Call before you dig

Shovel in Dirt

Have you ever started to shovel in your yard and hit something hard? While you might think it’s just a rock or clay – it could be your water, sewer or gas line and accidentally puncturing it could be costly and potentially dangerous. While most utility and service lines are buried several feet beneath the ground’s surface, some areas have very shallow lines, which increase the chances of hitting a utility line located on your property. According to “The Top 5 Home Repairs You Should Never Do Yourself,” homeowners often get into trouble when they attempt to modify a plumbing system, like rerouting, repairing or replacing sewer pipes. Should a homeowner choose to repair or replace a utility line, a utility line location service is available to help determine the location of the lines.

Call Before You Dig is a federally-mandated national program that provides homeowners a utility line location service. By calling 811, the service will provide a locator who will help a homeowner locate the utility lines on their property to keep them from inadvertently hitting an underground line while digging. Even repairing a failed water or sewer line caused by root infiltration could disrupt service to neighbors if a homeowner is unaware that the underground lines on their property are connected to a shared line, which could result in a hefty repair bill and city-imposed fines.

Homeowners can have the utility lines on their property marked for reference – what a great idea! Knowing where the water and sewer lines outside the home are located will enable homeowners to monitor ground conditions for potential leaks or breaks via soft spots, pooling water or foul odors.

Calling 811 is simple from anywhere in the country. The number routes the call to a local call center that works with your local utility companies. Simply tell the agent your address and describe the intended project. Within a few days a locator will mark the approximate position of the pipes, lines and cables at your residence so digging can be done safely or noted for future reference. The locators will use color-coded flags as markers for the appropriate utility line:

  • Red – Electric
  • Orange – Communications and Telephone
  • Blue – Water
  • Green – Sewer and Drainage
  • Yellow – Gas
  • Purple – Reclaimed Water
  • White – Project Site

To contact your local 811 center, visit http://www.call811.com.

Drought season brings thirsty roots

iStock_000014458292MediumWhen it’s hot outside, you might cool off with a refreshing drink of cold water. That same theory applies to plants during summer months. When the weather is hot, coupled with extended periods of drought, roots seek water and are naturally drawn to your water and sewer lines. If you have trees, bushes or other plants with deep-penetrating roots, your lines may be at risk of root intrusion, even if located across the yard. To survive trees need water and when exposed to long periods without rain, their roots will seek other water sources such as sewer and water pipes. Typically, service pipes are cooler than the surrounding soil, which can create condensation on the outside surface of the line, thus attracting roots in the soil when they are thirsty.When trees are first exposed to drought, root growth may actually increase. Sewer lines can be significantly warmer than the surrounding soil, which promotes root growth, cell division and nutrient uptake causing roots to form around your pipes. As lines age or are compromised, it’s possible that tree roots will penetrate and clog the pipes. While shrubs are also problematic, their roots are generally not as long and their life span shorter than trees. Roots do not typically follow a growth pattern because they are dependent on environmental conditions. While all roots pose a potential problem to water and sewer lines, some preventive measures can be taken to circumvent tree and shrub roots from penetrating your water and sewer lines including planting at least 10-20 feet from any water or sewer line and avoiding plants with deep, invasive root systems such as

  • Poplars, Cottonwoods and Aspens
  • Willows
  • American Elm
  • Silver Maple
  • Fig
  • Birch
  • Mulberry

Consider planting trees with minimally invasive root systems such as:

  • Japanese fir and maple
  • Acacia
  • Crabapple
  • Vine maples
  • Gingko

CalPoly’s Urban Forests Ecosystems Institute Institute provides a list of plants with low root damage potential to help you avoid tree root problems. As a general rule of thumb – maintain a minimum boundary of 5-10′ between a tree and any underground utilities. Consider root control methods like creating a growth barrier with compact layers of soil, or air gaps using large stones or solid barriers like plastic, metal and wood. Landscape fabric with slow-release chemicals, such as sulfur, sodium, zinc, borate, salt or herbicides (which may be harmful to trees), is also an option. Finally, consider pruning tree roots every five years with the help of an experienced landscaper.

Average Cost of a Service Line Repair or Replacement

iStock_000000798259Large - BackhoeAs a property owner, you are responsible for maintenance of the water and sewer lines that run from the exterior of your home to the public utility connection. Should a line for which you are responsible break, spring a leak or clog, the repair can cost an average of $2,600 or more. If a sewer line breaks under the street before the tap (which is still the homeowner’s responsibility), the repair could be $10,000 or more. That’s an out-of-pocket expense that is both unanticipated and can wreak havoc on a family budget.  Usually repairs to the service lines on your property are not covered by a homeowner’s policy and the city in which you live is only responsible for public service lines. 

As a homeowner, you are responsible for the portion of line beneath your property that runs from the main connection to your home and like most repairs – if this line breaks it can be a very expensive repair. But just how expensive?

While actual costs may vary, HomeAdvisor.com shows that the national repair average of a sewer line repair is approximately $2,600 and approximately $1,030 for a water main. Keep in mind these are national averages for repairs and a variety of factors contribute to these costs such as the length of the line, depth and location of the problem.

