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Old 01-26-2011, 05:56 PM   #1
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Back pitch sewer pipes and sewer smell..?


Hi All,
We have two issues going on right now. First, we have an intermittent sewer smell that is occuring in our lowel level (and it seeps to the second level) and subsequently, in trying to find the source, we had a 3rd party plumber look in the sewer pipe and we found that there was water standing.

Here is where we're at:

New home build in August 2010
Contemporary, modern home--cement floors, radiant heat both levels, energy efficient throughout
Original plumber came out with GC and they used a camera in the pipes and found two areas in the sewer pipe where water is sitting.
The plumber said that he thought the pipes were back pitched and didn't like the water standing.
Meanwhile, they don't know where the sewer gas smell is coming from. They think it must be a leak in the venting pipe.

The GC contacted the original sewer company who layed the sewer pipes from the house to the street and they said, back pitching is "normal" because of the natural settling of the house and dirt below it.

I think this is a crock, and just wanted to see if anyone else had experiences like this. We are meeting with the sewer company and GC tomorrow and want to be armed with some good information.

The sewer smell is quite annoying and embarrassing if we have guests and is either very light or very strong, where we thought it was a gas leak before. We found the backpitch in the pipes when we were trying to find out the gas smell cause.

Any help is greatly appreciated!
Heather J

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Old 01-26-2011, 08:12 PM   #2
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Back pitch sewer pipes and sewer smell..?


For the line to have a "backpitch" or negative grade would be less likely than a belly (low spot) in the line. Before the trench was back-filled an inspector would have checked for adequate slope 1/4" per/ft. What is more likely is again, a belly in the line. Which would have been caused by the original sewer contractor not properly bedding (packing soil under) the pipe before back-filling.

As far as experience goes, I've found several new construction homes with broken or bellied sewer laterals due to poor workmanship. Fortunately for you however, the home should still be under warranty and you won't be paying for the excavation and repair.

Is there any other plumbing in the basement? Do you have a sump pump in the basement? The smell could be something as simple as a dried out trap or a poor gasket on a sump basin. Sewer smells coming from DWV systems can be extremely difficult to pinpoint without smoke testing. I would demand that the builder repair the sewer line, and have a plumber perform the appropriate inspections to determine where the sewer smell is coming from.

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Old 01-26-2011, 08:23 PM   #3
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Back pitch sewer pipes and sewer smell..?


I am with lateral on the back pitch issue.... there is NO excuse there should be ANY standing water in the drainage piping. The floor of trench should have been thoroughly packed. (that's what helpers are for).
I would also demand a smoke test since you already know of one issue in workmanship, who knows what else they skimped out on.
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:26 PM   #4
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Hey Lateral--
Thanks for replying. You were totally on target with my questions

Actually, when the sewer guy and our GC come tomorrow, they are going to perform a "smoke" test to see where the smell might be leaking in. All along, we've been telling the GC and the plumber that we can smell the sewer smell in the family room where there is a "metal cap" that covers the entrance to the sewer pipe. It's always in that area and especially if you get down by the cap and sniff. It's not all the time, but it's weekly and sometimes daily.

As a first troubleshooting test, the GC sealed the sump pump last fall with plastic and duct tape to rule that out. The mechanical room is about 6 feet from the "cap" I was referring too and the smell is definitely not in the mechanical room, but there is the drain in there but we've never smelled anything in that area. I've read about the "dried out trap" but neither plumber or GC has mentioned that or even checked it, which leads me to believe that know something that they aren't telling us.

The "bell" description sounds better as a description of what may be happening to the sewer line. *Is the sewer company responsible for the packing of the dirt before the pipe is installed?* The reason I ask is we had some soil issues during construction where they had to bring in a lot of gravel and soil and I'm wondering if the sewer pipes were laid before that, could that have caused these issues now? -->Our GC is a dink and we've had some other issues come up.

One last question, I just want to make sure I'm ready for the meeting tomorrow--what if the sewer guy says this is normal, what should our next step be? An inspector, another sewer person, a lawyer...I'm hoping the GC steps up but not expecting it. I just want to be ready.

