Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Sewer Line Disaster of 2014

I don't know what else to call our sewer line situation besides a disaster. It stressed me out for about six months this year and cost us a fortune.  I guess we'll start from the beginning...

Last November, we got 13 exterior piers installed to stabilize our foundation.  That cost us $4,485, but we negotiated the purchase of the house with that in mind, since we already knew it would be necessary.  So, no harm, no foul.  After the piers were installed, a plumbing company tested our freshwater and sewer lines and said that we passed, meaning we had no leaks.  This April, we decided to get some additional foundation work done, because we felt like a couple more exterior piers were needed and some interior work might be necessary. After evaluating our options, we decided not to do interior piers because of the disruption it would cause to our hardwood and tile flooring.  Still needing interior stabilization, though, we opted instead for mudjacking. This was a less invasive process, because they could just drill small holes in rooms with carpet, inject the leveling substance, and then lay the carpet back down when finished.  That cost us $4,980.  We hadn't factored that into our purchase negotiations, so it hurt a little bit.  (Little did we know that was only the beginning!)

Before a company does mudjacking, they require water tests to make sure there are no holes in your plumbing lines.  If there are, you run the risk of injecting the substance into your freshwater or sewer lines.  Since we had just passed those tests five months prior, I wasn't worried.  Much to my surprise, this plumber told us we failed the sewer test. WTH?  I figured it must be a small leak, maybe from just a crack, not a hole, so we scheduled a leak detection for the next day and crossed our fingers. Oh.My.Gawd.  That was the first in no fewer than six leak detection visits we had from four different plumbers over the next several months.  I wanted to pull my hair out because every plumber that came verified that we failed the test, but none of them could tell us why we were failing.  After spending nearly a thousand dollars on detection, with no conclusive results, we went ahead with the mudjacking because we figured if the leak(s) wasn't noticeable enough to be found, then it wouldn't be large enough to give us problems with that process.  It was possible the leak(s) was on the complete other side of the house from where we were doing the mudjacking, so it wouldn't have come into play anyway.  Either way, that process got completed, and we took a couple weeks' break from worrying about the plumbing.

After a little more time had passed, I decided we had to address the failing sewer test.  Our foundation warranty wouldn't go into effect until we showed a passing test, and I would have to disclose the existence of a sewer line leak if we ever put our house on the market.  Those were compelling enough reasons to press on.

The next option for figuring out where our leak(s) was, was to shoot high pressure water throughout our lines to try and clear up any scaling or debris that might be blocking the lines.  Most leak detection is done through running cameras through your lines and looking for problem areas, and if we have debris in the way, that can prevent conclusive results.  The potential con, though, is that if you have brittle lines, high pressure water can cause cracks or holes.  We felt pretty hopeless at this point, so we agreed to the procedure.  That was another $150.  After that was done, they ran cameras again and this time told us they had definitely identified three leaks.  But, there were still some areas that were hard to analyze, so they couldn't promise us all our problems would be solved by addressing those three.  They mentioned our best course of action was replacing ALL our sewer lines, and we quickly dismissed that.  We opted to address the known leaks.  Now, that's easier said than done, because the pipes needing repair/replacement were underneath our house.  They were all directly located under floors covered in hardwood or tile.  If the plumbers went straight down through our floors, we'd then be stuck with replacing thousands in flooring on top of the actual plumbing costs. That wasn't appealing to us. We asked for an alternative and they suggested tunneling from the outside. That was pricier on the plumbing side of things, but we felt it would still be cheaper overall than replacing flooring, and would also mean less disruption to our lives (because the work would be done outside/underneath our house).  The total cost for that? $7,965.  The access points were a tunnel in our garage and a tunnel underneath Dutch's bathroom (that would serve to reach two of the leaks).

Tunnel in garage

This is how much dirt came out for the garage tunnel

Dirt from Dutch's tunnel and some of the old pipe

After that work was completed and paid for, you can guess what happened next.  We STILL failed the sewer test. Can you even fathom what was going through my head at this point?  I felt like I was on a prank show.  I think I was in such a daze that I couldn't even muster tears. Instead of continuing to do more leak detection and more spot repairs, we decided we had had enough.  It was time for full sewer line replacement.

