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How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

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  • How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?


    You are in a "townhouse" that years ago was an apartment, but has since been converted into a condo-type townhouse. You weren't told about this and there was no way for you to know that the townhouse next door shares the same common stack serving the kitchen -- you thought this was a standard townhouse with its own plumbing. You snake the kitchen, clear the stoppage and leave. That night you get a call from the customer letting you know your snake put a hole in their neighbor's kitchen trap. You go back the next day to repair the neighbor's trap (and clean the mess in their kitchen) only to find that the stoppage still exists. Knowing better how to approach getting the cable to where it is supposed to go, you are unable to clear the stoppage in the common stack. Of course the original customer and the neighbor now expect you to clear the stoppage at no cost to them, but you are uncomfortable about doing this freebie considering the liability involved with the common drain situation. As usual, the neighbor is a lawyer and the customer "knows" a lawyer. They (in their own minds) are empowered by this.

    What would you have done in this situation?

  • #2
    Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

    If you got paid already to fix the stoppage, then I would do it free and ensure the neighbor is satisfied with the cleanup involved and get in writing the completion of the job for both parties. You'll lose money on this job but you'll have 2 people that know that you do a thorough job and stand behind your work. I would camera the line and use a drop head to clear the stoppage or go through the vent.
    Buy cheap, buy twice.


    • #3
      Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

      First off I would have know that when you are in a condo the pipes in the wall are the property of the HOA so it is very common even in todays construction for them to drain into common drains. I have an electrician friend and his mom's condo is the same way so she is always arguing with her neighbor as to who has to pay the plumber after we clear the line. It is a dumb way to do it but they do it all the time. Secondly, unfortunately if you made the mess you own the mess. Finally as Ben said I would have used a drop head to drop down the drain.

      This is a good post as it will let some of the guys who have not had this problem watch it does not happen to them

      "Somewhere a Village is Missing Twelve Idiots!" - Casey Anthony

      I never lost a cent on the jobs I didn't get!


      • #4
        Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

        Gear and Utah both said it perfect. We see that alot around here, and just goes to show you, you cant take certain things for granted. As Rick said, if you already got paid to do the work, then back yourself up, clean up the mess and fix the problem. It would only make yourself look better in the customers eyes.

        I have learned thru the years when doing any kind of condo or townhouses, or apts, office building kitchen sink lines, and you dont know whats on the other side of the wall is the use the drop head on the cable. That will make it alot easier for the cable to go down the stack instead of shooting over the drop and into the opposite sink line.

        Last edited by Drain Medic; 09-06-2007, 10:32 AM.
        The History of Sanitary Sewers Good site on the history of sanitary sewers and cleaners Our website


        • #5
          Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

          makes no difference if it was an apartment condo, or townhouse. plumbing is plumbing.

          the only difference is with an apartment you would have a manager to give you access to check for a back to back.

          it's not uncommon for back to back sink on common walls. also i would have thought the neighbor would have mentioned they too had a stoppage and informed the other neighbor.

          i usually ask questions first. know the building, check in the subterranean garage if they have one. and use caution on an unfamiliar building.

          now in my scenario, i would have also run hot water to verify it was making it to the waste line in the garage if i wasn't sure.

          this is also the same scenario when you snake a 3rd. floor fixture and not sure if you cleared it or pushed it to the first floor unit.

          it all boils down to thinking like a plumber and knowing the different scenarios you could face. fortunately the damage was minor and it's a wake up call for next time.

          as far as billing. the one up i have is i know my customers, i charge t & m. i could explain to them that the extra time to continue snaking would be charged as a continuation of the bill.

          phoebe it is


          • #6
            Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

            Yes i agree with the mighty RICK on this,
            eat the job!! then make it up by signing up the H.O.A. as a permant custermer as you now know what to look for in this building!! and as we all know they will need a plumber in the future!! i have picked up some good custermers over the years,

            next time you go to such a place before you start working get in toach with the H.O.A. or the MGT. CO. that maintans their
            property you may lose if they already have their own maintenice or plumber but then you don't have this problem!!
            i would call whoever from the cliants unit that way if you are on the job they will problaly have you do the work!!


            SINCE JAN. 1989


            • #7
              Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

              I was involved insomething quite similar once.

              the scenario was this. the tub in the one unit got backed up and bits of food and such were floating in it. the toilet next to the tub and the lavatory both had no problems draining and neither affected the water level in the tub. the neighbor in the unit next door had had a problem with the kitchen sink drain being plugged but the problem seemed to have resolved itself and the k-sink was draining.

              a professional plumbing company that was contracted to the HOA was called and a licensed plumber was sent out. he came and ran a 1/4" hand snake down the overflow pipe of the tub. 25ft of cable were run out and still the blockage wasn't hit. unfortunately he didnot have the right equipment with him so he had to come back later. when he came back he went into the neighbor's unit and ran a 1/2" cable through one of the waste lines of the double kitchen sink. the cable, under power, broke through the back end of the toilet in the first unit's bathroom. water and porcelain chips were everywhere.

              he then ran the cable through the other kitchen waste line of the neighbor's. this time he successfully broke through the blockage and dislodged it.

