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Plumbing Errors in New Home

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Gennaro

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Hi all,

Apologies if there is a more specific forum I ought to have posted this in. My wife and I are new home owners dealing with a bit of a plumbing saga, and trying to figure out whether the people who sold us the home ought to be held responsible in some way for what we're dealing with. Here are the details:

We moved into a ninety year old home in Washington, DC about nine months ago, before which it went through a significant remodel. About a month ago we found sewage backing up into our storm catch basin, which until then had appeared to be draining normally. Multiple plumbers came out to look at the situation, and eventually one discovered what appear to be a series of major mistakes made in the remodel:

The house has two sewer separate sewer lines (apparently pretty rare?). All of the pre-remodel plumbing fixtures are on one line (and are functioning correctly), and before the remodel, the other only had the storm basin on it. In the remodel, a first floor half bathroom was added, and the washer and dryer were moved. Both of these are attached to the second sewer line, which had previously only been for storm water.

The storm water line has an incorrectly installed backflow valve that is now failing on it. Waste water from the half bathroom and washing machine hits the backflow valve and gets pushed back into the basin. So, we can't use that bathroom or do laundry. The backflow valve is 30 inches under the basement floor, accessible only via a 6 inch wide shaft, the walls of which do not extend all the way to the cap of the valve. The result is that it is caked in dirt, and essentially impossible to service without breaking the concrete.

Our plumber asserts that a lot of this isn't up to code. And looking at the plans for the remodel, it seems that the work done does not line up with what was proposed. I'm no expert at reading these sorts of plans, so I've attached the basement plumbing diagram included in the full remodel plans. It seems to acknowledge the existence of two sewer lines, and to show that the newly added bathroom drains via the same one as the pre-existing basement bathroom (which is not the case).

In order to fix all of this, we'll have to bust up the basement floor, remove the backflow valve, and run the two newest plumbing fixtures to the other sewer line. I'm hoping you all might be able to confirm that I'm reading this diagram right, and get opinions on the culpability of the remodeling plumber. I've spent some time reading through the DC code, but am still trying to sort through it all.

Thanks for the help,

Gennaro
 

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havasu

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1) Did you fulfill your obligation and conduct your own home inspection prior to the purchase?
2) If so, was this documented?
3) Was the work performed at the home completed by a licensed contractor?
4) If so, was the work inspected and signed off by an official inspector?
5) If the answers are yes to the above, I would recommend you consult with a local real estate attorney.
 

Helper Dave

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I only see one drain line in the plans (the top "existing"). The bottom "existing" is your water main.

You can't just hook sanitary drains into the storm sewer, so I dunno what you might have going on there. Consult with your contractors, and answer havasu's questions for yourself to sort it all out.
 

Gennaro

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Thanks Havasu and Dave.

While the answer to all of those questions is yes, we had hoped to avoid lawyers and going to court over this because the cost of the project, while a lot more than I'd like to pay, isn't necessarily high enough to make it worthwhile. At the moment we are trying to come to a compromise solution with the sellers. Probably wishful thinking.

Dave, thanks for pointing that out. Is it normal for the water main and the sewer to be labeled the same way? The water main is definitely there -- shut off valve and all behind a panel -- but that also lines up exactly with where the second sewer pipe runs, and right beside the washer in that exact spot is where the cap to access the backflow valve is. Seems odd that it isn't mentioned at all in the diagram either.

As far as I can tell, we're in a part of DC that uses combined sewers, which makes it all the more confusing to find that we have two sewer lines exiting our house.
 

Stout Mechanical

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Have you had the lines inspected with a camera and located?
where is the storm catch basin that you mentioned seeing sewer backing up in located at
 

Gennaro

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Yes, it was only after using a camera that we realized we had two sewer laterals. The original problem was caused by a clog (a fernco that had been dropped into the pipe during construction we assume, that eventually got caked with build up), but after pushing it to the sewer with the camera, we noticed that using the showers, etc. didn’t send any water through that line. Only when we flushed the 1st floor bathroom or ran the washer did we see water flowing there. So, our plumber camera’d from another point and mapped out the other line after that.

