but he was still out $15,000 after all new flooring tile etc was required.

Good luck...

I would probably give another plumber an opportunity to snake it out and if that does not work. ask the plumber his opinion on digging up/exposing the sewer line OUTSIDE of the building as soon as it leaves the property (no cleanout outside i assume?)

By cutting into the line outside of the property, it could be determined if the clog is under your slab or at a point between the structure and the main sewer connection.  Before I bust a slab open, I want to be 100% sure that is where the problem is.

Then. if you still need to saw cut the slab because the clog is inside the property, the outside digging would not be a waste of effort because the plumber could go ahead and add a good cleanout for future use.

@Jon Greer and the OP. The best referral for contractors is from other investors (only). Join yoyr local Reia, Google. Everyone needs a local team of peer investors fir thus and other Re advice.

Plugged sewer, copper are different systems!! You may be getting trouble talk or worse yiu are not educated enough in rehabbing and maintaining that you know water is in copper or cpvc pipe and sewer in black iron (old and bad) or white pvc (new).

Find a plumber from a fellow investor. Never use thus guy again.

@Curt Smith was waiting for someone to say this. Copper is supply, not drain. Not saying he is, but he may be throwing in some stuff to see how much/little you know, which in turn will determine how much he can charge. You need a different plumber.

Originally posted by @Matt Groth :

@Curt Smith was waiting for someone to say this. Copper is supply, not drain. Not saying he is, but he may be throwing in some stuff to see how much/little you know, which in turn will determine how much he can charge. You need a different plumber.

Surprisingly when I tore down walls for rehab in our old 60's era MF the majority of drain pipe, venting & the 3" stack was copper. Cu must have been cheap back then because EVERY electrical circuit was 12/2.

Admittedly as apartments were added the drains were PVC but had poorly designed flow geometry, venting & multiple 90's for no reason. Then there were the 3/8 Cu feeds off 3/4 inch main lines so corrosion jammed them up over the years. Pex'd to the hilt now.

 

Originally posted by @Matt Groth :

@Curt Smith was waiting for someone to say this. Copper is supply, not drain. Not saying he is, but he may be throwing in some stuff to see how much/little you know, which in turn will determine how much he can charge. You need a different plumber.

Matt, I agree with you, but I'd like to point out that I've seen a copper soilstack, too, down here in western PA, and quite a few copper branch drain lines running to a cast iron stack. I think there were periods of time when copper was inordinately cheap from the 1920s to the 1960s. It's not the norm here, but it does happen.

 

Originally posted by @Pat L. :
Originally posted by @Matt Groth:

@Curt Smith was waiting for someone to say this. Copper is supply, not drain. Not saying he is, but he may be throwing in some stuff to see how much/little you know, which in turn will determine how much he can charge. You need a different plumber.

Surprisingly when I tore down walls for rehab in our old 60's era MF the majority of drain pipe, venting & the 3" stack was copper. Cu must have been cheap back then because EVERY electrical circuit was 12/2.

Admittedly as apartments were added the drains were PVC but had poorly designed flow geometry, venting & multiple 90's for no reason. Then there were the 3/8 Cu feeds off 3/4 inch main lines so corrosion jammed them up over the years. Pex'd to the hilt now.

Yes, I can also confirm that some upmarket commercial 2nd gen K&T back in the day was all 12/2. My 1926 duplex, built for an heiress, is completely wired in 12-gauge. So on the expensive remodels, like my place got in 1945, they would sometimes rip out that K&T and replace with 12/2, replace the 20 amp fuse in the original box for the circuit with a 20-amp breaker.

 

I knew I had a shot of the 1 1/2" copper drainpipe I took out of the 1926 duplex's upstairs bathroom. Here it is with Sch. 40 PVC for comparison: same internal diameter, very different thickness. The downstairs bathroom was not piped in copper the same way.

@Harish Nandipati

Harish, this plumbing is from, I think, 1945, embedded in concrete. There is no way your plumber is telling you to put in copper drainage in this day and age. There is also zero likelihood that he's telling you to put in copper supply lines because the drainage is clogged. There's been some lack of communication here.

@Curt Smith

You're right, I've been following this thread and I was wondering if this contractor even know what he's talking about. So it's important to get get a second or third opinion.

It's not clear how or where OP found this guy. When I started REI and needed contractors, I got referrals from friends and acquaintances. This is before the internet where you can go on Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor to find the right people. In my case, being in business for 40 years, the plumber, electricians I used, known, and trust has past away, retired, and I have to hire a whole new group.

I had some recent examples where I nearly hired imposters.

