40 ft of Tunneling = $14,000 plumbing repair: worth it?

18 Replies

I own a duplex in Austin, very close to the Domain (an ever expanding area, even during the pandemic). I got it at a great price about 5 years ago, due to its foundation issues.

During the sale, our real estate agent successfully negotiated for the seller to pay the cost of the foundation repair, and then we eventually split the cost of resulting plumbing repair with the seller (a very expensive endeavor).

My husband and I are househacking. The initial plumbing repair took up enough of our startup money that we were only able to repair the side we wanted to rent out, and basically have done nothing to our side (our side is NOT rent ready...it still has lots of wall and floor damage from the initial foundation repair).

Fast forward to today - I’ve discovered they only repaired HALF of the foundation. Our previous tenant moved out in February. We discovered a lot of damage from foundation movement on that side. So much, that we decided to go ahead and fix the foundation on that side.

As luck would have it, the company we used repaired the foundation - they dug through several places in the floor to do it, then back filled the dirt, THEN they did the hydrostatic test, only to discover it failed. (Note to self - next time go with a company that does a preliminary test before doing the work, and then does not back-fill the dirt until they've done the final test!)

Anyway, I found another, much better company who was able to locate a pretty big sewer leak under the house. The repair requires them to tunnel 40 feet and replace the pipes all the way out to the city sewer line. It’s a $14000 price tag. Understandably so.

My husband and I are reeling from the sticker shock. We’d love to get y’alls take on this - is this just part of the investment game, and totally worth it, given the location of our property? Or does this sound like way too much money, better to just “sit on it” on it for a while, or get out from under it completely?

Ultimately we just want to know how you guys would think through this problem.

Thanks in advance for any ideas you can share!

@S Buhidma Caudill

Prices on the high side can range from $150 to $200 per foot to replace a sewer line. Some of it depends on the area you live in, how deep the lines are, the types of lines (cast iron, clay, pvc, etc), and the soil types and such.

For a job like that, you should get three quotes and have them try and break the quotes down by labor, parts, permits, and such. Sometimes they won't be able to give you much detail because it's just based on averages that they've charged in the past for similar work.

It doesn't take much to run sewer pipe. Most of the work is in digging the trench. There might also be some environmental issues due to the persistent leak.

There might be other options like inserting a lining in the old pipe, which won't involve as much digging.

I don't understand. Why is it necessary to replace the entire line rather than just the area where its leaking? Why is the foundation folks doing the plumbing work? That is two different trades. It sounds to me like they are doing both the foundation and the plumbing. I would find two different companies for each task and hold each one accountable.  Most master plumbers will run a camera down the line to determine where the leak is at and then fix that problem. Its probably not necessary to replace the entire pipes. 

@S Buhidma Caudill these are real life experiences unfortunately. We had 75 feet of trenching at a house in Ca. Gets expensive in a hurry; ours cost 25k and could have been much more. These things have to be repaired it is all part of the game. Austin is a great area to invest and the trades know people will pay. All the best!

scope the pipe, find the leak via camera, mark the floor, repair the leak directly under the slab, keep the rest of pipe

bust the hole up yourself or with labor to expose the broken pipe then pay a plumber to do the repair, you back fill the hole with dirt and do the concrete patch, you do the flooring repair

I've done this numerous times. Expect to pay under 2k which is a high estimate IMO. You don't pay plumbers to dig, you pay plumbers to do plumbers work......

My humble opinion

Is there a possible trenchless/pipe bursting method solution/alternative to trenching?  A 40' line out here would cost about $4,000 to $6,000.  Some of our sanitation districts also provide rebates when you replace sewer laterals.

@Christopher Phillips - “For a job like that, you should get three quotes and have them try and break the quotes down by labor, parts, permits, and such. Sometimes they won't be able to give you much detail because it's just based on averages that they've charged in the past for similar work.” Thank you for this great advice.

