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That time the stream flooded the basement – troubleshooting with StreamBIM

Two Builders holding PVC pipework whilst preparing it for joining prior to fitting it in the ground

Written by Markus Berget

The wastewater system was not yet operational, but water suddenly flooded from the pipe.

I was the project manager and construction was into the final stretch. We were about to set the wastewater system in operation. It was merely a matter of removing an end cap and opening the pipe towards the sewage pump basin.

– What the…!?

Water flooded out of the pipe, as much as five gallons per second. With the basement filling up rapidly, we promptly dropped everything and fired up some drainage pumps.

No one could fathom where the water came from. Four days passed before the inflow let up enough for us to get an inspection robot into the pipe. Deep beneath the building, the robot found this:

A gaping hole in the sewage pipe.  

On account of the building’s placement, at the bottom of a hillside on which two separate streams weave their paths towards the sea, a giant water basin had formed beneath the building. That water was now seeping into the building’s wastewater system via the hole and flooding the basement.  

What do you do with a severely damaged pipe, buried beneath six or seven feet of reinforced concrete?

Mending the pipe would entail hacking our way through the foundation, then carrying the debris out through a narrow staircase. Considering the amount of iron we’d put down for reinforcement, it would easily amount to 15-20 metric tons. It was a disheartening prospect.

My heart beat faster. I opened up the 3D model on my laptop and located the pipe joint in question. I clicked on it and was presented with the following portfolio:

I found exactly the images I needed with just a few clicks. I’ll soon come back to why the images were so important to find. First, I’d like to point out that documentation can’t be taken for granted. The ease with which this information is retrievable using StreamBIM is a revolution compared what we were doing only a few years ago.

Read more: This is how StreamBIM can increase productivity
at every stage of the building project

Troubleshooting with StreamBIM

I have to say StreamBIM is a dream for troubleshooting. We can avoid a great deal of trouble if we document our work and pin it to the corresponding location in the model, such as in the example of the photos above.

Precise and rapid documenting

Photo documentation is not a new concept. The speed and precision offered by StreamBIM, however, feels like a whole new world.

In this case I retrieved the photos I needed almost immediately. It was simply a matter of locating the pipe within the 3D model and there they were!

Before StreamBIM, documenting meant walking around with paper sheets, markers, and a camera. We would put all the photos in the same folder, thinking “we’ll probably find it if we ever need it.” Each folder could contain thousands of photos. If anything like this flooding happened, it could take me a full working day to locate the photos I needed. All the while costs would be accumulating — direct costs for the the hours spent searching for photos as well as indirect costs that arise when construction is halted.

Who’s to blame (who pays?)

StreamBIM is a fantastic tool for assessing who is responsible when we encounter issues like the damaged pipe. In the case of the burst pipe, we had invaluable documentation regarding the pipe’s integrity at the time of installation. The photos told us that in all likelihood the incident was an accident, as opposed to incompetence or a deviation from procedure. Among the plausible explanations were: structural weakness, damage from production, transport, or handling. Pressure from the above foundation perhaps tipped the scale and caused the pipe’s collapse. These things can happen.

This chain of events would’ve been possible to uncover prior to using StreamBIM, but it would have cost time and money. In a StreamBIM project, the finish line is that much closer.

A new documentation mindset

StreamBIM simplifies the documentation process, which in turn positively impacts routines. From the conventional experience of documentation as something we do to pass certain hurdles (control and audit), we now see that documentation is being done as a positive confirmation:

“Everything has been done according to procedure – look how well it turned out.”

I believe that in itself encourages the industry to document more and better.

That’s great, but what about the burst pipe?

We discovered that the pipe served a single sink in a basement room. To fix the problem and save time and money, we decided to block the pipe and remove the sink.

But had the hole been located a few feet to the right on the main branch the only viable alternative would have been hacking and mending. All things considered, we got away cheaply!


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