Tuesday, March 26, 2002

On the House Drains

Remember the "Dat pipe's not foh watuh, dat's pipe's foh GAS!!!"?

Well, it seems to never end...

I'm at home this week, not working. I was in Salt Lake City on business last week, and Thea calls to tell me the pipes are overflowing downstairs. Seems that while the toilet and bathroom sink are working fine (and the bath tub still drains slow), the driveway side of the house is plugged up. Running the dishwasher, kitchen sink, or washing machine results in a pretty geyser gushing up from the washing machine drain.

Sigh.

So, Saturday night we tried dropping in a gallon and a half of drain cleaner (after Thea did a gallon on Friday) and by Sunday morning I can see that it's not working. So, I volunteer to stay home and call Roto Rooter, and see if I can make our troubles go away down the drain...

"Elmo" drives up mid-morning on Monday. He's a tall black guy, "from the Islands, mon", and seems a nice guy. I give him a walk around of the place, show him where all the pipes and drains are, and let him go. I also told him that I wanted him to look at some other outstanding plumbing issues we have such as replacing the outside faucet that froze up a couple of winter ago (that Fritz and I almost caught the house on fire trying to replace) and the slow-draining bathtub. We'll get to those later...

Anyway, Elmo brings in his Roto-Rooter, a big electrical-motor-power drum of spring cable, into the basement and opens up an access port right over the washing machine. He brings in the light-duty rooter, one without anything on the end. After about 20 minutes he's played out 80 feet or so, and it's still going, and the water's not draining. He gets a quizzical look on his face and tries to pull it back out and it sure seems like it's pulling back against him!! After a bit of a struggle he gets it back out and goes outside "for the bigger one."

In comes another drum, this time with a half-again thicker cable and a meaty-looking cutter on the end. He runs that one down the pipe, and at about 50 feet the motor starts laboring. Elmo gets a smile on his face and runs it down another 5-10 feet. That motor is still laboring hard as he's pulling it back out, and 60 feet of retraction later there's this bug ugly, dirty-oil-black, well, SOMETHING on the end of it. It looks like a combination of a foot-long jet-black ponytail intermixed with a small hedge.

"Roots!" he says.

"Huh?" sez Greg.

"Roots. Mixed with a lot of stuff, maybe hair."

"Hmm, hair, you say?" I say. Can't imagine why...

Anyway, he runs some chemical down the pipe ("enzymes") and asked me to run the kitchen sink. 5 minutes later there's still no geyser so he calls it a success.

As he winds down that little adventure I ask him about the other stuff. He suggests that I run a rooter down the main sewer pipe once a year, and if it hasn't even been done (or it's been a long time) we should do it. That not only keeps the pipes cleaned out but it cuts any roots that may be growing into the pipes, keeping them from growing bigger (at least, that what I inferred.) So I asked him for a price and when he could do it.

We talked about the outside faucet, and I told him about the slow-draining bath tub. He gave a cursory look at the tub and said the whole mechanism was leaking and needed replacement (the drain, pipes and stopper valve), and he gave me a single price of $950 for all of the work (Monday's work, the outside faucet, the rooting of the main line, and replacing the bathtub mechanisms and pipes, plus two gallons of their "non-corrosive" enzyme-based pipe and drain conditioner - "not a drain opener, but a drain cleaner"). I agreed to have him come back in the morning to do that work.

Elmo arrived Tuesday morning, and he took some measurements for the outside faucet. He asked me to bring him to where the underside of the bath tub was. We turned on the light in that corner, and he turned on his flashlight to look.
The look on his face when he saw that combobulation was precious. "Oh my goodness!" he cried. "Look at all these pipes! I've never seen so many pipes used to go just from here to there!"

So, after he stopped chuckling, he got to the business of removing some pipes to measure for the ones he needed to buy. He left during lunch and returned with the bathtub parts, and got all that installed in a couple of hours. Looking for the clog downstream he removed several of the pipes, mostly breaking them off because they were so corroded. It wasn't too hard to find the clog: a nice foot-long blockage consisting of rust, mud, and hair. Hmmm, hair again, you say...?

The next step was to get out the Big Motha of rooters, and run it down the main sewage pipe into the street. This thing was pretty hefty, and had a cutter on the end the size of my fist. After removing the end cap (actually, breaking it off as *it* was also rusted) I got to take a look down the hole. Not particularly impressive: rust, mud, small roots, and likely some things I'd rather not describe (Fritz, I just decided you really *don't* want clear pipes in your basement...) That job wasn't too bad, it only took him a half-hour or so to run the guy down the pipe. He played out about 100 feet and didn't find any major blockage. The pipe looked better after that (but I certainly wouldn't say it looked "good".)