As you can imagine, this job would be a huge undertaking. Instead of replacing the lines as they were currently located, it made more sense to replace and reroute all the existing lines outside of the footprint of our house, meaning there would be no more sewer lines running underneath the full expanse of the square footage. Each of our 5 areas of plumbing would be tunneled underneath and then from there the lines would be turned outward to follow a path around the house to hook up to the main city line.  Every inch of it would be new PVC as opposed to 50-year old cast iron. To make a path for the new lines, lots and lots of trenching had to be done. So, 77 feet of tunneling, 201 feet of trenching, plumbing repairs and city permits added up to $15,355.  Wrap your head around that, and don't forget this is on top of every expense I've listed already.

All of this work took about 3 weeks.  For 2 of those weeks, we had to be flexible with which plumbing we used.  For instance, for a few days I wasn't allowed to do laundry or use my kitchen sink. For a few days, we weren't allowed to use our master bathroom or Dutch's bathroom.  We luckily only had one night of absolutely no plumbing use allowed, and for the rest of the time we just had to avoid some areas while still being able to use others.  Having contractors in and out of our house every day was frustrating, though, especially for two adults who typically work from home. The last week of the process was spent on backfilling, repairing the hole in the garage, and repairing our sprinkler lines. 

All in all, we got a brand new sewer line system serving our house, which is definitely a huge selling point. It's not often you can find a home built in the 60s that has all PVC lines instead of cast iron. It's also not common for all of your lines to not be underneath your house, which means any potential issues (way in the future!) can be more easily diagnosed, analyzed, and repaired. We also have a very clear map of where all our sewer lines and clean-outs are. A small part of this is benefiting us now, but the big return won't be seen until we sell down the road.

Some collateral damage from the repairs was the effect it had on our yard.  Not only did the trenches ruin our sod, but the massive piles of dirt that sat in our yard for weeks killed the grass underneath too. We aren't going to address re-sodding until next year, when we can see just how much came back and how much is a lost cause. We did manage to cover up a big portion in one of the yards with the installation of Dutch's new playset.  

I know my words aren't giving you an adequate feel for just how tremendous this project was, so here are some pictures and a video:

Looks similar to the one above, but now you can see the second pile in the background

Trench that heads out to the main city connection

Another portion of that trench

Trench portion in side yard that continues to front yard
This shows the disruption to our front yard:

Project Costs:
Initial foundation work: $4,485
Additional foundation work: $4,980
Leak detection: $1,000
Leak repairs: $7,965
Full replacement: $15,355
Emotional toll: $$$$$$$$

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dutch's New Playground

We have a large side yard separate from our backyard where the pool is, and we never have any reason to use it.  The dogs go out there to handle their business and bark at people or cars going by. That was the extent of its use.  Earlier this year we put down new sod in it because one portion of it would become a muddy pit after each rain.  During our massive plumbing repairs (post still forthcoming), a huge portion of the yard was disrupted and left in shambles.  The workers had to dig trenches and place the uprooted dirt on other areas of the yard, so when it was all said and done, we were left with a dirt yard.  We weren't too keen on paying to re-sod a yard we had just done that to a few months prior, so we figured it would be a good time to research play sets.  I'd much rather cover the yard with something useful than just put down more grass. The other reason for wanting a play set was so that Dutch would have a great outdoor activity to participate in, while I'm dealing with a newborn in a couple months.  I want him to get out and be active, but getting to a nearby playground will be more of a hassle with two in tow.

We honestly didn't do much research on where to purchase the play set from, mainly because I'm big and pregnant and don't have the luxury any more of taking my time!  We visited the Beyond Backyards location in Carrollton and found a model that we liked.  We also found out they did some great barriers, filled with mulch, to section off the area where the play set would go.  That definitely appealed to us since we didn't want our dirt yard to be the base of the set. We selected our options and paid for everything on 10.04 and the unit was installed on 10.13. I love not having to wait very long for something like this!  We were all excited about it.

