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Old 09-11-2017, 09:32 AM
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weisan weisan is offline
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OT: Foundation and Plumbing Repair

I need some advice.

Our house is on pier and beam foundation and is located in an area that is prone to foundation movement. We hired a foundation company to fix our foundation 4 years ago. It carries a 5-year warranty. As part of the warranty terms, we have to make sure that we pass a hydrostatic test (no leaks in the plumbing system). We went ahead and replaced the entire plumbing system under the house right after the foundation work was completed. We passed the hydrostatic test with the City inspector.

We started renting out the house 3 years ago. Last week, our tenant complained about a foul smell coming from the bathroom in the master bedroom. We called the plumber (same company that replaced our plumbing system). They discovered a broken pipe under the bathroom. Their first reaction is to blame it on the foundation company. We contacted the foundation company and they basically said we are out of luck because the warranty specifically mentioned that if a plumbing leak happens, it voids the warranty.

At this point, nobody really know what causes the pipe to break. Both the foundation and the plumbing companies refused to take responsibility.

What would you do next?
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Old 09-11-2017, 09:44 AM
batman1425 batman1425 is offline
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Seems to me you would need to see what occurred first, which may be challenging. Did a foundation failure cause an instability which lead to the pipe breaking, or was the pipe slowly leaking, which caused destabilization of the footings in the foundation.

I'd get an independent 3rd party (not someone that has skin in the game with respect to existing plumbing or foundation) in to try and make that assessment. Either way - you will still be in for fight. Both entities are going to blame one another, and I'm willing to be there is sufficient legal-eese in your contracts that even if you took them to court, you likelihood of success for compensation will be low.

Last edited by batman1425; 09-11-2017 at 09:47 AM.
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Old 09-11-2017, 10:23 AM
bking bking is offline
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Some states have a pretty strong contractors board, and may have stronger laws enforcing warranties than that offered by your contractor--regardless of what they presented to you. I served on ours here in Nevada for 6 years, and they can be pretty helpful. Not sure where your rental is, but that is always a free phone call anyway.
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Old 09-11-2017, 10:50 AM
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This is a tricky one. With the expansive soils in Austin (I am guessing that is why you had your foundation repaired in the first place), introducing water into the soil can trigger additional movement. So it is possible that a leaking pipe caused heaving, which eventually broke the pipe. Or if you have poor drainage (water not draining away from the house), that could have caused movement as well.

You could go ahead and hire a geotechnical engineer to do a forensic evaluation, but that is going to cost you a couple thousand dollars. Even if you did that, and found reason to open a case against the contractor, it is likely they will find an expert to dispute the opposite of whatever your engineer found, and it could drag on for a while. Not sure how much the cost to repair the broken pipe is, but it may not be worth the effort.

Good luck.
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Old 09-11-2017, 11:07 AM
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So sorry to see you have to deal with this Weisan. If the soil down there is anything close to what we have up here then it is not surprising at all that this would happen. Expansive clay and extreme climate shifts from season to season make building tough.

I don't have any professional advice to give other than words of encouragement and check with insurance.
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Old 09-11-2017, 11:52 AM
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That's a tough one...

Pipes break because of movement--although if they were installed improperly (not properly glued for PVC, not soldered correctly for water lines etc) they will break or separate with only a small amount of movement.

I don't know Texas clay, but I doubt that a single leaking waste line would cause significant change in the soil--that clause seems like an 'out' for the foundation company.

If the plumber has inspected at the problem and seems convinced that it was foundation movement, then I guess you are stuck.

If the plumber didn't look, and just reflexively blamed it on foundation movement, I would hire a different plumber to repair the problem.

(I have seen big commercial projects where litigation has started with installers pointing fingers at the GC, the GC pointing fingers at the installer, side suits against the material suppliers and it rarely ends well--it is very hard to establish clear causality.)
(I consider myself a semi-pro FWIW.)
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Old 09-11-2017, 11:53 AM
OtayBW OtayBW is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fa63 View Post
This is a tricky one. With the expansive soils in Austin (I am guessing that is why you had your foundation repaired in the first place), introducing water into the soil can trigger additional movement. So it is possible that a leaking pipe caused heaving, which eventually broke the pipe. Or if you have poor drainage (water not draining away from the house), that could have caused movement as well.

You could go ahead and hire a geotechnical engineer to do a forensic evaluation, but that is going to cost you a couple thousand dollars. Even if you did that, and found reason to open a case against the contractor, it is likely they will find an expert to dispute the opposite of whatever your engineer found, and it could drag on for a while. Not sure how much the cost to repair the broken pipe is, but it may not be worth the effort.

