Basement drain overflow.
February 21, 2006 8:47 PM   Subscribe

We have water coming up from the drain in our basement.

We live in an 80 year old house near a river. We've lived here for six years and never had this problem. Tonight I came home and our floor drain in our basement had a very shallow, but fairly wide pool of funky smelling (sewer?) water around it. I cleaned up, but it seems like for the water to have gotten as far as it did, there must have been a decent amount of water. There is also still water in the drain, but when I poured a bucket of hot water down, the water remained level, so I know the water is draining. Is there normally water in the drain? I seem to remember that yes, there is usually water in the drain, but not normally this high. I used to think this had something to do with keeping sewer gas out of the house, but am not so sure. Any ideas? I'll call a plumber in the AM, but curious to hear what might be up. Thanks!
posted by drobot to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
when this happened to me it was a backup from the line that goes from the house to the sewer. so every time someone ran water, flushed a toilet, etc the backup would get worse, until we had a very foul smelling problem. the cause was tree roots. the city checked to make sure there was no obstruction of the main sewer line--their responsibility--and when it was determined that there wasn't, the problem was ours, and the rotor-rooter guy took care of it. it cost about $80 i think.
posted by subatomiczoo at 9:08 PM on February 21, 2006

During a heavy rain after a lot of snowfall, our sewer line backed up. We ended up with 4 inches of water in the basement. It was due to the extra runoff, of course, and the ground being saturated with water. The foundation slab has drainage built into it (or over it, or under it, or something). The main point is that it wasn't draining fast enough. The plumber arrived and we discussed the situation. After agreeing to pay him some money to try and clear the sewer line, he went out to his truck and returned with (drumroll, please) a PLUNGER. Yep, he went to town on the drain and plunged his little heart out. The water did begin to reside. For good measure, he snaked the drain as far as he could (which wasn't really that far) but it really didn't seem to have an effect, at least no more than the plunger. So, lesson learned for next time...
posted by Roger Dodger at 9:08 PM on February 21, 2006

The drain will indeed have some kind of a trap (p, s, box, etc.) that is to remain filled with water to prevent the backup of sewer gasses (pouring a little bit of bleach down ours every once in a while helps to keep the water from getting nasty).

When this happened to us (exact same scenario), our plumber snaked the line -- it was a tree growing into the pipe out near the edge of our property (it was around 70 feet of snake out, IIRC). Eventually, the clump of roots gets thick enough to stop the flow. At some point we will have to dig up our front yard and replace the pipe -- but for now we have the plumber scheduled for annual (ish) snaking of the line.

Pipes 80 years old have had a long time to rust, were likely soft metal (or even clay) to begin with, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was the problem.
posted by teece at 9:51 PM on February 21, 2006

Another vote for tree roots. I had an old house with the same problem and we just scheduled it once a year instead of waiting for the inevitable backup. Try calling a place that specializes in this, they have the appropriate equiptment and are often less expensive than a plumber. The ones around here usually have the word "rooter' in their name.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:01 PM on February 21, 2006

Definitely tree roots. I've had this happen to me twice.

Check with your city/town to see if they have an emergency service. It tends to be free, and if city trees are at fault and the break is in a city sewage line, they'll do the repair work for free. Otherwise, a collapsed sewage line can be (sometimes, several tens of) thousands of dollars to replace.

Hope it works out for you. The twice it's happened to me has been some of the most stressful times I've ever had.
posted by scruss at 5:10 AM on February 22, 2006

Trees are as slow-moving and unrelenting as glaciers. They will find water, wherever it may be, whatever may be in the way.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:26 AM on February 22, 2006

You seem to be in the city of Alexandria. First call a plumber, it could be several things but may be on your end. Typically the homeowner is responsible for repairs and maintenance up to where their sewer lateral connects to the sewer main. The next thing is to contact the City Sewer Department. If the problem is in the main, they should know about it and if you have damage to any belongings resulting from a problem on their end, they are responsible for reimbursing you. In that case you would need to make a damage claim with them.
posted by JJ86 at 6:40 AM on February 22, 2006

I live in the Red River Basin, and no house here is complete without a sewer backup valve. Info about these and other devices can be found here.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:39 AM on February 22, 2006

Hey, thanks for all your help - turned out to be tree roots, but we definitely have terra cotta pipe from the house to the street which may at some point become an issue.
posted by drobot at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2006

I snaked my own drain about 3 weeks ago. Same situation. Roots. Terra Cotta pipe. Snake it once a year and you'll be fine.
posted by pieoverdone at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2006

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