Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Can't Lye, The Snake Was Pretty Cool

We couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather over the weekend.  It was unseasonably warm, with clear blue skies and lots of sun.  We weren't sure what we wanted to do to make the most of it.  The possibilities were endless; the beach, the park, a picnic, a day trip.  Snake handling wasn't on the list, but we'll get to that soon.

My daughter had just come downstairs after taking a shower and we were in the kitchen talking about what to do with the day when we heard a gurgling sound.  We listened for a moment and determined it was coming from the half bath.  The water in the toilet bowl was bubbling and churning.  I flushed to see if that would stop it, but it didn't.  The water continued to bubble and it wouldn't drain.

I called to Mr. W for help.  We knew the toilet itself wasn't clogged, but we thought there might be something blocking the drain further down the pipe.  The trouble started after the shower had been used, so maybe something had gotten into the shower drain.  We thought that by plunging the toilet, we could clear the clog.

In the backyard, just past the end of the porch, there is a pipe sticking out of the ground that vents all of the drains, so I went to check it out.  As I got closer to it, I could hear splashing.  To my horror, raw sewage was spewing out of it.  I ran back into the house and told Mr. W to stop plunging.

Initially, we decided to take the wait and see approach.  We waited for the "water" level in the pipe to go down. It took a few hours, but it eventually emptied enough that we could pour some professional strength drain cleaner into it.  This stuff was supposed to be strong enough to dissolve everything but the pipe itself.  We had high hopes, but, when our son turned on the shower to get ready for work, the pipe again overflowed.

Our next thought was to snake the pipe with a 25 foot hand held drain snake.  We managed to get the entire length of it through the drain without hitting an obstruction.  Not sure what else to try, we dumped some more drain cleaner into the pipe and waited.

By Sunday, we were getting pretty discouraged that the drain cleaner was not clearing the pipe.  We thought of calling a plumber, but we knew that would be outrageously expensive on a weekend, and being the DIYers that we are, we wanted to fix it ourselves.  Again, we snaked the drain, then we added some foaming root killer in case tree roots were the cause of the clog.

When Monday rolled around and we were still in the same predicament, we decided to try one last chemical treatment.  According to a number of online sources, lye was the chemical of choice.  I had serious reservations about using it after reading about the potential for explosion.  Still, we were desperate, so we carefully added lye to the offending drain.  There was no explosion, but also no progress.  It was time to call in the big guns.

Mr. W rented an electric drain snake.  It had a 100 foot cable and came with an assortment of blades for cutting through roots and debris in drain lines.  It took both of us to operate the machine, one to feed the cable into the pipe and the other to advance it, but we got the drain flowing freely.  We were kicking ourselves for not doing it Saturday afternoon instead of adding all of the useless chemical drain cleaners.

Although we can't say for sure, we're fairly certain it was a root blocking the drain.  There are a lot of mature trees around here and it's pretty common in old drain lines.  Should you ever encounter a similar problem, I highly recommend renting the electric snake.  It cost a small fraction of what a plumber would have charged and was pretty easy to use.

You never realize how much you take your plumbing for granted until it's not working, you know?


*All photos courtesy of Google Images


lisleman said...

I've used a hand operated one before but not anything that size. You didn't mention if you are on a public sewer system or a septic system.
I posted more than a year ago about a Christmas Day plumbing disaster.

Holly Lefevre said...

Sadly this is the story of our life here...we are even responsible for the pipes on city property and we have oak trees everywhere and, well, we just had one of our pipes replaced - raw sewage in the bathtub 3 times was enough for me (Once was enough but hubby is cheap!). I was reliving every moment in this post.

Jenn said...

Oy vey, what an ordeal! Sad to say I can totally relate. Our house is more than 100 years old and so are some of the pipes, I fear. Wish our plumber offered a frequent flusher discount! Hmmm...I may have to look in to an electrical snake.

Hope you're able to take advantage of the next nice weather day that rolls around.


Cynthia@RunningWithLetters said...

I have had a number of snake run-ins myself, although none quite as epic as yours. I am sorry you had to spend your beautiful weekend like this, but glad things are flowing better now ;)

Jenny said...

An electric drain snake!?! How cool is that? It almost, but not quite, makes me wish we had a sewage system again instead of city services! Cute story.