What’s that smell?

Bad Smell!!Have you ever walked past a sewer pipe that smelled like rotten eggs? While there probably isn’t a rotting egg in the pipe, hydrogen sulfide could be present, which can be very corrosive for sewer lines. In addition to a rotten egg smell, high levels of hydrogen sulfide could also smell musty or swampy.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable and highly toxic gas known for its pungent rotten egg odor. Many might recall the scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when grandpa lights a cigar and drops the match by the storm sewer.

According to the United States Department of Labor, hydrogen sulfide is used or produced in a number of industries – such as oil and gas refining, mining, tanning, pulp and paper processing and rayon manufacturing. Additionally, it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water and volcanoes, as well as oil and gas wells. Because of their density, low-lying and enclosed spaces are attractive to hydrogen sulfide, which makes confined spaces (such as pipes) very dangerous. Prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide poses dangerous health risks, even at low levels – ranging from headaches, eye irritation, loss of consciousness, and the inability to smell to death.

A simple chemical test can help determine the levels of hydrogen sulfide to which you are exposed and can be obtained at most home improvement stores, from a local plumber or the health department. If water lines contain excessive hydrogen sulfide, a homeowner has three options for rectifying the situation:

  • Find an alternative water supply, such as drilling a new well or contacting your local water authority.
  • Purchase bottled water to use for food preparation and drinking; however, this is not a cost-effective measure.
  • Remove the impurity. There are numerous treatment options available, which will be determined by the levels of chemical impurities in the water, the possibility of bacterial contamination and the volume of water.

The best advice is to let a professional handle any kind of chemical contamination because they have the tools, knowledge and experience to do the job properly

Can I trust a warranty company?

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When you receive a warranty protection offer, you might wonder if it’s right for you. Can you trust a warranty company since many have a bad reputation for high denials and limited coverage options?

The answer lies in research – with a little bit of know-how, you can evaluate any program offer and determine if it’s the right fit for you.

Review the company

  • How long has the company been in business and have they had multiple changes to their brand name?
  • Are they partnered with any notable companies or industry organizations?
  • Read customer reviews.
  • Review their Better Business Bureau profile for accreditation and complaints.
  • Have complaints been resolved in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction?
  • Have they been recognized by the BBB or industry associations for their customer service or contributions to the industry?

Review the Terms and Conditions for each offer and note the following:

  • What are the warranty coverage inclusions and exclusions?
  • Are there hidden service fees or deductibles?
  • Are there coverage caps on the amount paid per repair or per year?
  • Are there coverage restrictions?

What are people saying online?
Google the company name with the word “Complaints” and see what appears. Also note the kind and number of complaints a company has had with the Better Business Bureau or the State Attorney General.

Contact Customer Service
Call the company’s customer service number with questions. Were your questions answered to your satisfaction? Did you have a long wait time before you spoke with a representative? Does their company website have a “frequently asked questions” section that addressed some of your questions? How well the customer service team responded to your questions is usually indicative as to the level of service provided to customers.

Are they accredited with the Better Business Bureau?
All companies are rated with the Better Business Bureau, but some companies choose to be accredited, meaning they abide by a code of ethics set forth by the Better Business Bureau and communicate with the organization regularly by responding to all inquiries and complaints in a timely fashion.

Once you’ve completed an evaluation of the company, only you as a homeowner can determine which warranty is most beneficial for you.

Do I need a water or sewer line warranty?

Newspaper Headlines

It’s not uncommon to have homeowners tell us they don’t need a water or sewer line warranty because their lines haven’t broken and will never break. While we’ve uncovered this is far from the truth – many homeowners are unsure if they need a water or sewer line warranty. When evaluating whether or not to purchase a water or sewer line warranty, homeowners must first understand the coverage details. Warranties are not the same as insurance. While insurance typically covers damage to personal property as a result of service line failures, disasters and extreme circumstances (such as fire, flood, etc.), warranties focus on normal wear and tear – such as aging, ground shifting and tree root intrusion. Problems due to normal wear and tear with the sewer and water lines located outside the home are usually not covered under traditional homeowner’s insurance policies and could be very costly to replace or repair.

When considering whether or not to invest in a water or sewer line warranty, consider the following:

Age of the home
It’s common knowledge as products age, the failure rate increases. While newer homes with PVC pipes may be at lower risk than a 50-year-old home with clay pipes, the age of your home can help determine your need. As homes age, so does the infrastructure supplying water to and removing waste from them.

Types of pipes and length of lines
Do you know of what materials the water and sewer lines inside and outside of your home are made? Some materials are more prone to problems and have shorter life expectancies than others. Knowing what the lines are made of can help determine the level of risk. In addition, the longer the line, the greater the risk of failure and the higher the cost to replace them.

Weather
Weather conditions can affect a pipe’s life expectancy and conditions as they swell with changes in temperature and ground shifting. If the area in which you live is prone to heavy rainfall, droughts or extreme temperature changes – your infrastructure could be at risk.

Plants
The closer your water and sewer lines are to the ground’s surface and  plants and trees, the greater the chance of roots permeating the pipes. It only takes a small pinhole for a root to begin to infiltrate the line, which may result in a leak, clog or break.

 Cost
What is the cost-benefit ratio? Should you pay a small monthly fee for the warranty or do you have enough in your emergency fund to pay for a repair that could cost from $1,300 to $3,500 or more?

Fine Print
Check out the Terms and Conditions of the warranty. Do they adequately cover your particular situation?

Company
Before buying any product, do your homework; research financial stability, outstanding consumer complaints, etc.

Time
One of the many benefits of participating in a maintenance or warranty program is the ability to make one call to solve the problem. If your service line breaks, consider the time invested in locating a qualified, local plumber and scheduling the visit, which may require taking time off from work and is disruptive to your daily routine.

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.

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.