The Big Dig


This was the big truck that was at my house last week.

And the four men who were discussing whether or not they needed to blow up my driveway.

It all started when the downstairs bathroom in the house stopped working. Then the bathtub started backing up… Next it was the kitchen sink.

There are a lot of upsides to moving into an older home, but there are also some downsides, some of which are not covered by home inspections. (This home passed inspection with flying colors. But the inspection doesn’t cover more than a rudimentary look at the interior plumbing, and doesn’t cover issues hidden in exterior underground plumbing at all.)

I have now learned that the plumbing runs thusly:

Under the concrete! Perfect! Or not. This house was built in the 1930s and indoor plumbing may have been an afterthought. The concrete on and around the driveway was certainly added later.

At least I now know where the gas line is that runs to the studio.

And at least they didn’t break it. They also managed to avoid busting into the electric line that runs to the barn, and they didn’t have to blow up any concrete, but I was sweating it. And a little bit stressed by Day 3 of the Great Plumbing Disaster of 2011. My kitchen was shut down, and the only place we could use the bathroom was in the studio, which late at night was a little like traipsing to an outhouse.

Me: “You’re not going to hit the electric line to the barn, are you?” For (maybe) the tenth time.

Plumbing contractor: “I’m going to try not to, honey.” Turning to partner: “She’s really upset.”

The chickens tried to help, but they didn’t know what to do, either.

My cousin came over three days in a row–to supervise the project or make me shut up or something.

Eventually, they discovered two things. One, it appeared that at some time in the past, drywall buckets may have been washed out inside the house during some kind of renovations as hours of snaking, on and off, over days finally broke through what appeared to be drywall that had gradually packed and hardened in the line, eventually blocking it.

And two….

There was a cracked pipe leading to the septic tank. That wasn’t the main source of the current problem, but it wasn’t helping anything, either. They replaced it with new pipe.

Since the backhoe was already here, the backhoe guys did some work at the troublesome clogged culvert, revealing a second pipe that had been completely covered.

Then they yanked out a tree stump from the yard.

The plumbing contractor pumped the septic tank while they were at it, and I sent them all away with some home-canned pickles and jam and my first born child. The plumbing should be in good shape now! Which is more than I can say for my wallet after this housewarming fiasco.

Merry Christmas, kids, you can flush.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on December 19, 2011  

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35 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 12-19

    The good thing about stuff like this is now you know all about one system in your house.

  2. 12-19

    At least you are using up the wallet drain for the year… right? *huggggggs* Good working plumbing is such a necessary evil! I am glad it all got resolved.

  3. 12-19

    I love how you make this troubled time seem not so troubled.
    and Merry Christmas kids you can flush!!!! Love IT!

  4. 12-19

    Our favorite saying is that nothing, I mean nothing ever runs in a straight line. Something always will come up. It does feel good to be able to flush. Especially with Christmas and a house full. You got through it, just another part of country living. We always laugh, we are so rural that when we report a power outage they ask, “What is the number on your curb?” Have a special first Christmas in your new home.

  5. 12-19

    A modern convenience we certainly cannot do without. Toilets that flush! Looks to me like they solved all the plumbing and water problems and helped lighten your pocketbook. Now that’s service! :shimmy:

  6. 12-19

    Merry Christmas you can flush. Good one. lol. Seems like the outside plumming stuff happens when its cold out as well. No fun. My hubby had to dig with a hand shovel to find our sewage pipe, well, and septic tank. Its not fun.

  7. 12-19

    It seems it is always the plumbing to give trouble when you move….

    We had to replace all the laterals.

    This is good to have that all behind you now… could be the water….are you on a well or city water? (just kidding…I hope)

  8. 12-19

    I’m so glad that the problem was resolved. Plumbing issues are NOT fun.

  9. 12-19

    I’m soooo sympathetic. Holidays for the last few years have come with plumbing problems. One Christmas eve the well pump died. The next year the hot water heater died. This year we have a yard full of holes along the septic lines. The good news is that now we are intimately acquainted with the entire septic line and when it’s finally buried again [this week, fingers crossed] we won’t have to worry about it for a loooong time.

