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Winter Plumbing issues?
Old 02-07-2009, 11:31 PM   #1
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Winter Plumbing issues?

We've got some plumbing issues at my parent's house.

I don't know anything about plumbing or terminology so I may be using the wrong wording.

In our basement we have our washer/dryer and next to it is a basin/sink that the washer drains into. Also there's water lines for hot/cold water. Recently its been getting backed up and waters comes UP through the bottom drain and fills up.

This happens when we use the toilet in the house and also the showers. The water fills up in the sink and very slowly will start to drain away. But when you flush the toilet about 1 gallon of water will came up from the sink drain. My dad is thinking one of the drain pipes is frozen (since it was cold lately 25-30 degrees), and that it won't drain causing the backup.

Does that sound right? Like a symptom? If it's frozen would there be a little draining or should it be completed stopped up from a frozen pipe? Is that the drain pipe?

We have this giant pipe that looks like it leads from the roof to the ground. There's exposed pipe to the ground at our basement door. It's about a 4inch pipe (pvc i guess?). My dad said that's the drain pipe thats clogged since its "outside" sorta covered behind a little brick wall. There seemed to be a little bit of water frozen next to it.

So we tried to "thaw" it out thinking itwas frozen. We put a oil filled radiator next to the pipe for about a few hours and made a "tent" to trap the heat. We used that and checked it often to make sure it doesnt burn. Today it just turned 50 degrees and should be for next few days. So hopefully, if it frozen it will thaw out.

Does that sound reasonable for a drain pipe to freeze? Is there always water in a drain pipe that it can even freeze? Or only when water is being drained. Could it just be a clogged pipe somewhere?

We've been really limited in our showering, using toilet... we need someone to scoop out the water with a bucket and throw it out through a sewer drain outside.

Any ideas? I guess we'll get a pro once we give the let the weather thaw it out for a day or two.
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Old 02-07-2009, 11:43 PM   #2
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Haven't seen a main drain line freeze before, would think it very unlikely, but we're not in an extreme area. Sounds to me like the main line has a low spot and sludge build up, or if old or broken root infiltration or someone flushed something that has hung up. Bottom line - time for Mr. Rooter man. If you or oldpa feel frisky you should find a clean out plug on or within about 5' of that 4" vent. Run a garden hose as far in as possible toward the main sewer, not the house, blasting water as you go. Maybe begin with a water weenie, which swells to plug the line, then pumps water to push plugs downstream. Water weenie won't do any lasting good if the problem is roots or sludge, but may buy some time....
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Old 02-08-2009, 12:04 AM   #3
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Heres a picture i found on the internet. It's basically like my house. I think the "soil stack" is the main line that does up and down my house. At our basement level, there is 1 floor's height of pipe that is exposed to the outside (dad's theory on the frozen).

When we flush/use water upstairs, that basin in the basement next to the washer/dryer has water coming up the drain.

So my new theory I think you're saying the same thing, is some blockage "outside the house" in that picture. That has clogged up. Then the backed up water goes up to the next lowest point it can escape to which is the basin.

So the pipes that "leave" the house are clogged. Those have to be some really really big pipes right? How can they get clogged?

We also have a "sewer drain" outside our house/driveway that gets all rain water from the outside. I assume they are connected somehow. Could that have gotten stuck and clogged?

Also, in front of our house next to the sidewalk near the street, we have a "sewer gate" that all the streets excess water flows into (along with tennis balls, trash, people's litter, leaves, junk etc.) Are those things connected possibly related to our clogged system? It has snowed lately and lots of slowly melting snow.
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Old 02-08-2009, 05:02 AM   #4
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Your vent line "at the top of the stack" may be plugged up (Bird nest, etc.,) or it could be plugged "down slope" from the clean-out. You may need to snake it from the clean out "down line" or from the top of the stack. I suggest if you do the one from the top to get a plumber to do it. Also, I doubt this is the main problem, but the "P" traps under the sinks could be clogged with hair, or other debris, and causing a suction like stoppage. It may be a good idea to take them off and check. Generally, plugged P traps will only cause slow draining and not back ups as you describe.

Generally Storm Sewers ARE NOT connected to the Sanitary Sewer lines (in the USA), so the messy Storm Drains are probably not the problem. You could call the Country and tell them about the junk in the storm drain, but it is not going to help you IMO, and they already know about the trash that gets in those things.
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Old 02-08-2009, 07:00 AM   #5
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I'd be looking at the horizontal section 'outside the house'. I doubt it's frozen, assuming it's underground and the temp hasn't been lower than 20.

