Whole Home Repipe Q & A with Blake Johnson - Video | Think Realty
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Whole Home Cast Iron Repipe Video with Q&A: Blake Johnson

Sitting at the Think Realty editorial desk, we were able to walk through a repiping project with Blake Johnson, owner of Fort Worth-based Finishing Touches Remodeling, by watching a video he shared with us. Awestruck at the amount of work, time, and money that goes into a repipe project as extensive as this, we thought you’d want to see it too, alongside this insightful Q&A. We hope you find this information and video useful for your investing endeavors.

Think Realty: Blake, can you give us a general overview of this project?
Blake Johnson: This house was a traditional rehab fix-and-flip. The client had the property as a rental for approximately six years. Over the years, the house has settled, and foundation work was required.

As with any foundation work here in Texas, upon completion, a hydrostatic test must be performed to validate the warranty. In this particular case, the hydrostatic test failed (see additional comments for further explanation of hydro; exhibit 1a).  Any time a hydrostatic test fails, the next step is to run a camera in an attempt to locate or isolate any breaks and/or separations in the sewer line (we always prefer to have the client on sight when we are running the camera, as it helps them have a better understanding of what we are up against).  Upon evaluation, there were multiple separations and root penetrations.

Given the fact that, historically speaking, cast iron sewer lines have a tendency to become very brittle and hard to work with (you can find yourself spending more time chasing bad pipe than just replacing it all).  After our discussion with the client, we deemed that the entire sewer line was in need of replacement. It was also quicker and more cost-effective than it would be to attempt to locate and make multiple repairs.
TR: What is the cost of a project like this?
BJ: In the retail market, this project could exceed $18,000 to $22,000 easily. Our investor pricing on vacant properties is between $8,000 and $10,000.
TR: Does this type of project require permitting and inspections for proper completion?
BJ: Yes, permits are required and preferred as it removes liability from the homeowner and the contractor. It also gets another set of eyes on the job to make sure it was done properly.

TR: In the video, you mentioned homes in the 1950s and 60s with issues like this. Should this be something investors place on their due diligence checklists?
BJ: Yes, in older homes they should definitely allocate at least a couple of thousand dollars for a plumbing contingency. But honestly, if we are getting into homes that are requiring foundation work and getting back in the 40’s and 50’s then we are advising clients to budget for a new sewer system. If it is not needed, then we would actually be ahead. Believe it or not, we have actually had a few that have passed.

TR: Can you give our readers some tips on what to look for when it comes to out of sight plumbing issues?
BJ: You want to attempt to locate the cleanouts (see additional comments for further explanation of cleanouts; exhibit 1b). The age of the home plays a large factor. We stopped using cast iron in the late 70’s in Texas and switched to PVC.  This has become the industry standard.

TR: Are there ways investors can make this type of re-pipe project more affordable?
BJ: Unfortunately, there is no way to reduce cost as this is an extremely labor-intensive process. You are literally excavating underneath a home.

TR: What is the average length of time to complete a project like this?
BJ: Depending on weather conditions and digging conditions (i.e. rocks, etc.), we advise our clients approximately 2 weeks.

TR: Any other tips, tricks or information regarding repiping you would like to share with our readers?
BJ: Do not outsource this to a company that has not been properly vetted. This is a serious task and needs to be handled as such.

Meaning, once you have completed this part of the project everything goes on top of it. You don’t want to be caught having to redo everything because someone didn’t do it right the first time. If you need to cut corners, do it above the ground! You can spend countless hours and days searching for hairline cracks and breaks in cast iron sewer lines. Even then some of the lines will not be able to be scoped with a camera. The pipes could be choked up from years of rust and/or the camera will not even pass through them. Keep in mind, cameras will not make tight 90 degree turns such as p traps under showers and tubs.  You need to be able to make a decision fairly quickly and rip off the band-aid.

Examples

Exhibit 1a:  Hydrostatic testing is a process where double cleanouts are installed in the yard service approximately 3’ to 5’ from the house to allow access inside the sewer system. At that point, a test ball (a balloon-like product) is placed inside of the cleanouts and is aired up to seal off the sewer system. Once the system is sealed off, typically a toilet is removed, and the entire sewer system is filled with water by way of a garden hose to the top of the slab (i.e. toilet flange). Once the system is filled with water, it needs to maintain level with the slab for 30 minutes.  If the water level drops, that indicates there is a leak in the system. Typically speaking, the more inches it drops the larger and/or more breaks there are. We do encounter from time to time sewer systems that will not fill up or hold water.

Exhibit 1b:  Cleanouts are access points that enable us to clean roots, unclog drains, etc. Most homes are going to have a set of cleanouts in the yard. They are going to typically be up close to the flower bed or around the perimeter. They will be either in the front or back. If you have alley access, then they will typically be in the back. If you can see manholes in the street and it says sewer, then they will typically be in the front.

Here in Texas, some of the older homes have a stamp or marking with the abbreviation CO stamped on the concrete. Another place to look for cleanouts is at the kitchen sink on the exterior or by the utility room on the exterior. If you see a cleanout at the kitchen sink that is open/missing the cap and rust running down the wall on the exterior, that is a very good indication that the kitchen line is clogged and/or collapsed.


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