Friday, November 13, 2009

Confessions of a house geek: The Shitstorm

Seriously, waste and fecal matter need to be flushed out of any home, and mine is certainly no exception. Especially when there is a break in your sewer line and things start to get nasty inside from backup.
It happens to homeowners, and it happened to me back last month.

I had noticed my basement toilet was backing up, and the laundry sink wasn't draining. I called a friend of mine who handles my inside plumbing and heating and he suggested I call Power Plumbing to have my lines checked out. (I should note, I vetted this company well. They're highly rated and award-winning members of Angie's List)
Well, upon them coming out and doing a diagnostic with cameras and routers they found that my sewer pipe was half-filled with wet sand and silt. So much, that they couldn't get through it with their heaviest router. It had become impacted sludge.
There was a break in the middle of my back yard and they'd have to dig down, blow the pipe out with a jetter and replace the broken section.
Total cost; about $8000.


There was no doubt; it had to be done. It had to happen fast, and this was nothing to cut corners on. It was a nasty job and these guys were the pros to do it right. So I bit the bullet and had them do it, starting to figure out a way to pay for it over the next few months.
Well, they did the repair, and the sewer line was clean, but upon inspecting the rest of the lines coming out of the house they found another problem.
My old kitchen pipe that went out my basement wall and out to an old grease-trap (which I had tied to the main drain 7 years ago) had completely rusted away and dropped from its connection. Waste water was leaking into the soil next to my foundation, and the wet soil was leaching into the sewer line by the break.
This, they determined, was a source of the larger and ongoing issue. This was a separate problem from the broken clay pipe in my yard, and would require another dig next to my foundation. It was a major repair outside and a rerouting of the way my kitchen drains inside.
With part and labor, it would come to another $7500.

Oof! Again.

I honestly couldn't stand to watch the 2nd phase of the work, but it went fine and it's fixed now. The good news is that my 115 year old house actually drains and flushes better than it ever did. A mean feat for a house that was built before the advent of indoor plumbing.
(Yes, that's right.)
The house has been modernized into the 21st century. My sewer line from the house to the alley is also as clean as a whistle, and there are now 3 clean-outs in different places to allow easy access for any future maintenance.

And as much as $15,000 would've been better spent on a new roof (which my house sorely needs), I can save the receipts from this project and get some equity there when I eventually sell.

..and I am reconsidering my battles at this point.
I can console myself in that this incident is a once-in-a-lifetime expense for any homeowner. Like getting a new boiler. It's expensive, but you never have to do it again. But there are other expensive things that go wrong with houses this old, and I have to consider an exit strategy if things become too much.
There is still too much to do on this place before I can seriously consider putting it on the market for sale. It's in much better shape than when I bought it 10 years ago, but still; with the housing market being the way it is now, I wouldn't walk away with very much.

So, I'm looking at a refinance right now. I'm hoping there is enough additional equity to pay off the balance on this repair work, and take care of some other debt that has been accumulating.
I still have some grand plans for the place, but every project has to offer some serious potential in return investment or I just can't justify it.
I'm hoping to hang in for another 5 years. By then, the place should be at a finished stage, both of my kids will be done with school, and the real estate market should be in a better place.

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