HOMEOWNER ALERT: Winter Backups at Two Homes with Front Discharge FDDs

More on Winter Backups: Write the City and Demand Deeper Reburial of City Collection Lines

As we reported in a post yesterday, we are now aware of a new and unique hazard from FDDs that discharge to a City collection line in the home extension, which is the case for most FDDs–very destructive winter backups due to freezing of the City-owned collection lines to which these FDDs are connected  by law. We are advising owners that, in order to protect homes from damage next winter, homes connected to City collection lines require permanent remediation before next winter. The City collection line problem has one solution while the FDDP continues to exist: the City has to start reburying the lines in front of homes with front discharge FDDs now or else implement a transitional fix of some kind that will allow homes to bypass the discharge lines next winter, which now represent a proven hazard at any such home.   

The City is not likely to volunteer to do this remediation, which would be expensive and necessary city-wide, and would compound its difficulties defending the FDDP any further. Either way, homeowners need to demand action from the City immediately because the flooding at the two properties involved (as would likely be the case in a winter backup in any home) was not covered by insurance because the flooding did not originate out of the sump. These backups were 100% the City’s responsibility. CDMI specified collection lines at 24 inches, the City engineers approved that and the pre-qualified contractors just hooked the houses up to water-carrying lines that were obviously at risk for freezing. We also have some reason to inquire whether this particular cut corner in the City’s FDD collection line construction was not in fact known to the City and CDMI in advance.

Here are our main reasons for concern, based on a review of the two homes that were hit with winter backups: 

  • First, these winter backups are a different animal entirely from spring and summer backups or backups during power outages. These were far more dangerous and similar events are likely to cause very extensive damage to the interior of basements and to flood building foundations until discovered and temporarily remediated. This can only be accomplished by bypassing the FDD lines across the lawn, until the City can clear its collection line of ice blockages. Unfreezing the lines took days in this case. A backup from a frozen City line will therefore always cause a catastrophic failure of the whole FDD system inside and outside the home. The FDD becomes an immediate and absolute water trap for the house. The failures at the two homes were in the extensions and the owners were powerless to do anything without the City.
  • Second, these were not problems in either case with the sump or the sump pumps that PSA and the City Attorney’s Office like to talk about and study so much. Fifty sump pumps would not have made a difference in these situations. Absolutely nothing behind the frozen runs of City collection line in the FDD construction worked. The pumps ran very frequently (which the City does not seem to grasp), but just recycled the water back to the sump (while also flooding the foundations) in the form of repeated discharges from the air gaps. Thankfully, the air gaps were not frozen like others in the neighborhoods were, and which looked like this:

Typical frozen airgap   We are not sure what happens or where the water goes if the air gap is filled with ice and the   City line        freezes when the temperature is -15 degrees. We are consulting a plumber unconnected to the FDDP        and will pass on further information from him.

  • Second, the damages and out-of-pocket losses from this one event were outrageous (about $20,000 between the two houses). None of the loss was covered by insurance because the flooding did not originate from the sump. So the City has not only created a disaster in its collection lines, but left the owners of affected homes holding the bag for an uninsurable risk and unable to protect themselves with insurance in the future, without a special policy or rider. Winter backups could occur over and over in the same line and the same house in a hard winter, no matter how many times the City arrives too late to prevent damage to homes and it will always be too late, as described above. Under the FDDP and based on past history, we would assume the City would say that the owners have to eat the expenses of loss, replacement and repair in their home–that is, anything that was unrelated to the cost of solving the City’s problem of not destroying the two basements entirely. If we want action from the City, we are going to have to make noise to get it. The affected homeowners have shown real bravery and compassion for their neighbors (like the plaintiffs in Yu, et al. vs  City Ann Arbor) by standing up, being counted and fighting the City in the open. They are prepared to be the class action representatives for all property owners with front discharge FDDs and they deserve expressions of support here at the website and in emails to the following to the Mayor, City Council, City Attorney Stephen Postema and Chief Asssistant City Attorney Abigail Elias (the relentless defender of the FDDP, not matter how much it harms owners),  PSA Director Craig Hupy (who runs the FDDP) and FDDP Project Manager Ann Warrow, who advised the CAC “investigator” that the weather will be better in the future.
  • Third, based on our review of what occurred at these two homes (quite similar in both cases) and the staggering magnitude of the design, engineering and construction malpractice that are apparent at either home, winter backups of this type have a very high probability of lasting much longer than spring and summer backups. The latter (assuming the owners are home) tend to be discovered pretty quickly. Winter backups, however, do not originate out of the sump (which is covered by most home insurance policies), but rather at the bottom of walls remote from the sumps.  
  • Fourth, these were stealth backups. Based on the experience at the two homes, the water in a winter backup could conceivably enter from the foundation footings at any point around the basement (front wall is most likely) where water finds its way under a wall, by gravity or otherwise. The FDD system, at this point, is just packed to the gills by the flow of snow melt to the footing drains and the backup from the frozen City collection line. The water has nowhere else to go except into the foundations and then into the basement from the disconnected footing drains. At one home, the wall at the other end of the basement from the sump (just behind a valued walk-in cedar closet) was destroyed (along with the cedar closet) before the source of the flooding was even identified. That took roughly two days with the owner’s plumber (Maize and Blue) working diligently on the problem. 
  • Fifth, during all this time, the frozen City lines continued to block the discharge 100% at the exterior wall of the house, while the air gap discharge and the snow melt (which can go on for days after a quick thaw) continued to overfill the disconnected footing drains. The result was water flooding in, but no water able to get out of the house. The City turned the matter over to CDMI, which acted tentatively and delayed a fix further by instructing the owner (instead of sending out a crew) to make an outside fix in -12 degree weather in the dark, which she attempted and had some success. That, however, is beyond the pale for risks and “maintenance” that homes with FDDs have to endure.
  • Finally, when the City ultimately arrived (because it was the City’s line that was frozen), the FDD had to be bypassed entirely and the FDDP project manager actually approved a reconnection at one home, which was apparently botched by Perimeter. The reconnect failed and virtually overwhelmed  the house with sewer gases. The owner who went out into the freezing night at CDMI’s instructions, soon thereafter developed chest pains and difficulty breathing and had to go stay with a daughter in Alaska for two weeks until the sewer gas problem was resolved. And even after the bypass, it took almost two days more for the City to clear the frozen lines (more than one, it seems) with high pressure and heated water. The owners have to sity by helpless to defend their properties from the City lines.

