The widely varying cost of homeowners’ required sewer and plumbing work is being debated as projects roll out across Greater Johnstown and beyond.
Write-in City Council candidate Charlene Stanton has made the issue the single focus of her campaign. Although she admits she has not received an estimate for tap-in work at her Sell Street home, she said a neighbor’s estimate came to $15,000.
An area contractor said the costs can be driven up by location, depth and length of the sewer line and the restoration required after replacement.
While requirements vary from one municipality to the next, thousands of homes connected to the Johnstown Regional Sewage lines and Dornick Point treatment plant will require at least new lateral pipes from the home to the newly installed sewer mains.
The city of Johnstown is moving through its project in phases by neighborhoods, and requires each home to pass a pressure test for its entire outflow network.
Ferndale, on the other hand, required the pressure test only from the foundation wall.
In a simple connection, with no work beyond inside the foundation wall, a new lateral can be done for as little as $800. But most will run about $2,000, Matthew Danchanko of Danchanko Inc. and Rick McNulty of L&M Excavating Co. estimated last spring.
Costs go up when the work goes up, Danchanko said Thursday.
Some homes in the region were built on hills, and the sewer tie-in can be 30 or 40 feet below, on the other side of a retaining wall, he said.
“There is no way to get an excavator in there,” Danchanko explained. “It is a lot of hand digging and an extreme amount of labor.”
A few contractors have equipment to feed a new pipe through the old leaking lateral, but that option also is very expensive, Danchanko said.
Leaking pipes under the foundation will create another headache, he said. If those pipes fail the pressure test, basement floors have to be opened.
McNulty said replacing leaking sewer lines under basements can also be labor intensive.
“There is no way to get machinery in there,” he said. “Sometimes you have to carry the dirt out in five-gallon buckets.”
Then when the new lines are in place, the amount of restoration adds to the cost. That can mean a driveway or porch needs fixed outside.
On the inside, finished basements with carpeted, tile or hardwood floors are not exempt from the required testing. Sometimes the pipes are located under cabinets.
“The only way to fix it is to rip up all that stuff and replace the pipes,” McNulty said.
Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.