Old house, severly clogged vent stack, tools dropped in

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by stthomas, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. stthomas

    stthomas New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Chicago
    We've got a hundred or so year old three-story house with a clogged vent/soil stack. It's clogged above the bathroom, so the bathroom plumbing works, but the drains are slow as they're not vented as they should be. There is no sewer gas smell from the vent opening on the roof. By sticking a tape measure and rented camera down from the vent opening, we were able to tell that the clog is about 14 feet down--a few feet above where the 2nd floor bathroom fixtures empty into the vent. Our first thought was to have it rodded out by a professional, but the plumbers we asked were either unwilling to take their heavy rodding equipment up to our roof, or they said they were not allowed to work on a roof. (It is a flat roof, so it's not too dangerous, so we're not worried ourselves about working on it ourselves).

    We decided to try to dislodge the clog ourselves by attaching two ten-foot thin pipes together and sticking that pole down to try to push through by hand. From the debris that we brought up from the pole, it appears that the clog is something like "dirt" (though it is a bit reddish, and it will stick to a magnet--it doesn't seem to be pure rust, though). The clog is quite stubborn, and we were not able to completely push through, but we did bring up a large amount through repeated rodding with the pole, and we managed to push the clog down a full two feet. At this point, though the clog was not completely broken through, I started to smell sewer gas from the vent, so I think we had almost broken the clog.

    However, we then made a huge mistake, and dropped two large pieces of metal down the vent by accident. One is a piece of rebar about a foot long, and the other is something like a large drill bit or chisel about six inches long. Using the camera we rented, we could see the rebar in the pipe standing on the clog.

    We have not figured out how to get these pieces out. We are pretty sure that we're close to breaking through the clog, but we fear that if we continue rodding through as we were before, these metal pieces will fall all the way down the stack, and who knows what will happen when they hit the bottom--it's probably at least a 30 foot fall, so we think they could either damage or obstruct the place where the vent stack empties into the sewer.

    So far we have two ideas, and I'm not enthusiastic about either:

    1) open up the cleanout in the basement, use a rented rodding machine to try to rod up through the clog (twenty or thirty feet up from the cleanout), and then hope to catch the metal pieces before they fall down into the sewer. The cleanout is in an awkward position at the floor, and the cap is old, deteriorated, and possibly sealed with lead, so we'd need a professional to take it off and replace it for us.

    2) break into the wall and have a plumber replace the clogged part of the stack. One that we spoke to said the he'd replace the part from the clog up to the roof, and that it would cost near $2000. (This is what we thought we could avoid by doing the rodding ourselves). It could be that the rust in the stack is a sign that it needs to be replaced, but when we sent the camera down, we were not able to see any holes in the stack.

    We're not sure if either of these solutions is clearly the right way to proceed from a plumber's perspective, or if there are any other alternatives. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks much!
  2. bluebinky

    bluebinky Member

    Messages:
    394
    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    I don't have any real great ideas, but I do want to say that I would not rent any kind of power-driven drain cleaner and try to use it myself without proper hands on training first. It's just too dangerous -- like lose an arm dangerous. To put this into perspective, I didn't think twice about completely redoing all the gas piping and completely rewiring my entire house including the panel, meter base, and underground laterals starting from at the utility pole (with permits, etc, of course).
  3. wjcandee

    wjcandee Wise One

    Messages:
    1,854
    Location:
    New York, NY
    How about a magnet? Or is the stack made of metal as well?

    Also, did you try calling SewerRatz, a/k/a Ron Hasil, a third-generation licensed master plumber who is a frequent contributor to this forum? Something tells me he'll be able to figure out a decent solution.

    SewerRatz Profile Page See also: SewerRatz's Company
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2012
  4. bluebinky

    bluebinky Member

    Messages:
    394
    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    I was thinking magnet too. Maybe you could "wrap it on the outside enough so it wouldn't stick to the pipe too much and then tie it to a rope and push it down with a long pole or something. Good luck!

    Personally, I'd probably be tearing out walls and redoing things -- hard to say without actually seeing what you have, though.
  5. stthomas

    stthomas New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Chicago
    Thanks for the replies, and especially the note of caution about a rented power-driven rodder! We did try a magnet, but it wasn't strong enough to bring up the rebar. We could try a stronger magnet. The other concern is that we suspect that the chisel has lodged itself into the clog, so it might not come out with only a gentle tug. But it sounds like it's worth a try. Thanks also for the Seweratz suggestion, too!
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,647
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Unless you are a 600# gorilla, you are not strong enough to pust a sewer snake cable 30 UP the pipe and still have enough power to work it through the stoppage. About the only thing that could clog that vent would be rust from the pipe, and if it is, the pipe is probably already cracked, even though you cannot see it.
  7. stthomas

    stthomas New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    Chicago
    hj, that's very helpful, thanks. Would you suggest, then, that because the vent is likely cracked that we should have it removed and replaced from the point of the clog, at the very least?
  8. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,647
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Assuming your diagnosis is correct, the might be the proper thing to do. I have seen MANY cast iron stacks with cracks in the pipe above the point where water flows down the pipe.
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