Do-it-yourself plumbing repair?
February 6, 2019 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to perform a do-it-yourself plumbing repair on pipes leading to street?

We got a notice from our water utility that we had a plumbing leak. The plumbers found one fairly large leak near the shutoff valve by the house, which we had repaired. They also found a small leak near the street, and told us that the water utility company might be responsible,The utility company sent out a tech person who informed us that the leak was not their responsibility, since when they turned off the Mueller valve belonging to them, the leak stopped-- that it must be on our side, and that we must hire the plumbers to repair it.

When we got the proposal from the plumbers for the second leak, they said that due to tree roots and possible stones, the cost to fix this small leak would be nearly twice the cost of fixing the larger leak. This estimate for the smaller leak was well over $2000. We have already paid the plumbers about $1500 for the repair of the larger leak, with associated expenses--their "leak listener" and so on---and over $100 in addition for them to "listen" to the second leak.

We are not, of course, plumbers, but we did do a successful do-it-yourself repair on damaged sewer lines under our house a couple of years ago.

We are wondering how to proceed? Any suggestions? Anyone out there who performed a do-it-yourself plumbing repair on the lines leading to the house?

Thanks a bunch!
posted by ragtimepiano to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
What’s the age of the plumbing? What’s the pipe? Copper, galvanized, PVC/CPVC, other (PEX/etc)? Definitely doable by homeowner (may require soldering skills) but in some areas requires a permit and inspection.
posted by sudogeek at 2:44 PM on February 6, 2019

Copper pipes, circa 1978.
posted by ragtimepiano at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2019

Wait a sec... Maybe I'm missing something in the question : Which side of the city disconnect is the leak on? That's the only thing that sets responsibility. If it's on the house side, you own it. If not, the city does and you can stand your ground.

Now, on to diy. It's pretty much this: can you get to the leak? I mean that's it. After that it's just getting the right parts and installing. If the leak is at a union then easy, if it's in the middle it might be a wee bit tougher but still, chop, insert union according to relevant YouTube et voila. We had to repair our main house entry when it flew off on memorial day in hilarious sitcom fashion and I Hate plumbing. Trip 1 to home depot netted me the parts and I soldered everything together except the last piece. Just wouldn't go. Trip 2 to home depot and a friendly chat and I learned that my propane burnzomatic thing wasn't hot enough. New $6 bottle of map gas (I think? The yellow one) and it was done in 5 minutes. You can do it.
posted by chasles at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Adding on, if you did sewer repairs that has a serious yuck factor. House inlet is high pressure so it's an extra challenge to get things right but hey, clean water at least. (this is not snark, I seriously consider the poo factor before hiring a plumber vs DIY) so something to consider. I still vote "do it"
posted by chasles at 3:06 PM on February 6, 2019

You're not going to get away with doing this one without pulling a plumbing permit, since it sounds like you need to get the utility to shut off your water, excavate your water main, locate and repair the damaged area, have the utility turn the water back on, and then re-bury the pipe. You will need to get it permitted and inspected and you'll need to file the relevant paperwork with the utility to schedule their part of it. You won't be able to just sneak this in under the radar.

In many jurisdictions, only licensed plumbers are allowed to pull these kinds of permits. So your first stop would seem to be your local building department, to see if they will even give you a permit for this.

Personally I think it would be ill advised, even if you can get permission. This is pretty high stakes plumbing, with a high potential for unforeseen complications, and I think it would be well worth it to have someone do this who is licensed and insured and who has lots and lots of experience.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would consider this a combo of DIY and a licensed pro. Tell the plumber that you will do the digging and be his assistant. Explain you need to save money.
posted by AugustWest at 3:21 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

The plumber is charging you the cost of digging up the pipe. If you do that job yourself, and give them clear access to the leak, I am sure your bill would go way down. I have no idea how deep you will have to go, or what you will find, but if you want to sweat this task, go ahead.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:22 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Even if you do the digging, there is a risk that you will dig a little too hard amd break your water main, at which point you are in an emergency plumbing situation and paying emergency prices. It's not a crazy idea, but it's not a slam dunk. Most plumbers will not want you to actually assist them, but they may allow you do the excavation and re-burying for them so that they just have to show up, meet the utility, make the repair, and stand the inspection. That would definitely save them several hours of grunt work that they'd probably just as soon not do.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:29 PM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't be surprised if DIY sewage plumbing like this would let your home insurance refuse coverage of any plausibly related events in the future. And if you actually broke anything during the work, there would definitely not be any insurance interested in covering you.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2019

Most of the cost is in digging the ditch. A good plumber will not let you do this yourselves, because they don't want to deal with treating you like a sub-contractor. A bad plumber might.

I have done loads of DIY plumbing, in an older house even. Really it isn't that hard, but I stop when you start getting to the underground action. There's lots of stuff you can disturb while you're there, and thats when you want licensure, bonded status, and insurance on the contractors part. You very may well find more problems while you're there.

You are also paying them for speed, and code compliance. DIY projects like this can drag on...for a while, and then need to be redone because an inspector will visit you and judge your work harder because you're not a tradie.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:43 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I forgot that you'll need to call Dig Safe for this. You'll need to mark out your trench and then have them come and mark where all the known hazards like gas lines, sewer lines, and buried wires are. Where I am, this is a mandatory part of the process for a trench like this. Trenching is not risk-free.

I still think a plumber might let you take this part of the project, though. I work for an electrical contractor rather than a plumbing one, but in my experience tradespeople generally want to be doing their trade, not doing a bunch of general labor that's in the way of them doing their trade. You doing the trench frees up the plumber to do more plumbing. They generally aren't exactly hurting for work.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:03 PM on February 6, 2019

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