Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

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smatter
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Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

Thought I’d see what my fellow bogleheads think of a fun issue we have…

Background: bulldozed our house and built a new one (infill development) 7 years ago. Since move in, sump in our basement is constantly running, one crock, every 7-8 mins, every hour, every day, rain or shine, summer or winter… you get the point. Water is piped to the edge of the property into a storm drain. Have been told by builder it’s probably an underground stream. But note, during construction (when we dug the foundation) there was no water.

Because it’s infill development and the basement is deeper than the one in the original house, the sewer drain is not below the basement, but instead about 5-6 feet off the basement floor, and we have a grinder pump for the basement bathroom. This makes the lowest gravity drained fixture the 1st floor half bath toilet.

Curiously also, we have a line of evergreen shrubs, and the one directly over the drain line is at least 2x as big as the others (we have to prune it aggressively!)

Issue: On Memorial Day, my 5 year old decides to flush a toilet bowl full of TP. 3 days later, I walk downstairs to find the 1st floor toilet barfing grey water (yuck).

Plumber comes and snakes from the toilet using a 1 inch auger, apparently clears the clog, we think everything is fine.

A few days later we observe gurgling from the sink and realize the clog is reforming (thankfully before another backup)

Plumber comes back and brings the big auger. But he can’t seem to pass about 10ft past the foundation. Yet the clog is clear and water is flowing clean.

I buy a camera on Amazon and fish down the sewer clean outs and discover that where iron pipe meets PVC about 1 foot past my front porch, 3.5 feet underground, the pipes ARE NOT CONNECTED. Instead the PVC is shifted so that it is partially connected … probably leaving about 1.5 inches of the 4 inch pipe for flow.

Concern: Has this been like this since day 1???

The cost to fix this will be a few thousand. But it is not as bad as it could have been. It’s under a flower bed, not the driveway, or the porch.

I have homeowners service line coverage and have discussed with my agent but have not yet made a claim.

I think this is an undiscovered latent defect, and the builder should fix it. My builder is one of the top in the local area and a good person, and he took my call to discuss and has written the plumbing company that did the original work. But he does not agree with my premise and thinks there are a number of other possible explanations for the condition.

Am I being ridiculous to expect him to fix the issue 7 years on? Should I just make the homeowners claim and be done with it?

Part of this is just the principle, and the fact that we’ve had these other issues to suggest the source of our underground water is ourselves, and the weirdly growing tree. On the flip side, it’s only a few thousand, and is almost surely covered by my homeowners policy.
killjoy2012
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by killjoy2012 »

Personally, I'd probably start by hiring a certified plumber that can bring their own camera inspection system and write you a formal report of the situation from their 3rd party unbiased and professional opinion. Not just the disconnect, but the overall plumbing situation. Let them enumerate and speculate on the root cause of the disconnect. Let them confirm everything else looks OK (or not).

I think who was responsible also plays into this. Did you hire a GC who either did that plumbing work, or subcontracted it out? Or did you hire the plumber directly? IANAL, but the 7 years from completing home construction until your discovery of the issue could obviously be a challenge.

Personally, unless you're really looking forward to a fight, I'd probably just hire my own plumber, dug it up and fix it. As you said, it sounds like there would be minimal ancillary damage by digging -- no driveway, sidewalk, foundation, etc. -- so I'd probably just bite the bullet and do it. Fighting may cost you more than the problem itself. And if the builder did agree to address it, do you want the same idiots who didn't do it right the first time to now "fix" it? I'd lean more towards taking control the problem yourself -- hire a reputable plumbing contractor to scope, document, and recommend the fix(es) - have them fix it... send your builder the bill, or come to some agreement on splitting the cost somehow.
rebellovw
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by rebellovw »

I don't know the answer but I feel your pain. My house was built in 2007 and last week we completed the new sewer line and tore up about 5ft of the city street. 3 different permits - over a 100ft of line - 15ft deep in places.

I've got the nicest sewer line in town now.

My old one was terrible - we found it not even glued into the city PVC - it was just sitting in the PVC elbow.

It cost me some serious money - but I did it because this is my house - I own it outright - and I don't want to have any issues should I ever have to sell it.

I didn't go through my insurance as it is external to the house. I'll write a check next week and hopefully have the money paid off in a few months.

