Recommendations for a complicated/big plumbing job?

albany sewer hole coverAshley emails with what sounds like a tough situation involving a possibly broken sewer line, an improperly installed sump pump, and a flooded basement (yikes). Her full situation/question has a bunch of details and is after the jump, but here's a clip:

[The plumbing company] was happy to tell me they would have a technician come out to take a look and that we should focus on the "pipe being broken" and nothing else. All red flags rise. Do I trust a company that happily installed a sump pump to violate the city's code and WORSEN problems for homeowners like me that are suffering with overwhelming amounts of storm water in the city sew systems? No. Do I trust a company that happily wants to dig trenches in the front yard before diagnosing the issue? No. ...
Of course, we have a lot of research to do - were repairs ever made in 2007, gather estimates, weigh our options.
Here's where I need help. This is a big job. The city's website is a shell of a site and offers NO information on who to call or where to start. We tried calling an information number but there was no answer.
What have other residents done in this situation? Who do they recommend?

As mentioned, her whole message is post jump and includes some important details.

Ashley says she's only owned her house for about a month and this sounds like a stressful situation. So suggestions or recommendations could be a big help.

Got advice? Please share!

Here's Ashley's whole message:

My name is Ashley and I recently (just a few days over a month) purchased a home in the New Scotland/Woodlawn neighborhood. I understood going into the situation that I was buying an older home that was going to provide unexpected issues and annoyances.
What I did not expect was to deal with the storm water and overall lack luster state of sewers and the plumbers of the city.
I'm looking for help.
We found moisture in the basement - as expected. It's a dirt floor and the house is a 100 years old. I'm OK with dealing with that. Then we found the basement flooding. The sump pump was installed incorrectly by the previous owner where it was draining into the main sewer drain. The city says that's a no-no, don't put storm water into the sewer system. During the storm this week, the drain was backed up from the street and our sump pump was trying to pump the water out (but really, right back in) which then forced water to shoo tout of the drain and onto the floor. This continued for some time - water rushing in, pumped out, but no where to go.
We called a plumber to correct the pump to drain properly. He recommended our main drain to get snaked. So we did that. Called some companies and had them come out. The first guy said that there was a block that he can't get through, the pipe may be broken. Then, we call another company (though shall not be named). They had the house on file with the previous owner's name. They were happy to tell me they came out in 2007 and installed the pump (not to code, of course), snaked the drain and instructed the owner of 3 breaks in the sewer drain that should be fixed immediately. Of course, they have no record of any repairs.
She was happy to tell me they would have a technician come out to take a look and that we should focus on the "pipe being broken" and nothing else. All red flags rise. Do I trust a company that happily installed a sump pump to violate the city's code and WORSEN problems for homeowners like me that are suffering with overwhelming amounts of storm water in the city sew systems? No. Do I trust a company that happily wants to dig trenches in the front yard before diagnosing the issue? No.
Of course, we have a lot of research to do - were repairs ever made in 2007, gather estimates, weigh our options.
Here's where I need help. This is a big job. The city's website is a shell of a site and offers NO information on who to call or where to start. We tried calling an information number but there was no answer.
What have other residents done in this situation? Who do they recommend?
Thanks, and I apologize for the lengthy email. I didn't know where else to go!

____

Earlier on AOA: Ask AOA: A good plumber? (2011)

Comments

Your first step should be to determine whether your sewer line from the house to the city sewer lines is broken or not. There are companies, like Roto-Rooter, that have snakes with a video camera that essentially helps to determine with absolute precision whether there is a break (note that there is a difference between a broken line and a plugged line, which would cause your sinks, tubs and toilets to back up), and you can ask to look at the video monitor while the company runs the snake through the line. Replacing the line is expensive, so brace yourself for a hefty bill if you need to reconnect your sewer line to the city's, and you'll need permits for that, because you cannot excavate before being cleared by the gas/electric company about the location of utilities. Most old basement drains are not up to code, as they are frequently connected to sewer lines (the drain itself is normally a trap that avoids the back up of smells. If you need to dig to install a new sewer line, you should also install a drain in your basement connected to the city's storm water, since the ditch is already dug (although in some cases the city does not give you a permit for that, depending on the condition of your basement, like the presence of asbestos, etc). If what backed up in your basement is raw sewage, you have no choice but to pump it back into the sewer system. If it's just water seeping in, then a sump pump at the lowest end draining into your yard should do the trick. Good luck.