Anyway, at that point he started planning on what pipes he needed to buy to replace the clogged and broken ones for the bath tub, and I asked him: what would it take to just replace it all and make it "right"? We talked about it for a short while, and he said that he'd remove ALL OF THESE, and do this and this. Plus, he'd remove THAT pipe sticking out with a cap on it, and THAT pipe apparently going up through the floor to nowhere (capped off, hopefully?) and *that* fitting and *that* junction, and *that* part too. Basically, he'd replace it all with 3 pipes and a junction. By this time it was the end of the day, and it was also raining here so he was in no mood to solder the outside faucet on, so we agreed to have him come back in the morning to finish up what was left while giving me an estimate on what it would take to replace all the pipes under the bathroom.

As of right now, I can wash clothes, dishes, and my hands, and peeing is OK; however, showers are out unless I want a big mess in the basement. Of course, I'm a bachelor this week, so showers are optional anyway...

We're getting there, though. Closer and closer...

GA


Pete's response:

Here's what I know and maybe you don't, yet.

I don't think I was in on the bath tub piping job, but I do recall removing the bath tub clean out plug down there and taking a shower in gook plus the dirty shower water that someone had just created.

However, there may be a time when you discover draining problems in the bath room. This is because the sink was once on the same side of the room as the bath tub and we moved it across the room where it is now. Fritz and I were mere laborers in this job so don't blame us.

First off, I don't believe that the drain on the sink is connected to a vent stack, so you may occasionally here some gurgling when you drain a full sink of water. When you do, don't breathe it in deeply or light a match. You can easily fix this by installing a "pro-vent" under the sink. This will let air in as it drains and not let any sewage vapors out. We have one in the kitchen and it meets code.

Now here's the good part. When we removed the sink we had to reconnect the tub drain to the vent stack in the wall. This called for, I'd say, 2 lengths of PVC pipe about 18" long, an elbow connector, and maybe two adapters to hook into the existing cast iron pipes. At that time the total cost might have been around $8-$10. Well make that $20 at most in case we needed to buy some glue. But, no! We already had perfectly good pipe in the basement and it was threaded cast iron. Only you couldn't cut it so we had to figure out how to lay them out so they would go together and connect from point A to point B. This took over an hour to figure out and even longer to do, as I recall. Fritz went nuts and insisted in a most frantic yet futile manner to drive 15 min to the hardware store and get the right stuff. I stayed calm and did what ever stupid thing I was told (which turned out to be excellent training for the job I have now). Anyways, the pipe route looked something like a distorted letter "S" with a knot in it, used up about 5 feet of short pieces of pipe, and had maybe 5 connectors
or so. The real challenge was screwing them together so that the last piece of pipe would thread properly on both ends at the same time. When it was done it was an impressive piece of work and really only had to pass air and not water, thankfully. One day when if you ever have to demolition that wall you will find another "Dat pipe's not foh venting, dat's pipe's foh MUSEUM!"

Pete

Greg:
It's done! And, boy, is it pretty. Nice clean PVC pipe, smooth bends, nice slopes and transitions. Everything heading DOWNWARD instead of THERE-WARD.

Best part, water flows, no backups, and I can take a shower without standing in 3 inches of water. In fact, I'm enjoying that so much I'm emailing you while I'm still in the shower (just kidding...)

Well, $1400 later we've got all drains draining, all faucets working with no leaks, plenty of access holes to scrape out the scheiz should it get clogged again, an outside faucet that works, and even a little more storage room in the basement. I weighed 95 pounds of cast iron and galvanized pipes that were replaced by about 15 pounds of PVC.

There is one continuing problem, and it has to do with the original problem, the drain over the washer. The pipe over the washer is only a 2" PVC pipe. As it extends down the far wall to the foundation it wyes into a 4" pipe. Given that all he could use to cut out the clog was a 2" cutter, it's highly likely that we have a 2" hole in a 4" clog. To fix it will require extending the 4" pipe out past the false basement wall and installing a 4" tap, then re-rooting the clog. They suggested that we not put too much stuff down the garbage disposal until that's done (and ironically that recent addition may have been the final straw in this whole affair...)

Now, if I can only convince Thea to stop throwing dog hair down the drain(s), this might last for a while. BTW, I've saved not only a section of clogged pipe but also our clog that was pulled out Monday, all for the sake of show-and-tell. Kinda like a brain in the jar in Chemistry class, you know?

Greg