Mystery Sewer Line Backup
June 14, 2017 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I've got an apartment with a mystery plumbing problem that my seasoned sewer line cleaning company can't figure out.

On Sunday, my tenant calls to report that toilet is pouring water out from the base of the toilet when showering. I get over there and it's not happening anymore. I call the basic sewer line cleanout guy who runs the snake through to the main and says I'm good to go. We run lots of water through the tub, the sink, the kitchen, the upstairs neighbor and can't get it to back up. I assume we're good.

Next morning (Monday) - tenant calls back - same problem. So I call my expensive sewer line cleanout guy (guy I trust) and he comes out - puts a camera into the line and tells me the line is clear and shouldn't be backing up at all. He gives me the tape and I concur - line is clear. We spend 30 minutes running water from all apartments and can't get it to back up.

Tuesday - no backup. Hurray I think we're solved.

Then this morning - tenant calls to say worst backup ever. Water is pouring out of the base of the toilet during his morning shower. He adds the fact that the toilet is also draining while the water is coming from the base of the toilet. He turns the shower off and the leak stops. He insists that he can't make it happen later in the day and it's only something that happens in the morning.

I called my trusted sewer line guy back a few minutes ago and he's going to come back out tomorrow - but can't come out until noon. He insists it's probably a 'plumbing' problem and not something related to the sewer line since he knows it's clear.

Additional info - this apartment is part of a 4-plex. Two units upstairs, two units downstairs. Leaking unit is downstairs (garden level). I called the other garden level apartment tenant and they say they haven't seen any problems. She tells me she only showers at night.

What's going on here?
posted by shew to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could the vent tube be blocked or obstructed?
posted by nickggully at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Okay this is maybe TMI but I wonder if he's taking a big morning constitutional right before he showers every day, and maybe that + the shower is too much for the plumbing? That is A Friend's schedule and I could imagine on some old plumbing that things may need to rest up a bit, if that's a thing plumbing does. Can you try to better replicate the scenario? Go flush something down the toilet, and THEN run the shower and everything?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:08 AM on June 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

check the vents on the roof. It's early summer, there could be a bird nest from this spring or other debris blocking airflow.

If water is seeping from "the base" of the toilet and not overflowing from the bowl, the wax seal that the toilet is sitting on (a $4 part) should be replaced. This is plumbing 101.

If water is still seeping after that wax seal is replaced and the vent is cleared, it could be a water pressure problem. We have had calcium build up in a valve that created a higher pressure than normal and created a similar situation. It cost about $6 and 15 minutes to fix.

Some photos of the water situation would be helpful
posted by bobdow at 11:03 AM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any possibility that your tenant is bullshitting you? I'm not saying there's no way this could be real, but people are crazy sometimes.

Assuming your tenant isn't fucking with you, you should at least start by replacing that wax ring. No way should water ever be coming out of the base of the toilet; if there's a backup into the toilet, you'd expect it to cause the bowl to overflow instead. I don't think high water pressure would be relevant here, as the sewer line is just a drain and hence isn't really pressurized. That said, if the base of the toilet leaks in the morning you'd expect it to leak whenever the toilet is flushed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:08 PM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

A bit of a left-field possibility here, since this is only happening when the tenant uses the shower...

Is the water actually coming out from the base of the toilet, or is it just pooling there and he's assuming that it's coming from the nearest possible point?

Is the shower curtain/door being properly closed while showering? How's the caulking? Are all the trim pieces tight to the shower wall? If there's an access panel for the tub, are there signs of water flowing from the tub area toward the toilet?
posted by CKmtl at 6:02 PM on June 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

mystery solved
posted by aniola at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2017

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