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Old 10-20-2008, 02:05 PM   #1
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basement floor drain problem


I have a home built in 1898 with an old limestone coal cellar basement. I've never had a problem with water (except in heavy, extended rain periods when everyone's homes are taking on water). This last week I noticed a bad odor coming from the basement. I didn't think much of it as it's an exterior entrance basement and it's the season for mice, etc. to be looking for "warmer accomodations." However, when I checked it out, I discovered that my basement floor drain was backed up with black, brackish, nasty-smelling water. It didn't flood the basement, but left a pool about 4' in diameter and a couple inches deep. The drain is probably three inches in diameter and has an old cast iron grate that's disintegrating. I called a local plumber who snaked the drain and then snaked the sewer pipes to no avail. He was convinced there was a septic tank on the property. The main sewer line exits the house to the west and the city sewer connection is to the east (which is a little suspicious!) and when he snaked the sewer, he said the line felt like it was going into a tank. HOWEVER, I know the house is and has been on city sewer for the last 30 years. After doing some additional research, here's where I'm at:
  • Indoor plumbing is working fine. No problems with the drains backing up on the toilet, tub, sinks, etc. and everything drains/flushes like normal.
  • Flushing the toilet or running water through the tub has no effect whatsoever on the water in the basement drain. The water is seeping up rather than bubbling in correlation with water usage. It raised significantly after we wet-vac'd and snaked the line on Sat. but has subsided back to its original level today
  • The house was sold in 1922 for back taxes for sewer, paving, water, etc. Therefore, it's been connected to the city sewer for as long as the town's had sewer service. (Seems unlikely to me that it would also have a septic system in that case).
  • The city's Roto Rooter guy came out and thinks the basement drain is really old and the water issue is not related to the sewer. He thinks the drain probably connects to a field tile somewhere. The problem is where and what's suddenly causing the problem??? We had several days of rain last week, but it never did this during two extensive flooding years in our town previously.
  • The drain serves no purpose other than as an outlet for furnace condensation, dehumidifier and water softener hose discharge.
So, here are my questions: Do I spend thousands of dollars trying to dig up my yard to figure out whether or not I have a septic tank or to find the leech bed/ farm tile my drain pipe may or may not tie into if my plumbing is all working fine? Or do I cap off the basement drain and install a pump system in the basement to remove the waste water from the basement appliances and occasional ground water run-off?

Other thoughts, ideas or advice would be greatly appreciated!

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Old 10-20-2008, 04:21 PM   #2
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basement floor drain problem


Your current drain tile may connect to the city sewer system. This is generally illegal, but was often done in previous decades.

If it does not connect to the city sewer, and is dumping onto a pit somewhere or a drain field that is also connected to that drain, then that could be your problem. The drain field or the pit could be clogged up to the extent that it is not cleanable with a roto rooter type of cleaner.

If you really want to see what is going on, you should have a camera inspection done. People around here charge about $300 to do a basic camera drain inspection. You can buy a camera for $500, maybe cheaper on e-bay. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/cta...emnumber=93765

If I had to ever camera a drain again, I would buy one. The reason I didn't buy one last time was that I needed to camera over 50 feet of pipe, and the inexpensive cameras I have seen are limited to 50 feet.

The camera inspection will give you many of the answers your looking for without digging up the yard.

Jamie

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Old 10-20-2008, 10:21 PM   #3
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basement floor drain problem


Jamie,
Thanks for your quick response! I did call one of our local contractors today to see about getting a camera inspection. I hate to spend the extra money, but on the other hand, it makes a lot more sense than jumping in and throwing away thousands of dollars by doing "exploratory yard surgery." He won't be able to get here before Wed. or Thurs., so I'll be keeping my shop vac busy in the meantime. Yuck.

I talked to a neighbor further up the street and she said they'd had a similar problem a couple of years ago. Turns out it was something to do with the city sewer line having collapsed on her drain line (she really wasn't sure about the details but it ended up being the city's responsibility). Somehow I don't think I'll be that lucky, but one can always hope....
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Old 10-21-2008, 06:34 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by radioiowa88 View Post
Jamie,
Thanks for your quick response! I did call one of our local contractors today to see about getting a camera inspection. I hate to spend the extra money, but on the other hand, it makes a lot more sense than jumping in and throwing away thousands of dollars by doing "exploratory yard surgery." He won't be able to get here before Wed. or Thurs., so I'll be keeping my shop vac busy in the meantime. Yuck.

I talked to a neighbor further up the street and she said they'd had a similar problem a couple of years ago. Turns out it was something to do with the city sewer line having collapsed on her drain line (she really wasn't sure about the details but it ended up being the city's responsibility). Somehow I don't think I'll be that lucky, but one can always hope....
Most of the time you are responsible for the drain line up to right around the street. So if your main drain is working properly, chances are good that it is going to be your responsibility, unfortunately.

If the volume of water is high enough that it gets to be a real pain with a shop vac, you could get a small sump pump, there are sump pumps that are designed to suck up water from very close to the floor.

Best of luck, I know how frustrating mystery drain problems and basement water problems can be and are.

Jamie
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Old 10-22-2008, 10:03 PM   #5
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basement floor drain problem


Well, good news and bad news on the drain front. The water fairies haven't magically made it disappear (one can always hope!). However, it has receded from its high points. I sandbagged the furnace in prep for the three days of rain we're expecting (it never fails!). It's not really high enough to run a portable sump pump just yet, but I'd prefer not to replace major appliances just in case. Fortunately it's turned out to be stagnant storm sewer water and not "waste" water from the sewer.

We weren't able to run a camera through the drain due to size, but it turns out that the camera/excavation guy had been working with some neighbors down the street on a similar problem. Given the location and age of homes and trees in our area, he's convinced it's tree roots in the field tile and/or my drain. He had a map of the town's sewer and tile lines-- the latter of which appear to run diagonally past their house and pretty much through my yard. Lucky me.

Our game plan is now this: The plumber will come in, break up the floor and cut the pipe so that we can send a transmittor through the pipe to find where it leads. If it goes where we suspect it does, the excavation guy will come dig up the yard and cut off the pipe, installing a shut off valve so that I don't have everyone else's water flooding back into my home through the drain. In the meantime, we'll install a sump pump in the pit where the drain used to be and life will be good.... Or so I'm told. If all goes as planned, we'll hopefully be able to do all of this for around $1500. Not cheap, but it could be SO much worse. (There are some benefits to living in a small town). On the bright side, he said I shouldn't ever have problems with the city's sewer backing up into my house because my main line sits higher than the majority of lines in the area. At least that's one bright spot.

Thanks for your posts, Jamie. You've been a really big help! I'll keep you posted as we get further into this project.
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Old 10-22-2008, 11:52 PM   #6
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basement floor drain problem


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Originally Posted by radioiowa88 View Post
Well, good news and bad news on the drain front. The water fairies haven't magically made it disappear (one can always hope!). However, it has receded from its high points. I sandbagged the furnace in prep for the three days of rain we're expecting (it never fails!). It's not really high enough to run a portable sump pump just yet, but I'd prefer not to replace major appliances just in case. Fortunately it's turned out to be stagnant storm sewer water and not "waste" water from the sewer.

We weren't able to run a camera through the drain due to size, but it turns out that the camera/excavation guy had been working with some neighbors down the street on a similar problem. Given the location and age of homes and trees in our area, he's convinced it's tree roots in the field tile and/or my drain. He had a map of the town's sewer and tile lines-- the latter of which appear to run diagonally past their house and pretty much through my yard. Lucky me.

Our game plan is now this: The plumber will come in, break up the floor and cut the pipe so that we can send a transmittor through the pipe to find where it leads. If it goes where we suspect it does, the excavation guy will come dig up the yard and cut off the pipe, installing a shut off valve so that I don't have everyone else's water flooding back into my home through the drain. In the meantime, we'll install a sump pump in the pit where the drain used to be and life will be good.... Or so I'm told. If all goes as planned, we'll hopefully be able to do all of this for around $1500. Not cheap, but it could be SO much worse. (There are some benefits to living in a small town). On the bright side, he said I shouldn't ever have problems with the city's sewer backing up into my house because my main line sits higher than the majority of lines in the area. At least that's one bright spot.

Thanks for your posts, Jamie. You've been a really big help! I'll keep you posted as we get further into this project.
That sounds weird that they can't get a camera in it and have to break it up to access it. Most of those camera are about 1.5" and will fit in a 2" pipe or less. Hard to imagine any drain pipe that is smaller than that... So I am not sure what you have going on. There are scopes that work over a 2mm wide piece of fiber, someones gotta have a camera that will fit in there.

That said, 1500 sounds really low for that kind of work.

Thanks for the update, I wish I could tell you more that would help. If the tear out work is necessary, the price you got quoted sounds good.

It is really hard to say whats going on, I am kind of puzzled that the drain pipe is too small to get a camera into..

Sorry I don't know anything else that will help.

Jamie

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