It sucks but it could have been much worse (sewer tap wasn't far from my property - one plumber scared the @#$@$@# out of me by saying - "I think your sewer tap is ..." and points across a few neighbors properties - to the main road off in the distance...

Definitely as the poster above said - hire the best well respected plumber you can find - that is what I did.
HomeStretch
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by HomeStretch »

The disconnect is 1 foot beyond a 7-year old house and 3-1/2’ underground. Whether your builder, another contractor, you or nature (settling) were responsible for causing the issue is hard to say without more facts:

- Did your builder (or the subcontractors he managed) backfill the area, grade and install the lawn/landscaping?

-Or did you hire other contractors to do so?

- Have you or other contractors done any work in that area in the past 7 years (especially work involving heavy machinery or digging)?

- Are any tree/shrub roots growing into the lines?

- Any settling/ground shifting in other area around the house?

You have an issue. Fix it ASAP. My guess is it would be hard to get the original builder or plumber to foot the cost or to prove they are responsible. Consider doing the repair without going through insurance, if possible. To reduce cost, can you dig the area down yourself so the repair can be done by you/plumber/excavation company and then backfill yourself?
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galawdawg
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by galawdawg »

Absent a controlling warranty provision, you have no legal recourse. If the builder pays anything it would be based upon customer goodwill. It is indeed possible that the pipe was correctly installed and that later site work or settling or shifting ground caused the problem.

I'd recommend you get a few quotes and have it repaired. Depending on your deductible you may just want to foot the bill yourself. That type of repair just over three feet below grade with no obstructions, hardscape, or structure in the way should not be too costly.
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smatter
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

Appreciate the quick replies folks.

For further detail: we do not have any other issues with the house, no significant settlement, no water infiltration, no drainage issues, nothing. Knock on wood. There has also been zero work in the vicinity of the house and / or near the site of the drain pipe since delivery.

I’m going to let the builder and his contracted plumber (he GC’d it all - plumbing, grading/landscaping - everything) come look and give me an opinion. I trust him, he’s really the top guy in the community, which is why I hired him in the first place.

Deductible on HO is $250 for this type of coverage, and covers up to $10K. I can’t see why I wouldn’t make a claim if the builder won’t cover. I’ve never made a claim in the past.
This is what I’m really hoping to get peoples views on.

I would disagree that I do not have legal recourse by the way - while I agree that I don’t have any contractual remedies, I could easily frame up a pretty simple negligence claim against the plumber, and as it was undiscoverable / undiscovered until now I am not outside the statute of limitations and the statute of repose is 20 years in MD. This would be rather extreme though… I am not really looking to do that for something that will cost at most $5,000 to fix and likely far less.
HomeStretch
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by HomeStretch »

smatter wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:09 am … Deductible on HO is $250 for this type of coverage, and covers up to $10K. I can’t see why I wouldn’t make a claim if the builder won’t cover. I’ve never made a claim in the past.
This is what I’m really hoping to get peoples views on. …
Talk to your agent so you understand the future premium impact and coverage availability, if any. From my experience, the insurer raised my homeowner’s premiums significantly for 3 years after a claim and would not insure me if I had one more claim in 3 or 5 years (can’t recall).

Edit - consider having a pro scope the entire line so you can see if there are any other issues. You don’t want to do this more than once…
Last edited by HomeStretch on Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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celia
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by celia »

Our “offset” sewer line (2 clay pipes that had ends that hardly overlapped with each other) was due to our tree roots lifting up one of the pipes. You could also see the roots in the drain camera views. Since the line was running through the backyard parallel to and about 7 feet from the property line, our side neighbor’s tree near the break probably had roots in the area too. Before that time, we had never considered that neighbor’s roots could damage our property and vice versa.

At that time, the house was about 50 years old. The city’s sewer line ran along the back side of our property under the rear neighbor’s yard. We decided to replace the entire clay pipe which started under the house in the crawl space and ran to the back of the yard. It took two plumber assistants a week to dig the trench by hand to uncover the pipes and less than a day to place the new pipes and cover everything up. We ended up with a new clean out at each end. A new side neighbor removed their tree a few years ago since they wanted to widen their driveway and ours will come out soon as we will be re-landscaping.

The plumbing cost was huge ($10K??) but the house is older and has been remodeled several times by various owners and us.

