When a 50-year-old dormitory at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor developed severe plumbing problems — water flow had slowed to a trickle — a school management team budgeted $11 million to replace the entire system.
What made the effort especially difficult and expensive was that the water pipes had been encased in concrete. “Whoever designed that system believed it would never corrode because the air couldn’t get to the pipes,” says Danny T. Hutchins, president of DiHydro in Sterling Heights, which specializes in water restoration projects. “The plan didn’t work.”
After inspecting the pipes, Hutchins submitted an estimate of $230,000 to fix the problem. The price included sending electrically generated sound waves through the pipes to free up years of calcium deposits. A food-grade chemical was then injected into the lines to dissolve the calcium, followed by a treatment of sodium silicate, which sealed any potential leaks.
Hutchins maintains the food-grade chemical the company pioneered is a trade secret, although he reveals one of the cleaning solution’s main ingredients is Mountain Dew. “We experimented with the mix for several years before getting it right,” says Hutchins. “It’s been a big boon to our business.”
The company got its start in 1939, and today has a staff of 25 people. With ongoing work in 14 different states, Hutchins says the firm has cleared clogged water pipes from Chicago to Houston, and all along the East Coast. “Texas is a pretty big market for us because the construction codes there aren’t as good as they here,” he says.
Saving clients millions of dollars has generated plenty of word-of-mouth referrals, Hutchins adds. A recent water flow problem at a high-rise residential tower in Chicago, for example, led to several other projects in that city.
“The building owner (in Chicago) was prepared to spend $14.7 million to replace the pipes, but we kept the system in place and restored the water flow for $380,000,” says Hutchins, who joined DiHydro in 1976. “Word like that spreads quickly.”
In addition to restoring water flow inside buildings, DiHydro can identify and control lead and bacteria levels by sealing the inside walls of existing pipes. It also offers routine inspections of both galvanized and copper pipes.
The company’s 1,400 metro Detroit clients include Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Cadillac Place, the Fisher Building, and the Guardian Building in Detroit, and the U.S. Army Tank Command in Warren. “When you have a product that works well, the challenge is to not get complacent,” Hutchins says. “Luckily for us, we’re always crawling through buildings. So the work keeps us humble.”