    Congratulations on the flushing.
    Best. Christmas present. EVER.
    [We know.]

  10. 12-19

    It’s good that it happened, and was taken care of, before you had a house full of people. Seems they got quite a bit done while there.

  11. 12-19

    As my husband, the plumber says: A flush beats a full house anytime. So true. One of the many joys of home ownership. You handled it, electronic pat-on-the-back! Good job and Merry Christmas.

  12. 12-19

    Wow, looks like my life this week. Our water pressure dropped last week and Saturday we discovered the leak: water bubbling up from an old barn foundation near a hydrant. They are coming out to look today. Good thing I have cookies and pickles on hand.

  13. 12-19

    I’m glad it’s fixed and working again.

  14. 12-19

    You are lucky this happened when it did, before the big snow comes and it will sooner or later. We have had to do the same as you did only there was 12 inches of snow ON THE GROUND AND FROZEN UNDER THAT. We had SNOW MUCH FUN. It all comes with being a home-owner. I’m sorry it hit you while being a new home owner. :chicken:

  15. 12-19

    Yeah, now you know for sure where your water and septic lines are…good to know if you’re going to dig up for a garden or whatever.
    Happy flushing and Merry Christmas!

  16. 12-19

    It’s ALWAYS the water! Whenever you move to a new house, it’s ALWAYS the water!

  17. 12-19

    We had something like this happened, but my dad kept putting off fixing it, and putting it off and putting it off. We wound up having a swamp in our backyard and needing to replace the entire septic system. Good fun. I think every home owner goes through a septic fiasco, best to get it out of the way at the beginning!

  18. 12-19

    Did your house come with a home warranty? I am not sure if those even cover plumbing problems but if one came with the sale you might want to check it out.

    Glad you’ll be flushing for Christmas. That water backing up in the bathtub is a nasty deal. Glad you got it all fixed. Give each of the kids a roll of toilet paper for Christmas with a bow on it. Morgan can add it to the memories she will share with your grandchildren some day!

  19. 12-19

    Yeah, what is it with plumbing problems showing up right after one moves into a new house? With us, I was pregnant with #5 when we discovered an underground leak that meant digging up the entire yard and much financial gymnastics. Such fun. Not.

    Glad it’s all sorted out for you, at least. And as you said, you’re set for a looooong time. Or at least the pipes are! :woof:

  20. 12-19

    It’s never really a good time to have sewer problems, but it does seem lucky to have this happen now, and not, say, in the middle of the next CITR retreat, or Christmas day, or in the middle of a blizzard, or something. Now you can go in peace over the holidays.

  21. 12-19

    I feel your pain! Guess what the previous owners had used as a septic tank here….An old oil tank! We found this out when we went to have it pumped before dh’s deployment to Kuwait. Then we put in a new septic, lines, and fields last year before his last deployment. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to flush regularly and not worry if there was going to be problems. It was a long year between having the old pumped out and the new septic put in. I think I’ll plant roses over the old area. :)

  22. 12-19

    Oh my goodness SaraGrace!!! PLEASE plant roses there! LOTS of wonderful roses!! Or even sunflowers! So you’re reminded to look on the “sunny side”!! Either way it’ll be beautiful. :happyflower:

    The first time I had to replace our sump pump, I cried and cried and cried the whole time I did it, BUT I DID IT! :shocked: Of course a sump pump isn’t nearly as awful as as this was, but septic system problems are always difficult and I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you Suzanne and to anyone else as well. :heart:

  23. 12-19

    I’d like to note that (at least for me) the ads showing up on this page are all septic related. Very intuitive hahaha. :cowsleep:

  24. 12-19

    Ouch! That hurt just reading about the plumbing problems. We had a backed up toilet last year at Christmas-turns out my husband was flushing down paper towels after he cleaned up accidents from a very sick dog. Not good. We didn’t have a clean out and it wouldn’t go through to the septic so we spent $500 for 2 hours with a plumber and a new clean out pipe. Whew! 3 days of work would put me at a second mortgage. I am so sorry. Murphy’s law if it is going to happen, it happens at the worst time when your money is already spent and it is a holiday. Praying you get a big fat check in the mail unexpectedly. Happy flushing!

