Friday, January 25, 2013

Diagnosing and Repairing the Swamp in our Yard

We have had a swampy spot in our backyard since some time in late September or early October.  The area between our deck stairs and our old well was muddy, to the point of having standing water in every little depression.  It squished between my toes,

Barefoot photo from last fall, when it was barefoot weather.

and created little puddles out of every single dog print.

Because the swampy spot was in the area where the french drain from the front of our house empties, and the drain had a little bit of water constantly coming out of it, we figured that we were probably dealing with the appearance of a natural spring.  The original well for our property is in this area, so it seemed to make sense.

I dug the little shallow canal to direct water straight toward the well and to better monitor the flow from the french drain.

Over the course of the past few months, I have been staring at this swamp ... wondering what to do about it, because leaving a muddy mess in the traffic pattern from the deck to the backyard wasn't an option.  Last week, I really looked at the pattern of where the yard was wet and where it was dry.  I came to the conclusion that this probably was a leaky water main, and not ground water.

Before I could call someone to work on the plumbing, I had to rearrange things and clear stuff out of the way ... so we could actually get to the spot where the water main enters the house.  It was quite a job.  The pipe is in the corner of my basement workshop, tucked to the left of the big green cabinet.  The cabinet, and all of the crap inside and around it, had to be moved.

This spot beside the back door on the other side of the room is a perfect place to move the green cabinet ... but it's full of a shelf unit and lots of paint and rollers and other random building supplies.

I moved the yellow shelves to another spot, and I rearranged things on them a bit.  Now all of my chalk paint and supplies fit there, too.  The white cabinet was tucked into the garage for now. 

There ... all empty.

I was right ... the green cabinet fits there perfectly.

We were lucky in one respect with this project.  The place in the floor by the water main is dirt, not concrete.  Some time in the past, a previous owner dug up part of the old concrete floor.  We have had it covered with a piece of plywood, so it was a simple matter to pick up the plywood to access the spot and start digging.

Don't worry about the scary looking electrical wire and deteriorated box ... they have been disconnected for a long time.

I turned off the well pump, and got to work. 

When the hole was about two feet deep, I turned the pump back on and immediately found a pin-hole leak in the pipe.  Eureka ... that wasn't so hard!

The hole was approximately where the arrow is.

We called our plumber to come repair the leak, and he was there within a couple of hours.  About a half an hour later, with the new pipe in place, I turned the well pump back on ... and water refilled my hole from somewhere either inside the wall or outside the house.  Crap ... there was another leak!

The plumber and I made plans for him to return the next day with a young, strong helper and some tools to break through the concrete pad on the outside of the wall.  Here he is drilling holes so he can use the jack-hammer on the concrete ... finding that it was an unexpected 10-inches thick! 

The helper worked inside, enlarging and deepening my original hole to find the point where the pipe goes through the wall.

The hole inside ended up being 54-inches deep!

That was a LOT of dirt to move.

The hole outside was only slightly shallower.

The plumbers had to crouch in their respective holes to cut out the old copper pipe and replace it with new.

Here is the inside portion of the new pipe, all tested to make sure there weren't any more leaks.  I didn't get a  photo of the outside part.

All that was left was for them to do was to refill their holes.

The original hole I found in the pipe was a tiny little pin hole.  The second hole in the section of the pipe within the wall was much larger.  See it?

A quarter-inch hole like this in a supply like is a massive hole (by plumbing standards).  Who knows how long it had been seeping before it leaked enough to flood our yard like it did.  (This pipe is probably from the 1960s renovation of our home.)

After the plumbers were finished, they did a wonderful job cleaning up.  If not for the shiny new copper pipe inside and the hole in the concrete pad outside, it would be hard to tell that anything had been done at all.

Inside hole, all filled in.

Outside hole, too.

I have plans for that pile of concrete chunks.  I think it may be enough pieces to use as edging for the camellia bed on the back of our house (where the propane tank is).  No sense hauling it away and wasting it.

The only bit of mess left inside was a little muddy path on the workshop floor by the back door, not bad at all ... and a few more chunks of concrete. 

Once temperatures warm up and the mud bog outside thaws, I hope it won't be long until the yard dries out ... and I should be spared the job of washing muddy paws every time the dogs come in from outside.

Plumbing Police turned what could have been a stressful plumbing situation into a very positive experience.  I have gone through my share of lousy plumbers during the past ten years of renovation of this old house of ours, and I am very glad to finally have someone I can trust for plumbing work at a reasonable price.  If you live in my area, and you need a plumber, I do not hesitate to recommend Plumbing Police.  (Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Phone 540-371-3570)


  1. We've had our share of plumbing issue sin our 1969 ranch so I understand. It is nice to find a good plumber isn't it!
    hugs, Linda

  2. Will be thawing next week. Glad you finally solved that problem, I know all about muddy paws...I'm enjoying the frozen mud right now, a lot!

  3. Now THIS sounds more like the kind of thing that happens around my house. Something you think is just going to be a minor repair, ends up being a lot more than you thought.

  4. Wow, glad you figured it out and that the repair wasn't worse than what it was. Finding a good plumber is often hard to do, sounds like you had a great experience!


  5. Whenever I have to call a plumber or take care of a project such as this -- and we've had a few -- it seems I am forced to reorganize a cupboard, closet, or room that I have been procrastinating about. Afterward I feel it was meant to be. Glad you found a good plumber. Pam x

  6. Copper pipes are the bane of our existence here at this house. Pinhole leaks suck :(

  7. The blue cabinet looks like it belong there. What a great workroom . . . and what a keen eye you have in discovering the source of the leak. Wonderful up-cycle for the concrete pieces by the camellias. One more project down, Connie. Way to go!

  8. Good to know the name of a recommended local plumber. I just hope I don't need to call.
    It is nice to see that you are repurposing the concrete chunks.

  9. Yes, at the beginning of this story I thought already about muddy paws.
    We have a rather wet garden, or I can better say we live in a muddy country. I'm always washing muddy paws, and he does not like it..... That is the advantage of snow and ice at the moment, my dog looks cleaner than ever.

  10. Oh, heavens! What a project.
    Glad it's not mine--

  11. You are very fortunate to have a plumber whose work you trust. It makes a horrible job like the one you faced easier to deal with. Hubby and I consider plumbing to be our DIY nemesis. I'm so glad you got yours fixed.

  12. I love that you're working with people that you are able to recommend! It makes projects go so much more smoothly, for you and your neighbors!!

  13. This looks like a challenge. I'm glad that you can trust the people you work with.

  14. This post was like reading a mystery novel! I was saying"Wow!" throughout the whole thing. YOu are one very smart detective!

  15. Whoa. That's some major reno work. Good job for going ahead and tackling it.

    It looks really good now.


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