Roto-Rooter Blamed For Unneeded Expense To Clear Sewage Drain – Hartford Courant

Roto-Rooter goes from one stinkin’ mess to another. Karen Dunn called with one in mid-July, after sewage backed up into a basement shower in her Rocky Hill home each time the nearby toilet was flushed.

It’s a dirty job, and Dunn wasn’t happy with Roto-Rooter’s approach.

When the Roto-Rooter technician finished, leaving a bill for $395, sewage was still backing up into the shower, the drain still apparently clogged. The technician also suggested, at an estimated cost of $5,897, cutting a section of underground pipe and, once there, install a backflow valve and cleanout port required by the Metropolitan District Commission.

Dunn looked for a less expensive solution. She eventually paid close to $2,100 — to JDC Enterprises of South Windsor, not to Roto-Rooter — to have a 9-foot hole dug next to her driveway that revealed a pipe that was clogged but not broken. That expense could have been avoided, she says, if the Roto-Rooter technician had a snake with a 2-inch cutter that fit the shower drain. Instead, the technician removed the toilet and ran a 4-inch snake/cutter into the drainage line that couldn’t unclog the drain. The hole, he said, would have to be dug.

Joe Carey, of JDC Enterprises, said the hole would not have been necessary “if Roto-Rooter spent a little extra time and had the right cutters on the truck. A 2-inch cutter has twice the torque of a 4-inch cutter. They’re supposed to be sewer professionals. They should have put a spearnose on it, which is kind of like a drill, and they would gone right through [the clog].”

That, says Roto-Rooter Services Co. spokesman Paul Abrams, is Monday Morning quarterbacking. JDC Enterprises finally cleared the clog outside from the underground pipe, not from within the house.

“It’s just too convenient,” says Abrams, “for a company to do exactly what we said needed to be done, then come and say, ‘Oh, I could have done it from inside the house.’ “

Dunn doesn’t care who is technically right. She wants Roto-Rooter to clean up this stinkin’ mess and pay that bill.

The Bottom Line acknowledges that an underground pipe, especially one clogged with sewage, kitchen grease and food, is no place to look for clarity. But let’s try a little unclogging:

When the Roto-Rooter technician ran the snake through the toilet, Dunn says he told her that because it reached the street the problem must be in the MDC’s main sewer line. He also ran a camera into Dunn’s sewer line, which revealed standing water 20 feet from the house.

“There was no misdiagnosis as the customer is suggesting,” says Abrams. “The problem was inside the customer’s main sewer pipe, where our video camera found standing water.”

So the MDC came out, dropped in its own camera from the street to the house, hitting water and sludge 62 feet into the yard at the same spot marked by Roto-Rooter. The problem was not a broken MDC pipe, which meant excavation if the clog could not be treated from inside the house.

The MDC gave Dunn a list of recommended contractors. One of them, JDC Enterprises, uncovered the sewer pipe and confirmed it was not broken. It installed the cleanout access port/backflow preventer valve, as required by the MDC, ran a 2-inch cutter into the line to unclog the pipe and filled in the hole.

Despite her sewage-free shower, Dunn was still seething over the $2,100 she paid to uproot part of her front yard. She called the local Roto-Rooter manager, then the manager’s manager. Roto-Rooter finally offered to refund the initial $395 charge. Not good enough, Dunn said. She wanted the $2,100.

That’s where Roto-Rooter drew the line in the sludge.

“Unfortunately,” says Abrams, of Roto-Rooter, “we were unable to clear the blockage with our snake after inserting it into the drainage system from the toilet line. Clearly, the MDC concurred with our diagnosis since their camera/locater unit marked the same trouble spot and they recommended hiring someone to dig there to fix whatever problem the customer had going on inside the sewer.”

The dirty water, he says, prevented the camera from getting a clear image of the problem. In those cases, a clog can be caused by kitchen grease or food from a garbage disposal, tree roots growing through pipe joints, or a pipe sag or partial collapse.

“All we knew,” says Abrams, “was that we were unable to clear the clog and the pipe was holding water in one spot.”

The Bottom Line (disclosure: not a sewer professional) does not see clear evidence that the clog could have been cleared from the basement bathroom. It’s one plumber’s opinion against another’s.

So the recommendation here is that Dunn accept Roto-Rooter’s refund offer, then consider how much she saved. She paid less than $2,100 for a job Roto-Rooter estimated would cost $5,897.

That should make her experience smell a lot better.

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