Fresh as a mountain stream?
January 24, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

How do I best deal with this wet, smelly problem?

It's beneath my basement floor. More accurately, there's this metal trap door that opens up to expose my sewer pipe. It exists for maintenance reasons--e.g. we recently needed to have our sewer pipes flushed out. Recently, there has been an odor coming from this area. We thought it was sewer related, but our sewer man says otherwise--there is water down there, but it's clean water. There's a teensy little stream flowing under our house. A plumber he referred us to suspects there's a leak from our water main and proposed, for $4.5k (includes 8.875% tax), to dig toward the water main and fix the leak.

In particular: To cut concrete floor in basement at location of main house trap, excavate ground in search of leaking pipe at manhole 5ft away from main house trap and remove garbage.

There are all sorts of boiler plate disclaimers and exceptions added to the proposal. e.g. "If there are stones that the work men
or machines can’t remove, we will have to use rock splitters and compressors. There will be an additional charge per day for men and machines used for removing stones." and we must agree to pay their lawyers fees in connection with making sure they are paid, and so forth.

I see no guarantee in the proposal that they will actually find the leak (is that definitely what's causing the problem?) and that the smell would then go away--We'd just be financing their search.

Am I being too negative and suspicious about this? Is this a reasonable approach and proposal to get rid of our smelly stream? Why does it smell if it's running fresh water anyway? Should I just pay the man?
posted by Obscure Reference to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Do not pay this man until you have done more research and contacted your insurance company. Contact your insurance company because this is a huge chunk of money (you might have to pay less if you contact your insurance company because if the claim is covered then you should only be responsible for your deductible) and there is water damage to your place.

In the mean time, I would file a claim (you can always cancel and make it a report if you choose not to follow through with it) or at least speak with an insurance rep. (either an agent or claims rep) and take photographs of the damage.
posted by livinglearning at 9:35 AM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: Aside from the actual stream, there's no visible damage to be seen. Without the smell, I'd never know it was happening. Is this the kind of thing insurance would cover?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:41 AM on January 24, 2012

Don't let just one estimate freak you out. Get at least two more diagnoses and estimates. Ask friends for trustworthy plumbers. You might also call your insurance company to ask for advice. They want to save money as much as you do.

Also, you might be able to see the leak in the activity of your water meter, if it's like my former water meter. With my meter, I'd do this:

- Turn off all water in the house, including any possibly leaky toilet tanks or other trickles.
- Look closely at the meter. Is the tiniest part of it moving? (In my case it was a little red plastic gear.) If so, you have a leak.

If the meter isn't showing any movement, you could still have a leak, depending on the location of your meter. I lived in the country, and my meter was at the road, 300 feet from the house. When there was a leak in the supply pipe that went from the road to my house or anywhere in the house, the meter showed it. A city meter might be different.
posted by ceiba at 9:47 AM on January 24, 2012

From my understanding, if there is no visible water damage then your insurance company would not cover it and making a claim wouldn't be necessary because there aren't any damages to currently claim for.

However, I still recommend that you speak to your insurance agent or a representative because they can help guide you more and look at your policy for you (depending on who you contact/when you contact someone).

As for now: contact your insurance company even if they might not cover this and take photographs.
posted by livinglearning at 10:24 AM on January 24, 2012

Consult your insurance company. They should either help you out, or hopefully guide you toward someone who can give a reliable second opinion. Either way, they have an interest in making sure that you (in other words, they) don't get ripped off, yeah?
posted by mie at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2012

That you recently had this area opened for a sewer flush, then noticed this smell problem, and that it has no connection to the recent work strains credulity, to say the least.

If your "sewer man" has any connection to the people who did your flush, disregard his opinion entirely and get an independent evaluation.

The plumber he referred you to would not be likely to contradict him, of course, because that would be the end of all referrals.
posted by jamjam at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2012

The water department may be able to give you advice, too. If the break is in your property they won't pay to fix it, but may have suggestions or other assistance.
posted by sepviva at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2012

My neighbor had a similar problem and after much haggling, the town paid to have the main fixed. They paid to have a camera sent into the pipe to verify it was busted and were reimbursed for that as well. It took a while for the town to realize that since this was not causing any damage to friends house they were not going to fix it and the town was going to keep losing a lot of water they could ill afford to lose both environmentally and fiscally. I would consider pitching it to the town that you are willing to do them a favor and let them fix their pipe that is on your property. Check your water meter too and make sure you are not being billed for massive amounts of water.

Insurance agent should also help.
posted by AugustWest at 4:55 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: "The town" is New York City and they don't yet know that they have this leak (and are paying for the water.) What they would do if (when) they find out is to give us a 3 day notice requiring us to do the repairs. When the time comes to repair it, having a 3 day notice is a good thing, since it means no problem getting the necessary permits. Insurance comes with a $5K deductible which only counts toward water damage, not digging. I am now waiting for a second proposal which won't be for searching for the leak, but outright replacing the pipe.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:16 AM on January 25, 2012

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