I feel your pain. My husband and I bought a 100+ year old house near your neighborhood in 2008 and immediately had similar problems with water in the basement.

I personally wouldn't bring that company back to your house if they already did poor work. Lots of plumbers do sump pumps. You might try Crisafulli Brothers (288-5816). They are pricey, but they do a great job and there's a reason they're the best in town.

If you have problems with your sewer line, you might end up having to replace your sewer line because of the age of the house. We did the same, along with the water line in 2010. It sucks and it is expensive, but it should help with the clogged pipe and your water issues. We used Jake Burnett Excavating (462-0480). They did the job in one day and we've been happy so far. It's good for resale value and we (hopefully) won't have to do it again.

Good luck.

call the albany water & sewer dept. dispatch office at 434-5322 and ask them to come look at your sewer. they should be able to tell you what the problem is and who is responsible, home owner or city. if it is the home owners problem, they can furnish you with a list of trusted contractors that the city deals with.

Ashley-

Our family lives in about the same neighborhood, and unfortunately, we have been dealing with almost the exact same issues since we moved in, in 2008. So...welcome to the neighborhood! Your issues are disturbingly familiar, and since we've consistently been making fixes to the place, we thought we'd be pretty well covered, but this week's storm has been the worst instance yet, with the pressure in the sewer lines being so great, it blew our sewage cap off, despite having new water and sewer lines installed in 2010. So yeah, it's an incredibly sh*tty situation. (Pun most definitely intended.) Anyway...we've been able to make some progress since we moved in, and here's how we got a start, since, yes, the City's resources are minimal, at best...probably because it would mean they'd have to admit to having an incredibly faulty infrastructure, but that's another story...

Here goes:
- If your house is 100+ years old, and a new sewer line has not been installed since the house was built, then, you don't have a sewer "line," per se; but rather divided clay pipe sections, so "tree roots could easily pass through, without damaging the pipe." This was our situation. And yes, we humbly discovered that replacing the home's sewer line that was installed long before you were conceived, let alone purchased the house, is your responsibility. At the time we had it installed, the only licensed excavator in the city of Albany, able to perform such jobs was Jake Burnett Excavating. They did good, fast work...but replacing your lines is not cheap stuff.
-The need for a new sewer line was diagnosed by our plumber: Crisafulli BROTHERS (Please note the emphasis on "Brothers"...all I'm gonna say.). From our experience with them, we fully understand why they're consistently rated the best, and recommended the most. They've helped us out of jams, frequently at the most inopportune times (New Year's Day), and have even referred us elsewhere when a task was beyond their capabilities (i.e., new sewer line installation.)

Supposedly, the City does offer a grant to have what's called a backflow preventer installed in your sewer line, as it is an expensive addition to a new sewer line. (Which is why we did not have one installed. If I knew then, what I know now...) As, since you've mentioned, the City's resources/website/info is quite the quagmire, I have never been able to confirm this.

Hope this helps! And, oh good, it's raining again as I write this...

I don't know much about sewer lines and unfortunately don't have a plumbing recommendation for you, but tree roots were the culprit the few times I've heard about a sewer line from a house breaking. A buried pipe is under much load. The weight of the soil kind of arches around a pipe. Are trees in the area of the pipe?

Keith Lezatte is the only guy I'd trust to dig up my sewer pipe. He knows what he us doing, follows the rules, and is a nice guy. He is not the low bidder but does the best job. I know nothing about sump pumps, but I bet if Keith doesn't do it, he knows someone who can do it right.

518-378-5900.

Good luck!

I sympathize with your situation; I had a similar problem with the waterline coming into my basement (from the city water main).
Based on the previous diagnosis of 3 breaks and that your house is 100 years old, it is likely that your sewer pipe will need to be dug up and entirely replaced (all the way to the city sewer line). The city has a list of contractors that do this work. It is likely to cost $2k, possibly more - it will involve a backhoe. Experience is important as remits are required.
Your other problem is the drainage to the sump pump a flexible tube out the cellar will work until temps go below freezing (don't ask). Ideally, this water should be channeled underground to the city's waste water system more backhoe and piping - I completely understand if you choose to postpone this work but keep the cold weather in mind.
Good luck.