Where we live -40 is common and -50 happens, never heard of buried drain pipe freezing. Our last house was built in the 20's and that section was 'clay' pipe. It clogged with tree roots on a regular basis. The symptoms were as you described. Try the 'roto router' route.
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Old 02-08-2009, 07:29 AM   #6
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I concur. Call the plumber, sounds like the drain to the outside is restricted. We had a similar issue with the previous house. It's probably not a big deal.
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Old 02-08-2009, 08:30 AM   #7
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I think the diagnosis you received in the posts above is right on.
I would also suggest a visit to your local equipment rental place. Describe what you are attempting to do and you may find they not only have the right tool, but some good advice as well.
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Old 02-08-2009, 11:08 AM   #8
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Here's video of a water weenie (Drain King) in action. Two caveats: the closer you can get the tool to the plug the better it works. The better the seal when it swells the better it works. Three caveats: the closer the tool, the better the seal, and DON'T use it as shown in a toilet (can blow out the wax ring).
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Old 02-08-2009, 11:45 AM   #9
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Thanks for all the help.

2 days of minimal water usage in our house was definitely not fun.

After some contemplation about renting some tools and opening the cleanout near our main stack, we called roto rooter. The guy came and said this is normal. Looked outside on the sidewalk on some drain pipes and said the water level is higher than it should be. It's either clogged going into the house or going into the city pipes. It's normal and since we havent had it cleaned in 30 years it just happens.

He said this type of work costs $300 he can do it for 275. My mom did her magic and said oh wow thats alot of money I was thinking $100- $125. He said this is the price... and lowered down to 200. My mom kept going and eventually got it down to $175.

Took him about 20-30mins with this giant industrial thing and he got the pipes unclogged. I think it's well worth it. If we had rented a machine we wouldnt know how to use it... we would have tried to enter the system at the main stack at the cleanout... and gotten a crazy splash of not so nice water.

...now its time to take a really thorough shower since everything prior was super fast minimal ones.

Thanks for everyones help and input.
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Old 02-08-2009, 11:52 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by calmloki View Post
Here's video of a water weenie (Drain King) in action. Two caveats: the closer you can get the tool to the plug the better it works. The better the seal when it swells the better it works. Three caveats: the closer the tool, the better the seal, and DON'T use it as shown in a toilet (can blow out the wax ring).
Whoa, that thing looks really cool. I think this problem might have been a little more "industrial", but i'd definitely try that on some smaller issues. Bc i don't want to "push" water and end up having it go into the house, since it was already doing that. On other "smaller" clogs, I'll definitely give that thing a try.

But the location and are you suggested was exactly where he went. I guess we weren't gutsy enough to try it on our own. The industrial auger thing he was using must have been over 100 ft, so I guess he cleaned up the pipes so we should be good for a long time. If it ever happens again, since i now watched him do it, I might feel brave enough to give it a shot by renting a machine if the cost is low enough vs getting roto rooter again.
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Old 02-08-2009, 11:55 AM   #11
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Took him about 20-30mins with this giant industrial thing and he got the pipes unclogged. I think it's well worth it. If we had rented a machine we wouldnt know how to use it... we would have tried to enter the system at the main stack at the cleanout... and gotten a crazy splash of not so nice water.

...now its time to take a really thorough shower since everything prior was super fast minimal ones.
Glad to hear that nightmare is behind you!!

Enjoy your shower, and um, be sure to wash behind your ears
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Old 02-08-2009, 01:31 PM   #12
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Glad it is fixed and that you got away pretty cheap (no digging and replacing pipes).

A suggestion: Get a water alarm and put it in that basin where the water was rising. This way, if it clogs again, you will be warned and can turn off the water before it overflows that basin. At that point you would have sewage in the basement - yuck!

Next time, it may happen before you notice the water in the basin - that alarm will let you know. AFAIC, every house should be built with a 50 gallon overflow and a water alarm like this. That would give people time to react and would contain the mess (up to 50 gallons at least). I plan to do this myself, when I get into to make one small plumbing change that has been on my list ( re-route the drain for my water softener).