They originally sent the camera in from the catch basin because the lid to the backflow valve was inoperable. Then took off the basement toilet to access the other line. Now we know the original clog is gone, but we presume the damaged backflow valve is causing the same problems.

The storm catch basin is at the rear of the house, right outside of the basement door. It’s a concrete landing at the bottom of some stairs that lead up to the back yard.
 
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Stout Mechanical

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What you are referring to as a basin is an outside drain at the bottom of your outside basement steps?
2nd question, did they verify two taps into the city main or where do the two lines meet
 

Gennaro

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The basin is a large square concrete pit. It has a pipe exiting it at a 45 degree angle, so when the water rises far enough above the pipe, it goes from the rear of the house under the basement floor and out the front, leaving any solids like dirt and grass behind in the basin. It holds hundreds of gallons if not draining properly, but when it overflows it threatens to flood the basement.

Water from the first floor bathroom and washer get added to this line at the front of the house. Another line runs parallel under the floor, a few feet over, with all the other waste water from the house.

When cameraing, no joint was discovered where the two sewer lines met out in the front yard - they both go to the city main.
 
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Stout Mechanical

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You are correct in what you are describing would not meet the code for combined systems. When they went thru the basin with the camera could you see the flapper in the backwater valve and did it open and close properly?
As you have been told to properly fix it you will need to relocate the waste from the storm line. From my experience in the DMV you will end up eating the cost, regardless of if it was permitted and inspected or not.
 

Gennaro

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The plumber did manage to get the lid of the backflow valve off once, only while the camera was pressing through it. The flapper is in place, but he said that it is damaged, and that the long term solution would be what was outlined above. Of course, we thought long term would be longer than the week that the line was draining properly before the valve started to fail and block the line again. Now the lid is proving both impossible to remove and not fully sealed - when the catch basin backs up, water rises out of the valve and up the incomplete shaft that failed to protect it from all the dirt and grime.

It does seem likely that we will eat the cost, as the sellers are pointing to the numerous DC inspections that the remodel cleared. Currently working with DCRA to get an inspector out to reassess the situation from their end.
 

Mitchell-DIY-Guy

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This kind of nonsense just fries me. I can only imagine how you feel, @Gennaro

...the sellers are pointing to the numerous DC inspections that the remodel cleared...
...work performed at the home completed by a licensed contractor...
...work inspected and signed off by an official inspector...

First, just because something was properly permitted, done by licensed professionals, inspected, and signed off on does not mean it was done right, or properly. There are a number of pros here that ask that all the time, and I can find so many issues in my new house that are just plain stupid...all done with permits, licensed pros, and inspected. It's almost like YOU need to know everything and watch everyone and everything because they'll attempt to pull a fast one on those who do not know. In just a few of my issues, all with brand new construction of a high end home:

1. House developed significant mold after just two months of summer; crawl space built to code. (code is WRONG and dangerous)
2. All DWV lines, installed by licensed plumbers and inspected, don't meet code. They are hanging with galvanized tape...small issue, but they ought to know better, right @breplum?
3. There was NO INSULATION in part of the home's ceiling, and no access panel; both code violations. Yet, it was inspected and signed off on, all by licensed [blah blah blah] I, the homeowner, had to drag them (the supposed experts, the builder, etc.) back in to show them they were clueless. My ceiling temperature was 93 degrees and they were telling me that "because it passed inspection, it HAS to be insulated". Total BS.

Now onto your issue: one good thing about the inspections, the signoffs, and the licensed contractors, is that they are, not you, responsible for making it right. Get your good plumber in, document and highlight all the issues, (no lawyers yet), document and highlight all it takes to make it right, and schedule a meeting AT YOUR HOUSE with the inspectors, the department head for inspection, and all the licensed contractors who did the work--and the seller. The licensed plumbers who did the work should be the ones who need to correct EVERYTHING. The inspectors need to see what they did wrong (inspecting and signing off on Three Stooges plumbing); the department head needs to clean the mess up in their department so it doesn't happen again, and someone has to pay YOU for YOUR plumber to tell them all what they did wrong...

Good luck--hope it all works out for you. You have to have a "take no prisoners" attitude; be fair, be reasonable and honest, but stand your ground. This is not anything that should cost you money. It's just bad work.
 

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