Thank you so so much for your help!
Heather
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:30 PM   #5
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Hi Plumber!
I guess I was replying as you replied to my original post.
Thanks-you! It feels so good to hear from people who don't have a stake in this; this whole construction process has been an episode of mistrust. I'm so anxious about this smoke test. Could the sewer smell have ANYTHING to do with the water in the pipe? The GC says no, that they are two issues, which the way he explained (the sewer gas exits through a vent pipe, so there must be a leak) but I just don't know if I trust him.

If this was your house, what would have to be done to fix the "belly" pipes? Our house is shaped like a T where the top of the T is the lower level and the upper level and where the bottom of the T hits the top is about where the sewer pipes come into the house. The bottom of the T is also the rest of our upper level (kitchen, bath, spare bedroom) as well as footings below that.........I'm nervous about what it could mean?????
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:40 PM   #6
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Well, I think that likely (or I should say 'hopefully') all they will find is a cleanout cap that wasn't sealed properly. THAT would be the easy fix. As far as the belly in the pipe, it will HAVE to be repaired b/c you say this is a new build and it's already settled? What's going to happen as it settles further. You will have a major issue on your hand. They need to fix it and fix it now. Get a recording of the sewer inspection when they camera the drains if you haven't already. Make sure it's date/ time stamped. Your next order of business if they come at you with the "this is normal" garbage is consult with the plumbing inspector and/ or the original inspector AND his supervisor to go over why the non-support of the piping wasn't caught during the build. Either way. Someone NEEDS to fix this problem.
Good luck and keep us posted on how it went.
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:43 PM   #7
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Awesome--thank you! I'm fired up now. I feel much better having at least some info. Gosh, I love this message board!!

One last thing, do you think the two things are related--the occasional sewer smell and the water in the pipe?

I will keep you guys posted and if you (or anyone else) has any other ideas or suggestions, I am all ears!

Have a wonderful night!
Heather
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:50 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by HeatherJ View Post
Awesome--thank you! I'm fired up now. I feel much better having at least some info. Gosh, I love this message board!!

One last thing, do you think the two things are related--the occasional sewer smell and the water in the pipe?

I will keep you guys posted and if you (or anyone else) has any other ideas or suggestions, I am all ears!

Have a wonderful night!
Heather

The only thing that relates them is the obvious hurry they were in when they did the job. Every body makes mistakes but a mistake made under a concrete slab is not one someone should make too many times. But no, the problems themselves are not related. The only way the belly would cause a smell is years down the road, if this isn't resolved, when your plumbing overflows into the downstairs from the belly in the drain accumulating waste causing a stoppage. Knock'em dead. What state are you in BTW?
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Old 01-26-2011, 08:52 PM   #9
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Okay, cool. Good to know. At least the GC was right on that. I was scared to even believe him even though it made sense!

We are in Minnesota. While the home is awesome and we love it, the continuing issues like this (we also have a drywall thing going on--check the drywall forum are killing it for us.

Thanks again, I really appreciate you taking the time to help us out.
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Old 01-26-2011, 09:07 PM   #10
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Hey Lateral--I forgot to respond to a portion of your post. Yes, we have other plumbing in the basement. The mechanical room which houses everything including the radiant tubes in the concrete floors and we have a full bath down there.
Thank so much for responding and helping us out!
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Old 01-27-2011, 09:22 AM   #11
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Quote:
One last question, I just want to make sure I'm ready for the meeting tomorrow--what if the sewer guy says this is normal, what should our next step be? An inspector, another sewer person, a lawyer...I'm hoping the GC steps up but not expecting it. I just want to be ready.
Heather,

If the "sewer guy" was the one that originally installed it, you'll most likely find that he down plays the situation. In new construction, there certainly shouldn't be any belly's in the pipe. Again, proper care just wasn't taken to make sure the soil was compacted underneath before back-filling. Even if it's one little spot, as Plumber26 mentioned, you'll find yourself having a lifetime of maintenance issues. When there's standing water in the pipe, every time you run water or flush a toilet, water purges through but leaves solids behind. Eventually that will cause a "soft" blockage leading to a back-up.

