Monday, September 06, 2010

Plumbing Saga Day 3: Gurgling and Witching

This is a continuation of our little plumbing saga. To read the previous installment, click here. To go back to the beginning, click here.

I call this pic Still Life with Wheelbarrow, and it speaks to the calm before the storm that would soon erupt around it. The wheelbarrow sits just to the left, below the bathroom window. If you've been reading the story so far, then you know what has been happening inside said bathroom. And in our crawl space...
... and I did a silly thing this particular morning: I tempted fate. We had been up only an hour or two when I uttered these words: "My only goal for the day today is to not see any cute plumbers!". Not that I minded cute plumbers, but I didn't want any of them underfoot, and we wanted to enjoy the day and it's functioning plumbing in style.

Dumb move. Less than an hour after that, after my mom went out for the day, all hell broke loose. Or, rather, the sweet silence of the house was broken by gurgling. Yes, gurgling.

Into the bathroom I go, and I looked at a our brand spanking new toilet with surprise: it was "boiling" with great big bubbles every few seconds and making rather grand gurgling sounds....

When I pulled back the shower curtain I noticed that the bathtub had filled with a couple of inches of water and there was black sediment in the bottom. It did not look pretty. And I recalled something Joe the bossman-plumber had said on day 1, "as long as you don't have sewage coming up in your bathtub, then we've solved the problem." Shit. All puns intended.

Looking around, we realized that the problem wasn't isolated to the bathroom. My sister was doing some laundry, and the gurgles were erupting throughout the house. In an old darkroom, when we moved some boxes that were sitting across an unused sink, we found the water rising and gurgling there too. After the great panic of rescuing said boxes - as they contained some of my sister's art!!! - I headed to the phone.

It was a Saturday morning, and it was apparently Don the plumber's turn to respond to emergency calls. It turns out ours qualified as such.
What ensued that overtime day was a rather endless search for the source of the problem, which extended from time on the roof (did you know that residential plumbing systems include a stack that goes up to the roof with a vent? I didn't) running snakes to any number of interesting interventions, all in attempts to find the source of the problem.

The good news is we were able to determine that the source of the problem was not inside the house, but outside. There was a problem in the sewer line outside the house. Now all we had to do was locate that, then we could correct it.

I am speaking of the proverbial "we", of course, as it was Don the plumber and his handy assistant, Liam the plumber-boy (Joe's 13 year old son, plumber in training, who was also on site on day 1 with Carl the plumber), who made this determination.
The bad news was that "we" could not locate that source of the problem outside the house. The pic above is of Don the plumber trying a little old fashioned witching for water (also called dowsing) to see what he could find. It actually worked (and he showed my sister how to do it), and he located the drain pipe from the crawlspace pump where it ran across the backyard. But, alas, he could not find the sewer line leading from our house out to the city sewer.

They did find the old, old septic field though. Better add another 'old' to that... it was old, old, old... and made of clay bricks. "How old are clay bricks?" I asked. "Well, they aren't wooden." said Don. Oh, ok, one step up from wooden bricks meant that the original system was old. I was concerned at first that the tank was still there, but Don assured me that this was common practice, to just seal up the old septic tank and to connect the house to the city sewer when it was installed.

What was also common practice at the time, and apparently permitted due to "grandfathering" was not putting in a clean out. A sewer "clean out", I learned, is an easy spot where plumbers can get into the sewer between a house and the main sewer line to, well, clean it out, from time to time, if needed. And we didn't have one. Or one couldn't be found. Heck, we couldn't even figure out for sure which way the sewer line ran from the house, though Don had his suspicions.

Brad the city waterworks guy was apparently consulted by phone as well, but, alas, no clear picture emerged.

The only thing to do, it seemed, was to get a little backhoe and dig for it. Oh lord, this was going to be expensive, we thought, my sissy and I.... and the next day was Sunday which meant, of course, more overtime. But after much consideration of the options, we figured we didn't really have any, so said, "Let's do it!".

Aside of the black water in the bathtub, not much looked different in the house when my mom arrived home not long after Don and Liam left, and she could barely believe that they had been there all day.

We all settled in for a night of semi-camping "Leave the flushing to us!" was the cheer my sis and I developed to remind our elderly mom that flushing needed to be kept at a minimum (though things were flowing relatively smoothly, so to speak, we didn't want to tempt fate). And wondered what the morning would bring....

To read what happened on Day 4, click here.

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