John Ferguson II stands on the west side of his house where Portland work crews dug up and repaired his sewer line. The line was never connected to the main in the alley south of his house and caused damaged to the foundation and flooring under the house. (The Commercial Review/Steve Garbacz)<br />
John Ferguson II stands on the west side of his house where Portland work crews dug up and repaired his sewer line. The line was never connected to the main in the alley south of his house and caused damaged to the foundation and flooring under the house. (The Commercial Review/Steve Garbacz)
It started with a water leak.
But water wasn’t the only thing leaking under John Ferguson’s West Main Street home in Portland.
After an investigation into the most recent string of water problems at the house, City of Portland crews discovered something boggling — the sewer pipe from his house was blocked off by three bricks.
“The city came down … and they have a big, more powerful (pipe snake) and they tried to blow it out and decided there was something major wrong,” Ferguson said.
“They dug a big hole in the alley and found where my exit goes out it wasn’t tied into the main. There was two or three bricks stacked on top of each other,” Ferguson said.
“That new sewer, when it got installed down the alley, the tap coming from the house didn’t get hooked in,” said Portland wastewater superintendent Bob Brelsford of the Park Street sewer project that was started in 2006. “I’m surprised it went as long as it did.
“(The house) was occupied … when he flushed it went away,” Brelsford said.
The picture became clearer. Backed up wastewater played a part in corroding water pipes and the water leaks helped to mask the sewer backup until the pipes were fixed. But then the cycle was free to repeat.
Once the problem was discovered and fixed, the city took the next steps to remediate the issues caused by the missed connection and started work to dig out under the house as well as replace nearly all the flooring.
“I basically emptied the whole house,” Ferguson said. “I had everything I owned in a garage or in the hotel. … They didn’t do anything with the walls really, they tore out almost all the flooring in the entire house except for the bathroom and the laundry room and around the cabinets in the kitchen.
“They dug everything out underneath the house, dug a crawlspace out and they redid the plumbing. They redid a lot of the floor joists they cut out that were rotten. They redid those and put in some beams some metal beams. It’s an old house so it needed extra support; there were a lot of places that were rotten and crumbled.
“They redid the flooring, they put in carpet and flooring in the kitchen and dining room,” he recounted.
After about three weeks displaced from his house and $30,000 in repairs performed by contractor M&E Construction, he was able to move back in.
Looking back on the leaks, Ferguson said that outside of the water leaks, he really had no indication that his house wasn’t connected to the sewer system. While a strong odor might be the most obvious tip, he said there was never really a powerful smell to tip him off.“There was some odor but it would go away,” he said. “It’s always been wet. This is a wet area if you look outside you can see that both lots go down … this house is sitting in a low spot. Other than the high water bills, it smelled musty. It smelled wet. It didn’t smell like sewer.
“We didn’t think we had a sewer problem,” Ferguson said.
“Sometimes when you’d come up on the porch you’d notice it but within a day, two, three days it would go away.”
Brelsford agreed, noting that when the city uncovered the problem that it didn’t resemble sewage pooled under the house.
“As far as sewage under the house it didn’t look like sewage or anything,” he said. “Sewage will naturally decay through time. What you’d really think of a nasty mess, it wasn’t like that more like muddy dirt. It might have been different if there was a big family there.”
And although the moisture under the house ate through the heating and cooling vents, even when air was being pumped into the house, Ferguson said it wasn’t noticeable.
“It smelled like there was moisture in the pipes,” he said.
Now that the piping problems are fixed and the restoration work is just about done — M&E installed a new bay window in the kitchen just this week to replace a rotted one — Ferguson said he’s glad the trouble is behind him.
“I think they did a real good job especially for what they had to work with an old house that was probably already settled poorly anyway,” he said. “It’s over 100 years old I know that …
“I could see what they were working with, I think they did a great job,” Ferguson said. “It’s tight, it’s warm, it’s maybe crooked in some places but who’s to say it wasn’t crooked before they started? With an old house and they’re jacking on it and trying to level the floors out, there’s no way they can get it perfect.”
The Portland Board of Works agreed to foot the around $30,000 for the repairs and was informed later that it would be reimbursed by the city’s insurance for the cost.
So with the work done and none of the expense to be paid out of his own pocket, Ferguson is back to life as usual with an upgraded house.
“I don’t blame anyone. It happened. Yeah, it’s too bad I didn’t find it right away. I could have avoided a lot of this,” he said.
“I’m very happy with what they did, what they paid for and everything.”