I would do a search in your area for an unbiased sewer video inspection company such as mine that has no interest in trying to cover up the problem or sell you extras. By performing your own due diligence you'll have a better understanding of what's really going on. Likewise, you may want to hire a licensed home inspector to fully inspect the home for other hidden problems (you may have already done that?) Additionally, if the general contractor is not happily trying to remedy the problem in a timely matter, then yes it may be time to seek help from an attorney.
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Old 01-27-2011, 10:58 PM   #12
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Update:

Hi guys, just wanted to update you on our meeting with the GC and the sewer contractors today. Well, they sewer guys really downplayed the bellys in the line, like you said. They said that when they laid the pipe, they did it by code and it was inspected. Anything settling after that is out of their control, meaning the construction of the house on top of the pipes and movement of soil afterwards. I have to say, they really weren't jerky about it but said its very common and that the PVC pipe that is used is smooth and that any small amount of bellying will act like the trap on any sink pipe. Our GC brought the diagram of where the bellys are in the line. Up against the back of the house foundation on the lower level there is a short 2-3 ft stretch that has 1/2" to 1" of water standing, then about 15 feet later, another 2-3 ft stretch with the same amount of water standing and then an area about 15 feet from the street there is a stretch that has up to 3" of water standing.

Now I explained to him our concerns of our warranty going by the wayside and then things bowing more and a back up occurring. He said he is very confident it won't happen and that if more settling occurred in the first two bellys near the house, we'd notice more because that would mean the whole house would have dropped. (nice thought--can't wait for spring!). He said, he'd be happy to reconnect in the spring, bring out his camera and take another look and then lift up the pipe by the street. The sewer pipe when it leaves the house is under the kitchen, spare bath and spare bedroom so not sure how we could even get that fixed if we needed to. So......that is where we are at.

The good news and resolution for the day is that we found the sewer smell. Of course, it was right by the sewer cap as we had said all along. They did the smoke bomb (awesome by the way) and you could see the smoke coming from the cap in the floor. Turns out right below the threads there was a small hole in the pipe that looked like it had melted away. About the size of a dime. Everyone was pretty baffled. The GC went and got some kind of epoxy putting and silicone and I think we're pretty sealed up now. I can't wait not to have to smell that occasional sewer smell.

Thanks guys for your help. I can't even begin to tell you how at ease I was going into the meeting today.
I think we're going to sit on it till spring and then have the sewer guys come back out and speak more about it then. I think they'll be true to their word and seemed like pretty decent guys. Hopefully you won't read a rambling post come April from some half-wit from Minnesota yelling about her sewer pipes or her house sinking!!

Take care
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Old 01-28-2011, 01:03 AM   #13
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Hi Heather, been following your thread and agreeing with everyones comments so far. But I got to say this, IMO, bellies, sags, or backgraded pipe is nobody's fault except the sewer contractors. He can't pass it off on the inspector or the GC. or the house settling.The bellies need to be addressed. Perhaps if you mentioned that you will contact their bonding company or other legal actions. At least get today's promises in writing. When it comes spring their memories will be short.
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Old 01-28-2011, 10:51 AM   #14
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I have to say, they really weren't jerky about it but said its very common and that the PVC pipe that is used is smooth and that any small amount of bellying will act like the trap on any sink pipe. Our GC brought the diagram of where the bellys are in the line. Up against the back of the house foundation on the lower level there is a short 2-3 ft stretch that has 1/2" to 1" of water standing, then about 15 feet later, another 2-3 ft stretch with the same amount of water standing and then an area about 15 feet from the street there is a stretch that has up to 3" of water standing.
This is what concerns me the most. Although they; as I thought they would, downplayed the situation, these are major problems that will only get worse over time as they collect solids. You don't just have one little belly, you have 3. The belly's drastically impede the flow characteristics. When you flush, by the time it reaches the street it's at a crawl. Imagine trying to roll a tennis ball down the street through 3 puddles. It probably wouldn't even make it to the 3rd puddle.

A couple years ago my next door neighbor bought his house (new construction still under warranty), not quite a year down the road he discovered a crack in the foundation. Although the contractor's "warranty" stated something about regular settling, etc., he still fought it and won. I remember reading about the awarded settlement in the newspaper.
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Old 04-22-2011, 05:50 PM   #15
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It is spring, What happened? those bellies in the line are called latent defects if you had to have them repaired by somebody else and sue to recoup your money you would probably win. Court would be my last resort even if you win by the time everybody is paid nobody wins.

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