HELP!!! Major sewer leak under slab unexpected!

51 Replies

I have a rehab property here in Garland and I finished the foundation only to get the call from the company telling me I had a leak.  Of course I got a second opinion my neighbor who owns a plumbing company to go out and he also verified yes, sewer leak.  They ran the camera and there are multiple leaks throughout the home.  The house is cast iron plumbing large tree roots have grown into some of the plumbing we believe because the camera hit dirt and would not push through.  I did not account for this at all.  Please tell me my options here on all levels!!! They quoted $15,000 to redo all the plumbing. Oh my, no way!  1463 sq ft home.  Btw I have not put any flooring down I left that to do last of course, if that matters in the options I have.

So, does anyone know another company, another solution.  Can I sell the house without the warranty for the foundation and still get a conventional buyer???  The house plumbing works wonderfully.  I am totally at a loss here on my next move and could really use some advice.  I thought I knew all the BIG TICKET ITEMS, apparently I overlooked a major one!!! Wow do I feel like a fool!  Any advice would be appreciated.  Thanks so much!  I need to figure something out like yesterday! 

@Jamie Wooley

I'm not an expert with slab construction as there are few here, but that price is ridiculous. They know where the leak is, chop up the concrete, cut and replace the broken pipe, fill concrete. It's about $150 in materials. Not sure if I'm misunderstanding, but sounds like you're being raked over the coals. 

Remove and replace broken pipes. Hire a leak detection company with warranty, use the camera as backup. Second least expensive, run another sewer line outside of the house, use a trench machine and concrete cutter from home depot or some sort, it may only have one or two baths, so it should run only around 5k, permits need to be pulled and drawn, use ABS if possible. No way near 15k. Ask around more, smaller plumbing company sometimes are more expensive when the work grows bigger.

Thank you both!  I am still looking into this but I thought I would ask BP and see what anyone came up with.  


The real problem is the cast iron pipes.  They rust and deteriorate, which can make repairs difficult to impossible.  If the pipes have copious amounts of dirt in them, the quote makes sense, because they have little to no way to find all of the leaks.  I'm not sure where @Mark Gallagher came up with $150, because that will cover just the supplies, assuming a sleeve type of repair.  The major cost in almost all plumbing issues is labor.  Busting out sections of the foundation, digging down to the pipe and then doing the repair, covering and rebuilding the foundation are all quite labor intensive.  

Did you not get a home inspection prior to closing?  At the very least the inspector should have told you there were cast iron pipes, which would have raised a flag of concern.

Also, the leak may or may not prevent underwriting.  It would likely depend on the type of financing.  However, you know about the problem, so you would have to disclose it.  Any savvy realtor will advise their client to get a quote and then ask for you to either make the repair or reduce the price.

It might be as bad as all that, it might not. Find the local drain/sewer line guy that other local investors use and have him take a look as well. (third time's the charm, and all that) That 15k sounds like a retail consumer oriented plumbing company. 

My sister just went from an 8K quote (got to redo the entire sewer line!) to less than 1k (nope, don't need to replace that line but you need some other stuff) by going to someone I found on our local investor boards. I sure hope you have as happy an outcome. Good luck!

In VA/DC/MD we have "", they're probably regional. You can go online type in what the "symptoms" are but don't tell them you know what is really going on...let them tell you. You will get about 3 immediate calls maybe more. Quotes are free, be present, ask all questions of them, check for license, Ins and references. Do they warranty their work?

Hope your troubles aren't so major.  Let us know what happens.


Originally posted by @Char Prado :

In VA/DC/MD we have "", they're probably regional. You can go online type in what the "symptoms" are but don't tell them you know what is really going on...let them tell you. You will get about 3 immediate calls maybe more. Quotes are free, be present, ask all questions of them, check for license, Ins and references. Do they warranty their work?

Hope your troubles aren't so major.  Let us know what happens.


 As a contractor myself, I would not recommend wasting time on HomeAdvisor or Craigslist or Thumbtack or even Yelp, they are a joke in the industry and 90% of the time, they tend to screw up, the problem in question is very complex and the companies on those websites might not have the right tools, experience, or speed to do the job.  As we say, they are only good at changing faucets, and maybe an angle stop.  They might guarantee their work with a written letter and even notarized, but how long will it take them to come back and do the actual work? You could put all the words you want, but who is going to pay for the delays? especially if you are flipping it and will cost you $xxx/day in holding.  I would go with bigger companies who already own the right tools to do this job and don't have to "rent" them, it will all square out, cheap contractor + tool rents = bigger companies + their overhead - tool rentals. At least, if you get the same problem, you will get the work done within the week, and not get an answer like "oh, this is not the leak I repaired, it will cost you another $xxx for this". Do it right the first time, it might hit your pocket but at least you don't have to pay twice for the same job satisfaction.

@Manolo D,   As a Contractors wife myself I HATE HomeAdvisor from a Contractor Standpoint...I agree they are worthless.  We tried them and quickly canceled.  As a customer they were great!

