When you’re remodeling an older house, especially one with cast iron sewer lines, it may pay to replace the pipe with PVC as part of the remodeling project. It will be much less expensive and emotionally draining in the end.
Now that I had decided to replace the existing sewer lines with PVC (Option 1 and 3), I obtained several bids from plumbing contractors. The final work plan was as follows:
- Remove and replace the existing cast iron sewer line with PVC in the garage,
- Install a sewer line from under the side of the house to the sewer main,
- Cleaning out the existing sewer line that went under the kitchen and
- None of the work entailed demolishing the downstairs kitchen floor or the new driveway. It took about three days to complete the work.
How we did it and findings
The plumbing contractor pulled the necessary permits and started excavating the floor of the garage. Thanks to the video camera work, he knew almost exactly where the old sewer pipe was buried.
The first area to be excavated was on the left side of the garage. The S-shaped excavation is on the right side from the downstairs kitchen
To our surprise, when the sewer pipe was removed, no breaks were found. However, we knew that we had done the right thing.
The sewer pipe was badly corroded and full of garbage that even a high power spray had failed to remove. The remaining piece of cast iron sewer pipe was not accessible. However, we used a rotary tool and some good flushes to clean it out. The flow was greatly improved.
Within a day, the plumbing contractor removed the entire sewer pipe under the garage. He also dug a trench from outside the wall and the inside and outside trenches joined under the footing. We contacted Miss Utility to mark all underground services on the property prior to beginning any excavation work outside.
The next day, with the help of tap drawings supplied by the county, the plumbing contractor excavated nine feet down to locate the sewer main. At the same time, he attached new PVC pipe to the remaining cast iron under the kitchen floor and laid to the outside of the house.
At this point, the contractor installed two clean outs – one facing the house and the other facing the sewer main. The plumbing contractor explained that this would allow cleaning out of the new sewer pipe without having to enter the house.
The connection to the sewer main was most interesting. The main was concrete, approximately 18 inches in diameter.
The contractor also had inserted a test tee in the run leading from the house. Using a plug, the contractor filled the pipe with water from all the sink, tubs, and toilets in the house and left the pipe full of water overnight.
The next day, the county inspector came to our home. He checked for leaks along the sewer pipe's full length and, after releasing the plug in the test tee, leaks around the saddle. Everything checked out ok. Trenches were backfilled, cement floors patched, and landscaping redone.
What had appeared to be a major problem that could take weeks actually turned out to be a three-day project that worked out well – thanks to a knowledgeable plumbing contractor and the County's cooperation.
In hindsight, however, there is one lesson to share – when you’re renovating an older house, especially one with cast iron sewers, it may pay to replace the pipe with PVC as part of the renovation. It will preclude future problems that might require you to relocate for some time and, if done in concert with other contracted renovation work, work out much less expensive and emotionally draining in the end.