The City has not told neighbors anything close to the real story here. We know there are other homes where collection lines froze, and we’d like to know where they occurred. In the meantime, we suggest that owners write the City and demand reburial of the collection lines in their extensions now. Don’t wait. The owners affected by the two backups have demanded reburial, as well as demanding payment for a contractor not affiliated with the FDDP to dig up the gravity discharge line under the lawn that was installed by their “pre-qualified” FDD contractors. Perimeter, Hutzel, Bidigaire, Landscape Contracting and  RDC Residential Services, the lucky pre-qualified contractors, dug these under-lawn lines at thousands of homes and then connected the homes to the City’s absurdly shallow collection lines all over the City. Apparently, none of these contractors knows or cares what either the freezing point of water is or where the frost line is here.

Those under-lawn lines are buried even shallower than the collection lines, at only about 18 inches, so they are also a freezing risk. Even if the City collection line does not freeze, if the under-lawn line freezes, it will cause the whole FDD to fail just as catastrophically all by itself. FDDs, as of May 2014, are dangerous and undependable.

We want to state clearly that CDMI and the five pre-qualified contractors (with the City’s okay and money) created this mess. We strongly advise that you steer clear of CDMI, OHM-Advisors (including personnel working with the CAC) and any of the pre-qualified contractors in pursuing relief for yet another FDD problem we are forced to deal with. Get your own contractor. At this stage, a2underwater is willing to state our belief that the FDDP is a program affected by sweetheart deals and corruption and these companies have incentives to cover things up, not fix them. This is an unusual and uncomfortable situation for Ann Arbor, where people have traditionally trusted City government, but it is what it is. When a so-called “investigator” for the Citizens Advisory Committee turned up these two winter backups, he recorded the disasters; cited the FDDP Project Manager for the proposition that the problem was a “rare” harsh winter; concluded for some reason that the two winter backups were not indicative of a problem city-wide;  and then buried the report at OHM or the CAC. We beg to differ with the “investigator”: the two backups (and the others of the “handful of cases” he refers to) prove the City’s collection lines are another disaster waiting to happen to other homes–perhaps many more–even if future winters are no worse than the past one.

If you have information about frozen lines last winter or before, please email us at a2underwater@gmail.com and let us know. If you have questions about remediation and dealing with the City, and don’t want to post them here, please email us and we will offer help. In the meantime, the owners of the two affected properties are prepared to pursue their remedies in court promptly if the help from the City is not forthcoming. This is one risk we categorically refuse to accept for another winter.

If you are fortunate and haven’t been disconnected and then connected to the unreliable City collection lines, this is a good time to decide that this isn’t going to happen at your home. If the City offers to redirect the discharge onto the property, such as to the backyard, tell them uncategorically “no.” That is just an invitation to another set of problems affecting two of the plaintiffs in the Yu v City of Ann Arbor case: landscape damage and recycling of sump pump discharge.

Homeowner Stories from the FDD Survey (3)

We are continuing our series of posts of homeowner comments on the FDDs completed in their homes.

