Re: First time used home buyer seeking knowledge...
Posted by CEA on April 28, 2004 at 14:07:48:
In response to Re: First time used home buyer seeking knowledge...
It is likely from the symptoms you describe that the main drain leading from the house to the street sewer is partially blocked. This is worse in the wet season because groundwater leaks into the drain tile and further reduces the rate at which the blocked drain can dispose of the sewage. The washing machine produces the most water in the shortest time of any of your appliances, and ends up ejecting sewage out of floor drains, fixtures, or wherever else it can come out because the drain can't take it fast enough.

Before PVC drain pipe was commonplace, main drains were clay or fiber tiles. Tree roots get into these tiles at the joints, and in rare cases the line can collapse entirely. A skilled professional plumber with a power auger and a cutting blade can cut out the tree roots. In areas with lots of mature trees you may have to do this every few years to keep the line open. Eventually (maybe now, maybe 30 years from now) the line from the house to the street sewer will need to be dug up and replaced with PVC pipe, which has tight glued joints and basically lasts forever. My own house is about 50 years old and has a lot of trees, and every few years the sewer yields a 2-gallon pail full of it doesn't take long for things to get blocked if you or the previous homeowner wasn't staying on top of it.

The various plumbing codes require a main cleanout which is usually just inside the house at the point where the main drain goes through the basement wall or floor. The cleanout is just a removable plug that can be removed to give a plumber access to auger the main drain.

At this point you should call a plumber or a sewer service to look at the problem. At the very least the main drain will need to be augered. If there really isn't a cleanout (which is unusual) the plumber will have to put one in. Once the plumber is able to get the main drain cleaned out, then s/he can look at the floor drains and so on. In the worst case you may be looking at line replacement but in most cases it's just a partial blockage which a good augering can clear.

If you can get a recommendation for a reputable local plumber or sewer service I would recommend you go this route rather than using a franchise like roto rooter. I am sure there are reputable franchise plumbers out there but if it were my house I would want someone who had been around the local area for a long time, knew what installation practices were in effect when your house was built, and has a solid reputation. Where I live most of the local mechanical contractors and plumbing houses sub out to one local sewer service that's been around forever. Don't even think about trying to do it yourself--you may be able to rent the equipment, but this is a job that relies almost entirely on feel and experience, and the best you could hope to do on your own would be to avoid causing additional damage. For a good cleaning you can probably expect to pay $100-$300 depending on how long it takes...if that solves your problem you're getting off cheap. Replacement typically runs a few thousand and even worse involves digging up the yard, so hope that occasional cleanings keep the sewage flowing. Usually they do.

The "camera" you mention is a rig that most sewer services have which they can stick down the main drain to do a video inspection of the pipe, looking for cracks, collapses, holes, etc. Try a conventional auger job first. Again your plumber or sewer service can advise.

Good luck.

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