Preventing A Pipe Crisis

A clogged sewer pipe is a frustrating event. Aside from the actual cost of clearing the pipe, the cleanup of the biohazard event and potential liability for displaced tenants and their property can add up fast. Misconception and assumptions often rule the day among decision makers who see the event in isolation, ultimately costing thousands more than need be. What most decision makers don't understand, is that often the clog is not the problem, but the symptom of a masked problem.

Many of the pipes draining buildings in our region were installed before the jet age, before television, much less the computer age. Age alone breaks down the best of materials. A sewer is a highly corrosive environment. Hydrogen sulfide gas created by sewage is so corrosive and deadly that air monitoring equipment is mandated by law before entering a space that conveys sewage. Civil engineers have come to understand that even concrete is no match for the corrosive effects of sewage, requiring coatings on concrete being used to convey sewage.

Root intrusion is a constant and unrelenting battle for cities in the mains that convey sewage from our homes and businesses. Insurance companies realized long ago the potential for loss, with regard to underground pipe, and so most

specifically deny coverage for such repairs. The cost of cleanup is usually covered, but not twice.

Roots inside of a pipe are seeking water and nutrition. The use of root cutting equipment removes the symptoms of a clogged pipe for a time, giving the decision maker the illusion of security. The reality is that the defense mechanisms of the plant has been triggered, the exact way that pruning does.

Root cutting inside a pipe actually stimulates growth. It's why our customers tell us that the roots removed from their pipes over time are increasing in size. The same holds true for the size of the hole that they traveled through. It just keeps getting bigger—four inch thick concrete sidewalks are no match for roots—much less half inch thick sewer pipes. We've removed roots repeatedly clogging the joints of iron sewer pipes with bolted joints.

Roots expand at a microscopic level. Think of the movie the Matrix. Always probing. Root killers are another delay action, like root cutting. It can afford the decision maker some time. Once a pipe is structurally compromised though, the inevitable result is collapse and failure. Concrete pipe is literally dissolved over time by sewage flowing, through it. Even many practitioners with inspection cameras do not recognize the telltale signs. As the internal surface of a pipe deteriorates, increased friction causes the heavier affluent to hang up in the pipe-as the water continues on without carrying the affluent.

The bottom of the pipe becomes porous and soft until nothing is left but dirt. To discover this has happened under expensive private infrastructure is one thing, discovering it under the public right of way, is a very, very expensive education.

New and emerging technologies allow us to completely repair drain pipes without even exposing them, however these technologies must be used before it is too late. Inspection of aged pipes can help prevent disasters. Pipe inspections are no different than MRI's or X-RAY's. The experience, knowledge and honesty of the inspector is paramount. Decision makers need to know the facts and the prognosis, so that capital budgets can be set or modified if necessary. Ignoring hidden, aging drainage pipes is management by crises. It's too expensive.


Reprinted by Permission. Dan Grossruck is a real estate investor and co-owner of Pipe Guys, with his wife Linda. Their company specializes in drain cleaning, inspection and repair of drain pipe without exposing it, or digging it up. Call 253-537-2830 or 877-687-4731, e-mail or visit www.Pipe Courtesy of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound. March 2011 Newsletter (“Update”).

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