Desperately need advise. Am I on a cesspool or sewer?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by j4bs4209333, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. j4bs4209333

    j4bs4209333 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    I need serious help. My main drain is backing up into my cellar after the back pressure blew off the 100 year old plug. I'm sorry if this is a long story but I need to figure out if I am connected to a sewer or a hidden cesspool. My house was originally built as part of an estate that had 3 houses and a store on one lot. The main house was built in 1846 and mine in 1912. The city sewer system was first started in 1869. When building the houses the owner had connected all the drains together from all 3 houses and the store. As I've been told the owners of the other 2 houses had major problems throughout the years and finally abandoned their connections to this line 5 years ago. The problems I am having are exactly what they went through before getting off the line. The main drain has been fine for 3 years now it's backed up bad. If I use the water it will not backup in the house, just fills the main drain and drains very slowly. I had a plumber snake the drain and he found no obstructions. If I wait a few hours it drains and the line is empty again. The other 2 houses had the same issue, it would act up for a month then it would be perfectly fine for a year or 2. No explanation as to why it would be good for a year or 2, no snaking nothing. I was told it will continue to do this to me on and off. I was told by the neighbor that the system dumps into the main sewer system somewhere 1/4 mile away but I think he is wrong. I am convinced there is a cesspool under the neighbor's (main house built in 1846) paved driveway. He recently paved his driveway over and it's sinking. It sank so bad you can actually see the outline of a manhole cover in the asphalt. He says it's a cleanout access I think it's a cesspool cover. I called the city and the guy told me he remembers all the issues with the neighbors and told me they were never able to determine where the system dumps out. They never found anywhere it was tied in to the sewer but assumed it was. I believe it's a cesspool because generally when a system is plugged it's plugged and will continue to get worse until it's completely blocked. I am thinking the only way it can be fine for a year or 2 then plug up for a month then be fine again for a year or 2 is because it's a cesspool and it's draining slowly into the leeching field. I need help here. I do not know what to do. I literally had to cut the drain for my shower and pipe it out the cellar window into the yard so it won't back up on me. The neighbor isn't going to allow me to tear up his driveway to open the manhole cover without a court order so I'm stuck. Does anyone know how I can find out for certain whether or not it is a cesspool or not? I figure if I can prove it is a cesspool I will be able to get access to it to have it pumped. There are no records on file with the city and the deeds do not show anything and do not have any easements. Any suggestions are welcome and greatly appreciated, even if you tell me I'm crazy to think it's a cesspool. Thanks
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  2. kreemoweet

    kreemoweet New Member

    Messages:
    371
    Location:
    Seattle. WA
    Have a plumber send a camera down the line to see what can be seen. Seems to me you need legal advice more than plumbing advice.
  3. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    The age complicates the question. Since the lines under your property are yours, the city would not have a recorded easement. The best suggestion is probably the camera. Cameras have locator radio beacons, so it would be a fairly simple matter to find out where the line goes to. Finding the cleanout could be tougher! 60 years ago, when my dad first needed to clean out the septic, he eventually found that he had built a porch out over the cleanout. Fortunately, it was only about a foot under the foundation of the porch, and they were able to get to it.
  4. wjcandee

    wjcandee Wise One

    Messages:
    1,818
    Location:
    New York, NY
    An alternative to the camera is a thing my drain guy used. He fed his snake down the drain a certain number of feet, attached a low-voltage electric thingy to the snake, then used a thing like one of those treasure finders to mark out exactly where the the length of the snake was going, with all the twists and turns. You might end up with a nice green line sprayed in the dirt from your house to the middle of your neighbor's driveway where the manhole cover is. I would think that photos or a video of the painted line would make compelling evidence if you ever had to go before a judge. However, I wouldn't spray anything on your neighbor's property. Maybe just a length of orange twine on the ground to show the path. Depends upon how much of a difficult person your neighbor is.
  5. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,486
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; However, I wouldn't spray anything on your neighbor's property

    The spray the "professional" locators use fades away after a few weeks, which is why it has to be "renewed" every two weeks if the project is time consuming and the location has to be "saved".
  6. j4bs4209333

    j4bs4209333 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Thanks for your advise everyone. I called a plumber with a drain camera and have a tentative appointment (snow depending) scheduled for tomorrow. Yesterday I went to inspectional services and looked at the building permits on record for my house and as I expected nothing there. Then I went to the water and sewer dept in person and spoke with someone explaining the issue. He brought the maps out from 1884 (before my street existed) and showed me what he has and there is nothing showing where the neighbor's system enters the sewer. He told me it was almost impossible for a plumber to snake out 100' plus and find nothing. He said that he didn't know where it tied into the sewer and also suggested a drain camera to find out. I asked if it was possible that there is a cesspool not a sewer and he said it very well might be the case (which would be ridiculous because my house and the other 2 houses have been paying sewer charges all along). This whole mess started about 2 weeks ago and it's been ok since I put my shower drain out the window, but someone used shower #2 today and now the toilet is bubbling away again. I'm going to have to dump that one out the window too. If I just use the toilets and sinks on the drain line it's ok, add a shower and it's all done. I am really actually hoping it is a cesspool because it seems like draining it would be the cheapest way out, however the neighbor covered the manhole in layers of asphalt so either way it's going to be a problem.