We are just baffled that, with 33 pages in the FDDP Survey Summary full of sad and sometimes heart-breaking complaints about the effects of mandatory FDDs (and in the midst of the so-called “Temporary Delay”), negotiation of Development Agreements continues unabated for projects that will require FDDs in order to obtain their Certificates of Occupancy.

Many of the comments are relatively short and poignant, such as these:

  • We were one of the first repairs as we had so many instances of sewage backup and the floor was jack hammered up in 5 places to install check valves . . . these are problematic as I have already had to clear two of them including one from Mr. Rooter.
  • Basement floor cracks due to jack hammer use. Unsure if west-front footing drain is connected to sump. Seepage along west front of basement.
  • Having sump pump installed has ruined floor in utility room because installers had to drill and patch numerous holes. Cement is falling apart around pump rim. I hate the sump pump and think it was a waste of money to be installed. Never had an issue prior to installation, now it’s another piece of equipment to clean and maintain.
  • Had to replace vinyl tile in room with sump pump, due to installation at my expense and labor.
  • City never did final inspection to verify completion. Floor tiles left undone and ceiling was not restored. Trench settled and no filling by city. The sump has air hammer every time it operates and no reply from city about what to do. No follow through!

It only takes a minute to cut and paste the post above into an email and send it to the Mayor and City Council. Ask them what kind of program leaves owners with damaged basements, flooding, and emotional stress.

We will  have another Litigation Update later today.

Homeowner Stories from the FDD Survey (1)

The City has now published some of its results from its FDD Survey completed in January. As discussed  in an earlier post, the Survey results are appalling, with 26% of homes (107 homes) with previously dry basements having water problems after FDDs.

Of the 44 pages of the Survey summary, there are 33 pages of statements by owners about their experiences with FDDs. They speak for themselves and we are just going to start posting them, without much comment.  There is a lawsuit in preparation to seek a ban on future FDDs and relief for homeowners with FDDs. In the meantime we are publishing the testimony of homeowners to the burdens of FDDs in homes not designed for a sump pump as the primary storm water protection for the home.

Here’s a first comment:

This past year we had to have our pipe to the street fixed because it had become filled with mineral deposits. I was told that this is not common, but it caused flooding around my house on the outside, because the water had no place to go once it discharged into the pipe. It just cascaded like a fountain until someone came out to fix it.

This whole project has been a disaster for me and my family. Our pump runs often and we have worn out six of them since the first installation about 10 years ago. Fortunately I am handy and have been able to replace the pumps by myself. Otherwise I would have spent over $4000 on pumps. Thank goodness for the backup pumps which have saved our butts (and our basement) many, many times when the power goes out or when the main pump fails.

This fiasco has cost me a fortune and I would like to be reimbursed for all of my expenses. I don’t think I should have to sue the city to recover my costs, but I have complained many times and have had no satisfaction. Telling me that I am one of the few that has these kinds of problems does not make me feel any better. Before the installation I had no flooding or sewage backup or any water problems at all. Now every thunderstorm or heavy rain we have to worry.

If you only knew how many nights I had to spend down the basement watching over the pump!  We have had to use bilge pumps from my boat to keep the water level down in heavy rain situations.

City FDD Survey (I): Wet Basements after 26% of Dry-Basement FDDs

The City has released the preliminary results of a survey covering all homes where FDDs have been performed under the mandatory FDDP. The numbers are appalling, including this one: FDDs caused wet basements in 107 of 411 basements that were dry before the owner’s FDD was completed. That is 26%. We’ll discuss that in this post and then cover two other numbers in the next–continued sewage backups in homes with FDDs that had sewage backup problems pre-FDD and survey responses concerning emotional damage from FDDs.


As part of the City’s FDDP Effectiveness Study, OHM and Project Innovations, it’s “public engagement” subcontractor, have now concluded a survey of the post-FDD experiences of over 2,300 homes in Ann Arbor over more than 12 years. Here are three particular points from the preliminary results that stand out:

  • Out of all respondents (a total of 411 homes) who reported having no “flooding/seepage/dampness prior to FDD,” 26% reported that they “experienced flooding/seepage/dampness after FDD” (for a total 107 homes).
  • 39.68% of respondents reported an increase in anxiety.
  • 27.64% who experienced sanitary backups prior to FDDs are still experiencing backups.

Given the above, it’s not clear why the City and OHM have not already discontinued any further study of FDDs. Just on the face of even their raw partial data, the FDD procedure is dangerous to people and property and merits a moratorium, not a study about doing more.

Based on the preliminary survey data, it’s looks as if the City’s solution to 200 residential sewage backups before the FDD Ordinance over 12 years ago has been to create 107 wet basements (and counting) with FDD installations. The survey has not been completely tabulated, but we think it’s likely that survey will show more flooding—well over the number of 200 residences in 2001–while the City proposes to do more.

