An unavoidable expense of $8500

rusty pipeWhen I was leaving for work last Thursday I noticed a big pile of dirt on my neighbor’s front yard. A group of men were gathered around a hole in the ground. I approached to find out what was going on and the men pointed at a stretch of wrecked copper pipe. It looked like someone had bitten a chunk out of it. The pipe connects my neighbor’s house to the water main and had to be replaced.

I later spoke to my neighbor and he said his family noticed a pressure drop, spotted water coming out of the ground in the front yard, and called the service. $8500 is the repairs bill that they are now facing.

Our homes were built 5 years ago at the same time and have exactly the same design. My neighbor said I should start saving money. The service people suspect that the cause is either defective pipe material or poor job the builders have done with the piping, but in either case the owner is the one to take the hit since neither manufacturer nor the builder can be held liable.

I called my Allstate agent and she explained that the home insurance will not cover the cost since no damage is done to the house. This is really bad news for us, and all I can think of right now. My friend told me of a family he knew who had a similar problem with their house and within 2-3 years all homeowners on their side of the street had to eventually replace piping.

A desperate idea to move has visited me tonight; especially since we were planning to do so when kids grow a bit (public schools in this area are not very good), but then I thought that I would need to disclose any problems with the house to the buyer, and while this problem at this point is only hypothetical, it can easily scary away a potential buyer.

So it looks like a deadlock at this point and I can’t think of any way to avoid the upcoming financial disaster. What would you do in my case?

Photo courtesy of atlef at flickr

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16 Responses to “An unavoidable expense of $8500”

  1. 1 devil May 18th, 2008 at 10:48 am

    If a homeowner expense that may be coming down the pike is making you want to move, maybe you should be a renter.

    I say this without snark. Homeownership isn’t for everyone. It can be very time-consuming and expensive and isn’t necessarily a good financial investment.

    If you move just to avoid this problem, you’ll just run into others. At least you have a head’s up and can start saving now.

    And, yes, you would have to disclose this to any potential buyers.

  2. 2 phunkeey May 18th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    You wouldn’t have had to disclose this potential non-issue to potential buyers–until you wrote about it on the internet that is.

  3. 3 Sheldon May 18th, 2008 at 4:06 pm


    Two things:

    In most cases you are only responsible if the damage occurs within your property line. at this point you can hope and/or pray that should you have the same problem, it fall beyond your property line.

    Secondly, I occasionally get offers from my utility companies offering me insurance for damage to pipes on MY property. This would cover you should anything happen. Call your supplier and see if they offer such a service.

    Good luck.


  4. 4 Debbie M May 18th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Yep, scary. Copper pipes are supposed to be the best!

    Your neighbor had to have emergency service. Maybe you can shop around for a better price. Maybe you can negotiate with someone to come by sometime when they are between other projects for a discount. Or maybe you can help with the digging for a discount. Maybe you can figure out what kinds of pipes or fittings or whatever will be required and start watching for ways to get these yourself at a discount. Is there a local school that teaches plumbing that would perhaps appreciate someone’s pipes to practice on?

    Sorry, not much help. A plumber may have some better ideas.

  5. 5 Yan May 18th, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Devil, owning a house is more than an investment to me and I am willing to pay. It is my approach to any issue to try to examine all possible solutions, a move being just one of them.

    Sheldon, the water main is within our property line, and what is worse, the land declines towards the house, so all the water goes under it and then comes out by the way of sump pump. So to say, the damage is entirely contain within the property.

    Debbie, it the excavation that takes the most expense. The pipe itself, and connecting it, is not much. Our neighbors had some time to shop around. The leak had been there for a couple of months.

    I will investigate if I can buy some kind of insurance from our village, which is our watter supplier. Thanks for the tip. Meanwhile I will start saving for the (possible) future repairs.

    A move is in the plans but only when our older goes to junior-high. We are Montessori bound until then (my wife is a teacher). ;-)

  6. 6 Alex May 19th, 2008 at 9:17 am

    I think it’s way too early for you to freak out:

    1. You don’t have to pay anything at this point

    2. As a general rule people should have an emergency fund exactly for this sort of things to happen.

    3. You can’t start saving for every possible bad thing that can happen – you’d just go nuts and broke after awhile.

    4. In the worst possible outcome you can open another 0% intro credit card that will help you, transfer the balance – you know the drill…

    5. Your fears are based on what your neighbor and some friend told you. They don’t know what will happen – an “unavoidable” expense has not happened and probability of this happening in the future in not determined. With this sort of judgement we might as well start talking about some act of God coming in and insurance will not be able to cover it.

