Thursday, October 24, 2013


The house gave us a present when my SIL m and her husband, Joe, came to visit from Ohio. All we did to deserve it was take four showers in a row.

The drain in the garage backed up with some sort of dark sludge. The plumber described it as, "Yep. That's Number 2." 


The thing about living in a beautiful neighborhood with old trees is that the roots of those old trees can find their way into your pipes. And when the people who live in your house hadn't done anything about it--say, for a decade or more--the roots form a tangled net that can't let a lot of water (or solids) through to the main drain. It makes for a lovely surprise on a Sunday afternoon when you have out-of-town guests. Especially when you've only been living in the house for less than a month.

The plumber put a cutter into our pipes and "rodded" out a three-inch-diameter hole through the roots in the service line until he hit something inpenetrable at about 60 feet. Three days later, the pipes backed up again. 

The second plumber put a cutter into our pipes and rodded out a three-inch-diameter hole through the roots in the service line. He, too, hit some sort of impasse. They suggested we call for a camera, because the clay (yes, in the '60s Midwest, they used CLAY) pipe could be broken or there could be a gigantic ball of roots at that 60-foot mark.

The camera guy had a lot to show. The roots looked like that scene in Disney's Snow White where Snow is running through the forest and the tree branches look to be so thick and menacing that kids in the '20s who saw it in the theater peed on their seats. But I digress. No broken pipe, just a maddening amount of roots. 

The plumbers were accessing our service line through the corner of our garage where the cast-iron pipe is only four inches wide. In the yard, the clay pipe is six inches wide. They said it would be much better to dig a 5.5-foot-deep hole in the yard, cut out a section of the clay pipe and put in an access so they can forevermore get directly to the six-inch pipe and not have to come through the house. 

They did that. But still couldn't get through the massive root ball 60 feet from the house (and a lot closer to the main), so we have to call another plumber with a more powerful cutter. In the meantime, we just have to time our water usage and make sure nothing offensive (I'm talking two-ply toilet paper), gets into the pipes and hope for the best. 

After all this is done, we need to sanitize the garage, the downstairs bathroom and the laundry room, as well as the brand-new carpet and padding in the downstairs. We estimate the entire endeavor will cost a cool five thousand dollars.

Here are some things I learned from this experience:
  • Don't flush anything down the toilet but the thinnest of TP. If any product says "flushable," it'll likely go down the drain, but if you have anything (like our roots) in your pipes, it will get stuck. Tampons are even worse with their stringy parts that can get tangled.
  • You do NOT want a backup--the sewage could ruin your walls, floor, furniture and anything else you might have near the drain.
  • If you don't have an existing clean-out access in the yard, the plumber will be happy to put one in for you--6 feet underground using an excavator machine.
  • You don't have to disclose roots in pipes when you sell a house in Illinois (per my realtor). The plumber said there is no way the previous owners did not know about this. 
  • However, the plumber can record the video of the insides of your pipes and put it on a flash drive in case you want to try and take somebody to court. The footage will look like a very disturbing colonoscopy.
  • There's a homeowners' insurance policy that includes backup coverage--only 50$ a year! Your homeowner insurance agent will regret to inform you that you did not get "backup coverage," but conveniently email the form you were supposed to have declined the day after you inquire about how much damage is covered in your policy, saying he "forgot to show it to you."
  • If you're buying a home near mature trees, you may want to ask when the last time the pipes were rodded/have a camera down there before you sign any papers. About $200 is way better to spend than 25 times that.
  • Apparently this happens to a LOT of people. Ours is the only house on the block that hasn't had a clean-out access put in/pipes back up. Pretty good for a place that was built in 1968. Lucky us.

Welcome to home ownership!


Librarian Girl said...

We had clay pipes too and straight up replaced them. It was my least favorite home improvement thing we have done to date. PAINFUL.

omar said...

That's an unfortunate series of events. But yes, welcome to home ownership. Our first horror story was when the wife took a bath, drained the tub, and 1/3 of the water ended up in the kitchen below because of a tub drain pipe issue. Good times.

cadiz12 said...

man, that SUCKS, lg. we have to have the entire clay pipe replaced, too! i hate spending so much money on something that a) really *should* have been addressed somewhere in the 45 years that OTHER people have owned this house and b) you can't even seen.

wow, omar. i can't even imagine. did you have to rip up your whole kitchen because of damage?!?

Guyana-Gyal said...

Ohhhh Me Goshhh!

I'm left speechless.

I'm sending this to house-hunting folks I know!

Monica Ryan said...

“…roots of those old trees can find their way into your pipes.” – Trees are beneficial to have in our backyard. But it also has the potential to be one of the causes of damage in our house structure. It’s a relief that plumbers already assessed every pipeline in your home and solved it one at a time. - Monica Ryan @

Levi Eslinger said...

Sounds like you went through a lot of hassle, but that's understandable. Homekeeping can really be tough for first-timers. On the bright side, at least you learned a lot, and you had a great team of plumbers to help you.

Levi Eslinger @

Katrina Spencer said...

I wonder how old those trees in your backyard are? It looks like they have sturdy roots buried deep down that makes it hard for plumbers to cut it. Anyway, with professional plumbers working for you, I'm sure that they can provide quality results. I hope that this is the last time you'll ever have to deal with this kind of plumbing problem.

-Katrina Spencer @ ResQPlumbing