Going About Finding Cause of Lots of Blockages in Plumbing? Also, Painted Bathtub?
January 5, 2004 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I need cheap, do-it-yourself suggestions for some plumbing problems (more inside)...

We moved into a new house at the beginning of October. Although it looked spotless, we are discovering that things were not very well maintained. Right now we are having recurring problems with plumbing. Toilets have been blocking up frequently, and we had a sewage back up in our basement laundry room. We had the city check that it was not their sewer that was the problem, and after being terrified that we were going to have to call for emergency plumbing service at midnight on a weekend, we managed to clear the blockage with six jugs of Liquid Plumber and a plunger by the morning. It's almost as if we have abnormally narrow pipes, but the house was built in 1984, so the plumbing can't be THAT antiquated. Does anyone have suggestions on what we can do to rememedy this problem? Preferably something we can do ourselves, with minimal expense. With a baby on the way in early April, we don't need a big plumbing bill. Also, the bathtub in the house was badly "resurfaced" (apparently PAINTED) and as soon as it was used, the paint began to peel off in huge chunks. It's usuable but it looks ugly. What can we do about that?
posted by Shoeburyness to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Buy a plumber's snake. Also check askfilter's archives.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2004

Can't help you with the plumbing, but my mom got her ~50yo bathtub re-ceramic'ed (not sure what the technical term is) for under $400 Canadian. Essentially she got a new coat of the shiny white hard stuff put on it, in situ, plus the silicone sealer re-done and so on. It looks really snazzy but isn't as durable as the original (dropping a razor on it could nick it, for example). So that's definitely a possibility if you can't fix it some other way. Could you get a 2nd-hand bathtub put in, maybe? One that isn't.. painted?
posted by some chick at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2004

Most likely the cheapest do-it-yourself solution to major plumbing issues is to call a plumber. Doing it yourself is likely to be more expensive in the long-run. Then again, I may just be feeling burned after replacing a couple of toilets and having the two identical things messed up in different ways.
posted by yerfatma at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2004

Some things to check...

If things are backing up all around the house, your main drain may be in need of roto-rooting. In our case we had infiltration into the main drain from the root system of some trees planted close to the house. Another cause of backups can be plugged vent stacks (on the roof). The hardware store sells for ten bucks or so a bladder (appropriately enough :-) attachment that you can put on a garden hose; when you run water it puffs up to form a seal against the vent pipe and then creates a high-pressure pulsing jet of water to attempt to clear clogs. Drain King. After that, I'd call a real plumber, as yerfatma suggests.
posted by cairnish at 3:15 PM on January 5, 2004

Do you know which way your main sewer pipe goes?

Are there any trees nearby (say, within 15 feet)?

Most houses (especially one as new as yours) will have a main sewer cleanout outside. Look for a large PVC pipe cap with a square nipple on the ground near the house, in the direction of where the main sewer pipe comes out.

Open this, being careful to expect some outflow, and make sure you prevent any sand or rocks from falling in.

Now, run all the water in the house.

Is water backing up in the house but flowing in the pipe? (Look down the cleanout with a flashlight to check...) Is the water backing up such that it comes out of the cleanout?

If the water is flowing normally at the cleanout, the blockage is nearer (or inside) the house. If the water is backing out of the cleanout, the blockage is between it and the city sewer.

Either way, this is the place where you'd insert the rented plumbing snake. Which direction you snake will depend on the results of your investigation above.

At this point, knowing where the trees are (if any) is helpful.

If you don't have trees, it's probably just a regular blockage, and snaking it will likely fix your problem. This should cost no more than about $150 for emergency service.

If you do have trees, a snaking will help, but the problem will recur. If it's trees, measure the snake as it's being used. after it's brought back out, lay it out on the ground, in the direction of the pipe, subtracting any snake used to get down to the main. At the end of the snake, take several sections of rigid metal conduit slightly less long than the depth to the main, and tap them into the earth in a rough circle around where the root blockage occured. Into these conduits, pour concentrated copper-based root killer, found at your local hardware store. Wait for the solution to soak in, and then repeat until you run out.

Trees or no trees, if the pipe has collapsed, you are in for a large bill.

On preview: You mention you have a basement. Your cleanout *could* be a Y-shaped section of pipe in there. If it is, call a plumber. Snaking a sewer overhead is a job for a pro.
posted by tomierna at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2004

Pay a plumber to assess your problem. Then, buy some books on plumbing - it isn't too complex. Caveat - I'm very hands on and have a lot of experience with home repairs. Still, plumbing doesn't require too many tools and is conceptually fairly simple. Knowledge is power.
posted by troutfishing at 10:47 PM on January 5, 2004

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