“Stop Freakin’…Call Beacon” – Part 2

You have all been very patient given how long it has been since I posted Part 1 — if you haven’t already, I recommend reading it first.  Here is the unabridged version of the remaining story…

So I neglected to mention, before joining me in the digging, TB called the City of Kirkland to find out the proper procedure for busted pipes (i.e., whose responsibility it is, the city’s or ours).  The agent confirmed anything between the meter and our home is our problem.  TB said the lady she spoke to sounded positively giddy after hearing our water pipe issue would be our problem, not theirs.  Despite her joy in our misery (schadenfreude is the term) the agent she spoke to was apparently helpful and knowledgeable.  The agent also strongly recommended we get multiple estimates since, according to her, the prices different companies charge can vary widely.

Surely she was joking, I thought, upon hearing this.  Aren’t plumbers supposed to be your friends…like firemen?  Not one to discard strong advice and forever keen to save a buck-or-two-hundred, TB wasn’t as dismissive.  This is where her memory of the Beacon Plumbing radio ad enters the story.  While I was outside beginning my digging, TB found the Beacon number in the phone book (’cause we were seriously freakin’) and the dispatcher said she would have someone at our home within 2-3 hours.  OK, let’s return to the moment where I left off in Part 1 when we found the source of the leak…

Just after the exchange with TB about remaining optimistic, we extended the trench another foot or so (4’x10′) and could hear and see a noticeable change in the water pressure.  I reached my hand down into the massive pool of water and could feel several large stones which I removed and threw atop the large mound of dirt we had built.  After clearing the stones, I felt a strong stream of water shooting mud against my fingers.  It sounded and felt like a pressure washer was being fired directly into the ground.  After removing more stones and a little more digging, I blindly felt around the submerged area again.  This time I could run my hand about six inches along a straight, smooth, cylindrical object that was too symmetric to be a stone or root.  That object ran directly perpendicular to the house so I recognized it immediately as a pipe.

Ecstatic that my digging might be nearing an end, I became concerned because there was not much space between the house and the jet of water I had felt with my hand.  Was water running into the walls?  How long had it been leaking?  Will the plumber have the necessary equipment to fix it?  Will he need to open the walls?  How much will that cost?

At this point, we had to shut off the water to the house.  I went to the main valve a few feet from the street in the front of our house and followed the instructions TB had printed from the City of Kirkland website.  It took a lot of force to turn the knob a full 180 degrees with a pair of adjustable pliers.  Later I would see professionals have a special tool for turning that knob that gives them more leverage and doesn’t require them to get dirty.  I didn’t have one of those tools so I had to rely on elbow grease and get down on all fours.  Joy.

Water off, it took a few minutes for the area around the pipe to drain.  I climbed into the trench, got in a push-up position, and lowered myself far enough down to where my nose was about an inch from the pipe.  (Between the narrow trench and my large cranium, not much light got down to the pipe so I had to be really close to see anything.)  Sure enough, roughly a mere 1 1/2 inches from the exterior wall, I saw there was an half-inch-long gash in the 1″ copper pipe.  We had found the source.

We then ran into the house to figure out where that pipe was leading and how much damage to our interior it might require to repair.  The pipe enters into the utility closet housing the furnace, water-heater and other stuff.  The walls are all finished (bad) but the room has a door and is otherwise unused (good).  Now all we had to do was wait for the plumber to give us the verdict.

Fred, the Beacon dude, showed up before the plumbers I’d called two hours earlier, Rooter-Man of Washington.  That should have been a warning sign.  Fred was pleasant, efficient and to-the-point.  He told us exactly what needed to be done, how he would do it and seemed genuinely impressed we had dug up the whole area ourselves.  The sun had him sweating while just writing the estimate.  He spent a few minutes jotting some notes and putting together a quote.  Final cost to have Fred from Beacon fix the pipe: $377.40 after tax.  That price didn’t include fixing the wall he would need to open or addressing any other interior damage or putting the dug-up side of our house back in order.  However, the price seemed reasonable to me.  The Rooter-Man plumber was scheduled to arrive shortly so I figured I’d take the City of Kirkland agent’s advice and get a second estimate.

I asked Fred how long it would take for the repairs and when could he get started if I wanted to proceed?  He said he had everything he needed to get started right then.  He was undeniably crestfallen when I told him I wanted to get another quote and had another company on its way.  His disposition changed.  He snapped, “Well, it’s going to cost you an additional $50 if you decide to have the work done at a later time.”  “Uh, ok,” I replied.  He scribbled a note on his pad to document the $50 surcharge then told me where I needed to sign to indicate I was declining the recommended repairs.  Less than 30 seconds later, Fred was pulling his Beacon repair truck out of our driveway.

