HOME TRANSFORMATION SERIES | WHEN (NATURAL) DISASTER STRIKES | PART #2

Hello All,


When I left you last we had just discovered a mysterious, cracked pipe behind the fallen retaining wall, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. One of the main concerns, after being informed by our insurance that the house would not be covered in the event of a landslide, was the structural integrity of the house foundation. The good thing about our foundation is that it was updated within the past 5 years and is in great condition, but the house sits on a pier and post foundation with a poured concrete stem wall. That basically means it is the type of foundation they used to build houses in the past with which is up off the ground, and not on a concrete slab sitting directly on the soil. I noticed some movement and settling in the deck at the front of the house and stairs at the back, plus some new, small vertical cracks in the exterior of the foundation, so I knew there had been some shifting. We decided, for safety and peace of mind, that we should have a foundation specialist out to inspect for any new issues. A company who specializes in raised foundations came out, identified some issues and quoted us to secure the foundation. In my opinion you can never be too careful, and if your foundation fails the house fails, so we decided not to take any chances. We went ahead and had them complete the work to install additional piers and posts, plus brace and strengthen the foundation.

With the house secured we got back to work on the cleanup of the fallen wall. Our plan was to remove some stones, concrete and trash from the lower level behind the wall before we started cutting down the dead tree. After clearing as much as we could, we noticed the cracked pipe seemed to be leaking what looked like toilet paper and, well, sewage. SHIT! Yep. Since the sewer pipe itself was on the outside of our retaining wall I assumed that it was the city’s portion of the sewer line, so I immediately called the public utilities emergency line. They sent someone out within a couple of hours and after inspection the guy literally said, and I am not exaggerating here, that he had never seen anything like it in his life, and that we needed to call a plumber immediately to fix the line. He also said that we shouldn’t use the toilet, shower or sinks because all waste water flows out that same pipe line, and is now just spilling onto the ground behind the wall… After he told us the line is in fact our responsibility, I asked him where our line ends and where the city line begins. For anyone who doesn’t know, if you are hooked up to city sewer, the line usually runs out of your house at the front to your street and connects to the city line there. The portion of the sewer pipe that is on your property is your responsibility and when it reaches the city line it is theirs. He checked the city records and confirmed that it was still our portion of the sewer line and that the pipe doesn’t actually connect to the city line until it reaches the main road, not our street, at the bottom of the hill. That was a bit shocking…

Now wait, there’s more! (in your best infomercial voice)

At this point we started calling plumber after plumber, trying to get ahold of someone, but it was late on a Friday evening during a pandemic. Half of them either weren’t answering, didn’t work on weekends or didn’t take evening emergency repair calls. I called one place and it went to an answering service where I was told someone would call me back, but they never did. Finally, after several calls by both of us, Stephan got ahold of someone at a well known San Diego plumbing company who came out to assess the damage. Due to the pipe being on the outside of the wall, the plumber said that he would have to call a contractor to come out and quote us to remove part of the retaining wall before they could even begin repairing the pipe, and that they couldn’t come out to quote the job until Sunday. This was on a Friday. That meant at least a couple of days not being able to use our toilets or take a shower… during a pandemic… when hotels aren’t even open to go stay at until the pipe is fixed…


Now wait, there’s EVEN more! (again, in your best infomercial voice)

Saturday morning we decided to take things into our own hands. First, we started contacting Port-O-Potty companies to see if we could rent one for the time being, but they were pretty expensive and weren’t even sure if they could deliver one on a weekend. While we waited for one company to call us back, we started digging to try and find the pipe in our yard to find out where it came from. In the back of my mind I had remembered our title report from the purchase of the home and knew there was a private easement on the property in the backyard, but we had no information as to what exactly for. As Stephan and I were digging in the yard we could hear liquid flowing through the pipe. We were outside, no dishwasher or washing machine was running in our house, and we definitely weren’t using our toilets because we were told not to by the city. Well, let me tell you, we found out very quickly that the easement was indeed for a sewer pipe that ran from the neighbors house, into our yard and connected directly into OUR sewer line. Yep, you guessed it. The SAME sewer line that was now cracked. I immediately went to the neighbors house, who we are cordial with but don’t actually know, and knocked on the door. When they opened the door I had to deliver the news that our sewer lines are connected and that they needed to stop using their toilets, sinks and showers immediately until the pipe was fixed. Can you imagine the look on their faces? It was great… NOT!


The husband came out to the back yard and started chatting with us, checking out the damage, and then offered to call a handyman he knew. At this point we were so desperate to have this pipe fixed that we were thankful to have some assistance in finding a plumber. The handyman showed up within 30 minutes, quoted us to fix the pipe and said he could bring a team back to fix it today. You bet we said yes! Within an hour they were back with demolition hammers, a saw and shovels and started digging out the pipe to find out where it cracked.

While digging they uncovered a metal pipe that was running along the base of the back wall, now covered by the fallen wall in most places. In fact, when the wall fell and the sewer pipe cracked it bent this metal pipe slightly. After a little more digging we realized it was the gas line that supplies our house and we assume the others on our hill. At this point we were just thankful it didn’t break the line, and that the plumber uncovered it while shoveling, not after accidentally hitting or damaging it.

After about 4 hours the pipe was fixed. I can not even describe to you how incredible it felt to be able to flush the toilet and take a shower. Haha!

As you can see the pipe is in an odd position, however this was intentional. Our plan for the new yard is to have 2 smaller retaining walls creating a tiered yard, and that will require this pipe be moved again. All we needed at the time was a quick fix and that is exactly what we got.

If you’d like to know how NOT to build a retaining wall, and more ridiculous things we have discovered during this project, please come back for more. Now that I have begun documenting the process I will be continuing to post about it as the project progresses. The pipe was fixed a little over a week ago and we have done quite a bit more since then, even though it doesn’t really feel like it since we are having to do all the work by hand.


xoxo, Bri

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