Sorry you've had such trouble..

@Jamie Wooley

Any time you repair a foundation you run the risk of breaking plumbing. The fact that your house has cast iron plumbing exacerbates the problem.

Did you get multiple quotes for this repair?

Jamie: The last thing you want to do is try to sell this property without disclosing what you know about the drains, especially as there are now 2 parties (plus all of us here in the Internet) who could confirm your awareness of the situation should it ever come to court. You say the "house plumbing works wonderfully"; with the drains full of roots and soil, it's only a matter of time until they start clogging and creating sewage backup in the units, so I would say you have no choice but to fix this now, and to fix it properly. Those are the hazards of being in this business, but at least you don't have brand new floors that will need to be ripped up, and more importantly, lucky that it didn't go undiscovered so that one night you were awakened by frantic calls from tenants complaining of sewage all over those nice new floors. I know it's a financial hit, but you will learn from this and move on to better scenarios. Best of luck.

Originally posted by @Mark Gallagher :

@Jamie Wooley

I'm not an expert with slab construction as there are few here, but that price is ridiculous. They know where the leak is, chop up the concrete, cut and replace the broken pipe, fill concrete. It's about $150 in materials. Not sure if I'm misunderstanding, but sounds like you're being raked over the coals. 

 Mark: Jamie did say that "there are multiple leaks". When there are problems with old drains, often the first one is only the tip of the iceberg. The best way is to replace the entire drain now and I would hesitate to deal with any plumbing company that would be willing to do a patch job. Very often, peace of mind comes at a price and personally, I would not be wanting to put down new floors over a bad situation that has had a band-aid slapped on it.

You will have to take a breathe here.  Something has to be done.  Since  you are dealing with the first company that gave you their very high estimate I would have them explain exactly what they are proposing for that $15,000?  

Tell your neighbor, the plumber,  that you are very concerned and Ask for a detailed plumbing proposal plan so you can look at it and understand exactly what that $15,000 will be doing.  Yu will be able to use this proposal to  compare it to other proposals and other quotes.  

I would also, after I got their proposal, and read their proposal,  then tell them I would like to do that but I can not afford to do that.  Then ask them  if there are any alternative less expensive approaches to solving this problem and see what they are.  See what the new lower proposals will address and how much that will cost.  In the interum I would start speaking to other Plumbing companies and see what they propose and what they will charge.  There are also some master plumbers on BP that I would ask for advise on how to proceed.  You can send them copies of the proposal and any pictures.

I would also contact the original Inspection company and get their reccomendations

You are at the start of a research plumbing problem.  You need expert advise and you need someone that is qualified to do the Plumbing repair.  Good luck and let us know plumber by plumber because this is not an unusual problem and we alll need to learn.

@Hattie Dizmond

@Maggie Tasseron

As I said I'm no expert in slabs. It's commonplace here to use rubber sleeves but that's "above" grade in the basement. That being said, $15,000 still would be outrageous to replace all of the pipe, in my opinion. At the very least, the OP needs more bids. 

Price seems a little on the high side.  Keep in mind it is extremely labor intensive and something you do not want to tackle yourself.  Is price quoted for tunneling?  How many feet?  I do recommend replacing all cast iron sewer pipe below slab.  Pic is a sewer line replacement done in Dallas in which cast iron pipe was deteriorated. 

$15k is too high, even for a full repipe.  On that size house I would expect something around $5k, depending on the configuration of the house.  If your bathrooms and kitchen are on the outside of the house, there won't be as much tunneling/concrete break outs.  If they are in the middle of the house, more tunneling.  Do you have to go all the way out to the curb...etc.

Are you GC'ing your project or is someone else - if someone else, do they have an investor-friendly plumber?


Thank you all for your help!  

I am in the process of getting more bids and seeing what other options I have here.  This was just unexpected and I was uneducated on this issue.  All of your advice is very helpful.  I will keep you updated as I am taking the next few days to try and figure this out.

Maggie, let me be very clear that I asked "Could I sell the home without a foundation warranty" I never said I would not disclose the leak.  I would never not disclose the home had a leak.  I am very aware I am posting my face and my full name very clearly on the Internet as well as that I am a licensed real estate agent.  So I would not do anything unethical and know I have to disclose everything I know about the property.  In a worse case scenario I may choose to get out of this property and move forward and sell it outright disclosing all I know.  Another investor that does not have cash may need a conventional loan and I buy cash so I do not know all of the stipulations with the foundation warranty's.  That was why I asked that question to be clear on that!

Originally posted by @Hattie Dizmond :

Did you not get a home inspection prior to closing?  At the very least the inspector should have told you there were cast iron pipes, which would have raised a flag of concern.

Hattie - how would an inspector know if there were cast iron pipes if they are buried under the foundation?

When I need a contractor I haven't utilized in the past I hit up the investor meetups online. They all have a list of preferred vendors. 