In OP’s case, I suspect that the settling of the soil has a lot to do with it even if it was compacted back into place 7 years ago. There were still air pockets there and shifting soil underground when water percolates in the soil or roots grow. And if you live in “earthquake country”, the soil keeps shifting too. A new crack just appeared inside our house this week and it’s been 15 years since the last remodel. (We live in “earthquake country”.)

OP, if you make a HO claim, expect your premiums to increase next year.
tibbitts
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by tibbitts »

I don't know how you'd prove that normal activity (shifting ground, etc.) didn't cause the problem unless you disassemble it and maybe find it was not attached properly (no glue, whatever.)

I had no idea typical home insurance covered problems like that - it always seems like anything to do with water isn't covered. I have a homeowner's claim now and my deductible is about $3.4k.

It occurs to me that sewer problems are some of the least discriminatory: you can have a problem that costs just as much to fix for an $80k home as for an $8M home.
mw1739
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by mw1739 »

I had something similar happen. Paid some landscapers to do the digging (don’t pay the plumbers hourly rate to dig dirt). Once the spot was found paid a plumber to make the connection. I believe total cost was $300 - $200 for the laborers and $100 for the plumber.
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galawdawg
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by galawdawg »

smatter wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:09 am Appreciate the quick replies folks.

For further detail: we do not have any other issues with the house, no significant settlement, no water infiltration, no drainage issues, nothing. Knock on wood. There has also been zero work in the vicinity of the house and / or near the site of the drain pipe since delivery.

I’m going to let the builder and his contracted plumber (he GC’d it all - plumbing, grading/landscaping - everything) come look and give me an opinion. I trust him, he’s really the top guy in the community, which is why I hired him in the first place.

Deductible on HO is $250 for this type of coverage, and covers up to $10K. I can’t see why I wouldn’t make a claim if the builder won’t cover. I’ve never made a claim in the past.
This is what I’m really hoping to get peoples views on.

I would disagree that I do not have legal recourse by the way - while I agree that I don’t have any contractual remedies, I could easily frame up a pretty simple negligence claim against the plumber, and as it was undiscoverable / undiscovered until now I am not outside the statute of limitations and the statute of repose is 20 years in MD. This would be rather extreme though… I am not really looking to do that for something that will cost at most $5,000 to fix and likely far less.
As others have mentioned, if you file a claim be prepared for the possibility that your rate will rise in the future. I essentially self-insure for anything that is below the deductible and for anything above the deductible where my net reimbursement is likely to be offset in short order by any potential rate increase. For this type of issue, I'd just consider it a cost of home ownership and pay for it out of pocket.

On the legal issues, while you might be able to pay an attorney thousands of dollars to take your case, expect the statute of limitations and statute of repose issues to be contested and litigated. And based upon your description of the issue and assertion that it was "undiscoverable" and only found seven years after the work due to a problem with the commode, expect that whether the cause was negligence or not to also be contested. (As others have noted, there are many other things that could have caused the issue you have with the sewer line beside faulty installation). You'll easily spend thousands of dollars to hope to pursue a case where the maximum potential damages would be exceeded by your legal fees and costs. Based upon the facts you have presented, I continue to believe you have no legal recourse.

Now you may have a builder who stands well above the rest and who will, as a matter of customer goodwill, have the issue repaired whether they are responsible or not. Most builders would not accept responsibility for something such as this, a position that I don't personally find unreasonable. If the builder offers an accommodation, that speaks to their commitment to quality and service. But I would neither expect nor want them to do so unless it was clear that there was no other cause other than negligent construction (for example, a long run of PVC sewer pipe in a difficult to access crawl space that has no hangers to support it in violation of building code, resulting in the pipe sagging and cracking/breaking).

Hope this works out for you!
adamthesmythe
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by adamthesmythe »

The joint would have been exposed and then covered after construction.

It is at least possible that the joint was fine just after backfill but then was disturbed during settling. This would be worse in some types of soils.

You would have to argue that the original plumber should have anticipated this, I don't know, and then used crushed stone to fill, or similar.
123
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by 123 »

Yes you are in a muddle of a mess. Someone else may be responsible, the contractor, but with the passage of time it makes it more difficult to make that case. The approach I would take is get the repair made. In the course of excavation you may learn more about what likely caused the problem (take photos). Depending on what you learn I would present the bill to the contractor if it seems to be his "fault". If the contractor doesn't pay up (or negotiate) you could proceed to file a small claims case (the limit could be less than your actual loss).

Or you could contact your insurance agent, file a homeowner's claim, and get guidance from them about how to proceed with repair (do they have procedures to select contractor?). Depending on the company one homeowner's claim may, or may not, impact your premium.

If you have severe winter weather (where ground freezes) I would be less likely to blame the contractor.
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crefwatch
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by crefwatch »

I wonder if it's wise to cheap-out on the digging? Plumbers don't do drywall repair after they work, so I don't think you can count on him to test the bearing capability or the frost susceptibility of the sewer line outside the house. Who cares about the cost of filling in the hole if the just-repaired joint has poor support (against the weight of the soil above), or a frost heave under it sometime in the future?

It seems pretty unlikely that 7 year old house settled. I've watched the inspection for just the foundation of my four-season room. It's fussy!

OTOH, our seller hired a septic excavator and contractor who did not do the best possible work. It wasn't a disaster, but (for example), after the ejector pump (to the leach field) failed (quite reasonably after 24 years), we found electrical connections in the dosing tank that should have been in a separate box in the earth, and crooked PVC connections in the same tank - errors hastily corrected in the field. They did the job on price, not quality.

It still remains to be seen if they cut the water line (where a new tank had to be installed to code) and spliced it with PVC, harming the electrical ground for the house. (Beyond the scope of this thread.)
dalbright
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by dalbright »

mw1739 wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:50 am I had something similar happen. Paid some landscapers to do the digging (don’t pay the plumbers hourly rate to dig dirt). Once the spot was found paid a plumber to make the connection. I believe total cost was $300 - $200 for the laborers and $100 for the plumber.
This is brilliant!
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MikeWillRetire
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by MikeWillRetire »

Well if you fix it, that might also fix your sump pump problem. It may be pumping some of your sewage that percolates into the ground.
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iceport
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by iceport »

MikeWillRetire wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 3:31 pm Well if you fix it, that might also fix your sump pump problem. It may be pumping some of your sewage that percolates into the ground.
I had the same thought!!!

(If it were me, I'd test the sump water for E. coli...) :shock:

That's not to say it couldn't just as easily be groundwater, instead. The fact that the foundation hole was dry when excavated could just be because the water table was temporarily lower than normal at the time.
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smatter
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

dalbright wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 3:21 pm
mw1739 wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:50 am I had something similar happen. Paid some landscapers to do the digging (don’t pay the plumbers hourly rate to dig dirt). Once the spot was found paid a plumber to make the connection. I believe total cost was $300 - $200 for the laborers and $100 for the plumber.
This is brilliant!
I agree. This probably what I will do.

Thanks again to all for the thoughts. Have decided to just fix it, tally the bills, and consider insurance at the end.

My landscapers are coming to give me a quote Monday. Of course they also offered to do the pipe work, but I’ll have a plumber do that…

I’m sure it will cost me more than $300 … as we will need to move some plants and replant the bed, but starting to think we may be in and out for closer to $1000… and for that, I probably won’t ‘waste’ a HO claim.
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galawdawg
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by galawdawg »

By the way, if your deductible is only $250 for any covered loss, you may want to consider bumping it up to $1k or higher. You don't want to make claims for minor issues anyway and you'll likely save a substantial amount on your premiums with a higher deductible.
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smatter
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

galawdawg wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 4:50 pm By the way, if your deductible is only $250 for any covered loss, you may want to consider bumping it up to $1k or higher. You don't want to make claims for minor issues anyway and you'll likely save a substantial amount on your premiums with a higher deductible.
Thanks… we have a $1k deductible on the main part of the policy ($840/yr for full replacement cost for the structure - estimated at $550k). This is part of a special package ($160/yr) of expanded coverage riders and the service line coverage has a $250 ded. Since I pay extra for this, it kind of makes me want to use it more :beer :beer
Supergrover
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by Supergrover »

I had one of those Extra Special Premium Platinum Extra Coverage riders...and the ins company fought me tooth and nail. I had to file suit to get them to pay. Just FYI.
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smatter
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

For those interested, we ended up having our landscaper dig up the bed ($800 to a depth of 5 feet) to expose the pipe. The builder arranged with the plumber to prioritize us in their schedule and give us his discounted rate… which ended up being all of $300 to repair the pipe. While I can certainly continue to speculate about the cause, I’m just going to chalk this one up to bad luck (but also good luck that the issue wasn’t ultimately that bad)

All in all we ended up out about $2,000 for the issue. I decided not to make an HO claim.
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galawdawg
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by galawdawg »

Thanks for the update. $2k in the grand scheme of things isn't too bad.

