How do I keep water from coming up through the floor drain my basement?
June 1, 2013 1:51 PM   Subscribe

A puddle of dirty water keeps rising through the floor drain in my basement. Is it something I can fix?

Twice in the period of a year, I've noticed a 2' circle of dirty water around the floor drain in my basement. I can't tell if it's after a heavy rain or not, or what other factors might be involved. I took off the drain cap and tried to put a 25' metal auger down there, but it only goes down about 12" and feels like hard ground underneath? Does that sound right? I was hoping to feed a lot more of the auger down in there and hopefully find a clog.

What types of problems should I be looking for? Is there something in particular that would cause this?

Just trying to handle this without spending money on a plumber just yet - thanks!
posted by critzer to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a sump pump? If you do, that's probably where the floor drain leads to. Is the pump working correctly?
posted by jon1270 at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2013

Drains don't generally just go straight down. What you want is a drain snake.

But given your uncertainty, I'd suggest hiring a plumber. That way if something gets broken, their insurance will cover it. If you break your house, then you have to deal with your homeowners insurance. Which is kind of a dice game sometimes.

(my guess is sump pump trouble followed by pipe trouble. I'm not a plumber, and am definitely not your plumber.)
posted by tulip-socks at 2:28 PM on June 1, 2013

Best answer: You could try one of these. You can install it yourself in about five minutes, and then if water starts coming up out of your drain, a float rises and caps it off.
posted by spilon at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

We get this in our (very old) basement. For us it's a complicated matter involving leaking roof gutters, water that gets pushed uphill and towards the foundation walls of the house and basement on the concrete slabs below the gutters during heavy rain and wind, some of that water heading down a set of steps to a point just outside the basement, a lack of efficient drywalls or membranes around the basement, clogged soak-wells (sumps) both outside and inside the basement, and variations in out local water table due to inner urban construction projects (with other peoples' basements and carparks creating underground dykes and dams). The net result is that water gets underneath and around the basement at sufficient height and pressure to bubble up the drain.

Our landlord looked at it, a plumber looked at it, it was only after a lot of standing around in the rain with a mate who works as a structural engineer that we put the combination of factors together. The temporary and partial fix has been to patch the gutters, improve and redirect flow out of the gutters, and partially clear the soak-wells (best we can do without busting concrete and installing new ones).
posted by Ahab at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2013

Best answer: I am not a plumber, but when I had a plumber come out and look at the puddle of water that mysteriously appeared around my drain that was set in the concrete floor of my unfinished basement, we discovered that it was connected to the sewer line and what was backing up was sewage. Pretty much just looked like dirty water; in our case, it turns out our 60-year-old clay pipes had a nasty offset that occasionally gets clogged (especially if we're away for a few days so toilet paper and whatnot hardens in the pipe) and then the next big rush of water down the pipes--from a shower, or washing machine, or whatever--can't get out fast enough and backs up into the basement, which is the lowest point connected to the sewer line.

Anyway, we're getting ready to replace the pipe but in the meantime we are careful to mop up around the drain with bleach every time this happens. Hopefully that's not the case for you but I'm just throwing this out there as a possibility; I wouldn't want to be mucking around with it too much if it was possibly raw sewage. Your gross-out factor may vary.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2013

Your waste (sewer) pipe may have failed allowing earth to filter in causing the blockage your snake is hitting at 12'. If you have sewage backing up into your house, you really want to get that fixed asap.
posted by Cranberry at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't want something to plug the hole, you want a standpipe. A plugged drainpipe that wants to back up is a giant mess waiting to happen. But the first step is calling a plumber.

(Well, the first step could be running a hose down the drain after a period of dry weather to see if the drain drains. If it does, then you know you are getting backup. If it doesn't, you know it is clogged. Either way, a plumber will probably still be necessary, but at least you'll know.)
posted by gjc at 3:43 PM on June 1, 2013

Check to see if it happens every time the toilet flushes. If it does, that's a bad sign.
I am betting 10/1 that you have a failed waste pipe, or a caved in septic tank. There is also a possibility that a tree root has grown through and finally cut it off.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:41 PM on June 1, 2013

What is your drain situation? Do you drain into a public sewer? Do you have a septic tank?

Even if you know the answer to those things, it may not be obvious what is happening. Our basement has a dry well of some sort. We are not sure exactly where that well goes but we know that it is not connected to sewer or septic. Perhaps you have something similar and this is just the water table bubbling up.

In any case, it seems like a plumber would be a good bet....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:09 PM on June 1, 2013

I may be paranoid, but I would feel bad if I didn't warn you: I have seen catastrophic damage inflicted when someone tried to cap off the floor drain in their basement with concrete. So don't do that -- they poured concrete down the pipe, it blocked a major line and the hydrostatic pressure during the next major storm cracked their foundation slab.

I merely worked with the investigating engineer, so note that I am not fully conversant with how exactly everything went wrong, but holy moly did it go wrong. It may not be possible for that nightmare to occur in your situation but, just in case you were thinking along those lines, don't.
posted by aramaic at 7:12 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Twelve inches? To me that sounds like you're where the overflow meets the drain and it's getting caught. You would normally manipulate the snake every which way until it's past this kink.

The usual next step here is to call Roto-Rooter or a similar augering service who will have, like, a 100' auger and a reasonably experienced operator. The step after that is a plumber, so you can skip the auger service if you are really concerned about a problem, but generally augering is pretty effective for at least a year. If you're finding you need it annually you can consider the $1000s it will take to dig up any part of the line and replace it, but you can get by on $100 annual charges for quite a while if they work at all. If you go the plumber route, it may be worth it to get one with the video equipment to send down there and see what the situation is.

I would normally expect this to be a root blockage somewhere in your owned sewer pipe, not something in the city's main line.

I emphatically agree that PLUGGING IS A BAD IDEA. You still want a floor drain in your basement regardless, unless you want to sump pump it up to ground level or something and that costs money. I really just believe you need a blockage in your existing sewer cleared, and then magically, no back-up of sewer water (whether the ultimate source is your own plumbing appliances, or just your groundwater as is often the case in old clay tile sewers).

For the wait-and-see, cheapest possible route, there are also products like RootX. So you can always try that first.
posted by dhartung at 7:21 PM on June 1, 2013

Are you putting your drain snake through the clean out or are you putting it straight down the drain? Your snake may not want to make the 180 degree turn if your're putting it straight down the drain. This is a pretty good floor drain article that will give you some idea how the clean out works. Try your snake down the clean out and see if you get any further luck. We had some errant baby wipes partially blocking our drain. I got them out with a hand-cranked snake.

The next step in DIY drain clearance is to rent a power snake from Home Depot or the like. We had a different clog beyond the 30 feet my hand cranker would go. For about 30$ (a few years ago) I got a giant power snake that took care of it quickly.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:17 PM on June 1, 2013

the device that splion links to above is your answer - it allows water to drain downwards, but stops water from rising up out of the drain. Home insurance inspectors will sometimes install them to help prevent flooding - you can install one yourself, it's pretty simple
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:44 AM on June 2, 2013

We're experiencing this right now. A plumber came out last week and snaked, but it's happening again. I'm sick with worry that the $7000 I spent a few years ago on a new sewer pipe was spent in the wrong plumber.

One thing you can do is find your clean out outside and open it. If a bunch of stuff comes out, you may need a snake.

We can't find our clean out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on June 2, 2013

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