Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hey, Sailor, Is That a Plumber's Snake or Are You Happy to See Me?

I did something today I haven't done in about eight months: I washed a full load of clothes.

No, I haven't turned into some slob -- well, no more so than I ever was. I've had a sewer stoppage that was slowly growing ever more severe. Beginning well before the Christmas holidays, when the water would dump from the washer after each cycle, the drain couldn't accommodate the volume and it would overflow.

One day I noticed the carpet in front of the laundry area was wet. My first thought was that perhaps one of the water hoses attached to the washer had worked its way loose. To pull the washer away from the wall to check behind it, I had to remove the bi-fold closet door. Accomplishing that, I tipped the washer forward until it was lying on its front. The hose connections were tight, but one of the hoses had a bubble in it the size of a golf ball. I hopped in the car, drove to Home Depot and bought new aluminum hoses to the tune of about $20 a piece.

Having saved myself some real heartache from a burst hose, I was no closer to solving the drain issue.

Channeling the slacker in me, I turned the load-size control on the washer from "full" to "half." In other words in the spirit of our government, I kicked the drain-problem can down the road.

All was well for about three months when the overflow problem began again. I knew I would need to crawl under the house and check things out, but I didn't want to do it in winter. Four years ago my air handler stopped working in February and I spent two days under the house getting that operating again. Cold? You bet.

I postponed the inevitable again by turning the load-size control to small. Now I was washing a load of clothes nearly every day, but the water was draining without incident.

Last Thursday, even the "small" load of water was more than the drain could handle. It overflowed again.

I was sure that the stoppage was in the washer drain line; I was equally certain that it ran out of the wall behind the washer down into the crawl space where it continued to somewhere in the front of the house. My plan was to go into the crawl space, cut the drain line about two feet from the wall, run a plumber's snake through it in both directions and knock the blockage free. I would then join the drain back together using a PVC connector with a removable access so I would never need cut the drain line again. Brilliant, no?

Oh yeah, I'm a frickin' genius.

On Friday, I stopped at Lowe's and purchased the 2-inch PVC pipe pieces I needed along with the appropriate cement and cleaner. I donned my crawl-space attire -- designed to keep creepy-crawlies from dropping down the back of my neck or scurrying up my pants leg. I gathered all the tools I thought I might need. Flashlight: check. Reciprocating saw: check. Can of Raid: check.

My crawl space isn't the Taj Mahal of crawl spaces, but it is better than many in which I've been. Its access is in the house. The floor is completely covered in heavy visqueen plastic and there is sufficient room that I only need bend at the waist a little to navigate around. Still, it is a crawl space.

I bundled all the accouterments of my project into the crawl space, shuffled about five steps to the left of the access door, which was enough for me to see around the corner, and to my horror, the drain doesn't run from the wall across the crawl space to the front of the house. It exits the wall, makes a sharp u-turn where it hooks into the cast-iron sewer line which then disappears back into the wall and under the house.

Obviously, I thought, the issue is with the main sewer line between my house and the street. Drat!

This still seemed unlikely because I had never had an issue with any drains other than the washing machine backing up. I filled the washer with water and as I induced its dumping in the drain, I ran my downstairs shower while flushing the downstairs commode. I finally got the drain in the shower to backup. Bingo! It's in the line outside...umm, probably.

After commiserating about it with my buddy Jeff that night at Soby's happy hour, we decided I would call him the next day and he would use his Angie's List membership to help me find an accredited plumber. I had called one I found online that the BBB rated highly, but never received a return call.

Through the Angie's List process, I landed on Roto-Rooter, sending an e-mail requesting a Monday morning appointment. They responded that they would arrive between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

A technician from Roto-Rooter arrived around 9:45. After asking me a couple of questions, he descended into my crawl space. I offered him my haz-mat outfit, but he declined.

He dragged a smaller electric-powered snake down there and set to work. He was confident that the issue was in my washer drain after all. OK. Apparently the drain from the kitchen sink tied into the washing machine drain and the result was a grease clog.

Could it really be that simple, I wondered. Fat chance!

After clearing the grease, he filled the washer to the brim and dumped it into the drain. Although nearly all of the water drained before it began backing up, the shower stall filled with brown water as the washer drain overflowed.

Pulling all of his gear from under the house, he headed outside to try to track down the outside sewer-line access. This house is 60 or 70 years old; do you think there's an outside access? Yeah, no.

Giving up on that, he then moved on to the manhole where my sewer line ties into the main city line. He pulled a much larger snake out of this truck and proceeded to to snake it all the way up to my house. Nada.

We're going to need a bigger truck, he told me. Off he went for what he called the "jet" truck. No clue what that is exactly. Whatever it is, it did the trick. He said he nearly blew the manhole cover into orbit when the clog finally blew free.

The time: 12:45. I had expected this project to cost me about $100 an hour. The total for three hours and two trucks was $375. I'm not happy about the unexpected hit to my household budget -- like I have a household budget -- but it was certainly far less than the $3,000 to $4,000 I was envisioning if I had to replace the sewer line.

I celebrated by doing a full load of wash. Do I know how to party or what?


  1. RotoRooter came to rod out my house after a shower back up and the "master plumber" got his equipment stuck in our floor drain... Two years later and its still there!! They refuse to even camera it to help asses whether or not the $2K - $3K bids I got from other plumbers are necessary...let alone taking responsibility for removing their equipment. Roto Rooter blows as hard as any jet truck

  2. Wow, you had a totally different experience with them than I did. Other than it being a bit more expensive than I thought it should be, they did a good job.