It took the guys about 4 hours to complete everything, which is impressive considering the size of the structure and the square footage they had to fill with mulch. The area it takes up is 24' x 36'.  Here's a couple of pics during their installation:

And here's the fully finished product:

I absolutely love it!  It's got three swings, a trapeze, a tire swing, a rock-climbing wall, three types of ladders, a slide, and binoculars and a ship's wheel in the tower.  We invited a couple of Dutch's cousins over to give it a test run.

We had talked about it a little bit with Dutch ahead of time, but I was wanting it to be a surprise, so I didn't tell him what day it would be installed.  I wanted to walk him out to the yard and see his reaction for the first time, but the structure is so tall, that he could see it as we drove by the fence!  I heard him from the backseat ask, "Is that my new playground??"  I still managed to video his reaction as he got to see it up close and personal:

I love making this kid happy!

Project costs:
Play structure: $3,299
Groundcover: $3,240
Delivery/installation/tax: $863
Total: $7,402

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chicago Trip 2014 - Part Two

Once Meezy joined us at the hotel, we decided to get out and do some sight-seeing.  We started by going to Lincoln Square.  We thought it would be a cool place to walk around and see lots of shops and restaurants.  It was disappointing - not as large of an area as we had hoped for and no restaurants that looked appealing to us.  It did, however, have a neat toy store there (Timeless Toys) that Dutch had fun visiting.  After we finished there, we headed over to Navy Pier.  We found a restaurant with outside seating (Harry Caray's Tavern) so that we could enjoy the cool weather and check out the happenings on the water.  Dinner went well and we walked along the pier afterward and visited a couple of shops.  By this point, we were all tired, so we headed back to our hotel.

On Saturday, we were excited to meet up with my nephew, Mark, who is in training outside of Chicago.  We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo so we could catch up and Dutch could enjoy the animals. The zoo is awesome because it's free, open year-round, and you just walk right in at any entrance. Towards the end of our visit, it started raining, so we sought shelter in a cafe at the zoo.  A couple of Mark's classmates met us there and we had a nice, relaxing lunch.  Since it was still raining after lunch, we decided to part ways for a bit so Dutch could nap back at the hotel.  We had really wanted to do an afternoon cruise out of the harbor, but the weather prevented that.

After nap time, we met back up with Mark for dinner.  He took us to a cool area in the West Side where there were lots of fun restaurants.  It was busy since it was Saturday night, but we got seated quickly at The Little Goat.  The food was great and the company was even better! We had such a great time hearing about Mark's experiences and were reminded how much we miss hanging out with him.  As it was getting late and we had a travel day the next day, we decided to call it a night.  We dropped Mark off with friends and headed back to our hotel.

While we didn't get to do as much sight-seeing as we had wanted to because of the weather, we still had a great time together as a family.  I'm so glad we went on this trip and that Dutch got the experience of flying for the first time.  Hopefully there will be lots more traveling in our future.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chicago Trip 2014 - Part One

Meezy has to travel to Chicago every couple of months for work, but he never gets to do any tourist things while he's there, since his trips are so short and he's only there during the work week.  Since I am about to be put on travel restriction due to my pregnancy, I decided that Dutch and I should meet Meezy in Chicago on a Friday and we all stay there until Sunday. Dutch had never been on a plane, so I was a little worried about traveling alone with him for the first time, but I figured it needed to happen eventually.

On the morning of our departure, I checked the traffic at about 7am, and everything looked good. Our flight was at 9:30am, so I planned on leaving the house around 7:45am, getting to the airport no later than 8:15am, parking very close to the terminal, and then having 45 minutes to an hour to get through security.  I had already checked us in and qualified for fast bag drop, so I didn't expect any delays at the ticket counter.  I knew that was a tight timeline, but I really didn't want to get to the airport too early and have Dutch already be bored with the situation while we waited to get on the plane.