  25. 12-19

    Amen, another witness here: 2nd floor apartment water pipes broke as the movers were bringing in my stuff as I moved into the 1st floor. Like others, I feel your plight, but then am glad it wasn’t 20° or colder…

  26. 12-19

    Older homes have a lot of charm, and they can also be money pits. We had a 1040’s capecod that had been owned by only one single lady, we purchased it, and everything had to be replaced, of course we knew that it would need some work,updated the bathroom, we replaced the roof, siding, water heater, furnace, added air conditioning, updated the electrical and plumbing, and insulated the home–then the neighbor hood became a place were we didnt care it live anylonger—we moved.
    Old or new, they always need something fixed or replaced. :yes:

  27. 12-19

    I feel for you, been there with the septic system part. We hadn’t lived in our house two months when the septic system backed up. It happened as the washing machine was draining. It backed up in the bathtub and made the toilet overflow. What a stinky, wet mess that was! Turns out we can’t have a properly working leach bed system around here, the groundwater level is only 18 inches from the surface and it stayed full of water. Had to spend 10 grand on a “peat” system, but by golly, it works! (And the septic system passed the health dept. inspection before we bought the place, and it was only two years old – go figure!)

  28. 12-19

    Been there done that, and I feel your pain. What could be worse than not having water and being able to take baths and flush toilets?

  29. 12-19

    Thank heavens that the chickens were to advise the workers, what would they have done if left alone??
    At least it wasn’t snowing.

  30. 12-19

    Oh, how I empathize with you. Just after Thanksgiving last year my tub would gurgle when the toilet was flushed. The septic company I called out couldn’t find the tank to empty it. After about 7 mos. or so I put some chemical down there and the gurgling stopped for a few months. It came back, so in order to take it easy on the system I routed the washer hose out the front door. In September I called the septic company out again and again, the guy couldn’t find the tank. I got a metal detector hoping I could find the hook that you use to lift the top off. Nothing. Finally, in November, almost a year to the day, when it gurgled at the slightest hint of water running down the drain, I had enough. The husband called a different septic company who after they heard the address told him, “We’ve been out there before and we couldn’t find it then.”. The husband then called a plumber and got an appointment a week or so later. In the meantime, the honey tank for the company who had just been called pulled up and the driver hopped out, asked the husband some questions, poked around a bit and found the tank. The tank was put in right up close to the house (like within 4′ of the foundation), not out in the yard like we had assumed. When he lifted the top off, it was so full you couldn’t put anything else in there. Previous owners had flushed used condoms down there so there was a rainbow assortment floating on the surface. I keep telling the husband that it’s so nice not to have to trip over the hose going out the front door, so nice not to hear it gurgle and mentally wince, hoping you don’t smell something in the bathtub.

  31. 12-19

    And you were worried about mailing out your books? I’m sorry that you got such a welcome to your new farm….

  32. 12-20

    I’m sorry for your misfotune but you had someone good working on your problem. My daughter built a house this summer and Stan put in her septic system. My husband and I went to school with Stan and he’s a good person.

  33. 12-20

    What is the old saying about troubles coming in threes? First, a week after my husband retired (and a month after he’d been to the dentist) he developed an absess which is going to require not a root canal as expected but an extraction and implant.

    Second,Then a week or so later our regular furnace inspection/cleaning uncovered the need to replace a lot of the innards of our furnace.

    Third,as I drove home from work one dark night only to have the car start sputtering and the “check engine” light come on. Major ignition system replacements and a lot less money later. Sigh! What an expensive six weeks! Of course none of this could happen when we were getting two paychecks. It had to lie in wait until my paycheck and social security had to cover it. Sigh!

  34. 12-21

    What is a new home without a disaster within the first couple of months?

    Hope that is the only one for a very long time.

  35. 12-23

    You poor thing! That happneed to us when we moved in here too – broken pipes in the system in the yard. Horrible experience!

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