Glad it was resolved relatively painlessly. :beer
CurlyDave
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by CurlyDave »

mw1739 wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:50 am I had something similar happen. Paid some landscapers to do the digging (don’t pay the plumbers hourly rate to dig dirt). Once the spot was found paid a plumber to make the connection. I believe total cost was $300 - $200 for the laborers and $100 for the plumber.
+1

Exactly right. 3.5 feet down is a hand digging job, no heavy equipment needed. Quick and easy for a couple of laborers to expose the pipes. Pile the dirt on pieces of plywood to save your landscaping.

Something you need to think about is that much of the dirt they dig up, and everything in the hole is going to saturated with pretty yucky water. And, once the pipes are exposed yucky water will continue to flow out of the bad connection with every flush.

The hole may have to expose several feet of pipe, possibly on each side of the disconnect in order to re-align the pipes to meet properly.

If your GC will meet with you ahead of doing the work, he may be willing to tell you the lengths and clearances necessary in the trench. He may be willing to come back and give an opinion on whether this was a poor initial job or if was settling.

Take pictures of everything. Since you have to expose the pipe to fix it anyway, having a plumber scope the inside of the pipe seems like an unnecessary expense. Your pictures of the outside should be plenty enough if you want to make a claim against your GC.
Answering a question is easy -- asking the right question is the hard part.
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galawdawg
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by galawdawg »

CurlyDave wrote: Mon Jul 05, 2021 11:49 am
mw1739 wrote: Sat Jun 12, 2021 11:50 am I had something similar happen. Paid some landscapers to do the digging (don’t pay the plumbers hourly rate to dig dirt). Once the spot was found paid a plumber to make the connection. I believe total cost was $300 - $200 for the laborers and $100 for the plumber.
+1

Exactly right. 3.5 feet down is a hand digging job, no heavy equipment needed. Quick and easy for a couple of laborers to expose the pipes. Pile the dirt on pieces of plywood to save your landscaping.

Something you need to think about is that much of the dirt they dig up, and everything in the hole is going to saturated with pretty yucky water. And, once the pipes are exposed yucky water will continue to flow out of the bad connection with every flush.

The hole may have to expose several feet of pipe, possibly on each side of the disconnect in order to re-align the pipes to meet properly.

If your GC will meet with you ahead of doing the work, he may be willing to tell you the lengths and clearances necessary in the trench. He may be willing to come back and give an opinion on whether this was a poor initial job or if was settling.

Take pictures of everything. Since you have to expose the pipe to fix it anyway, having a plumber scope the inside of the pipe seems like an unnecessary expense. Your pictures of the outside should be plenty enough if you want to make a claim against your GC.
Did you perhaps miss OP's resolution two posts above? :wink:
CurlyDave
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by CurlyDave »

galawdawg wrote: Mon Jul 05, 2021 11:52 am Did you perhaps miss OP's resolution two posts above? :wink:
Posted before I got to the end of the thread. :oops:
Answering a question is easy -- asking the right question is the hard part.
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iceport
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by iceport »

smatter wrote: Mon Jul 05, 2021 9:28 am For those interested, we ended up having our landscaper dig up the bed ($800 to a depth of 5 feet) to expose the pipe. The builder arranged with the plumber to prioritize us in their schedule and give us his discounted rate… which ended up being all of $300 to repair the pipe. While I can certainly continue to speculate about the cause, I’m just going to chalk this one up to bad luck (but also good luck that the issue wasn’t ultimately that bad)

All in all we ended up out about $2,000 for the issue. I decided not to make an HO claim.
That's great!

(Any change in the pumping rate at the sump pump?)
"Discipline matters more than allocation.” ─William Bernstein
jpjr
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by jpjr »

One follow-up question. Is the sump pump still working overtime since the repair?
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smatter
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Re: Plumbing drain pipe “disconnect”

Post by smatter »

Yes… it’s still going. It does not seem to be running as frequently, but still running regularly. I have not timed it.

So there is likely a groundwater stream under the house, as originally theorized. Oh well, that would have been way too easy :mrgreen:
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