Of course Dutch was in a grumpy mood that morning, since I was getting him up earlier than normal, and the process to get him ready took longer than usual.  We didn't get out the door until about 7:55. I checked traffic again as I walked out the door, and to my horror, the highway to get to the airport was shown to be at a standstill.  Oh, crap.  If I was going to take a detour, I needed to have left already.  I stayed on the service road as much as possible and went a little out of the way, and ended up arriving at the airport just after 8:30.  The parking garage closest to our gate was undergoing construction, so there was no parking available at any of the lower levels.  I had to drive all the way to the top of the parking garage, in the uncovered area.  From there, I had to maneuver down four flights of stairs with a 40lb bag, a stroller hoisted over my back, two carry-ons, and a 2.5 year old in my arms.  Did I mention I was 7 months pregnant at the time?  It was no easy task.

By the time I got to the ticket counter area and checked in at the fast bag drop kiosk, it was 8:47am. That was past the 45 minute cutoff for luggage, so it told me I couldn't use the fast bag drop option anymore.  Doh!  I went to the ticket counter, which luckily wasn't busy, and the clerk sternly said, "You need to hurry."  She expressed concern that I wasn't going to make it to the gate in time, so she graciously escorted us to the front of the security line (where they check your ID).  From there, we still had to wait in a decently long line to go through the metal detectors.  I still had the stroller, two carry-ons, and Dutch, to manage.  When I approached the metal detector while holding Dutch, I asked if we could walk through together and the agent told me we could, but that I'd have to submit to a body search afterwards.  Ugh.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  I set Dutch down and walked through and then turned around to coax him through.  He wasn't having it.  He started crying and wouldn't come to me.  I pleaded with him and told him we'd miss our plane, but he was too scared to move.  I finally decided to just use the "Okay, I'm leaving" trick and start walking away, and that worked.  I scooped him up and grabbed all our belongings.  I started to feel like we were in the clear, until I saw how far away our gate was.  I had to hustle through a couple long hallways, up an escalator, through another corridor, get on a moving walkway, then down an escalator.  I couldn't put Dutch in the stroller for any of that because I needed to move quickly and didn't have time to keep taking him in and out of it to maneuver the escalators.  When we finally got to the gate, there were just a couple people left to board.  I got the counter agent to check his stroller and we got on the plane.  I haven't been that exhausted in a while.  I was sweating and breathing heavily. Since my original plan involved a few minutes in the gate area before boarding, I had planned to use the bathroom and get Dutch some water.  Well, neither of those things happened.

I had very low hopes for the flight at this point.  I knew I'd need to use the bathroom before too long and that Dutch would be thirsty.  Since the process was so rushed, I thought Dutch might be a little stressed for the actual flight.  I was regretting the whole trip already!

In a miraculous turn of events, Dutch was pretty much THE BEST KID EVER on the flight.  He never got upset, never got whiny, never seemed bothered with anything that was going on.  I had brought plenty of toys and snacks, so he was quite content.  When I needed to get up and use the bathroom, I set him up on the Ipad so that he would barely notice I was gone!  It worked well.  The passenger next to me asked how old he was and commented about how great he was being.  I was so relieved.  His favorite part of the flight was the descent, because there was a little bit of turbulence. He thought it being "bumpy" was really cool.  He even squealed a little bit from delight and that got a few laughs out of our neighbors.

After we landed and I gathered all our belongings, there was a little more disheveled maneuvering to get us to the rental car counter.  I didn't realize they weren't located at the actual airport, so we had to catch a shuttle to an off-site location.  I was so ready to just put all of our bags and the stroller down! Once we got to our car, I finally got to exhale.  It took me a while to get the rental car seat installed, but at least I wasn't carrying heavy bags or a toddler while doing that.  Dutch and I then drove to our hotel downtown, which had its own set of parking challenges, but finally got checked in.  We were able to relax in our room for a little bit and order a late lunch while we waited for Meezy to finish his work day.