Blocked sewage pipe (upstairs bathroom)

Discussion in 'Toilet Forum discussions' started by petergunn, May 25, 2005.

  1. petergunn

    petergunn New Member

    May 25, 2005
    The day before yesterday the shower in one of my upstairs bathrooms stopped draining and the plunger seemed to have little effect so we called out a local plumber. He tried using a powered drum auger to remove any blockage. He put in what looked like 15 to 20 feet of wire without much success. He actually trashed the cable trying to pull it out. He noticed that the toilet in that bathroom seemed to be draining very slowly and suggested that we had a problem that would require a different machine and that we would return the next day.

    A couple of hours after he left I eard a dripping noise downstairs in the family room beneath the bathroom and there was a 2' area of sheet rock that had begun to sag. I quickly fetched a bucket and burst the bubble with a screwdriver... about a gallon of water poured out. I used a box cutter to cut out a 6" square to see if I could spot what was leaking. I expected to see pipes and/or the bottom of the bathroom floor, but instead I found something very odd... a rubber membrane. After prodding it with my finger it appeared to be full of water... lots of water.

    After I cut out the whole of the bulge I discovered what looked like a makeshift membrane running the length of the joist across the room, filled to the brim with toilet waste. I burst a hole in the middle and collected about 12 gallons of soiled water. I decided that whatever the membrane was supposed to be for I didnt want it or the semi solid waste that was sitting on top of it there. I pulled the nails that attached it to the joists and sliced it up into a trash bag.

    Under the toilet floor I found 15' of 4" cast iron pipe (XH) leading from toilet to the utility room where it connects to another 15' of cast iron pipe which joins with a similar pipe from the second bathroom (Y connection) to the main sewage drain line. I see a three 2" galvanised pipes connected to the toiled drain. One is the shower drain with a trap (ubend), one looks like it is the drain for the bathroom sink, and the other leads off somewhere else (I cant imagine where).

    After the membrane was removed I could see no evidence of a leak... no dripping at all. I flushed the toilet and I noticed that water was coming up into the shower. Downstairs water started to pour out where the wax seal between the toilet and the drain should be. Im wondering if the makeshift membrane was the previous owners brain damaged idea of hiding a broken wax seal?? Geez! :mad:

    So the plumbers returned this morning and pulled the toilet. They brought a very heavy duty type of auger with them that used what looked like 6' lengths of 1" metal springs joined together with a drill bit that looked like the tip of a medieval spear. They drilled some 50'+ into the pipe, past the Y connection and all the way into the main sewage drain. But, as you've probably guessed... the pipe is still blocked.

    The plumbers look pretty confused and told me that this hasnt happened before. The pipe is fully exposed and they've tried to locate the blockage by tapping the pipe all the way along and they dont think that the pipe has collapsed internally as it would have been more difficult to auger. They suggested that the pipe must be closing back up when the auger is being pulled back out.

    They are coming back tomorrow to cut the pipe in the middle and fit a double 'clean out' so that they can auger in both directions. I guess this should at least identify which half of the pipe has the blockage.

    Has anyone ever heard of this sort of thing happening before?

    Last edited: May 25, 2005
  2. Snowman

    Snowman New Member

    Mar 17, 2005
    Retired math teacher
    No I don't know. I am a novice, but believe me, I do feel your frustration.

    One thing is for sure. I will be checking this thread tomorrow every hour on the hour to find out what in the world is going on with this....... Wow, no joking intended, but this is better than the old Saturday morning serials I used to go to back in the 50's. The suspense is just killing me. :confused: :confused:

    Regards, Tom
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  4. petergunn

    petergunn New Member

    May 25, 2005
    So, they cut the pipe. I dunno what I expected them to find... maybe baby diapers, an old pair of shorts, a giant hair ball, or even a dead cat. But no, all that was there was crap and lots of it - the pipe was jammed completely with the good old brown stuff.

    The cleaning job was very messy. I had covered up as much of the utility room and appliances as I could with painters plastic sheeting and that helped a lot but in the end the plumber had to laboriosly drag the waste out of the pipe and he was literally covered in it. uuuugh! :eek: Once the water started to drain from behind the waste they connected an elbow and a 10ft length of PVC pipe leading out the side door into a trashcan. They then inserted a hose pipe down the upstairs toilet drain and flushed all the waste out the pipe.

    They then disconnected the elbow and inserted a PVC 'clear out' with 2 short lengths of PVC pipe connected to the cast iron pipe with 3" rubber gaskets each with 4 steel hose clips. This seemed to be a lot less hassle than trying to use cast iron. I wonder what draw backs there are mixing and matching like this?

    The bathroom in question was built in 1963 so I guess we could be looking at 4 decades of accumulation. Inside the toilet we found a soda bottle filled with water weighed down with bolts. The label was a bit worn but I would guess it was from the 1980s and a previous owner had put it there to reduce the amount of water used. This probably helped accelerate the accumulaton in the 30ft of pipe leading to the main sewage pipe as it only drops about 1ft vertically end to end with a 90 degree bend in the middle.

    The toilet leak was just a broken wax seal and I can see no point to the ridiculous underfloor membrane that I discovered. It will be a couple of weks before I replace the sheet rock on the ceiling so I guess I'll just have to keep an eye on it. I wonder if it could be something to do with condensation? Do waste pipes sweat in high humidity? There are hot & cold water pipes there as well. We have a central A/C system so humidity hasnt been a problem anywhere else.

    The clean up is still ongoing. Im mopping everything with 'Clorox with bleach' and spraying everywhere else with Lysol.

    I'll be interested to see what they end up billing me for this, but at least the toiled and shower are working now.


  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    The pitch should have been fine. At 1/4" per foot, over thirty feet is 7.5"; if you had 12", then that wasn't the problem. What could be a problem is the type of 90-degree fitting. My unprofessional opinion.
  6. petergunn

    petergunn New Member

    May 25, 2005
    There are actually two 90 degree bends. One is an elbow and the other is an 'r' shape with a stopper. The plumber said that was they were good fittings. He originally suspected that they had put in some sort of tight turn where the 'r' fitting is, but he seemed to be happy once we opened up the panel.

    If I ever get around to remodelling that bathroom I would be tempted to pull out all that cast iron piping and replace it with PVC. It looked pretty easy to manipulate.
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