Good luck.
Yes - we need more info. If this is a soil-related problem, is it the bentonitic black (high shrink-swell) clay? If so, take care of any drainage problem as fa said, and if the problem persists (and is due to soil/clay movement) you can swamp the foundation with powdered Na-carbonate to prevent some of the cracking. If it is not, well then.....nevermind!
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Old 09-11-2017, 11:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by weisan View Post

What would you do next?
call your homeowner's insurance company. provide the adjuster with all of the pertinent information with regard to plumbers, warranty, etc. and let them fight it out. they'll have more experience and leverage than a homeowner. IMO
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Old 09-11-2017, 12:08 PM
nicrump nicrump is offline
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Weisan, is this in Austin? it takes a pretty big shift in P&B foundations to cause a plumbing failure. Enough that one would likely notice other issues first, drywall crack, door/window closure issues, sloping floor.

If none of these exists, fix the leak and take a wait and see on the rest.

Most P&B foundation in central Texas(in the black dirt anyways, that are not DEEP bottom) are rarely perfect or stable. I honestly wouldn't sweat it too much if you are not seeing the kinds of structural issues I've referenced.

btw, was it supply or drain failure? Is supply, copper or pex? If the plumber didn't bother to crawl under there and look then you should get someone to check it out closer. I can share a name or 2 of trusted independent people. PM me.

Cheers!
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Last edited by nicrump; 09-11-2017 at 12:11 PM.
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Old 09-11-2017, 12:31 PM
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How much is the repair? To repair a single broken pipe? can't be much. Your going to spend more time arguing than just fixing it yourself. Fix it yourself or hire a local, crawl under the house with them, go to Home depot buy the pipe and just pay for labor. can't be much.
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Old 09-11-2017, 12:33 PM
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Was there any monitoring of the building for movement during this time period?

As defined by the warranty, 1" in a 20' span is the trigger point for a claim. If you have that much movement it will be blatantly obvious. Buildings tear themselves to pieces at less than half that.

My advise would be this; pay your plumber to install a flexible joint at the pipe that broke. Watch it on a schedule and note any changes in a log, continued differential movement will be apparent without breaking the plastic pipe.

You can pursue the original contractors, but, without definitive proof the only people who are gonna benefit will be the lawyers.
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Old 09-11-2017, 01:03 PM
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Originally Posted by BobO View Post
Was there any monitoring of the building for movement during this time period?

As defined by the warranty, 1" in a 20' span is the trigger point for a claim. If you have that much movement it will be blatantly obvious. Buildings tear themselves to pieces at less than half that.
1 inch in 20 feet is not that much movement; the way houses are built (flexible, assuming this is a traditional wood frame house), I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't other tell-tale signs of movement.

Your first point about monitoring is a very good one; when we do foundation repairs (I don't work on residential though, usually on large commercial structures), we always recommend monitoring for movement for a period of time, typically a year. Otherwise, you can run into situations like this.
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Old 09-11-2017, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by fa63 View Post
1 inch in 20 feet is not that much movement; the way houses are built (flexible, assuming this is a traditional wood frame house), I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't other tell-tale signs of movement
Differential settlement of 1" in 20'? I would think that much of a difference in vertical movement would be more than a little concerning unless we're talking about the unified rotation of the entire structure. But, if this is an isolated differential settlement in an area, I'd be concerned.

For example, I had a house built on clay over sheets of fractured rock that moved half that in different areas and rates and was a mess of drywall cracking, buckled siding, rotated beams, popped nails, etc. I monitored it by putting in a fixed survey monument that I verified monthly via GPS, then used a total station to shoot various internal points in the house. Granted that kind of movement won't be visible to the naked eye, but there will be telltale evidence, I suspect that's what this broken pipe is. But, again, if the building isn't tearing itself apart, it may not be worth pursuing what will be a difficult to prove warranty claim.

When I design a home in a known area of expansive clays or other unstable soils conditions, I insist upon a soils report before I draw a single line. There's just too much to lose for my client when it goes bad after the fact.
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Old 09-11-2017, 01:47 PM
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It could be worse Weisan Pal.
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Having been in construction for over 30 years and having repaired, replaced leaking/broken sewer pipes myself the cheapest solution is to having it fixed yourself and try to seek a compromise with both the plumber and foundation company to chip in rather than going to court. Maybe they'll be amenable to that rather than face possible court action?

Last edited by bobswire; 09-11-2017 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 09-11-2017, 05:37 PM
HenryA HenryA is offline
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Find another plumbing company with a good reputation and have them fix the leak. Its not a big deal to repair a toilet drain (sounds like what would have made the smell that got your tenant's attention). Maybe not a big outfit, but a guy who does his own work when his help can't get it all done and been doing it for a while.

You'd be surprised that you could probably fix this yourself. Plastic pipe is easy to repair. You just need a few very basic tools and some glue. If you can change a flat on a bike you can do this. Keep in mind that when its all stuck back together and no water leaks out -- its fixed!

I hope I don't offend any members by this -- but there are lots of complete shysters in both the foundation and plumbing businesses. Anything underneath a house is easy to scam home owners on. 90% of us will not go under the house or apply our normal logic and thinking abilities to such a repair. Its just under there with all the spiders and scary darkness. Once you get past that, this situation can be overcome easily.
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