Let’s take a look at what kind of factors contribute to a line replacement.

  • Problem Identified – Maybe you smelled raw sewage or noticed extreme damp spots in your lawn. The bottom line – you know there’s a problem and now you need a plumber.
  • Locating a Plumber – If you’ve never had the need for a plumber before and aren’t currently enrolled with a repair service, the process begins with combing through local plumbers to find an affordable and trustworthy plumber in the area. Your research might include whether they are licensed to do business in your area, whether they are knowledgeable to obtain permits to dig and verifying their accreditation status with the Better Business Bureau.”
  • Evaluation – Once you locate a plumber (or two), you’ll need to assess the situation. The plumber will come out and inspect the line and determine the problem. They’ll likely give you a quote and you may want to get a second opinion depending on the cost.
  • Factors Affecting the Cost –  There are a number of factors that contribute to the cost of a repair – such as the length of the line, location of the problem, and general plumber fees. Much like going to a mechanic or lawyer, you will have to pay people for their time and depending on how long the repair takes, the costs could add up quickly. The type of pipe you have may also affect the cost. It’s possible in some older homes you are using outdated pipe that is difficult to repair, resulting in a replacement need. The location of the problem can also cause headaches during a repair. It could be in a difficult-to-reach location, buried deeply under the earth or possibly the result of root intrusion from poorly placed landscaping.
  • After-the-fact Costs – Once the repair is made, it may not be the end of costs. If you had an unknown water leak you could be responsible for a hefty water bill if the leak went unnoticed for quite some time. Additionally, if the leak was significant enough, there may be landscape damage needing to be repaired. 

Replacing lines often requires digging, which involves a long, deep trench or trenches to remove the old pipes and install new ones at a cost of approximately $50-$250 or more per foot, depending on the length of the line, depth of the pipes, ease of access, local rates and code and permitting requirements. An average sewer replacement from the house to the public sewer system can cost upwards of $3,000; however, if the repair is complicated or the pipe is in the street it could be upwards of $7,000 to as much as $25,000 or more. CostHelper readers report paying $4,500-$13,000, or $50-$100 for per foot traditional replacement of 50′-100′ of sewer line, for an average cost of $7,493, or $106 per foot.

However, not all repairs require digging. Many plumbers offer trenchless sewer replacement, which uses a machine to push the old pipe out while installing a new pipe at the same time. Though less invasive on your yard, the cost can still run between $60 and $200 per foot, or an average of $3,500 to $20,00 per household. CostHelper readers paid an average of $232 per foot.

The bottom line – a water or sewer line replacement isn’t as simple as one phone call to a plumber on your own. There’s research, quotes, phone calls and hassles, which could be eliminated with warranty repair services.

 

 

Sewer problem warnings

Repair water pipeSewer backups are a nasty business, from the mess they leave behind to the expense of having the repairs completed and potentially ruining family treasures. It’s important as a homeowner to educate yourself about the warning signs of a sewer problem, long before a backup occurs.

Look for:

  • Soggy ground when it hasn’t rained.
  • Irregular bumps or low spots the yard.
  • Foul odor or sewer gas smells, such as rotten eggs.
  • Gurgling sounds.
  • Slow drains.

If you suspect you have a sewer problem, contact your warranty provider first to send a technician out for repairs. If you do not have a warranty provider, contact a local, certified plumber who can inspect your sewer line with a camera and locate any problems in the joints.

Protecting your home from sewer problems starts with learning what not to put down the drain. Learn more about what to keep out of the sewer here.

Early detection is the key to preventing larger problems for your home.

Myth Busted: I Can Pour Anything Down the Drain

iStock_000007110284XSmall US marketplace benefitsDrains are found in sinks, showers, garbage disposal, toilets and stationary tubs. What most frequently goes into your drain? The correct answer is water. Water leaves your home via the sewer or waste water line and fresh, clean water is supplied to your home via the water line. What many people don’t realize is that, besides water, what goes into your drain impacts the condition of your service lines.

Before pouring hot bacon grease down the drain, you might want to think twice. As grease cools it begins to solidify, which will accumulate along drain walls and start to trap food, hair and debris. Eventually, flow will be impacted because the lines become clogged.

Things you should not pour into a drain, grind in a garbage disposal or flush down the commode include:

  • Solid foods such as fruit rinds or peels, cereal, etc.
  • Paper products such as paper towels, disposable diapers and feminine products
  • Hair (human or otherwise) or lint
  • Dirt
  • Cigarette butts
  • Medications
  • Chemicals such as antifreeze; insecticides; pesticides; cleaners and solvents; fertilizers; paint; batteries and more

Cooking oil, grease or greasy foods can be frozen or mixed with cat litter or coffee grounds in an empty can and put in the trash. Certain household chemicals can contaminate septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems, as well as harm sanitation workers if poured down drains or commodes. All medications should follow proper Federal Drug Administration disposal requirements, which can be found here. Many communities have “take back” programs that enable residents to drop off unused medication and special collection days for chemicals to ensure their proper disposal. Learn about the Environmental Protection Agency standards for chemical disposal here.