              After that he replaced the toilet in the first unit and cleaned up his mess.

              why he didn't camera it in the first place? I don't know. he was the professional...


              • #8
                Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

                You got off easy! Now My story! Was backing up my dump truck w/equept. trailer. Took out about 15' of neighbors asphalt berm. I am replacing about 100'
                of berm to do a great job. My project,this time is over $33,000. Over the years We've done about $600,000 worth of work for this family. everyones happy.
                I can build anything You want , if you draw a picture of it , on the back of a big enough check .


                • #9
                  Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

                  I agree with everybody on this. Although some responses conflict, I understand the reasoning behind each.

                  This is what I (actually the very hard working plumbers I sent to the job) did: When we returned the following morning -- this was the first call, just as any call-back is a priority to me -- we went into the adjoining unit, replaced the kitchen trap and very thoroughly cleaned-up the [surprisingly] minimal mess that was created. After finding there was still a stoppage, we then used a drop-head to get into the common stack and we were able to get about 14 feet before the cable would go no further. After several attempts, we just couldn't get it. My guys called me and I told them to have the owners/tenants contact the H.O. Assoc. maintenance people so they could help us to decide where to go from here. There is no access to any of the 2" galvanized pipe other than from the kitchen sinks and there is just one 3" stack through the roof, so snaking from the roof wasn't an option since the kitchen vent obviously ties-into the 3" somewhere. If we were to access the common pipe, it would have to be through a wall, ceiling or slab in the basement below. Neither of the owners/tenants were interested in us exploring this option -- this is why I wanted to get the maintenance people involved. The maintenance workers showed-up and right off the bat began telling my guys how to do it. "Use a drop head. C'mon, man, just snake it for me. Try it again" is what my guys told me these men were telling them. After telling the maintenance workers everything they had done, they agreed to try it one more time, but to no avail. By now, the two women were livid because they obviously felt they were dealing with two plumbers who didn't know what the hell they were doing and the maintenance workers were sort of egging them on by acting like they had the solution and they could do it, but it wasn't their job. At this point, I told my guys to put everything back together, clean up and leave, after explaining to the women that they had done everything they could without being able to gain access from a more advantageous point. I also instructed my guys to give both women my cell number so we could talk about the options. Neither ever called me on my cell.

                  Later that night, the woman who hadn't hired us called and left a very nasty, threatening message saying that she "is a lawyer for a large firm in DC and [she] will be exploring [her] legal position in this matter." She also said that she and her neighbor hired a different plumber who was able to clear the stoppage in 20 to 30 minutes. I have no doubt somebody came and cleared it so quickly because I have been that guy many times. Sometimes it just works that way -- I show up to a job attempted by somebody else and I have no problem whatsoever. I always feel bad for the guy before me who probably worked himself to death for poor results, only for me to come behind him and finish-up with ease where he surrendered.

                  My laptop battery is about to die and I don't want to lose this post, so I will finish here and add more later, but any comments on what I have already posted will be appreciated.



                  • #10
                    Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

                    Condos ,the plague of the industry! So sorry for Your experiance. My insurance Co. won't let Me work on them! Eazy for Me I'm a Gen. that remodels and repairs Most folks at condos are EXPERTS! I always pissed someone off no matter where I parked!. Than everyone on the board has a different idea ,as how it should be done. I know You can't say no in Your Buss. to this work.
                    But it sure is a MINEFIELD! Good luck
                    I can build anything You want , if you draw a picture of it , on the back of a big enough check .


                    • #11
                      Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

                      So If she sends you out a bill for the other plumber pay it in full. Sometimes things just don't go the way you would like. I don't see this going to far. Maybe a cleaning bill, and the other plumbers bill. You might try to send out a letter or go yourself to explain the situation. Talk to the lady that called you, to see what she may be able to tell you, about the other neighbor, and what she wants, to make her feel whole. You may want to eat this whole job. and send out gift card for a restraunt meal, to get this all behind you. Good luck.


                      • #12
                        Re: How Do You Deal With "Common" Drains?

                        The way I look at it is:

                        If I`m called out to a place and there is someone living on the other side of the wall you have to think there might be a chance there is another sink set up back to back. First thing to do is pull the trap off the side you are working on, Look and see what you can see before putting the cable in.
                        Buy a Mini See Snake, it`s now standard equipment for a sewer guy
                        If you cant see anything and you don't have the right equipment to do the job just turn it down till the neighbor's home so you can see what you are doing.

                        I was doing one that was back to back and the neighbor's cat sat there swinging at the cable as it came out the sink in the neighbor's side. Good thing the cat didn't get a hold of it.....rotflmao

                        I pulled a mop in to a 4" flange on a back to back water-closet as the owner had pulled the other W/C to find out why the other side was plugged up (he never told me). I got stuck so I got out the See Snake and told the owner that some one had flushed a big ball of yarn down the W/C. He said maybe it would be easer to get it out from the other side? I walked around to the other side and there was a handle sticking out of the W/C flange....rotflmao
                        He said "oh yea"" I put that there so the smell wouldn't be so bad with the stool pulled"

                        Just eat it and go on, it`s best in the long run