Maybe 2 minutes passed and a smaller truck with Rooter-Man decals rolled into the neighborhood.  The truck pulled into our driveway and out jumped two (not 1, but 2) guys dressed in their freshly-pressed, matching uniforms from head-to-toe with hats and all.  For some reason their entrance and appearance humored me as neither man had a speck of dirt on him while I, on the other hand, was covered in mud, sweaty & smelly.  Casual passers-by surely would have confused the plumbers and the homeowner.

I led them to the trench, pointed, explained and waited.  The driver of the truck must have been The Brain and the other his tag-a-long sidekick, Pinky.  The Brain started explaining the complexity of what it would take to fix the pipe.  I listened.  He went on about the Rooter-Man way and how they charge;  Pinky added random bits of information to punctuate the point as if on cue.  I listened.  The Brain then said he and Pinky would return to the truck to write up the estimate.  I nodded.

Fred had taken just a couple minutes to write his estimate.  It took Pinky & The Brain nearly 10 minutes and The Brain had time to make a phone call while Pinky took a break to catch some sun.  I used the time to clean the garage.  After sufficient “limbo” time had passed, The Brain exited the cab of the truck and headed toward my location in the garage.  Seeing this, Pinky abandoned his perch on the tailgate and quickly caught up.

Before showing me the written estimate, however, The Brain took a moment to explain (again) how Rooter-Man charges a flat fee based on the job type. As such, the prices their prices are non-negotiable.  I listened.  He finally showed me the estimate.  He didn’t give it to me.  He turned it around and held it so I could read as he, unnecessarily, walked me through it.  My eyes quickly scanned over the barely-legible “Work Description” (which The Brain was reading verbatim) and landed on the bottom-line price.  My first reaction: “Are those numbers written in English?”  My second reaction: “I must’ve missed something like how they were going to fix & paint the dry-wall and change the oil in my car, I should be paying attention.”  The entire time, The Brain was still reading, “Wa-wonk, wa-wonk…”

They were trying to charge me $1067.02 for doing exactly what Fred planned to do using essentially the same terms and phrases he did!  “This quote must be in South African Rand,” I thought to myself.  Finally, I had enough.  I gave The Brain a “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” look and interrupted with, “This quote is significantly higher than one I received earlier today.”  As if I had insulted his integrity, The Brain responded, “Really?”  “Yes, by a large margin,” I said flatly.  Realizing the air had been let out of that balloon, The Brain asked in a most accusatory manner, “Who’d you have give you a quote?”  Like I had cheated or something.

For a split-second I considered telling him to do his own research since I had nothing to gain by educating him (remember their prices are non-negotiable).  But I could tell he already knew the answer to his question and was perhaps testing me.  I said, “I just had a plumber leave not too long ago.  Your price is about 3x more than what he quoted me.”  The dialog then went something like:

“Was it Beacon?  I passed a Beacon truck on my way here.”
“Yes, I have the quote in the house and will show you it if you’d like.”
“Yes, would you mind?”
At this point I called into the house and asked TB to bring the Beacon estimate.  Pinky, who had been silent the entire time, finally chimed in with:
“Are you sure he said he was going to weld the pipes together?  You want to make sure he welds them.  He’s probably not at that price.”
“Yes,” I say, “he’s going to weld the pipes.”

TB arrived with the Beacon estimate.  I didn’t give it to him though.  I turned it around and held it so he could read and quickly pointed to the guaranteed price.  The Brain’s reaction: “Wow!  That’s a great price.  You should take it.”  Ya’ think?  My response, “Thanks for stopping by.  Have a nice day.”  Thirty seconds later, The Brain was pulling the Rooter-Man truck out of our driveway.

Now I was kicking myself since Fred’s price was solid and my little exploratory mission had just cost me 50 more dollars.  Oh, well.  TB called Beacon and asked them to send Fred back.  The dispatcher said Fred would return after he finished his current job.  I got some “work” work done as we waited.

Fred returned, requested the copy of the estimate, had me sign a different spot to accept the charges then told me he wouldn’t charge me the extra $50 since he was still in the area when we called.  Now that’s my kind of guy.

It took Fred twice as long to fix the pipe as he thought because he had to do it twice.  The first attempt failed because he couldn’t get a solid weld around the two pieces of pipe due to the angle and narrowness of the trench.  He pulled some tricks from his plumbers toolkit/butt to create an impressive solution that introduced a couple right angles to make welding easier.  I was relieved we had a fixed price and weren’t paying for his labor by the hour.

With Fred’s handiwork completed, we had water going everywhere it should and nowhere it shouldn’t.

We still need to get the landscaping and interior wall repaired.  There was some water damage that may require new molding and a new carpet pad in a couple places.  We are grateful for our neighbor and thankful we were in-town when all this occurred.  I’ll take & post some pictures.