Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The plumbing adventure begins

A simple problem: our kitchen sink drains too slowly. We tried plunging, which never did much. We tried an enzyme-based drain cleaner, which didn’t help. And as of today, slowly means in terms of geologic eras, and the dishwasher drain is on a sympathy strike. Which makes sense since they both go into the same drain pipe, though I can get the sink to drain a bit and I can’t get the dishwasher to drain at all. Everything else in the house seems to be draining fine, so it shouldn’t be the sewer line. Snake-It-Away will show up tomorrow morning at 7:30 and fix the problem for $135. Hopefully with a mechanical solution, rather than by pouring $135 of caustic chemicals down the drain.

We have a lot of these simple plumbing problems. A broken outdoor pipe to an outside faucet (needs a new pipe run indoors to a new location out back, since this location is too exposed for a pipe). A leaking gate valve shutoff to a different outside faucet (needs a better ball valve shutoff). Two leaking house gate valve shutoffs in series (needs a better ball valve shutoff, which means coordinating with the city to shut off water from the street for half a day). More complicated: a leaking cast iron drain junction (needs to be carefully patched with PVC without damaging the rest of the main stack, and which means disconnecting and moving a godawful heavy washing machine and then reconnecting it afterwards). And if we had a plumber who could tackle all of these things, we could talk about running a line for our refrigerator, or adding a little sink to our quarter bath, or someday redoing our kitchen or main bathroom. And fixing some of the odd gas piping in the house.

But we’ll start with this one, since I like having a dishwasher and kitchen sink.

Update 8/29/2012: Snake-It-Away showed up at 7:40, charged $125, used a powered snake, and pointed out that the sink trap is too low to be removable and the drain pipe in the basement has no cleanout port. They were able to take apart the drain pipe in the basement where it first goes to horizontal, and run the snake through to the main stack. And now the drain works properly for both the sink and the dishwasher. Their advice for the future is that every 6 months we should stopper the sink, fill the sink up with warm water, and then let the whole sink of water drain at once to help flush the drain pipe.

If we have a drain problem with the Bosch dishwasher in the future that isn’t affecting the sink, here are a couple of useful references:


Update 2/16/2013

Main water shut-off: The city put in a new water shutoff before the meter when they changed our water meter, so we can use that. The worn-out water shutoff is still in place and doesn’t work very well, but it’s harmless if we don’t use it. We now have a new ball valve (lever) shutoff where the incoming water goes horizontal at the basement ceiling, which works great.

The leaking gate valve shutoff to the driveway faucet has been replaced by a nice new ball valve (lever) shutoff.

The drain for the washing machine now goes into the drain pipe between the utility sink drains. The previous drain standpipe has been capped so it can’t leak sewer gases. The cracked cast iron drain junction near the main stack has been patched with a marine epoxy and then wrapped with a clear plastic seal, and should only have water in it if the main drain line for the house backs up.

Which it now has.

The first call was to the city water department at 781-393-2403, and they came out about 30 minutes later to check the sewer line in the street. Everything is running correctly there, so we’re waiting for Snake-It-Away to return to clean out the main drain line in the house between the stack and the street. The sewer line is backed up into the utility sinks (though far more into the closer of those sinks than the other), and apparently forced some water out the base of the downstairs toilet? I’m not sure how that happened.

We thought it was just a clogged drain pipe between the utility sinks and the main stack, and I bought a snake at Home Depot yesterday to try tackling that today. I’m glad we discovered that it’s a bigger problem than that before opening up the trap cleanout below the utility sinks.

Snake-It-Away thought they solved the problem by snaking the main drain from the cleanout to the house trap, but that didn’t work for the basement utility sinks and washing machine drain. That required opening the trap cleanout, opening the vent cleanout, snaking in all directions, and then finally using a compressed air charge down each of the sink drains with all other connected openings plugged with rags or plungers in order to get things working. We’ll see if that does it.

The snake down the main drain went about 20 feet towards the street before hitting what the plumber thinks is a house trap, which was apparently common in older houses as a way to stop sewer gases from coming up the main drain into the house. He recommends digging out that house trap and replacing it with straight drain pipe, but I’m not convinced that’s feasible or wise. My uninformed guess is that it is possible to snake through a house trap if necessary, since so many houses have house traps.

Trenchless drain replacement is now an option, where a company uses the old drain line to pull a new drain line. There’s a couple of options depending on how much you want to break apart or blow up the old drain line as you go, but it’s a way to solve a tree root problem or a collapsed drain line problem. Not sure what happens when a trenchless operation hits a main house trap.

On our “to do” list: Replace the driveway sillcock with a frost-proof one. Replace the burst pipe section under the back deck. Possibly find a new location for a back yard sillcock, perhaps on the park side. Run a water line to the refrigerator. Find out what would be involved in replacing the main stack (and how we know it’s necessary), replacing the main drain (and how we know it’s necessary), redoing all lead-soldered connections, moving items around the kitchen, adding a sink to the first floor bathroom, and moving items around the second floor bathroom.


irilyth said...

> Snake-It-Away will show up tomorrow morning at 7:30 and fix the problem for $135. Hopefully with a mechanical solution

Given the name, presumably a SNAKE based solution!

If your next post includes quotes from Samuel L Jackson, we will be alarmed.

Kurt Verdejo said...

Wow, you have quite a number of issues there! Although these problems are simple, yet they can cause a lot of trouble (and money) in the future, so you would have to address them some time later. But, having a plumbing repair can cost thousands of dollars depending on how much work required, so careful planning is required. Hmm, have you talked to Snake-It-Away regarding these issues?

Michael said...

Snake-It-Away was great about the clearing the drain pipe. For the rest of it, we still need to find a plumber we can trust.

Darryl Iorio said...

Your sink has been going through a lot. Is it that old? If not, then maybe you need to be more attentive to it by providing regular maintenance. Sometimes, it’s not all about the pipes and inner components. Maybe you should add a strainer so you can prevent clogging. ;)

Michael said...

I'd like to believe that our sink drain is not connected to our outside pipes, our main water shut-off, or the other plumbing problems. But if you're right that it is, a new strainer isn't going to do the trick!