Had an attic fan making funny noises, and the only way to shut it off is to flip the circuit breaker, cutting electric to the back two bedrooms. So I had no TV, AC at night. Googled the problem and found out attic fans has ball bearing problems, wear out, and have to be replaced every so often, like 10 years. Went on HomeAdvisor and they produced three top choices. Called one of them on the phone# listed and they said they'll come right over. Thought to myself, that's strange, someone is waiting for the phone to ring and come right over?

Usually, contractors come in a truck, with their name, proclaiming "licensed and insured" on the side. This guy came in a private car. Looked at my attic fan and listened to the noise. Told him I want the fan replaced and a shutoff switch added. Says he agrees I should add the switch, but the problem is the blades rubbing each other and the noise will soon go away. He'll charge $300 for adding the switch. It didn't sound right.

On the way out, I asked for his business card and he said he forgot to bring it. Gave him a post-it note to write down his name, number, and company. What happened? His name and number is not on the list printed out by HomeAdvisor. So I showed him the list I got and he pointed to one, different than his name and number, and says "I work there".

After he left, I remembered it happened once before. I called a local plumber recommended by someone who I didn't use before. The lady who answered the plumber isn't in, but one of the helpers are here and can run over if it's urgent. I said I just needed the "fluidmaster" for the toilet changed. He came by, did that, plus something else that needed done while he's there. Then he wrote up a receipt saying to contact him, if there's any problems, not the plumber I called since it didn't go through the plumber I called.

I thought back to the attic fan guy that came. He's sitting in his boss' office waiting for the phone to ring. I called, he answered, and says he'll be right over. Sounds like he knows nothing about attic fans, and he might not even be an electrician.

Good thing I read up on attic fan problems before I called.

What did I do? Called an electrician I used two years before who I thought was a bit expensive. He came, listened to the fan, said "you definitely need a new fan" advised the fan cost $150 and another $150 to install. He came a week later, the job took him a little over an hour. Asked him how often he does attic fans. He said "this is the second one this month".

As to OP's problem, get a recommendation from someone. Or these days, I search through Yelp, Thumbtack for contractors, and only consider those with 4 or more stars, plus reading comments of customers. Calling one guy out of the blue and spend thousands of dollars? NO

@Curt Smith I agree referrals from other investors are best, I was saying at least get a word of mouth reference even if it’s from a Home Depot desk (worst case scenario). I think everyone could be reading into the copper drain line idea. It’s more likely the plumber is referring to replacing supply lines at the same time. Sorry I haven’t read every comment in detail if that was clarified. Thanks for the reminder of the local Meet ups. Have you had a lot of success with those and are they still a big thing with all the changes in technology? Real East are investors typically are a lot more bold and likely to get on the phone and meet in person it seems!

I've always searched nextdoor for referrals. Found a good co when I was getting some backup with my sewer. Turns out the clay pipe from house to city collapsed. Had to dig the whole thing out of the front yard and replace. $9.5k. Ouch! 

good advice here. one thing to consider when a plumber is charging you $250/hr, you only want him to do plumbing. not demoing, trenching, jack hammering, re-installing tile, and other such stuff. keep shopping quotes. 

Originally posted by @Victor S. :

good advice here. one thing to consider when a plumber is charging you $250/hr, you only want him to do plumbing. not demoing, trenching, jack hammering, re-installing tile, and other such stuff. keep shopping quotes. 

Of course Victor, but holey COW, $250/hr. Please folks follow my tip; join your local real estate investor associations (REIA) or find REI meetups in meetup.org. You can get referrals from other investors for "investor friendly contractors".

Per your area, but in mine, Atlanta/GA, I only use licensed contractors when a permit needs pulling.  Fixing a plugged sewer/septic line does not need a $250/hr or even a $100/hr or in my area even $60/hr licensed plumber.   There's many unlicensed tradesmen who you will NOT find on angies list.  Often they have their own post to craigslist services offered.  Or refered from another investor.  

$250/hr POOH!   LOL.   Yes I realize I'm maybe lucky here in the wild south (GA area where city/county inspectors don't chase after simple rehabs/fixups.  Certainly not my rental rehabs and certainly NOT a plumbing plug up fix.  Circling back;  yes often its the licensed plumber who owns the camera setup and has the resources to jack up cement, dig up front yards.  So I use a mix of unlicensed and very very rarely licensed trades.   I'm educated and can talk to contractors such that I've never had someone try to pull the wool and give me a jacked up bid.  I' ve gotten high bids.  LOL!   But I've 99% of the time gotten my work done reasonably priced, and mostly well done.  :)

Good luck folks, and to the OP.

 

I would snake from the inside until I hit the obstacle and measure how much cable went in so I get an idea where the problem is. Then I snake from the cleanout at the curb backwards to the house to see if I get to the same spot. Sometimes you get the blockage cleared when snaking backwards. You can get a pretty good sewer camera on eBay for around $300 bucks which often helps you to “see” what the issue is.