Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Rowyn and the Basement of Doom: The Plumbing Strikes Back

I was going to spare you the details, but John tells me I should write it up. For posterity or something.

I left off on Monday on the note that (a) there is sewage in my basement and (b) a septic tank company would be pumping the tank Tuesday.

The septic tank company had said that no one needed to be home for it, but Lut wasn't feeling well so he happened to stay home anyway. When they showed up around noon, he went out to check on their progress.

There are two opening to my septic tank, both covered by largish concrete blocks. Because the concrete blocks are heavy, when I went to check the tank Sunday I lifted only the lighter one that's farther from the house.

The pumping company opened both.

The one closer to the house was almost completely choked by tree roots.

"I'd say this is your problem," one of the men told Lut. They hacked away at the roots with shovels for a bit, pumped the tank, and told Lut they'd call me back.

By the time I got home, they still hadn't called. So I phoned them up. "Oh yes," the man who answered told me. "You've got tree roots blocking the main line and growing into the tank. We can help you with the tank, though we'll need to take the top off and that could be tricky, you've got a homemade tank. But first, you need to have someone roto-rooter the main line and clear it out. We can't do that."

"Okay ... do you have anyone you'd recommend? Or where I'm supposed to look in the phone book? My plumber doesn't do drains so I don't know who does."

"Well ... I hate to recommend anyone. I don't want to suggest any of the big names because I know they're really pricey. And it seems like any time I do suggest someone, either they don't show up, or they don't do a good job, or they're too expensive, you know? But ... I guess Snake 'n Rooter is the one I've had the best luck with."

I thanked him and phoned Snake 'n Rooter.

The receptionist took my information now. "All right, we'll put you on the service list."

"How much do you charge? And when will they be there?"

"$30 per quarter-hour, minimum of one hour charge, no additional charge for nights or weekends. We'll put you on the list and someone will be out tonight. We'll call you when they're on the way."

"Tonight" sounded promising. I thanked her, and went about my evening waiting for the call. Lut went to class at 6PM.

Lut came back from class at 9:00PM. "Still no plumber?"

"No plumber."

At 9:15, I got a call. "We can have have someone on the way now. Is that all right?"

"Sure! How long will it be?"

"Oh, about twenty minutes, maybe."

At 10:00, I got another call. "Where are you exactly?" I gave directions. "Oh, good, I'm close now. I'll be there in five minutes."

10:05, Don showed up at my doorstep. I let him in, and showed him the septic tank. "I can't do anything about that," he said, "I don't have the equipment for it on me, and the office didn't tell me anything about this."

"Well, the septic tank company said the line needed to be roto-rootered, can you do that?"


We went back inside and Don looked around my basement for the main access to the out line. He found a rather unpromising-looking valve in the basement. "I guess this is it," he said. "Are you sure you're still having the same problem?"

"Well, we haven't really tried using anything since then. I guess I could try flushing a toilet." We were in the basement already, so with a certain amount of trepidation, I flushed the downstairs toilet.

Nothing much seemed to happen. We went upstairs to see if anything happened there.

I peeked into the upstairs bathroom. Raw sewage was fountaining out of the toilet and the shower drain.

I ran around looking for a mop. Lut grabbed a towel and started sopping at the floor. The plumber retreated to the basement to drill at the line he'd found earlier. The only mop I could find was the ancient decaying one. While I searched for a mop in the basement, Don was working on the line underneath one of the basement lights.

"Water is leaking into your light fixture," Don commented to me.

"What?" I looked at the light. It had a glass cover, fastened flush with the ceiling. Yellow water was slowly filling it. I watched with a kind of morbid fascination, then turned it off. This left Don in total darkness. I turned it back on, found another light, turned that on, and then turned the flooding one off again.

After this, I resumed my futile search for a mop, and finally returned to Lut with the bedraggled one and a plastic tub to wring it and the towel into. He suggested I find some kind of scoop. "Like what? A dustpan?"

"It'd be better than the towel."

So I brought the dustpan, which was some improvement.

We'd gotten the mess mostly cleaned up, apart from the mess at the bottom of shower stall, when the plumber returned. "Well, I pulled a bunch of stuff out of that line -- mud and tree roots and junk," he said, puzzled. "You're not done cleaning here yet, right? I'm going to try flushing the toilet again."

