A Christmas Pipe Dream

A Fool In NH Column Heading

Deciding on the big Christmas present my wife and I would buy for ourselves this year was a tough decision.

After a year of hard work on both of our parts, we like to reward ourselves with something special. We feel we paid our dues and taking a little something for ourselves is more than appropriate.

The eventual decision was an easy one.Should we take a long awaited trip to Italy and visit their famous wine country and other sights? Maybe put down a nice down payment on a fancy sports car we can use in the summer to cruise the lakes and mountain of New Hampshire in style. Or maybe we needed to do what was necessary to avoid standing in ankle deep, smelly water in our basement.

Our obvious choice was a new sewer line.

We live in a house built in the late 1940s. The sewer line is constructed of something called Bermico or Orangeburg pipe. It is made of, get this, cardboard and tar pitch. I’m guessing that they called it Bermico because if they had called it “sewer pipe made of cardboard and tar” then their sales may have been less than they would have hoped for.

I’m also guessing that whoever created this stuff figured they’d be long gone before the expiration date of these products in homes across the country.

Take the money and run, I guess.

In some cases this pipe can last for as long as ours did, sometimes it will not even last that long. One thing they all have in common though is that these pipes will usually decide to end their lives around Christmas. (I assume this only from personal experience.)

Once the decision was made to replace the sewer pipe instead of taking a trip to Italy, it was time to get down to business.

The first step in this process is to let the plumber take you on a magic journey down your sewer line with a camera. It is sort of like that movie from the 1960s “Fantastic Voyage” except there are a lot more tree roots and toilet paper and a tiny Raquel Welch is nowhere in sight.

Once you are convinced that, yes, you have a sewer problem (like the third backup in a row wasn’t enough) it is time to make the necessary plans.

Our project was done by an interesting process called “Tric Trench” where a hole is dug in the front yard and a cable is run underground through the old pipe into the cellar line. Then a big metal head is attached to the cable with the complete length of sewer pipe behind it. (We chose the new, sleek, black four-inch wide model of pipe. There was really only one choice when it came to that, but I wanted to have that new buying a sports car feel when paying for the thing. It made me feel a little bit better.)

Once the line is attached, the cable is pulled back through to the front while the metal head busts up the old pipe replacing it with the new sleek model. This avoids digging up the entire yard.

There wasn’t a lot of drama involved in this project like in other house projects I’ve had done in the past. There was no “uh ohs” and “this is gonna cost a bit more than I thought” words tumbling from a contractors mouth as my whole body goes numb. The whole process went pretty smooth.

Still, there is always something.

There is still about three feet or so of that old Bermico line still at the end of the run. It would have involved digging up a bit of the street which would have cost a lot more, plus the city told the plumbers they couldn’t dig it up anyway because the tar plants are closed for the winter and this was a job for a warmer time of year. (Oh , yeah, It was fifty-five degrees that day.)

Anyway, there is still a section of that old stuff out there though it looked like was in good shape and hopefully we will get more than a few good years out of it.

My wife and I asked the guys to wait a few minutes before they filled in the small hole and buried the new sewer pipe. We stared at it for a while and even took a few photos. No, it wasn’t a trip to Italy, but we wanted to have a few memories to keep. When you think about it, we’d probably only see Italy once, the same as the new sewer line, hopefully, so it wasn’t so bad. The plumber said he would give us a camera tour inside of it once a year if we wanted and were feeling nostalgic.

For now, everything is working fine and it should be a great Christmas. I’m confident that the three feet of old line will hold for awhile. If not, there’s always a great birthday present for my wife’s July birthday.

Brendan can be reached at brendan@weirs.com.