Sewer repairs due to root damage

Just when you think it’s safe not to worry about having to put out any additional funds for home improvement, the proverbial crap hits the fan.

Or in this case, the sewer line.

For the record, it wasn’t my sewer line. It’s my neighbours’. As you might recall from a previous note about my house, the house next door to mine is a mirror image. They were built at the same time, using the same (but reversed) floor plan, and similar construction. In fact, when built, the houses were so similar they even put in the sewer lines at the same time, a scant six inches from each other as they go out to the road.

Yes, you are correct: “Uh oh”.

Now to really get things into perspective, you need to understand two things: 1) The sewer lines are original, meaning they were put in place 91 years ago, using materials common to construction 91 years ago. 2) There were a number of trees planted and removed over the last 91 years.

What’s this mean? Allow me to explain…

About three weeks ago, I sat on my couch (okay, I was sprawled all over it…) watching either TV or a movie (can’t remember which). I noticed a City of Calgary Waterworks Emergency truck pull up in front on my home. The passenger shone his flashlight at the street numbers, hard to see in the late evening light. I became worried when they stopped in front of my home. I suddenly was worried that there was something up with my sewer that I didn’t know about.

They went to my neighbours’ place. They came back the next day, followed soon after by Roto-Rooter. Finally talking to Neil, I got the scoop: a section of their sewer line, outside of City property (hence, responsibility) was so blocked that Roto-Rooter couldn’t get through it with their gizmos. Near as the technicians could figure, the pipe had collapsed.

What had caused the pipe to collapse? Well, we’re not entirely sure about that, but we’re pretty certain it was the aforementioned trees. Whether it was that blasted poplar that’s been wreaking havoc, or it was the tree that (until recently) sat above the pipes is anyone’s guess. But age combined with root taps had done in the wonder of the modern age, and it was time for it to be replaced.

This meant digging. This is when I find out that our two sewer lines are a scant six inches apart, right in the same area as our water lines.

Oh yeah, I was just loving this.

I’m not about to be the kind of assoholic neighbour that’ll stand up and say: “Sure, you want to replace the sewer? Go nuts. You can pay for mine while you’re at it.” Why? Well, aside knowing that I was likely in the same boat, there’s a neat little book floating around that has a good piece of advice in it: Love thy neighbour. (I might not be a religious person, but books of faith often have some good common-sense thoughts in them.)

So last Wednesday, bolted home to get started on the dirty work. The lines ran underneath a section of grass shared by the two properties, divided by a fence and a tree. Because this section would be completely dug out, the fence had to go, and the tree had to come down. By the time I got home, Neil and Daryl were already at work.

The front fence at Neil and Daryl’s place had to come down completely. The section of fence from the property line to my front gate had to come out (thankfully, not the rest). And, of course, the fence down the property line. Above the ground, the fence looked pretty good. But as we dug it out, we realized that the people who’d put it there had not used treated wood. A few more years, and it would have had to have been replaced, anyway.

The tree was the fun part. None of us had power tools suited to the job. All we did have were handsaws and a length of rope. (The rope was tied off to branches to keep the houses from being hit.) At first, the job was pretty easy. But as we started getting to the larger branches, it became a much harder problem. We sawed and hacked (with a hatchet) through thick branches, and then would all get on the end of the rope to try and pull the branch down.

Across the road, the superintendant of one of the apartment buildings had been watching our progress. He sauntered (slowly) across the road to see how we were doing.

Him: So. (Pause) Looks like you’re cutting down a tree.

Us: Really? We thought we were putting up a monument to Che Guevara…

Him: You’re going about it the wrong way.

Us: Actually, we felt we needed to get back to our Amish roots.

Him: Let me go get you my chainsaw.

Us: You kind, generous, thoughtful man! We are forever in your debt!

So the superintendant sauntered (slowly) back across the road, returning (slowly) with his electric chainsaw. After giving Neil a demonstration of how to use it, we set down to the task of cutting down (and chopping up) the remainder of the tree. Neil and Daryl hauled off the remains to … well, somewhere, but I never did find out.

Yesterday, the digging started. Roto-Rooter brought in a backhoe, and began the task of uncovering the pipes. Neil was there at the beginning to oversee the work (though he ended up staying the entire day), and called me with updates as things happened.

Teak and I had planned to get together for lunch, but I ended up having to ask him to drive me home so I could see what was going on. The trench was unreal — roots sprouted out everywhere. It was amazing the sewer pipes were intact at all.

They’d dug all the way back between the houses. (We’ll have to replace the concrete pathways next spring.) Neil and Daryl’s cast-iron house pipe was exposed, but my pipe was still clay. The houses might be identical, but things were definitely not equal under the surface. (An additional five feet of digging still didn’t find the pipe, but they did find an excellent quality clay pipe to use for a connection.)

While my sewer line hadn’t yet collapsed, it was just a matter of time. Roots had grown in a tight mass inside my line, and had actually started to grow up the pipes into the house. Before connecting the new sewer pipe (something called “Schedule 40” PVC), Roto-Rooter cleaned out all the roots they could. (We did a flush test when Tamara got home, to make sure water was flowing freely.)

By the time I got home, just after 20:40, the work was done. The pipes were in place, the dirt filled back in. It was far from perfect — the torn-up ground was nothing to look at, and the walkways were a disaster. I’m actually hoping it snows soon so I don’t have to look at it. Looks like I’ve already got some home improvement projects set up for next year…

It’s another cost I hadn’t planned (or expected). It’s another one of those joys of owning a home. (The next owner is gonna have it soooo easy.) On the bright side, it’s something else I won’t have to worry about.

As the saying goes, shit happens. But now, it’ll flow a lot more freely.

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