Em finished all of the plumbing recently. The final step involved turning everything on, pressure testing the lines and running flow down our drains to find any leaks. Her system worked great and we just needed to tighten up the shower valve.
Our drains worked well too. We ran a hose from the laundry room’s washer box to the various holes in the floor to run continuous water. What we did notice is that the crock for the basement sump was filling with water as we ran the system. In the corner of our basement is a plastic basin set down below the concrete slab, probably 3 feet. In it is a submersible pump. The basin (called a crock), is perforated and running into is the drain line for the basement’s stay-dry system. The system is essentially a drain line dug around the perimeter wall. Water that infiltrates the walls falls down into these drains and eventually flows to the sump basket, where the sump kicks on and pumps it out. Older homes with basements tend not to have modern water proofing. You can think of new home construction as building an inside-out swimming pool with a liner around the outside to keep water from coming through the concrete. Concrete is not water proof. Old homes don’t have these barriers, which is why you’ll get a musty smelling basement (or worse). You can mitigate water in a variety of ways. This is why it’s especially important that your gutter system works and directs water away from your foundation. Because it’s very expensive to dig up the outside of a house and install these systems post hoc, there’s a variety of in-basement systems that people put in that have varying degrees of success. For us, it’s just a matter of coming to terms with the fact that we’ll always have a wet basement.
Anyways, so our sump crock has always had some amount of water in it, just as a natural matter of where the land drains. Though this isn’t correct terminology, you can think of it as looking down into a hole and seeing the top of your water table. But when we ran the plumbing system, the crock started filling on. I had early on gotten the pump working and hooked up, so it would come on, pump water out, and then 5 minutes later, the basket would fill up again. Time to call in real plumbers. For all that we’ve done and could do, now we’re talking about pipes underneath the ground and that’s outside the scope of our DIY level. We learned that the world of plumbers is divided into those that do sewer work and those that don’t. Apparently it takes a special set of equipment and know-how. Within a few days, Em got someone to come in and they ran a camera through our sewer from the main house stack out to the street. The house stack is a vertical pipe, usually 3 or 4 inches big, that runs from the sewer line in your basement or ground up to your roof where it vents out. Attached to your stack are all of your drain and vent lines for the house. In our case, our stack drops into the cement back in the addition and then a sewer line runs diagonally across the house out towards the street exiting the basement near the electrical box and water main at the NW corner. I’m sure that description doesn’t mean a lot, but the important thing to understand is that we have a sewer pipe that runs diagonally across our basement. As it turns out, that pipe is made of clay and that clay pipe had busted in several places. Which meant that when we finally put water in the system, some of it escaped into the ground around the pipe and pushed into the sump basket. It also meant we needed to dig up part of the basement and replace that pipe.
The plumbers we hired were fantastic. Specifically, Roger with Mayer Plumbing. We initially called on a Saturday and they were excavating our basement by Wednesday. It took not quite a day and a half to dig up the basement, replace the pipe, and lay down fresh cement. I was very impressed with their work and knowledge. Roger was very sharp and would talk to me about plumbing, renovation, and Cleveland code. It happened that the plumbing inspector showed up while they were working and Roger actually helped the inspector with code questions. They replaced about a 10′ section of clay pipe with 6″ pvp. I learned that Cleveland has a combo-sewer system, which is very unique. In most towns and cities in the US, you have one set of pipes that carries storm water run off and another that carries sewage. The storm water is often routed to a lake or river or even just a holding basin to mitigate the water during high rains or snow melts. The sewer system directs dirty water to a treatment facility, where it’s filtered and purified and sent back to people’s houses as potable water. Because of this separation, there are a lot of important rules for how you deal with water leaving a property. For example, you aren’t normally allowed to have your gutters connected to your sewer line. Cleveland, on the other hand, has a single pipe for both of these flows. I can do things in Cleveland that I would never be allowed to do anywhere else in the world. The plumber suggested that since they were going to trench out the basement anyways, we could add a pipe and trap running to the sump crock. The idea being that whereas before the electric sump would move water up and into the sewer stack, gravity would just push it through a pipe directly into the sewer line. It would save care and maintenance of a pump system and the only way the system would ever fail is the sewer itself backed up. I thought it was a pretty clever idea.
All told we found the problem on a Saturday and it was resolved by Thursday. It was $1850 of unexpected plumbing costs. I don’t fault anyone. The house didn’t have any pipes when we bought it, so there’s no way anyone would know what to expect when we turned everything on. The clay line out to the street looked pretty good. The plumbers only did about half the basement span, just where the damage was. They quoted me $3500 to do the whole basement, which will likely need to happen eventually. But that’s not in the cards right now. I think in a different time and place, it’s a job that I could do myself. There’s actually nothing different about what they did from what we’ve done already, except their pipe is a lot bigger and they had to smash up the cement to get to it. It’s back breaking labor and we just didn’t have the time to put towards it right now. Maybe down the road though, we’ll be ripping up the basement floor and doing the rest of the pip ourselves.