side-laterals




side-laterals are used to lay any underground utilities needed to your house. You'll use an excavator for digging your sidelaterallines, spreading gravel, and backfilling sidelaterals. The excavator will likely be digging the sewerline as well as the water sidelaterals.

The electric power, phone, gas, water and sewer lines are all laid in lateral lines. The electric and phone lines are often laid in the same side lateral trench. The gas was dug by the gas company for our home.




If you are building in the city, side-laterals are needed to connect with the city water and sewer lines. You will need two trenches dug which the lines can be layed in. These are called “lateral” lines.

The gas line is placed away from all the other lines. Electricity and phone lines can use the same trench, but water and sewer each have their own lines. The gas company will dig and install their utility themselves.

The plumber will only extend his sub-rough pipe 2-3 feet from the house. You must connect to the sewer and city water yourself, or you can have the contractor do it for you. Check with your excavator to see if he will include side-laterals in the cost of his bid. Get it in writing!


The reality is, you need those side-laterals dug and hooked up way before your house is ready for outside cement work. The fact is, you need water to the property by the time the plumber puts in his rough plumbing, so he can test his lines for leaks. water for plumber In signing your contract with the excavator I suggest that you put a clause in the contract that states that you'll charge him $100/day past a certain day if he is not finished with the side-laterals by that date.

I heard about that “ clause” in the contract from another sub and thought it was extreme, so I didn't do it. By not having this clause in my contract, my excavator cost me thousands by putting me off until the winter when the ground was frozen 14 inches. I was depending on the excavator to tell me WHEN we should dig. I didn't count on the excavator "putting me off" for his own benefit and doing other jobs instead of mine.

Since our laterals were dug in the winter when the frost was 14 inches deep, we were unable to soak the ground and compact it as it should have been done. BIG MISTAKE!!!

In just 2 months time from doing our landscaping, the ground all along the front of the house was all wet due to a leak in our irrigation system. Our steps were pulling away from the house, in spite of the rebar that had been drilled into the foundation to prevent the steps from pulling away.

The porch was sinking.





Ultimately the cement 7x4x3 porch sunk over a foot and had to be entirely removed and repoured.

The following experience is a result of not having water to our property early enough so we could soak the ground thoroughly after the backfilling had been done.

We got a leak in our irrigation system because the ground next to the house was not soaked and settled.

In just 2 months time the ground had become so saturated due to a leak in the irrigation system, that the ground under the step sunk and the step fell away from the house.

I asked a different excavator from the one we initially used what we had to do to deal with this problem. His answer was simple. "You should have used me and you wouldn't have this problem. All you can do now is take out the step and do it right this time."

When the steps were removed we could see that the ground under the step was totally “wet” and the weight from the heavy step had no support. Our ground is full of clay and a heavy rock on top of wet clay resulted in the step just sinking further and further into the ground.

In addition the ground got so heavy next to the house where the irrigation line exited the house to feed the irrigation system , that the irrigation pipe sheered off completely by the weight of the dirt, and we had a major flood.


All around the step, water was going everywhere. Water was gurgling up out in the lawn along the water line to the city hookup. Our landscaping along the house which had been built up in a raised flower bed sunk 18 inches.

We still didn't know where the problem was except that it was somewhere in the main irrigation line. Water seeped down the front of the house and fully saturated the ground in the backfill area all the way to the footings and ran under the footings and into our basement.

We had a flood in our new basement


basement flooding

It smelled like a swamp. RL turned off the water to the irrigation line and the water stopped. All we could do was wait for the water to drain out of the soil and sink into the dirt, and further into our basement.


We had to wait until all this wet dirt dried out, before we could even attempt to fix the leak, or the front step. After several weeks we finally got someone to come in and finish the steps the way it should have been done when the steps were first poured.

Our first attempt to remove the step had been by our landscapers who tried sawing the cement, but there was too much solid cement rock in the porch.

The new contractor that we hired next got a big ramming tool that attached to his bobcat, and in 15 minutes the remaining cement “rock” was broken up into basketball sized rocks. Obviously, this was the right tool for the job. I'll admit I was afraid he was going to knock down the foundation of the house as he was ramming the porch. Every time he rammed the porch the whole house shook.

Then they rolled the “basketball sized rocks” over to the bobcat shovel, and hauled them away. Before doing anything else, they used a jumping-jack to pound road base gravel into the soil so there was a solid base to build the new step on.

This is what should have been done in the first place, altho with our clay soil the step still may have sunk under these circumstances . This time 4 bales of straw were placed inside the forms and then cement was poured around the straw, making the 7x4x3 porch much lighter than the first porch was.

Even then, the loaded cement truck drove over our sewer lateral under the lawn and dropped into a hole caused by the “floodwater from the irrigation break.” Next spring we'll have some reconstruction to do with the lawn and flower beds.. The water had followed the path of least resistance and actually created a huge hole under the sidewalk. What about the rest of the sewer line I wondered?

Six months later, in February of 2008 we discovered a "sink hole" had developed out closer to the street. Then a week later when the garbage truck came by, he made a second sinkhole. These holes were just above the 10 foot deep sewer line near the road. side lateral sinkhole Thankfully, the garbage truck was able to drive off, but he caused enough of a concern that the city brought baracades to alert motorists to steer clear.

We can't fix it yet until we are certain all the caving in is finished. This was all caused because of the General Contractor (that's us)not insisting that the excavator flood the side-laterals to settle the dirt and the excavator not using the jumping jack (thumper) to compact the ground as he filled in the the lateral line.

NOTE: Followup in 2009

We have filled the holes up with gravel and sand and it appears the problem is fixed. Thankfully the settling seems to be finished with our side-laterals. We don't hold our breath but we do breathe easier.

What did we learn from all of this?


  1. The problem was the General Contractor's mistake – it was our mistake since we were the GC. Someone told me we have up to 7 years to collect from the General. Very funny – shall I sue RL or should he sue me?
  2. The ground has to be soaked thoroughly around the house and where the steps will be poured.
  3. A good 6 to 8 inch base of roadbed gravel needs to be pounded with a jumping-jack into the ground in preparation for pouring cement before the porch and steps are poured and also before the sidewalk is poured. Anywhere the dirt has been disturbed needs to be watered heavily and then the jumping-jack used to settle it down. This includes the side-laterals lines.
  4. Never assume the sub knows what he is doing. Watch them often when digging your side-laterals, so they will know you know what you are doing and they will do their job correctly.
  5. Before the side-laterals lines are filled back in, put gravel underneath the pipes on the undisturbed ground and then lay the pipes. As dirt is filled back in, they need to use the jumping jack and compress the soil before filling with more dirt. After the ground has been compressed well, then add more water before filling with more soil. Repeat this same process as the side-laterals are filled up every 10 to 15 inches of depth so it will not cave in later.
  6. Probably most important is have those side-laterals dug and buried long before winter sets in.








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