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  • Responsibility for snake head stuck in main sewer

    First time posting...sorry in advance for extreme length but figure context is important... I?m a female structural engineer who loves renovating my 1889 house myself. I hired a plumber just over a week ago to clear out a my clay tile sewer line (size is approx 12? outside diameter). Water had started backing up into my demoed first floor in the previous week. I assumed roots were likely culprit because he had come to my house last year and done a full clean out of the sewer line from main stack all the way to city sewer (approx 60-70ft) and we also videotaped the line. He thought the line was in good shape with the exception of an offset in the line. Being very interested in all things construction-related, I was standing by his side watching the entire process. There were a decent amount of roots each time he pulled the cutting blade out so he recommended yearly clean outs. Video showed he got the line nice and clean, using up to a 4? cutting blade.
    Getting back to last week... he was nearly done and I could see water flowing nicely. He was approaching the area where there had been a lot of roots last year (which I had reminded him of) when the snake broke in the line and a steel bracket on the cable feeder thing snapped off as well. He called an assistant with a bigger snake to try to go in from other side and pull it out (at this point, flow was blocked up completely). We figured it was probably only a few feet shy of the clean out near the street so we thought it might work. He quickly gave up (This all happened at about 5:30 on Friday afternoon). He said he couldn?t retrieve it from that side because he thought the cutter was caught on something and he wouldn?t be able to pull it out without risk of getting a second snake caught. He did get the water flowing again though but not as well as previously. He did not try going in from the original point of entry and backing it out. He said my only option was to dig up the sewer and cut the pipe to get the blockage out. Then he started talking about how the excavation is really expensive at $3k+. In my naivety, I felt bad for him thinking that?s a lot of money he would lose... I don?t mind manual labor so I said that?s crazy when I could just dig by hand. I wasn?t actually sure if he was thinking I would pay the $3k or he would but, either way, I knew I could save him or me that cost with a bit of hard work. He appreciated my ?spunk? and said if I dug it up he would come by, even on Sunday, to cut out and replace the drain. I assumed he meant at no charge since I was sharing the burden by digging. I paid him $200 for the time he had spent (again, too nice??).

    Over the past week, I did dig it up exactly as he sketched and asked him today what was next. He texted me that he thought I might need to dig more but wouldn?t know until he cut into the pipe. I asked wouldn?t it be a better idea to send a camera down since the moment he cuts my sewer, my toilets etc will be out of service? So I?d rather know beforehand if more digging needs to be done. He agreed and wanted to schedule it. I mentioned that I wasn?t clear from his text whether he was expecting me to pay for the camera (I wasn?t even thinking about the sewer repair) and that I didn?t think I should have to. To my surprise and anger, he replied by saying the repair job is relatively straight forward and I should just do it myself and he can tell me where to rent a camera. I don?t feel that I should take on this risk or expense. I feel he got the snake stuck and should get it out.

    He was able to pull the cable out but the cutting head is still in there. What is ?fair? in this case? And what are my reasonable options? I have a huge hole and piles of dirt in my front yard which I?m trying to pass off as Halloween decoration...

  • #2
    We've heard this time and time again. Your drain belongs to you and repairs are your burden. Do you bring in your car and say to the mechanic I won't pay you because my car is old and some old and rusty parts will break in the process trying to fix it. I demand free repairs mister because my old car is your fault! It's your responsibility to have a drain system in good condition.

    It's exactly why I have a lengthy waiver in cases like these.

    Get real.
    Last edited by Pro Service; 10-15-2018, 09:52 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      I don't put the waivers in writing as it's very rare for me to get stuck. less the 1 out of 1000 times. breaking a blade is much more common. They're a wear and tear item.

      getting back to your original post you mentioned a 12'' outside diameter clay line. yet he ran a 4'' cutter.

      Either you better learn to read a tape measure as 12'' residential pipe is next to impossible or hire a new plumber who runs much larger than 4'' cutter into a 12'' line.

      something is way off, and I'm guessing it's your estimate of pipe size. sorry, but as a structural engineer, you of all people should know how to read a tape.