He flushed the downstairs toilet.

Gallons of raw sewage fountained out of the upstairs toilet again. Don came back upstairs while we started cleaning it up a second time. "How can this be happening?" I asked plaintively.

A third wave of sewage fountained from the toilet. "Did you do anything ELSE?"

"No!" Don ran back downstairs. When he came back up, he said the toilet downstairs continued to run after being flushed, but he'd lifted the ball to stop it. "Lemme call the senior technician."

While he spoke to the senior technician, Lut had the inspired notion to fetch the shop vac upstairs. Shop vac to the rescue! This worked much, much, much better than any of the other things we'd tried. Every home needs a shop vac.

Don related the conversation he had with the senior tech thus: "I told him that when we flushed the downstairs toilet the upstairs bathroom flooded. He asked me if I'd been drinking. I don't know what else to do for you folks. I'm sorry. We'll put you on the service list for the senior tech in the morning. You'll get top priority since you don't have working plumbing at all."

Apologetically, he billed us for the time and left. Lut and I finished what we could of cleaning up the bathroom, and hauled about 30 gallons of sewage water out through the cold to dump directly into the septic tank. Then we washed our hands and feet using bowls in the kitchen.

Throughout the evening, one of my recurring thoughts was of an entry koogrr had written, describing his experiences at a wastewater treatment plant that flooded. His first post was simply his "wet cat" image and a caption: "Must .... wash. Can't ... lick ... self."

That's what I kept thinking. "Can't ... lick."*

Lut volunteered to stay home the next day and wait for the senior technician.

About noon, the senior tech arrived. Lut explained what had happened with the downstairs toilet and upstairs bathroom. "That's impossible."

The senior tech then spent 15 minutes trying to figure out what it was that Don had done. He eventually determined that the line Don had attempted to clean was not in use any more and didn't go anywhere. He then dismounted the upstairs toilet, ran the roto-rooter through that line, and cleared the blockage, which was about eight feet in. We still don't know what it was. He made sure the line was working the rest of the way to the septic tank, then packed up and left after about an hour and a half. He charged us for a half-hour in addition to what we'd already been charged -- basically, refunding us the hour that Don spent working on an inactive line. He also didn't bill for the fifteen minutes spent figuring out what had happened last night.

The downstairs-floods-the-upstairs problem happened because the downstairs bathroom drains all go into a pump, which then pumps the water up to the level of the main line and the septic tank. With the main line blocked, the pump shot the water all the way up to the drains on the first floor instead.

When I got home, Lut and I went to deal with the flooded light fixture. It was full, and both of us anticipated that one we removed it, more wastewater was going to leak down from it. So we put a big tub underneath it, and unscrewed the bolts holding it in place. Lut lowered it from the ceiling.

A few drops dripped down from the lightbulbs.

Nothing else happened.

"That was anti-climactic. Not that I'm complaining."

I took the fixture upstairs to dump the water in the toilet and clean it out. Lut cleaned off the light downstairs, and tested it. It still works. Nothing else was dripping through it.

So it looks like my concern that there was a lot more waste water lying in the basement ceiling is unfounded, since there's no reason it wouldn't come out through the same hole the rest of it did at that point.

At least that's something.

My plumbing works again, although whenever we flush the toilet or use the kitchen sink or run the washing machine, we can still hear the sound of water draining from the shower. This didn't used to be the case and vaguely worries me. On the other hand, it IS the sound of water DRAINING, as opposed to gurgling and not draining which was the original symptom. Maybe it's just echoey because the septic tank hasn't filled back up to normal level yet.

My basement smells the way you'd expect it to smell after being flooded with unprocessed waste. It's pretty gross. Lut and I figure to let the carpet dry so it'll be easier to move, and then cut it up and toss it. I'm not sure what else will need to be pitched. Most everything that wasn't metal or plastic down there isn't in contact with the floor any more anyway, and it wasn't a high-water flood.

Haven't decided if I'm going to get any flooring to replace the carpet. Bare concrete is looking attractive right now.

Water-resistant, y'know.

* "Can't ... lick ... self" has a better ring to it, but I couldn't remember the exact phrasing at the time.

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