When you call say your an investor.  At that point they understand where your coming from. Don't skip your due diligence either. I've found some losers in those lists as well. Everything else has been said so I wont repeat it here.

@Gautam Venkatesan - good question.  Our general inspector is not able to tell us whether it is cast iron or not in most cases, if it is a slab foundation.  They will not take things apart for example, and typically you would need to move the toilet or at least a shower drain to see down into the piping.  Even that is no guarantee since a house may have been partially re-piped.  I have encountered a partial re-pipe a few times.  PVC sewer clean-outs - great!  But added after the fact...

Maybe you can get a separate plumbing inspection?

I just assume that if it is pre-1978, then it is cast iron and budget some amount for plumbing, amount depending on the level and location of foundation repair and age of house as well as configuration of the house.  1978 to early 80s...probably PVC but not 100% of the time.


This is just part of flipping houses.   When you buy distressed or neglected properties there will be issues that come up and you really need to budget and appropriate margin into your purchase price.   The way I try to do it is I figure that if the project really go wrong, worst case I'll still break even (short of having to tear the house down).   If I couldn't have something like this come up and still make a small profit then I wouldn't have bought the house at that price.

If the cast iron is failing at multiple points there is no point in patching it because the rest of the line will be in similar condition and will just fail in the near future.  It's an expensive process to replace all of it, especially depending on how many feet of pipe are under the house.  If the plan is to jackhammer up above the pipes one option that I like to use is to get a price if I have someone else do the digging.  Plumbers and electricians are about the most expensive ditch diggers you can hire.  Get a few bids, depending on how much work a contractor has their prices may vary.  A guy that has work lined up for the next month isn't going to come in with a real low price but a guy that needs to line up a project for next week may be more aggressive.   Don't use any of those referral sites, ask local investors for a recommendation.  

There's no way I'd sell the house without fixing the issue.  This needs to be fixed before you move forward.  If you go ahead and finish the house without fixing this major issue I don't see how you'd expect to be able to sell it to a retail buyer at the end.  This is the whole point of being a flippper, you need to tackle the problems that the average homeowner doesn't want to.   Your options are really either fix it or sell the project now as is to another investor.  

Plumbing is one of the most expensive fixes especially on slab.

A house inspector isn't going to scope the lines like a plumber would to inspect.

For scoping you need to use a local investor friendly plumber that understands the business. Regular plumbers will be doing retail jobs so will not be interested in the business usually unless an inflated price.

For bids DO NOT tell other plumbing companies what the bid came in at etc. You might say you got a competitive price but are getting multiple bids for the quality of work, timeline to finish, as well as the price.

Make sure they do not get the money until they finish on the job. I have seen instances where plumbers take jobs but then get called onto other jobs mid project. They still finish but your is on the back burner for weeks. You have to make your job their number one priority. If they say booked up and can't get around it till XX date and seem nonchalant about it then find another company. Also ask if a master plumber is supervising everything or are these newer to the trade??

Spending a few hundred with a plumber to inspect the lines before purchase could have saved a massive headache or garnered at least a big reduction in price.   

I agree with Scott.  I lean towards people that advertise.  Reason being I have more recourse.  They protect their reputations a little better.  So radio advertisers work just fine for me.  Otherwise I may network a little if I want the job done inexpensively however the people that advertise usually are competitive and pretty accurate.  I agree with Joel too on the inspection.  I have found with people that advertise extensively you can't go wrong. 

Plumbing is kind of difficult so is electric.  It pays to have knowledge of both I am sure you will have that in the future.  Foundations, roofs,  Septic fields combined with grandfather clauses can be expensive.  It's good to have a working knowledge.  Taking an inspection course might be the answer for the future either online or in a class. 

I would want a schematic from the plumber of the lines showing exactly where the leaks are located and the condition of the rest of the lines throughout.  This will give you a better idea of the minimum that needs to be done along with the maximum that could be done

Sewer lines are not near as difficult or technical as water lines would be.  You could drastically cut your costs by hiring out the prep work such as jackhammering and the finish work such as the concrete repair and have the plumber do the rest

If it were me and I had the diagram and felt confident I knew where the issues were, I would hire a couple of $12/hr workers and rent a jackhammer

If you are going to do rehabs in DFW, especially older homes, get used to it.  As others have said anytime you fix a foundation on an older home, just expect it to happen.

I have had a few of these.  I've found plumbers that will fix breaks for $1000-$2000.  I've actually paid as little as $800.  If it is in the middle of the house they will sledge hammer through the concrete and fix them, then re-concrete.  I'd be cautious about jackhammer through it in case you hit a tension line etc.

I had a buddy that had his whole underslab sewer lines changed for $5500 at a house in Dallas.  It was 2 bathroom and about 2200sq ft.  I think it was Quality foundation and plumbing.  They work with a lot of investors.

Once they are done make sure they do a static test.

I work with a guy that sold his personal house.  He  knocked $10k off the price because he didn't want to deal with it.  If you jack hammer through the concrete that means redoing the floors too.

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