      Out here the clay pipe leaving a home is 4'' clay with a 6'' lateral going to the street.

      Rick.
      phoebe it is

      Comment


      • Mightyservant
        Mightyservant commented
        Editing a comment
        Probably measured circumference?

    • #4
      Those snakes are giving you a headache.

      Comment


      • #5
        Stoffcheck I and a few other members here have historic or very old homes which we work on ourselves for different reasons but mainly to spare the expense of repairs. If nothing has been done to them you'll find that many mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in them are past there lifespan and need replacement. It's probably safe to write that you're drain pipe at the very least needs repair if not complete replacement. It could be that some elements of your home are ready to fail and that wouldn't be the fault of a service technician if they work on something and it falls apart. Yes some technicians are better than others but in this case I think your stuck. If you think the guy is fair and you like the work he done overall I'd continue to use them, but keep a look out for better help, word of mouth.

        I myself have come into similar situations, as we say it the trade "trying to make chicken salad out chicken *+#%" its very unpleasant and it takes a lot of trust to move on to a successful project conclusion. I commend you for putting in the effort since it can get very expensive. We often have customers than are struggling to afford repairs and we suggest hiring they're own landscape contractor to trench which can save them thousands plus they straighten up the yard once the repairs are complete.

        If you are motivated to trench yourself, it's a good idea to inform yourself on trench safety. Collapsed trenches are deadly but if you take the time to learn trench safely you will live to work another day.

        Comment


        • #6
          It is your responsibity for sure. Love how homeowners love to pass the blame onto us for their problems

          Comment


          • #7
            Am I missing something here? All responses have been that retrieving a stuck cable and head is the homeowners responsibility. There is no mention of the plumber trying to pull the cable out with a come-along, truck, etc. If a plumber gets a snake stuck, especially when he also using a camera, I don't see how you would think it is the homeowners responsibility to dig up a line to get his tool back. Now as far as digging to fix the broken clay, that is another issue, but as Rick says, those who know how to use a snake rarely get stuck where they cannot get out.

            Comment


            • #8
              Tell me how this is different than if you pull into a HOs' driveway and hit their car with your truck? Are you saying they are the cause of the damage? Because I don't see it as much different than this situation (taken at face value since we only have her side of the story).

              Never mind no-fault insurance or any of that, I'm talking fault as in who caused the damage.
              - Was the HO doing the work...NO.
              - So could the HO have caused the plumbers tool to break...NO.
              - If the plumber had not been there performing work would the cutter have gotten stuck in the pipe...NO.
              - Maybe the plumber should be inspecting his equipment better before use to be reasonably sure it won't break in use and get stuck.
              Not that this would remove his responsibility but it would give him some assurance that his equipment would perform as expected.

              You're all saying that you think you can pull up to any job and no matter what or how bad you screw up it's the clients fault? You all need a lesson in ethics then is all I can say. And your only saving grace is there is enough work out there that you don't have to depend on repeat business because treating clients like that would not get you a second call from most I would expect. You'll say good riddance who needs them which I would argue just points back to your poor business ethics.
              "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006

              https://www.youtube.com/user/PowerToolInstitute

              ----

              Comment


              • appletondrain
                appletondrain commented
                Editing a comment
                There are many variables here.
                My take. Is the cable got stuck. That the issue.
                How can they be liable for that.
                Unless his equipment failed or he didn't kw what he was doing.
                This is his second time there.
                I have been to many homes year after year and can show with prof sewers more. The belly ment9in the line could have allowed water to seep and make the line completely fail.
                No clue I wasn't there.
                Is the above felt they were wronged they could have said your done. And call some one else to confirm who was at fault.
                **** dose happen in this line of work.

                Most of it is done with out actually seeing it when it is being done.

                What dose a car in the drive way have to do with anthig??

