A frustrated potential customer calls because she’s having trouble getting a permit from the local city, for an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) Sound familiar?

In most cities in the Puget Sound region, you can tap into your homes existing sewer connection to the city sewer main for your mother in law or ADU structure built on the same lot.

In this case, original home was built in the thirties or so. It’s connected to the city sewer system and they want to connect the apartment over the garage (fully permitted, but never occupied) to the sewer. The city wants a bunch of information on a site plan with elevations, including existing underground sewer pipe. Without a site plan with correct information-no permit. Without digging up the existing sewer pipe, this information could be impossible to get.

Typically, we would use a Google overhead image as a basis for the site plan, as its cheap and easy. Showing the building locations, streets sidewalks, etc. is easy from overhead photos.

As far as determining elevations for the sewer—we would choose one of our high-quality sewer cameras equipped with a transmitter. We can push the camera anywhere in the pipe and pinpoint locate it, including depth and orientation.

Modern camera transmitters are very accurate, but must be operated by a trained professional in order to get accurate and reliable results. That information, along with measurements from existing permanent structures, can be used to map the location of existing buried pipe and determine the direction of flow and the amount of fall any pipe might have. Generally, a 2% slope will be a minimum requirement, although exceptions might be made, by variance or agreement of some kind. If minimum slope cannot be obtained, a sewage ejection pump will need to be installed. By using this information, we can determine where we might intersect the existing pipe and what depth the pipe needs to exit the new structure. We may make route adjustments to avoid other structures or landscaping by using this information to plan the route of the new pipe. This information can now be added to our site plan to be submitted for approval. We have not disturbed any soil and saved our customers a lot of money in the process.

Nobody wants to get bad news and sometimes it seems to be easier just to ignore it.  Unfortunately, when it comes to drain pipes, that strategy can be very costly.

From time to time I have conversations with customers that go something like this: “yes we had roots in the pipe before, but we had them removed-it’s OK now”.

Rental property owners and managers often say something like, “We have the drain pipe cleaned every year- we don’t need it inspected”.

Digging up a road, or being forced to dig under a building can be a financial nightmare at best-and potentially life threatening.

Recently, we were called in to repair a pipe under 4th avenue in Seattle that had disintegrated so badly that the waste water wasn’t getting to the sewer main.  To make matters more complicated, it was 25 feet below one of the most heavily travelled thoroughfares in the city. Thousands of cars and buses travelled on this section of road in the stadium district every day. It would have meant traffic disruption for weeks, to repair the pipe with trenching.

Fortunately, we were able to line the pipe and restore the connection to the main from the basement and get it back in service the same day. Had they waited much longer, the owners’ pockets might have been lighter by at least $100,000.00. Not to mention lots of angry commuters.  For a 6 inch diameter pipe.

Underground pipes don’t last forever and in most cases, they cannot be insured for failure. Owners of these assets must know their positions. Failure of these assets has the potential to turn the investment from performing to non-performing, in an instant. There’s nothing like shutting down the building, to give a wakeup call.  Pipes that have been leaking for years can cause soil voids and have the real potential to damage support or above ground structures.

We recently spent a weekend repairing a pipe in a building housing Zulily online clothiers, which shut down an entire production floor. Mind you this building takes up an entire block, so it was a pretty big hassle, but we got it done. We had to remove piles of dirt and rocks from the pipe, not to mention strings, chunks and balls of lead from disintegrating cast iron pipe and the efforts of another company. Digging this pipe was not really an option, unless concrete encased electrical conduit and transformers were moved.  You can’t just throw a big powerful garden hose-down a pipe with holes in it-to clean dirt out of it.  As the water rushes through it, it creates a turbulence and negative pressures that pull more dirt and rocks into it. As a result, the repair almost didn’t happen.

It is foolishness to allow these assets to disintegrate; we humans often prefer to deal with what we can see, and not with what we cannot see.  As a result, we at PipeGuys perform a lot of crises management at all levels from homeowner to corporate owner. It’s a very expensive management model.

Don’t ignore failing underground pipes. It costs much more than you might think.

They serve us for years and years without a peep. No complaints, no drama. They’re not pretty (believe me-I know) and they never ask for anything. They invite us to take them for granted. In fact, they take a lot of c*** from us. But they don’t last forever. One day they start demanding our attention. The miracle happens.  Water goes uphill-when it’s supposed to go downhill.  Water can be powerful stuff. Look at the Grand Canyon. Same forces at work in your sewer pipe-and more.

There are 3 reasons that drain pipes clog.  One reason is foreign material is invading the pipe-stuff that was never intended to be there. Wipes, roots, dirt, toys…you get the picture.  The question is-how did it get there? It’s really important to answer that question correctly, so it leads  to the most economical solution to the problem.

A second reason that pipes clog is: Too much of a good thing.  What else can we say? Don’t do that.

The third reason that drain pipes clog is more interesting.  Mostly has to do with water. Not enough of it. There may have been enough at one time-but not anymore. So what changed? Pipes don’t last forever. They start leaking more and more over time.  A 1.6 gallon flush (federally mandated) at one end of the pipe, might not even make it to the other end. The boat won’t float, so to speak. A pipe can be clogged for months and months with the owner never knowing it.  Until the miracle happens!

Most of us (like me) prefer to spend money on stuff that makes us feel good, not stuff that we normally take for granted. Given the choice of granite countertops or a sewer pipe-my choice is the granite. Be careful here. Not updating the countertops won’t actually cost me money. Not updating the sewer pipe can lead to sudden and catastrophic failure-costing many thousands more than it should have-not to mention motel costs.

We had one client who had the favorite neighborhood drain cleaner (the guy everybody loves, cause he’s cheap) clearing the pipe for a couple of years. Don’t get me wrong-I like him too and I recommend him at times. Trouble was-his sewer snake was drilling a hole through the pipe wall-giving the client a false sense of security because it seemed to solve the problem. In actuality, the sewage was going down a hole under the street and we had to dig the street up ten feet deep (really, really expensive) when the hole would no longer accept sewage. It happens hundreds of times every day, all around the country. A problem that might have been solved for half the price-ends up costing you twice the price cause you didn’t check the oil.

We use state of the art equipment and highly trained personnel in order to provide clients with factual information regarding the health of underground assets.

Turns out-it’s really, really  cheap.

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