    Sorry for being straight forward but it helps sometimes.

  7. 7 XynamaX May 19th, 2008 at 9:33 am

    A pipe like that shouldn’t go bad in 5 years. Chances are, because of the housing boom (and current bust), builders got cheap with their materials and their workmanship.

    If you bought your home new, it should have come with a new home warranty sponsored by the builder. This would fall under that warranty.

    What was the diameter of the pipe? Was it the supply line from the pipe to the house or the actual water main line? Supply lines to most homes are in the 3/4″ to 1.25″ range. If it was thicker then that, then it’s most likely the water main and I’d wonder why it’s running on your land unless there’s an easement for it. Usually these are buried under the street.

    If the water quality is bad in your area, that can also add to the premature deterioration of the pipes. If you have high calcium, you’ll want to add a water softener to protect your pipes (especially if they are copper). If they use PEX (PVC) then you should be OK, although there’s still traces of copper fittings that you’ll want to protect. Fixing a water issue on the inside of the house is a much more damaging situation.


  8. 8 Yan May 19th, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Richie, the homeowners insurance we got lasted 2 years. This may sound ridiculous taken that you usually get a better warranty even with a car, but this was the reality back in 2003 when we bought the house.

    We do have a softener, which takes care of the pipes inside. The damage my neighbor had was at the stretch between the water-main and the house, the part we don’t have control over, and the one entirely underground.

    Alex, I have to agree with your sound judgment. I am freaking out to some extend. We do have savings that we keep just for a sort of an accident like this. It is just really depressing to know that there is a good likelihood we can be out of a decent chunk of it, and not being able to do anything about it.

    I guess I should stop worry too much. Life is there to live and I am not going to make it miserable because of this. There are many more things that could happen that are much worse.

  9. 9 Zogg Jones May 21st, 2008 at 5:39 am

    Zogg had a problem like that… Actually a 60 year old galvanized pipe that was about to go. I shut the water off at the main with a shut-off key (a good investment). Then dug the old pipe out and replaced it with PVC. Took most of a day (100ft buried about 18″). Total cost about $85 (rented a digging machine, bought pipes, fittings, PVC glue). Nothing too complicated. That was 16 years ago, and no leaks yet. $8,500 sounds outragous…
    Good luck

  10. 10 Jake May 23rd, 2008 at 10:59 am

    “I shut the water off at the main with a shut-off key (a good investment). Then dug the old pipe out and replaced it with PVC. Took most of a day (100ft buried about 18″). Total cost about $85 (rented a digging machine, bought pipes, fittings, PVC glue). Nothing too complicated.”

    Hahaha. Right. Piece of cake. My wife would squash that idea in about 2 seconds.

  11. 11 Yan May 23rd, 2008 at 11:24 am

    It would take me a few months to dig my way to the pipe. The hole these guys made was at least 20 ft long and 15 ft deep and it took them a couple of days with the excavator. Are there even houses that have no shut off valve? I thought it was a must.

  12. 12 Zogg Jones May 28th, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    I suspect your friend’s neiborhood had polypropylene… I doubt copper would fail at that rate.


  13. 13 Yan May 28th, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    I have seen the pipe in front of me when they got it out and it was made out of some yellowish metal. I will comment here again when the chemical analysis results will come from the lab.

  14. 14 Paul May 29th, 2008 at 8:33 am

    The pipe shown is not copper. This pipe is a water main – not your household water supply which would be 3/4 inch copper. This pipe is cast iron or ductile iron. Average life is around 60 years. Not likely it is 5 years old. Also very unlikely this is on your property. If you are experiencing a pressure loss others should be as well. This break would definately be the Utilities problem – not yours.

  15. 15 Yan May 29th, 2008 at 11:21 am

    What you see in the photo is not the actual pipe. I got it from Flickr with illustration purposes only. Sorry about the confusion. The actual pipe is about 3/4 inch and it connects the water main to the house. I am not sure but I think it was copper.

  16. 16 Paul May 29th, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Repairing 3/4 inch copper pipe is easy and definately should not cost $8500. Get more quotes. Backhoe for the day is around $150/hr.

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