            • #9
              I would agree with the last two posts... there's no way to look at it other than the fault lies with the pro who is doing the job. I'm sure you guys must know the risk and probably have some insurance or whatever to cover this kind of thing. The homeowner would not in general know the conditions, physical structure, or obstacles entailed in most any job he is hiring someone to do, and that especially applies to plumbing and electrical work, IMO.

              In this particular case, Stofcheck appears to have gone way beyond what any homeowner might normally do to assist with the problem, even going so far as the laborious task of digging up the line herself, so that her plumber could facilitate the retrieval of HIS snake head.

              Not picking on any one person, but the statement was made, "Your drain belongs to you and repairs are your burden." While that is true, isn't it also true that she took the responsibility and contracted with an alleged Pro, to do the repair? The statement went on to compare that to service on an automobile, and I might agree that if your car is old, it isn't the mechanic's fault if something breaks while doing the repair... but wait, shouldn't he know that condition when he inspects it before the repair, and then take care as to whether or not something can be done without causing further damage? And what if this auto mechanic gets his wrench stuck or broken, or drops a socket into a place that he cannot retrieve it without some further costly disassembly and reassembly? You don't pay for a mechanic's slipped wrench or dropped socket and the damage that such event caused.... that's his fault, not your's.

              And such is the case here, from my perspective! She hired a guy who was supposed to know what he was doing, and in his doing he lost a piece of equipment that rendered her sewer line useless. At what point does "responsibility" fall to the plumber? She contracted with him to do a job, she didn't buy his equipment, inspect it, or take personal responsibility for it's condition and use.... that was all covered in the estimate he gave her. Failure on his or his equipment's part isn't and shouldn't be the responsibility of the homeowner, IMO.

              CWS

              Comment


              • #10
                Here is my reason behind my earlier statement.

                I get called for clogged for lateral lines all the time and guess what, when my cable can't get any further or gets stuck and when I have to demolish a wall because my bit broke in the pipe and I need to retrieve it it was due to hack plumbing. 95% of drain lines here unless it's a very recent or new house has been hacked beyond belief. So you are saying its my responsibility to redo their plumbing at my expense and pay to redo their walls? They decided to cheap out the first time by hiring a hack and I'm the pro and should be able to magically see in the walls and be held responsible?

                The main line is collapsed or disaligned and the cable gets stuck or a bit breaks. Plumber pays for the backhoe, he pays to install new pipes and new sod and free drain cleaning?

                People redo portions or their drains hidden behind walls and I $hit you not with polyethylene pump pipe with abs glue, central vacuum pipes, bicycle tubes YES!! etc. This summer I went to 2 new houses that were built entirely diy, all tees and vent 90's, and obviously no vents, or auto vents...
                Last edited by Pro Service; 10-17-2018, 11:48 AM.

                Comment


                • JFDI
                  JFDI commented
                  Editing a comment
                  If you can show its as a result of poor pipework, incorrect fittings or broken drain etc, then homeowner pays.

              • #11
                My waiver gets signed before I start.
                Old, old plumbing is problematic.

                It's broke before I get there, that's why I am there.

                So far a cum along or a few strong guys has worked.

                Comment


                • #12
                  Several years ago it was my turn to be on call and was sent out to do a repair on a leak that "just had to be done that night" whatever. The 10" ductile was coming off a riser closet within an office space the mj ellbow was located 5' below grade and the pipe came in at a 45 degree angle which can make for a horrible repair since you've got to get through several feet of hard clay to get the ellbow in order to disassemble it.

                  After getting dig alert out we excavated and found the pipe badly pitted and suggested to the owners rep the entire pipe be replaced since getting a repair sleeve to hold pressure can be problematic. Factory mutual was sceduled to inspect the building the next day and the project manager decided we needed to push ahead for now. We cleaned up the pipe as best we could and found the best place to chain cut it. A section of the old pipe just under the foundation had corroded and gave way, we cut about 4' of pipe away and installed a new section. By the time we wrapped and coated all the fittings and turned on the water it was midnight. We pressurized the pipe and as we cleaned up we check the joints for leaks. Another job done...or so I thought.

