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Sometimes you’re the windshield...

 But this time we were the bug.

The weekend *started* off good. Saturday I slept in until all hours. Sleep has been eluding me lately, so it felt really good to not have to drag my sorry butt out of bed until it was ready. So we got a late start on the day. It was mostly errands that turned into exercises in futility. Got to Costco, fill up the gas tank (ouch!) Go to Lowes, fail to find what I’m looking for. Go to the Home Depot in Bristol, and discover that particular Home Depot doesn’t carry the cabinets that I was there to order. At that point my blood sugar had bottomed out, and I was just stupid. So since Agway was already closed, we headed out to dinner for Mother’s Day. I’d asked if we could go Saturday instead of Sunday in the hope that it would be less crowded. It may or may not have been, but it was a nice dinner nonetheless.

Sunday we had to get up early. Any time my alarm has to go off on a weekend I categorize it as "early." We needed to be in Hebron at 10:00 for a site walk-through for Acorns & Pearls II. I think the walk-through went really well. The Lions seem to be bending over backwards to accommodate us, and the site contact seems to just be a really nice guy. I had a chance to crawl all over the post and beam barn that

vynehornand I will be setting up as a tavern with a measuring tape, so we should be able to plan a good layout before getting there. Unfortunately, because it’s not very warm yet I didn’t take the sun into account and didn’t bring a hat. I have a bright pink sunburn on my face and neck. It doesn’t hurt, I’m just nice and pink and all my coworkers are commenting.

 After that we stopped at the Milldale Home Depot, ordered my cabinets and bought a round point shovel, a pole saw, and a book on how to build retaining walls. From there we hit Agway, where I failed to find any moss roses (they were out,) and instead consoled myself with a flat of annuals. A little bit of color for the front will be cheery, and annuals are a nice no-commitment choice. After that – home to play with the pole saw. Bob was able to take three problem limbs off of the beech tree on the west side of the house. Not the neatest job, but it’s the first time either of us had used one of those. Frankly, that whole tree should probably come down, but it’s probably one that we should hire out. No budget for that this year, so we’ll settle for what trimming we can do. I think that just those three limbs will put a lot more light and air on that side of the house, which is my main concern. The pole saw is a fun toy. I could be a hazard with it.

It wasn’t until fairly late in the evening that things started to go wrong. Bob was on the phone with his daughter, and I headed in to the library to get a book. The mental dialogue went something like this:

Sniff. Sniff.
  What’s that smell?
Sniff. I think it’s coming from the bathroom.
Sniff. Oof – someone really did something awful in the litter box and didn’t cover it.
Sniff. But it really doesn’t smell right.
Looks in litterbox – nothing there.
Checks toilet – nothing there.
What on earth could that BE?
For no apparent reason, pulls back shower curtain.
Holy... BOB!!!!!

I will spare you all the grisly details, and no, there will not be pictures. Although I did think about it for one very brief moment. After a frantic check of the plumbing in the crawl space and basement that determined that nothing bad was happening down there, we began testing the various appliances. The conclusion that we came to is that there is a clog in the main waste pipe from the downstairs full bath, because water (we’ll call it water) backs up into the shower stall if any of the fixtures in that bathroom are run. There is no affect if we run fixtures from the kitchen, the ground floor half bath, or the upstairs full bath. Which is good, because it means that we still have two functioning toilets and a shower. The bad part is that because the clog is apparently in that main pipe, there are three outlets upstream. That means that all plunging will accomplish is sloshing the "water" back and forth. Bob tested this hypothesis extensively and determined it to be true.

Needless to say, there was the obligatory phone conference with my father. That’s what we do when things go wrong. Most people call plumbers or electricians or Geek Squad – I call Dad. This time Dad didn’t have much insight beyond what we’d already more or less figured out, but he went online and did our research for us and sent us a link to the snake (they call them "hand augers" now) that he recommended. Unfortunately I discovered this problem at 9:00pm. Home Depot closed at 7:00, Lowes at 9:00, and the assorted Ace Hardware/True Values generally close at 5:00. So we were out of luck until the morning. He also blamed it on my hair. My father has blamed every plumbing backup since 1987 on my hair – including the one seven years after I moved out. It’d be a neat trick in this case, since I’ve never used the downstairs shower...