26% Dry-Basement Flooding Rate

a2underwater has questioned the basic plumbing and physics of FDDs in postings at a2underwater.com.  a skepticism you should now share. Though I am not particularly surprised at a high dry-basement flood rate, 26% is off the charts.

OHM has already endorsed the survey results and said to the CAC that it has 99% confidence in the survey results. The survey is intended as a tool for assessing the the wisdom of FDDs in 18,000 more FDDs in pre-1982 one-family homes in the future.

The 26% dry-basement flood rate strongly implies that if the City-required FDD procedures that have already been performed in 1,834 homes were to be repeated under the FDDP in a mere 5,000 of the remaining dry basements in Ann Arbor, 1,300 of those basements would have water damage. We are sure more than 40% of those residents have had their anxiety level further raised by the FDDP.

So the the first result of the survey, it seems to us, is that FDDs are extraordinarily prone to flooding dry basements and and cause anxiety levels they are willing to report.

FDD programs are one of OHM Advisors big business lines. FDD programs are extremely lucrative sources of revenue for companies that used to make their money digging drains and sewers for cities no longer willing to upgrade infrastructure.

If the City and OHM say that FDDs will remain on the table at the CAC, how would OHM propose that the City do those FDDs without providing a clear warning to the homeowner of the flooding risk and the risk of emotional stress? That wouldn’t be negligence or gross negligence. That would be malice.

Remember, this is a program that already has a long factual record on malice, including the many consistent claims of overbearing tactics by City contractor personnel, the long record of disinformation about the FDDP from the City and its contractors, and a history of “public engagement” in the Target Areas that many people call “divide and conquer.”

Next Post: Sewage Backups and Emotional Distress

City Position: FDDs Are “Home Improvements”

The City Attorney’s Office now says that FDDs are actually “home improvements” that “benefit both the property and the owner.”

The CA’s Office is defending the FDDP and FDDs in writing again. The recent statement is part of an argument to the CAC that the burden of an FDD on the owner is minimal.

The statements come in recent memos from the City Attorney’s Office to the CAC for the FDDP Effectiveness Study, which is still ongoing.

Is your FDD (or your neighbor’s) a “home improvement”? Leave us a comment.


Residents’ Complaints to the City About Their FDDs #1

Here is one really direct complaint from a resident to the City:

I have now had three incidents of water problems directly related to the sump pump that never happened before this installation. I just had to replace the sump pump, which failed (and turned out to be discerned as a “piece of crap” as said by my contractor who pulled it out) after having to deal once again with flooding in my basement. When all was said and done, this latest wet basement incident cost me another $650 for new pump, labor and blowers. I am beyond annoyed at the frustration and cost this ‘project’ has caused. I feel that [the City-approved FDDP contractor] completely took advantage and installed an incredibly inferior piece of equipment AND they convinced me, and the project director, that I needed to spend the additional $700 at installation for the backup battery which served zero purpose before it malfunctioned and died. GOOD FREAKING GRIEF.


Reports from the Basements: Citizens’ Complaints to the City About the FDDP

In 2012, the City sent out a Five-Year Post-Installation Survey Questionnaire to a group of homeowners who had FDDs under the FDDP. A lot of the Survey was a sort of customer satisfaction survey concerning how satisfied or dissatisfied the homeowner was with the FDDP contractor, with the actual construction and installation for the FDD, etc.

At the end of the Survey, however, there was a garden-variety open-ended question just asking for any remarks people wanted to add about their experiences as homeowners with involuntary FDDs. The overall Survey response rate was so poor that the Survey was not deemed statistically valid.

On the other hand, 92 people responded to the Survey, which is a lot of people with FDD’s. Many of them also answered the “open-ended” question with now-increasingly familiar complaints about their FDDs, including complaints about flooding and the expense of operation and maintenance of the FDD installations.

We are just going to start posting these complaints from the 2012 survey (which were all anonymous) in a numbered series. We think these comments are among the most important data we have about the last 12 years of the FDDP because they are collectively a report on how well many of the people with FDDs were reacting to them, as homeowners and human beings, as of 2012. In truth, they weren’t reacting very well, which resulted in exactly NO CHANGE in the City’s pursuit of the FDDP. That is hard for us to understand. 

With your permission, we’ll also post comments you send us at a2underwater@gmail.com.

The comments of these owners (and others to come, I am sure) frame quite clearly a big-picture question that we’ve wondered about for a while, namely, whether the problem of the FDDP (and perhaps FDDs in general), as an engineering idea (effective or not effective), is that it can’t be implemented in practice inside people’s homes. You have to violate the law at a very fundamental level to do it, in the first instance, and it also imposes an unfair, unyielding and unacceptable allocation of known risks and burdens (including, it has to be said, of physical labor) onto a small percentage of the City’s homeowners, specifically for the benefit of other residents.