                  The next day a fresh crew goes out to backfill, compact and restore the area and as they were compacting water starts leaking out of a different section on the same pipe. The pipe wall was thin in places and probably cracked from compaction. That fitter refused to work on any of it unless it all got replaced which it did and 2 days later they had all new fire service. One could say that we should have been more careful compacting the dirt but if you have to baby cast iron pipe it needs replacement. We ended up making money on all of it but it's definately not the way we like doing it. Luckily they are an excellent customer. Things wear out.

                  On the other hand when we accidently destroy an owners property you do everything to make it right. Word of mouth works both ways and if take advantage of, rip off customers or trash there property, that gets around even faster. A poorly handled situation can ruin years of effort.

                  Comment


                  • #13
                    Originally posted by CWSmith View Post
                    The statement went on to compare that to service on an automobile, and I might agree that if your car is old, it isn't the mechanic's fault if something breaks while doing the repair... but wait, shouldn't he know that condition when he inspects it before the repair, and then take care as to whether or not something can be done without causing further damage? And what if this auto mechanic gets his wrench stuck or broken, or drops a socket into a place that he cannot retrieve it without some further costly disassembly and reassembly? You don't pay for a mechanic's slipped wrench or dropped socket and the damage that such event caused.... that's his fault, not your's.

                    If it's my fault, I'll go back and fix it but it's their old pipes no....

                    So you bring in your car to have the brake pads replaced, he takes out the pad and realizes the calipers are seized or the bleeder screw shears off due to corrosion. He should of known just like that? He orders new calipers and he tries to remove the brake line but it rips apart because it rusted through. He should of known that too? Let me know where that garage is because he will replace the whole brake system for free just because I only wanted brake pads.

                    No the mechanic will charge his time and charge you parts to fix everything. When he calls you midway saying it's going to cost more you either pay for all the repairs or he puts your car outside and you can call your own tow truck.
                    Last edited by Pro Service; 10-17-2018, 06:22 PM.

                    Comment


                    • JFDI
                      JFDI commented
                      Editing a comment
                      If he's quoted the price, he should have done enough jobs to know how set an average price. If he's on charge up & he can show all the corrosion etc & keeps the customer informed, then customer pays. Been there several times (paying more) with my vehicles & I trust my mechanic so I pay. If you're only dealing with douchebag customer that try to screw you over, then its time find better customers or a more appealing job.

                  • #14
                    I totally agree with all three of the previous posts, you've run into conditions that warrant your work and without any doubt that gets passed to the customer. I guess it's the part of Stofcheck's story, where she went though the process of digging up everything as instructed and basically prepared the scene so her plumber could finish the task and do whatever was necessary to unclog the line with his stuck snake head. She even suggested the question as to whether the situation might save further excavation if he ran the camera and he agreed. The question about who pays for the camera or whether they share that cost, I think is based on the objective. At That point, the question in my mind is whether the objective was to clear the line to remove his broken tool or to discover if further excavation and repair was needed. Probably all the same thing, but it was his answer that basically he was done and she could probably dig some more herself and rent her own camera. That sort of set me off, as I figure at that point he needed to explain the situation, it's cost and then finish the job.

                    Look, I'm not a plumber for exactly all the reasons you great guys have just stated. Plumbing is just fraught with problems and every job, outside of new work, is a challenge that is simply not to my patience and thus not in my skill set. (I spent several years with my Dad, and simply understood I wasn't about to spend a life doing this kind of thing.)

                    n this particular case, she should have been made aware of the difficulty, but neither the owner or the plumber thought there was a problem, since he had gone down that line at least a couple of times before. At that final point, what happened? Snake too small, too dull, too old or just the growth overwhelming the tool. It's not clear to me where the problem was. But he shouldn't have suggested she just complete it herself, which is the way I interpreted it.

