Rear Yard Row Home Sewers | White Paper

Rear Yard Row Home Sewers

A white paper on repairing sewers in tight row home rear yards


The Situation

In many of Baltimore’s oldest row home neighborhoods, it is common for sewers to exit through a home’s rear yard.  Specifically, homes in neighborhoods like Fells Point, Canton, Hampden, Remington, Charles Village, and Mount Vernon, have sewer lines in their rear yards.  Sewer problems that develop for these homes can be challenging to fix. Working within a small and narrow rear yard space requires creative solutions. If you are facing a sewer line problem in your rear yard, don’t worry.  All sewer lines can be brought back to working order! This white paper explains a few methods C.A. Taciak & Sons uses for replacing and repairing sewer lines in small rear row home yards.

The Background

Why do many row homes have rear yard sewer lines?  The answer has to do with gravity and age. All plumbing fixtures drain with the help of gravity.  Your toilets and sinks must follow a rule “as old as time;” water runs downhill. As such, all plumbing must drain to a lower area.  This results in deep sewer lines for the many older row homes with bathrooms and sinks in their basements. When a basement bathroom is several feet underground, the point to which these plumbing fixtures drains to must be even deeper.

Many row home neighborhoods trace their history back to the very start of modern Baltimore in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Around this time, Baltimore City had just started installing sewer main pipes to improve living conditions and advance our great city.  Up until this time, many existing homes had septic holding tanks placed in their rear yards. Because all of the homes’ plumbing already drained to the rear yard, it made sense to transition from holding tank to sewer line in the same area.  Needless to say, digging a deep trench in an alleyway to install sewer piping caused much less disturbance than tearing up a major roadway such as Charles St, or Calvert St, for the same purpose.

It should be noted that row homes built in newer communities often have their sewer lines exit the front of their property.  It became much more convenient to install all underground utilities in the same area when building new streets and communities.  As such, most row homes built after World War Two in newer areas usually have their sewer lines run under their front lawn.

The Problem

What sort of challenges does repairing or replacing a sewer line in a small rear yard create?  There are four main difficulties to overcome:

1)    Where are all problems within the sewer line?

How many problems does the sewer line have and where are they?  How severe is each problem? Do all problems need to be addressed at the same time?  The number and location of problems ultimately force the decision between a small repair or a full replacement.

2)  What obstacles are in the way of fixing the problem?

Rear yards are often a private sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  It is common for rear yards to have patios, garden areas, private parking pads, fences, garages, etc.  As enjoyable as these features are for homeowners, they do make repairing or replacing a sewer line more difficult.  The cost of property restoration, as well as the overall disruption to property, must be factored into the working plan of attack.  

3)  What is the depth of all problems?

The deeper the sewer problem, the deeper the hole to fix the problem.  Deep holes create a large amount of dirt that must be temporarily piled somewhere while the sewer line is being worked on.  Obviously, the length of the problem also influences the amount of dirt displaced. Repairing one small, contained section of sewer line creates a much smaller pile of dirt than trenching down to and replacing the entire sewer line.

4)  Where to put the excavated dirt while the sewer line is being repaired or replaced?  

As mentioned above, excavating a sewer line problem can result in a large amount of dirt.  In a small rear yard, this creates a battle between the working area and the dirt storage area. In these situations, even though the problem itself may be small, it can create a much longer job because of the site’s difficult working conditions.  Work must be carefully planned and scheduled to ensure the safety of your home and our crew.

The Solution

A solution to each home’s unique sewer problem must be carefully tailored to the particular site conditions.  The types of problems within the sewer line must be carefully weighed against the destruction and disruption that fixing them would cause.  In most cases where a single problem is present, a surgical and contained repair is recommended. In such a situation, we would excavate down to the problem, repair the problem area with a small section of pipe, and install a new clean-out access pipe to allow for future maintenance of the sewer line if ever needed.  

However, if an entire sewer line replacement is needed, the solution becomes more difficult to install.  With the average sewer line in a row home’s rear yard running an average of 5-6ft deep, replacing a 2ft long sewer line creates a dirt pile 300 cu ft in size.  That is a lot of dirt to store next to an open trench where men are working. Many times if space is available, we are able to use specially sized excavating equipment to place the excavated dirt in the alleyway while the replacement work is being handled.  However, this is not always possible due to the existence of trees, fences, garages, and other inconveniently placed structures. In such situations, a trench-less solution may be advised. Such an approach can be detailed and described in an article found HERE.  

Lets Get Started!

If you are interested in talking over your home’s unique sewer problem, please give us a call.  You will speak to Frank Taciak, our company owner and onsite excavator who will personally handle your job.  We work hard to tailor make a solution that meets your and your property’s best interests.