I had spoken to some of our neighbors and they had told me a story about flooded basements with raw sewage and the city taking the extraordinary measure to big up the whole street and replace the sewer lines with brand new ones. This happened back in about 2006, so I assumed we had a brand new sewer, and all that was left over (that I had broken) was the inside pipe which no one would replace as it meant digging up the basement. But I did need to know how far the old line went, because we KNEW that we had to replace the water line (which was only 1/2″, and should be 1″), so we may as well only have one big dig.
But this whole discussion raised more questions than it answered. Was there a larger supply line in place? Was the sewer up to standard? Where to dig? and so on. The important thing was to speak to the city and get a good overview of what was going on. Unfortunately, sewer and water are handled by 2 different sections of the public works department. The water boys came out and had a look. The answer was, if we have to get to the water main to put in a new line, we have to big up the road, cross under 2 sidewalks and bust up 2 curbs, because, the water main in on the far side of the road. (Of course it was!!) Ka-ching…$8-10,000! Thankfully none of this came to pass as it turned out that when they dug up everything in 2006, they had the forethought to put in a new 1″ line and a curb stop (where the city can turn off the house water, generally located on the front lawn). Given the existing 1/2″ line in the house I could only assume that for some reason, at the time it had not been replaced.
Then I hire a plumber with a sewer inspection camera. He came out and after an hour gave me the bad news. He had pushed the camera as far as he could physically push it (146 ft), and still had not found the main sewer line. This was very bad! Additionally he confirmed that everything he saw was clay tile sewer line, which of course would not have been the case if the sewer was new. So the only thing we could conclude was that the line had not been replaced! Very troubling! But wait, it gets worse. We headed outside to trace the inspection camera, at least to figure out WHERE the line went (I was starting to get a BAD feeling about this), and sure enough it headed out across our neighbors lawn. And it continued on over to HIS neighbors lawn. Oh boy! I dug out the engineering drawings that the city had sent me, and sure enough, there it was. The old sewer line clearly indicated as going across two properties and somehow tying into the sewer line. This was very serious. It meant that if we had any problems with that sewer line, like a blockage or root intrusions, we may have been forced to dig up not 1, but 2 peoples front lawns to get to the sewer. I thanked the plumber and sent him on his way.
After many phone calls and conversations with neighbors I discovered a number of things. All the neighbors were hooked up to the new sewer. It appeared that we were the only ones still on the old sewer line, so at least we wouldn’t create any flooding into the neighboring basements. They also told me that at the time of work, the contractor offered all the residents on the street the option of paying $1000 and having all the underground work done for both water and sewer to the new system. This was a terrific bargain and needless to say, everyone did this, but it would appear that the people who owned our house at the time declined the offer. Furthermore, we were told that the owners at the time and the contractor did not get along, to say the least. So we couldn’t begin to imagine what problems this created.
So more trips back to city hall! After numerous trips and phone calls I finally got some better information on the sewer line. It appeared from the drawings (not the city’s, because the city subbed out the engineering AND the groundwork to 2 different companies) that a stub had in fact been installed on the main line for our house, but was never hooked up. A “stub” is a connection to a pipe that has not been hooked up to. It is there in case, at some time in the future, you may choose to hook up to it, like us, now. The city provided us with the details of the X and Y location of the stub, but they could not tell us Z, the depth. At this point we decided that we had to bite the bullet and dig up the front yard to install both the new water line and hook up the house to the new main sewer.
The excavator arrived and we started digging. The location service had come out and put a rainbow of colours on the front lawn. Blue for water, yellow for gas, orange for telecom and so on. The water line was relatively easy. It was in a very easy part of the property with no obstacles. A day of digging, putting the new waterline in the hole, get the city to shut the water off, reconnect everything, have the inspector check out everything, turn the water back on, and backfill. Done!
Moving on. Sewer line. Dig a hole….. whoa billy! Stop! There’s a gas line in the middle of the yard. Where? There. Oh OK, how far down? No one knows. Back to non mechanical means. The last thing I wanted to do was hit the gas line with the excavator. Got out the old pick and shovel and start digging by hand. I didn’t have far to go. The gas line was at 18″ deep (hit it with the pick!). Wasn’t deep enough in my view, but at least I knew where it was now. Carrying on, I dig and dig, and dig. I followed the instructions of the city to the letter, and no sewer stub. Unless we find the stub, nothing can happen. I called the city and they sent out the surveyor. He confirmed 100% I was digging in the right location, but he couldn’t tell me how far down to go, so I continued digging, until I ran out of reach of the excavator. Not deep enough I was told. So, I got a bigger machine and dug some more. Still no sewer!
If these look like boring pictures of holes in the ground with NO sewer line in them, you’re right! You should have seen this through my eyes! After a fruitless 2 days of digging, following new information provided by the city each time I came up empty, I finally came to end of my rope and waltzed over to the city office and told them that I thought the best solution was for THEM to dig up the road and prove to me that the sewer was in fact there at all, which I was beginning to doubt.
After a further couple of hours of them scratching their heads (and probably other anatomical parts as well!), they mysteriously discovered a CD-ROM (hidden away in some archive box in the basement) with some video on it of the new sewer line. It clearly showed the junction of the lateral pipe, and it gave a distance from the manhole. Hurray! We finally knew exactly where to dig. And in fact, within a couple of hours, I had a new hole and a 6″ piece of broken sewer line lying on the ground! It was grand!
Finally back to the original plan. Dig the hole, install the pipe, hook it up, have it inspected, back fill, DONE!!
So with all this done on the outside, I could now push the new sewer and water line under the foundation, and get it into the right places inside the house for installation under the basement slab!
Back to part #3