One winter, on a Saturday night, it was my turn to cover the phones. A customer called at about 10:00 p.m. and said “everything was backed up” in his house. No matter how many times he tried to fix the problem, he couldn’t stop the downstairs shower drain from overflowing, and he needed help.
When I got there, the customer showed me around the house and the backed up drains, and I asked the normal questions: “How long have you lived here?”…“Are you on Septic or City Sewer?”…“Has this happened before?”…“When was the last time this happened?” I learned that it happened often; at least once a year, and usually in the fall or winter. Finally, the customer showed me the clean-out in the garage and said “This is where they usually run their “snake” from”.
Since this was our first time at this customer’s house, I told him I’d be a minute and that I wanted to look around a little more. This just frustrated him because he was anxious to get things draining in their home, and everyone was after him to get it done. I insisted, and looked around some more, walking around the house, and out front into the street where the lay of the land obviously showed the sewer line drained to. I grabbed my pry bar and went to the first sewer man-hole downstream from the front of their house and popped the lid. Sure enough, the city main was backed up almost to the top of the man-hole and nothing was moving. About that time, a neighbor came out to see what was up saying they were backed up too.
I called 911 right away, got connected to the city’s Public Utility Emergency Line, and had a crew out there within the hour. Since they said they would be quick, I hung around to make sure my customer’s sewer line drained properly once the main got clear. It was a good thing because a couple of his ‘side drains’ were still clogged after the main drained out, due to solids getting backed up into them. So I cabled and tested them all.
After getting paid by my customer I advised him to pass this bill on to the city, because it was their responsibility, and I made that clear on the invoice documentation. My customer was very pleased, and had us give them a price on installing a back-water valve which would protect his home in the future should the city sewer back up again. (A sewer line back-water valve is what we call a big ‘check-valve’ that will help protect the home from city main back-ups).
My customer also asked “How come the other guys who cleared my drain didn’t check the city main?”, and of course I didn’t have an answer. I told him I had no way of knowing that any past problems were connected to the city backing up. But I did tell him, “Any licensed plumber who cleared a mainline drain on a home like his should normally look at the whole picture, including the Sewer Main in the street. We strongly recommend calling in a company like ours, who uses licensed plumbers for these kinds of jobs so you have the best chance of getting the most for your money”.
Several times a year, when we help a customer with a clogged sewer or an underground water leak, we find that the responsibility of the problem lies with the city, county, or neighbor, and not with our customer. Bottom line… hire a licensed professional who has the training and expertise to look at the whole picture, and ask all the right questions…because it always pays to check…because it’s still usually true; you get what you pay for…because when you don’t know, what you don’t know; it’s best to let the professionals worry about it.