    I asked the other neighbor about the possibility of it being a cesspool. He laughed and I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm nuts (or just a stupid girl). I do not know very much about plumbing or how drains or sewers work, but I'm just thinking that if a pipe has an obstruction that little by little the obstruction would eventually become a total blockage (flushing solids etc). The neighbor told me for years they would have issues for a couple weeks, then be ok for a year or so and it would repeat that cycle. Logical reasoning (in my head at least) makes me think cesspool because how else would it magically be fine again without fixing the clog? I have no idea how a cesspool works, but I figure it's hole in the ground that fills and eventually seeps out through the soil. I am thinking when the neighbor's entire property was covered in asphalt (literally not a single blade of grass or dirt) it made the ground unable to breathe and therefore unable to disperse the liquids as it should. I'm thinking his sinking manhole cover area is really a failing cesspool waiting to collapse. This is driving me crazy trying to figure it out. I don't have the $$ to dig it up and tie into the other system like the 2 neighbors did, and even if I did I refuse to just suck it up rather than find out the problem. I need opinions from anyone familiar with a cesspool system. Am I crazy thinking it's a cesspool? Thanks again.
  7. MACPLUMB 777

    MACPLUMB 777 TROJAN WORLDWIDE SALES RP

    Messages:
    679
    Location:
    Houston, Texas, United States
    First of all you are on a septic tank with leech lines running out from it and it doe's not matter if the ground is covered in asphalt,
    the reason you have the problem is because of in a heavy RAIN" overloads the water table and the leach field can not
    drain out properly,
    i did a job at a restaurant years ago that was paying sewer fees but we found out it was on a septic tank !
    and after that i did work at a meat plant where the men's restroom and shower was still on a septic tank built under the floor when the other end of the plant was tied into the city sewer years before they missed this connection,
    so it can happen !
  8. j4bs4209333

    j4bs4209333 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    What a headache this has become. I had a plumber with a camera out here. He got 3 feet into the drain line and it was completely submerged so he couldn't go any further. I literally do not know what to do at this point and no one has a suggestion for me. Spending thousands of dollars I do not have is not a reasonable solution as far as I'm concerned. I just want to fix the problem and no one can tell me what the problem is. This is frustrating.
  9. CanOfWorms

    CanOfWorms Member

    Messages:
    174
    Location:
    New Jersey
    I find it hard to believe that the town doesn't know. Do you get a sewer bill? Did you buy it through a realtor? The realtor would definately know.
    Did you have a home inspection? If you took a mortgage on the property it would be on the appraisal.
    It would be cheaper to make a few phone calls and dig up old paperwork than to send a camera down the line.

    If its a cesspool you are in trouble. A cesspool is a large pit in the ground with a lid. Once it is full might be able to pump it once or twice but eventually it will need to be dug out by hand.

    If you are asking if you have a septic thats a different story even a failed septic can be pumped out and nursed along by not putting any paper or chemicals into it. Sounds like a pain, but if you dont have the 10 grand to fix it your SOL.

    If your plug blew off after a heavy rain it may mean you are on a septic system, or it may mean the town sewer main backed up. I once was in a house where the main sewer line had a 4x4 beam propped between the sewer cleanout cap and the floor joist. You might consider that as a precaution against another poop storm in your basement until you can get it fixed.

    Two things to consider before you spend anymore real money. Try an enzyme cleaner drain cleaner. They take a few days to a week to work. It sends bacteria through the line and it eats away the built up grease and whatever else is constricting the flow. Once it has worked on the crud for a few days it will fall off.

    If you have a septic that will be safe. Another possibility is tree roots getting into you sewer line. Little tendrils grow in there
    there is a tree root killer that will take care of that, but I think that may kill the flora in your septic if you have one.
  10. kreemoweet

    kreemoweet New Member

    Messages:
    371
    Location:
    Seattle. WA
    It is totally amazing that the property would be able to be subdivided with no provision whatever made for sewer easements or having
    the info recorded in the official property records. Things used to be extremely lax back in the day, I guess.

    Water in the line is no impediment whatever to sending a camera down the line. If the camera could go no further, then you
    must have a blockage/line collapse?

    Somehow I get the feeling the OP is leaving out major chunks of info about this problem.
  11. MACPLUMB 777

    MACPLUMB 777 TROJAN WORLDWIDE SALES RP

    Messages:
    679
    Location:
    Houston, Texas, United States
    with water in the pipe you may not be able to whats there but if it has a locator sound transmitter built into the camera head then with a pipe locator you can trace the pipe above the ground and find out where it goes to
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