                    I had stoppage (a major root problem) a few years ago. This is an old 1887 house located here in the city, amidst all kinds of codes, regulations, and too many city folks needed to get permissions from. We had at the time, recently bought the house and moved back here after 30 years. With the problem at hand, I literally opened the Yellow Pages and stuck m finger on a small Ad. My plumber (a stranger to me at the time) came in, ran a snake, pulled it out and ran something bigger, pulled it out and told me we had some major clog as he was pulling back roots. Line full of water, so not possible to run the camera. He did a couple of other things (can't remember what) and then told me they would have to excavate but the city, gas, and electric all had to be involved that that would take some phone calls.

                    kay, I'll be back in the morning (comment about not introducing any "solids" this evening ) and I'll try to keep the cost down, but it's going to be expensive and he explained the details. Very early the next morning he was there with the backhoe, the dump truck, etc. On top of that came the gas and electric company guys, the city inspector, and a work crew. Steve ran his probe down the line, located the exact spot to dig and the excavation started. Had to remove a couple of sections of the old clay line, replace with new, add a clean-out and remove all the roots, and some huge rocks that had been used for fill way back then. Then the city cut down the tree by the front curb, removed the stump, and the city engineer signed off on everything. Cost me a little of $3K. Didn't like the fact that this was an expensive surprise, but I darn well knew first hand why that cost was there. NO surprises, because Steve let me know everything as it progressed. He didn't walk away or refer me to someone else.

                    He's the only guy I call, and I don't think about anything or anyone else. He knows what he's doing and I respect him highly, not only for his skill but also because he knows how to manage a situation, bring everybody to bear that needs to be, and in doing so the job is as quick as it can be.

                    CWS

                    Comment


                    • #15
                      Originally posted by Bob D. View Post
                      Tell me how this is different than if you pull into a HOs' driveway and hit their car with your truck? Are you saying they are the cause of the damage? Because I don't see it as much different than this situation (taken at face value since we only have her side of the story).

                      Never mind no-fault insurance or any of that, I'm talking fault as in who caused the damage.
                      - Was the HO doing the work...NO.
                      - So could the HO have caused the plumbers tool to break...NO.
                      - If the plumber had not been there performing work would the cutter have gotten stuck in the pipe...NO.
                      - Maybe the plumber should be inspecting his equipment better before use to be reasonably sure it won't break in use and get stuck.
                      Not that this would remove his responsibility but it would give him some assurance that his equipment would perform as expected.

                      You're all saying that you think you can pull up to any job and no matter what or how bad you screw up it's the clients fault? You all need a lesson in ethics then is all I can say. And your only saving grace is there is enough work out there that you don't have to depend on repeat business because treating clients like that would not get you a second call from most I would expect. You'll say good riddance who needs them which I would argue just points back to your poor business ethics.
                      You need to ride along with these guys as a helper for a few weeks, then report back !
                      I can build anything You want , if you draw a picture of it , on the back of a big enough check .

                      Comment


                      • Bob D.
                        Bob D. commented
                        Editing a comment
                        "You need to ride along with these guys as a helper for a few weeks, then report back ! "

                        Tool, I did 'ride along'. I served a 4 year apprenticeship and work for one of the largest plumbing/HVAC contractors in my area for about 2 years in the late 70s. Worked every day on commercial and residential clearing drains, cleaning out big grease traps(that was the worst), installing/servicing AC systems, kitchen and bath remodels, apartment building maintenance, hotel service contracts, and some new home construction. After that I went on to work mostly new construction for the rest of my apprenticeship. At that point I was in charge of my future and choose to work industrial and commercial mostly. Worked in refineries, power plants, helped build a dozen schools, a couple banks, installed a new printing press for a regional newspaper, worked on a couple nuclear power plants, four different fossil power plants, a couple combined cycle units, and more. So yes only a couple years with drain cleaning but I do have some knowledge of it, though it be 40 years ago. A turd is a turd, don't think much has changed there, and neither has the pipe. What was old then is old now. More plastic, pex, and shark bites now a days and less copper and CI but then nobody knows how to do that work anymore with craftsmanship anyway so probably best it goes away.
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