@Aaron Gordy - They’re a foundation company that has a group of master plumbers on staff. They did not do the original foundation work. They came highly recommended to me through a friend of a friend because they'd use a scope to identify the problem (the first plumber I called out said they'd just start digging to look for the problem...no thanks!). They scoped the line (as @Danny Webber suggested) and found the origin of the leak was not under the slap but along the pipe reaching to the city line. In addition, they found two different kinds of pipes down there, and said they’d replace it to bring it up to code.

@Bjorn Ahlblad  - your story definitely makes me feel better...thank you!

omg.... i would def expose the broken pipe and get a plumber to fix that part and call it good. Hire a laborer to expose. 

That makes things much easier. I would guess total cost of under 1k easily if you do that. I normally do the repairs myself because it is very easy if the pipe is exposed. 


I second what @Danny Webber said. But I would not do the pipe myself. I always enjoy talking to trades people. One can learn alot on how to deal with future problems during conversations with plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. But I would not replace all the pipes to bring to code....Please don't buy that bs. Its been working for many years. There are so many older buildings that have cast iron pipes and many times they are not up to code. Code has changed many times since those structures were built. Since its the domain area I assume that it was built in the 70's maybe 80's.

Sorry to hear about the sewer issue.  I have dealt with this twice in the last year.  Both houses were 1950's cast iron under the house and terracotta main sewer lines from house to street.  If you are slab on grade and are not able to dig under the house to access the leak you will need chip up the floor and repair the isolated damage.  If you are not experiencing backups with the drain system now, wait for a better time when you can shop contractors or find a plumber that will do the work on the side.  I paid $1800 to replace 40' of 4" PVC from house to street last time.  I hope this helps.

Derek

I assume they took a video of the pipe? The video should have distance markings on it. Get a copy of the video and share with with a trenchless pipe lining company. They basically inject a new pipe inside the old pipe. It doesn't involve digging. The company I used included a lifetime warranty. As far as whether the pipe meets current code, who cares? As long as you can get it to drain properly, you have no legal requirement to dig up old pipes and update them to new code.

Pipe lining requires the pipe to be in reasonably decent shape, so if the pipe is collapsed then you have to dig. As other people mentioned, you may be able to patch rather than replace the whole line.

Sewer pipe repairs are the worst problem you can have. It adds no value to the property. 

Sewer pipe repairs are the worst problem you can have. It adds no value to the property.

Yeah, but if sewage backs up into the house your value will get hammered in a hurry.

Here in Marin County California most of our sanitation districts require that sewer laterals be tested usually upon transfer of ownership of the property or substantial remodel worth $50,000. This usually means wholesale replacement as few older laterals will be sufficiently tight and leak free to pass. Pipe bursting is more popular out here than pipe lining. They dig only two holes - one near the home and one near the connection to the main - and pull the new pipe through. As I mentioned above, you can get this done for about $1,000 per 10'. Most sanitation districts offer low cost loans or, in some cases, rebates of up to $1,500 when this work is done.

Originally posted by @Danny Webber :

scope the pipe, find the leak via camera, mark the floor, repair the leak directly under the slab, keep the rest of pipe

bust the hole up yourself or with labor to expose the broken pipe then pay a plumber to do the repair, you back fill the hole with dirt and do the concrete patch, you do the flooring repair

I've done this numerous times. Expect to pay under 2k which is a high estimate IMO. You don't pay plumbers to dig, you pay plumbers to do plumbers work......

My humble opinion

good suggestion. just make sure there are no gas lines underneath (call https://call811.com/Before-You-Dig). 

 

Thanks everyone for taking the time to share your input and suggestions! I asked the company for the actual report and it looks like it's a much more complex issue than I understood at first:

There's two breaks under the house and a fall in the line. There's water leaking under the house, and there's water backed up under the sewer line in the yard. It's, in a word, a mess.

@Aaron Gordy - you're correct, it was built in 1975. Since purchasing it 5 years ago, I've discovered it's been "jerry-rigged' in every way possible. I'll file this under "lessons learned the hard way."