Cast-Iron Plumbing Woes

Over the past several years, many older South Florida homes have experienced a failure of their cast-iron wastewater pipes. These are the pipes that run to the septic tank. Unfortunately, this is becoming commonplace in older South Florida homes and affected homeowners need to be smart and alert in order to get through this most unfortunate situation. It is no fun to be re-plumbed!

If you’ve ever heard gurgling after a load of laundry or long shower, you might be hearing the early warning signs. Also, if a toilet seems to be flushing slower than it used to or needs multiple flushes, take note. An increase in roach sightings and general random bad smells can also signal trouble. A backup is a more severe sign and one you just don’t want to throw Draino at and forget. In my experience, it is better to get a professional out early and deal with this head on.  Here’s why…

As you might expect, as more homes are found with this issue, insurance companies are doing what they do best; denying and delaying current policyholder claims and quickly re-writing new policies to exclude coverage this very problem. The longer you wait, the more likely you are not to get paid or get paid very little.

I won’t go into all the details about cast-iron deterioration other than say: (a) the bottom of the pipe thins out first and develops pin holes,  (b) interior scaling occurs, impeding smooth flow of solids, (c) water seeps out along the pipe path and starts to wash away the supporting soil below, which then can lead to (d) collapse of the pipe and even create potential for small sinkholes.

In most cases, after being diagnosed with deteriorated cast-iron sanitary lines, the only proper solution is to replace them with PVC. This involves cutting through your home’s slab, removing the cast-iron and using the same path and pitch to lay new PVC pipe on top of properly re-compacted fill. You can expect lots of mess and time in this process.

Do not treat this issue as your typical run-of-the-mill home repair. Getting at the cast-iron pipes creates other repair jobs and can cascade into near complete interior remodeling. As such, understand you’ll be managing a project that involves your insurance carrier, a plumber who specializes in this type of work, the local government permitting process and likely a contractor or two to restore your home’s damage after accessing the pipes under slab.

While I am not an expert and every case and resolution is different, I live in Palmetto Bay and have recent first-hand experience. My advice is...

Take time every day to take lots of photographs of the work being performed. Digital pictures are essentially free. You may also want to shoot some video. I ended up submitting around 100 photos to my insurance carrier in order to have them cover additional items.

Even if you don’t want to be a project manager, you’ll likely end up doing just that. I strongly believed in hiring different people for each phase of my project. This created a natural friction and gave me multiple opinions about each task. Yes, it made it more complicated, but it also yielded a better job than if I’d just let the plumber bring in a bunch of other trades to “do the whole thing.”

There are so many facets to this issue.  As a Realtor, I see it all.  Please feel free to contact me by email. I’ll do my best to help…