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Old 02-08-2009, 05:31 PM   #13
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The guy came and said this is normal. Looked outside on the sidewalk on some drain pipes and said the water level is higher than it should be. It's either clogged going into the house or going into the city pipes. It's normal and since we havent had it cleaned in 30 years it just happens.
What a relief. Frozen sewage can be a painful experience, especially if it cracks piping joints.

One caveat-- if he was cutting out tree roots, they may eventually grow back within a few years. It's worth taking a hard look at any trees on your lot between the sewage drain and the street. Either that or add a line in your budget to have the guy pay a return visit every 3-5 years.
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Old 02-08-2009, 06:15 PM   #14
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The next time you have the clean out done ask to have the camera sent down the drain and it will show the obstruction (tree roots, or whatever) and they should be able to tell if the pipe material is need of replacement (what they used to call "Orange Pipe" was nothing but a paper product that usually goes in about 20 to 30 years). Of course if it is tree roots the pipe, no matter what it is, probably should be replaced.
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Old 02-08-2009, 07:43 PM   #15
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I'm glad it worked out. Renting a "real" plumbing snake is probably $50 for 4 hours, and the job is not fun. The guys who rented it to you would have told you to use the outside cleanout as the access point, but it's easy to get hurt with this equipment if you aren't very careful to minimize the distance that the snake is "free" between the machine and the pipe. It can easily kink up and grab your hand/arm in the process if you aren't careful.

There are chemicals you can put down the drain that are supposed to delay the re-growth of tree roots. I doubt they are very effective, but it might be worth checking into (they sell the stuff at Lowes, etc). Either way, you'll be seeing that guy and the snake again.

ERD50's idea of installing a water alarm is a good one. Maybe remember to change the batteries for it (if applicable) when you change your smoke detector batteries.

I do wonder why they used those 2' clay drainpipe sections for all those years. Every seam is an invitation to tree roots--longer concrete pipe with real mechanical connections sure would have saved a lot of trouble later at only slightly increased cost. The PVC pipe we've been using for the last couple of decades should prove to be much more durable than the old stuff.
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Old 02-08-2009, 07:57 PM   #16
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Of course if it is tree roots the pipe, no matter what it is, probably should be replaced.
Do the math, $200 every couple of years or $X now. I suspect X may be a large number. It's a simple calculation.

In my case, the city was responsible (blockage was outside of our property line) so all we had to do was call them.

One time they were there (I was watching) the head guy got a cellphone call. They immediately dropped tools, said to me 'be back soon, got a break before the meter'. Here, the input line goes to the meter and then the household shutoff. They had to turn the water of at the street before the poor guy's basement flooded. They were back in about 2 hours. I certainly wouldn't have coughed up even $1K to replace pipes.
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Old 02-08-2009, 08:51 PM   #17
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There are some reports that running a copper wire down the drain can stop roots, if that's the problem. I know they use copper sulfate to kill roots (Root-X is a foaming version of that to get more complete coverage). Supposedly the copper wire breaks down and provides 24-7 dosing.

Whether it *really* is effective or not, I couldn't tell from a little googling.

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Old 02-08-2009, 09:53 PM   #18
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We had a place that had root issues - used the rooter man to cut them out, then did Root-X - my plumber buddies claimed that the time to Root-X was right after cutting (nice raw root=good uptake), and in the fall when they claimed root growth was at it's most vigorous. It was a rental - $10 every fall seemed cost effective to me. OTOH, think i did have the rooter man out several times over the years, so it maybe cost $30/year vs. maybe $900 to replace. I see that back in 2000 they snaked the main for $125.
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:16 AM   #19
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My main septic line just froze. I tried the plumber, but they couldn't get the power snake thru the blockage. That cost me $400.

So, I had to dig up the septic holding tank and rent a power water jet and send it up the pipe. It froze back in 2004/5 too, so I think there must be a flat spot or something in the line.

Most of my non sewage water goes out the grey water system, which is part of the problem in winter. No hot water or anything goes down the septic line. Will have to have a plumber plumb in a valve or something that I can route shower water down the septic in the winter.

I will have to have them send a camera down this summer, as the line goes under my paved driveway. Could be real expensive if it needs work...
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Old 02-09-2009, 10:49 AM   #20
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I know a lot of people who have had their septic lines freeze, but none who are connected to city sewer. Some out in the country burn fires over their line when other people's lines start freezing up, but that may be a rural myth as to effectiveness, given our frost depth is 48 inches.
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