I had a very similar situation with the Town of Colonie. They sent an inspector to my home and told me my sump pump was connected to the sanitary sewer and had to be disconnected. I spoke with several plumbers and was astonished at how shady and/or expensive some of them were. One of them actually suggested I temporarily disconnect it when the inspector came to check, and then reconnect it. Uh... No? Another wanted to connect it to the storm sewer at a cost of thousands.

Eventually I found Nick Fazio, who dug a trench with a sand pit for drainage. That was 4 years ago and I've had no issues with his work. I highly recommend him. His number is 518-364-1256. Nick also documented everything so I could provide proof of the work to the town.

That's pretty cool that in Albany you can call the city and they will come out and investigate your sewer line. In Saratoga, we don't have any such thing. We are in one of the oldest neighborhoods and got worried when we had a backup a couple years ago combining a lot of rain and a water filter that flushed itself at exactly the wrong time,... unusual event. We had it scoped and there were tree roots in our pipes but no way to tell, without digging, what the real situation was.

We got "quotes" to run a new line to the street pipe that ranged from $5K to $15K... but there was one guy who had actually worked on a house a couple of doors down and he said our sewer line snakes around another when it gets to the street so it would be substantially MORE than $15K when all was said and done.

The problem has not recurred so we're saving up our pennies...

I came to say Keith Lezatte (sic?) as Karen up above suggested 378-5900
I'm in the same area, my front yard started getting a dip, had one plumber come with a camera and then give me a huge quote already complaining about how tough it would be to deal with roots / porch. I called to get another quote from I think Chrisafulli and they gave me Keith's number. Keith gave me a lower price, did more work (replaced main) was neat, fast and professional. He 100% would be the first one I would call for anything like this.

Ahh the joys of old home ownership. This happened to me three months after buying my house. I have started to encourage people to do the roto rooter video camera as part of home inspections prior to purchase.

I second Keith lezette. He did good work and was great to work with. He was also the most reasonable quote.

Thank you so much for all of the tips! It is greatly appreciated. Here's to a sunnier (and drier) end to summer!

Ashley, I own several rental properties in downtown Albany, all around my house. Over the years I've had to replace a lot of sewer and water lines. I've always hired Jake Burkett to do the job and have never had any reason to complain. He is in and out in one day and has the best prices, and replaces sidewalks in a timely manner. I highly recommend him. Plus he is a City of Albany contractor, so you know he understands the problems of digging in the City.

Once you're settled with fixing the problem, try to get the records of the plumbing company previously advising the former owner of the breaks in the line and then go visit your attorney. The seller would have filled out a property condition disclosure and if they did not disclose defects that they knew about you may have a cause of action against.

Ashley,

This is a common issue in Albany (and other older east coast American cities) where the sanitary sewer and storm sewer are one in the same. When it rains the system is overloaded and backups occur.

From your comments above it seems odd that the techs would blame the issue on a broken pipe. "During the storm this week, the drain was backed up from the street and our sump pump was trying to pump the water out (but really, right back in) which then forced water to shoo tout of the drain and onto the floor. This continued for some time - water rushing in, pumped out, but no where to go...." -- this sounds to me like you need a backflow valve installed.

I'd call the City Water Dept.

10 North Enterprise Drive Albany, NY 12204
(518) 434-5300 (7:30 a.m.-12 midnight, Monday - Friday)
(518) 462-4004 (12 midnight-7:30 a.m., weekends & holidays)
Fax: (518) 434-5332
water@ci.albany.ny.us

The city has a $1500 grant program for these valves and the application can be found here: http://www.albanyny.org/Files/BackwaterValveApplicationFinal.pdf

This app includes a list of contractors and plumbers that have familiarity with the program. If number of installations is your merit for performance, the Crisafulli Brothers (518-449-1782) is your first call.

Hope this helps.

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