So the practical question when this was first discovered was: how, exactly, do we clean this mess up? The first answer, unfortunately for Bob is: I can’t. I didn’t call my doctor to check, but I’m pretty sure that dealing with sewage is off the list of approved activities for pregnant women. We can’t flush it down the drain – if the drain was draining we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. So I channeled the only television show that I watch religiously ("Dirty Jobs") and thought, "what would Mike do?" I thought of the episode with Mrs. Frasier’s basement, and went to fetch Bob latex gloves, a shovel, a garden trowel, a heavy trash bag, and a whole lot of paper towels. I don’t know what happened behind the closed door after that, and I don’t want to know.

The cats were dying to get in there. I’m not sure if it was indignation at being locked out, or if it really was that fascinating. Sometimes they horrify me.

So the worst of the surface level mess was cleaned up and removed to the great outdoors, the window propped open, and the door tied shut to keep the cats from exploring. After showering, that put us to bed in the vicinity of midnight, which is way past my bedtime. I’m really dragging my butt today. Bob left early this morning to stop at Home Depot and buy the auger, and he will be tackling that when he gets home this afternoon. If this doesn’t work, we’ll confer with Dad again and see what he says.

Ah – the joys of home ownership.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
When this happened to us (twice!) it was tree roots in the sewer main, between the house and the street. Nothing to do with anybody's hair, even though mine was real long then. Unfortunately, it wasn't anything that could be resolved with a hand auger: we had to get Roto-Rooter and their big power auger to visit.
May. 12th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)
The thing is, if it was tree roots in the main pipe between us and the septic tank, we'd be having slow drains on *everything*. This is only on the waste pipe from that one bathroom, and that pipe joins to the main while it's still in our basement. The pipe from the upstairs, and the pipe from the other downstairs functions still drain fine. So unless the roots pressed hard to one side all the way in from the yard, into the house, and then spread out after making a hard left turn towards the library bathroom - I don't think it's roots.

I am, however, going to suggest that we also snake the kitchen drain just for informational purposes (assuming we can resolve this ourselves.)
May. 12th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC)
For us, when the main was clogged, "things" backed up into the kitchen sink first, as the lowest available egress. I had to wash everything in sight with bleach. Glad you aren't going through that particular adventure.
May. 12th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC)
Mmm - yes... "things." Yech. Icky, icky, icky, UNCLEAN...

At least the shower pan is easy to clean and will never involve food...

I *think* that if it *is* roots that we would be seeing symptoms in the kitchen sink/dishwasher as being the first available egresses (is that a word?) I can argue both ways - the shower pan is lower than the kitchen sink, but it's level with the dishwashwer which is closer to the main outlet... Soon enough we'll know. All the evidence we currently have points to an issue with the pipe from that bathroom rather than the main. I've got my fingers crossed - a plumber *really* isn't in the budget right now.

There is a LOT of bleach in my future. A lot.
May. 12th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
Yech. What an ending to what sounds like an otherwise lovely weekend!
Good call getting a plumbing-snake instead of pouring caustic stuff down the pipes, I could have nightmares about what happened when Rob tried it, it backed up into our basement and dripped down onto the hot water heater. (One reason I'm starting to shop for a water heater this year not talkikng about "someday" anymore.)

The very nice man from Roto Rooter used power tools to take out the tree roots... now we're supposed to run the snake every now and then before we notice things slowing down again. I also want to take out that maple tree! They're apparently the most frequent offenders for some reason.
May. 12th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
There are two problems with using caustic: it's really bad for septic systems; if it doesn't reach and resolve the clog, now you have a caustic solution to deal with instead of an icky one. Caustic is good for slow drains, but a no-no for stopped ones. And a no-no for septic, frankly.

As I mentioned to msmemory above, I don't believe that this is roots in the pipes. If it was, the main waste pipe would be involved and that would affect every drain in the house. Nothing is running slow, that one bathroom is just *stopped*. We ran the dishwashwer, did a load of laundry, and each took a shower - no issues. It seems to be that one side pipe, and I can't believe that tree roots would oh so carefully sneak up the main pipe to branch out into that one spot.

Or I could be terribly wrong and it could be the creeping hydrangea.
May. 12th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
You're cracking me up here: creeping hydrangea? Or creeping something else!?

(I didn't think you had roots on the 2nd floor, I was just reminiscing about my own recent plumbing misery... and that was even before you rminded me about not being on city sewer!)

May. 12th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
The creeping hydrangea is growing just about where I believe the septic tank to be (I really need to locate all that stuff again before we start doing large work in back.) If anything is going to be sending in roots that cause problems, I'm betting on that.

I've got to tell you though - if I'd had any degree of certainty last night that good old Drano would solve the problem - I would have been dumping it in on faith that the bacterial load in the tank would work itself out.

This is going to be capital-I Icky. At best.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )