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Old 08-31-2013, 02:44 PM   #1
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Clogged Plumbing Vent?


I'm visiting my parents who live in Montgomery County, Maryland. Their 2 1/2 story split-level house was built in the late 50's and they've lived here since about 1963. At some point, they had their upstairs bathroom "remodeled" by someone I'm reasonably certain was not licensed since his work didn't include the installation of an exhaust fan.

However, my concern is about the extremely slow drains. The sink is often sluggish. The toilet frequently fails to flush completely although a complete flush can almost always be guaranteed by filling an extra-large soft-drink cup and pouring the extra water directly at the bowl drain shortly after pushing the flush lever.

The real problem is the tub. That drain is so slow that, with the plug mechanism completely removed, at least 6 inches of water will accumulate during a 15-minute shower. Then, after the shower is turned off, it will take an additional 10 minutes or so for the water to seep out, leaving the tub coated with a layer of soap scum, cream rinse, hair, or whatever else was washed off during the shower.

The research I've done so far leads me to believe the problem is probably a clogged vent. I've visually verified that there is a small (possibly 2") pipe exiting the roof above the bathroom and there's a huge tree that overhangs the roof so I'm guessing there's a high probability that the pipe is simply blocked. I won't let my 90-year-old father climb up to check on its condition but my brother, a former volunteer fireman, is comfortable on roofs and is willing to help out.

SO, is it likely that our problem is a clogged vent pipe? If so, what is the recommended method for solving the problem? And is it something my brother can do? (My parents are beyond frugal and would rather live with the current situation than hire someone to fix it. )

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me!

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Old 08-31-2013, 03:23 PM   #2
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Clogged Plumbing Vent?


How many total fixtures are on that one vent?
How did the drains work before he worked on the plumbing?
Are all the drains slow in the whole house?

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Old 08-31-2013, 03:31 PM   #3
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Clogged Plumbing Vent?


Have your brother stick a garden hose into the vent and turn on the water---if the vent does not over flow after 10 or 15 minutes---that part of the vent is fine.

Warn him to be on the lookout for wasps---they are known to build nests in vents.

A bath typically has a 3 or 4 inch vent---

I suspect old clogged pipes---split level homes of that age had s lot of 90s on the drain pipes and tended to clog--add time and rust----that's old---
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Old 08-31-2013, 03:33 PM   #4
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Clogged Plumbing Vent?


One more thought----have someone check on the bathroom while that hose is running---if the drain is clogged the sink or tub might begin to fill.
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Old 08-31-2013, 03:41 PM   #5
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One more thought----have someone check on the bathroom while that hose is running---if the drain is clogged the sink or tub might begin to fill.
While reading your first reply I was thinking oh'mike, OH ***T and then got to the second reply.
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Old 08-31-2013, 03:51 PM   #6
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How many total fixtures are on that one vent?
How did the drains work before he worked on the plumbing?
Are all the drains slow in the whole house?
1. I think the kitchen sink/dishwasher has a direct vent - silver thing sticking up next to the faucet.

2. When I was a child everything worked fine. Don't know whether problems started right after re-model but doubt it or Mom and Dad would have complained.

3. Kitchen is fine. There's a bathroom with toilet and sink located in the basement directly below the upstairs bath but with a full floor between them. The washing machine is also in the basement (which is mostly below grade) and they are fine. The main drain pipe runs through one corner of the downstairs bathroom.

Last edited by KaseyW; 08-31-2013 at 03:55 PM.
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Old 08-31-2013, 07:32 PM   #7
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Clogged Plumbing Vent?


Several things can cause the problems you are having.

1.Check the water level in the tank of your toilet and make sure it is set to the line stamped on the inside of the tank.
2. If you parents are on a lot of medications it is possible that feces may accumulate in the toilet trap. You may need to try a toilet auger but usually you will need to remove the toilet and clean any stuck feces off by hand. Also if you have hard water you may need to clean the holes around the rim of the bowel minerals love to accumulate there.
3. A sign that your vent is blocked is when you do flush the toilet does any other fixture trap gurgle? If not vent is usually not blocked.
4. You also may need to snake the bathtub drain. Use a 1/4 inch rod and a power drill through the overflow drain.
5. Have your parents been living for a while on the first floor? This may allow your second floor accumulated stuff in the pipes to dry and cause blockage issues.

Last edited by Ghostmaker; 08-31-2013 at 07:34 PM.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:36 PM   #8
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1.Check the water level in the tank of your toilet and make sure it is set to the line stamped on the inside of the tank.
2. If you parents are on a lot of medications it is possible that feces may accumulate in the toilet trap. You may need to try a toilet auger but usually you will need to remove the toilet and clean any stuck feces off by hand. Also if you have hard water you may need to clean the holes around the rim of the bowel minerals love to accumulate there.
3. A sign that your vent is blocked is when you do flush the toilet does any other fixture trap gurgle? If not vent is usually not blocked.
4. You also may need to snake the bathtub drain. Use a 1/4 inch rod and a power drill through the overflow drain.
5. Have your parents been living for a while on the first floor? This may allow your second floor accumulated stuff in the pipes to dry and cause blockage issues.
Thanks for the suggestions Ghostmaker.
1. The toilet is one of the lovely old "flushes with gallons and gallons of water" types and the tank fills fully. If it hasn't been used for a few hours, it'll flush just fine. But try to flush twice in a short period and you're usually out of luck. Would accumulated feces cause this? ("clean by hand"?! PLEASE say no. )
2. If minerals have clogged the "bowl holes" what do I use to clean them?
3. Nothing ever gurgles.
4. The tub drain makes a 90 degree turn immediately below the tub and then, as far as I can tell, runs horizontally about 6" before it turns again, presumably down into a P-trap? I tried running one of those plastic snakes through the drain but it wouldn't make the turn. I can remove the cover for the overflow drain without a problem but when you say to use a "rod" are you referring to a solid rod or a flexible snake?
5. The basement bathroom is only roughed in and is full of spiderwebs. It's used only in cases of dire emergency.

Again, thanks for your help!

PS: The time stamp says it's 1:36 AM but it's only 9:36 PM.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:40 PM   #9
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I have a snake sitting on my roof, stuck in the main vent pipe. This is a result of my having tried to clean out the main stack.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:57 PM   #10
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Houses of that vintage used barrel traps, not P-traps.

They get clogged and it is almost impossible to run any sort of snake through them--barrel traps have a removable cap--the rodding must be done from there---at that age the cap will be corroded permanently to the barrel.

This is not an easy job for a pro---and extremely difficult for a home owner---
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Old 09-01-2013, 12:56 PM   #11
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Thanks for the suggestions Ghostmaker.
1. The toilet is one of the lovely old "flushes with gallons and gallons of water" types and the tank fills fully. If it hasn't been used for a few hours, it'll flush just fine. But try to flush twice in a short period and you're usually out of luck. Would accumulated feces cause this? ("clean by hand"?! PLEASE say no. )
2. If minerals have clogged the "bowl holes" what do I use to clean them?
3. Nothing ever gurgles.
4. The tub drain makes a 90 degree turn immediately below the tub and then, as far as I can tell, runs horizontally about 6" before it turns again, presumably down into a P-trap? I tried running one of those plastic snakes through the drain but it wouldn't make the turn. I can remove the cover for the overflow drain without a problem but when you say to use a "rod" are you referring to a solid rod or a flexible snake?
5. The basement bathroom is only roughed in and is full of spiderwebs. It's used only in cases of dire emergency.

Again, thanks for your help!

PS: The time stamp says it's 1:36 AM but it's only 9:36 PM.
Answer to question 1 yes I have seen feces cause a toilet to work that way. Homeowner usually replaced the toilet only once did I clean the feces out by lifting the toilet. But after it was done it worked fine. Problem is usually caused by the trap glazing being eroded or a cheap toilet that did not have it's trap way glazed. If parents are aging I suggest an American standard right height as a replacement. Mine have been installed for 5 years with no issues.

2. You use a piece of wire in each hole. You could also try flushing CLR down the tank or white vinegar just turn off you water drain the tank and pour it down the flapper hole... But you usually need to clean the rim holes one at a time. Another reason to replace the toilet.

3. Then that usually means your vents are working.

4. Use a 1/4 flexible snake make sure you put a slight kink on the end. A rented power snake works best down the overflow because it usually is a straight shot through the trap. Older bathroom installs may have a drum trap pre 1960. Those things need to be removed and a normal trap installed.

Last edited by Ghostmaker; 09-01-2013 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 09-01-2013, 01:01 PM   #12
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I have a snake sitting on my roof, stuck in the main vent pipe. This is a result of my having tried to clean out the main stack.
Thats no fun.. I gather it tied itself into a knot.
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Old 09-01-2013, 05:15 PM   #13
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My snake got stuck on the first elbow in the basement floor. It is actually a steel tape.

I took a large pair of vise grips on the roof and a piece of lumber and a pry bar. I put the lumber across the top of the cast iron, locked on with the vise grips, and tried to pry up. No worky.

I did the same in the basement from the clean-out hole, which is about 4' up. No worky.

Everything is draining fine.

I figure I'll have to demolish the cast iron in the basement, and keep going into the concrete in order to remove the tape.

These damn houses in my development have the main stack coming down the back of the house, traveling across the floor to the front of the house, where they proceed out to the sewer in front. The water enters the house in the front, goes under the slab to the back of the basement, where it comes out.

Just goofy.

I'm sure the cast (1970) could be replaced under the basement slab, but what a mess to do something like this. Why they didn't bring the above grade plumbing across the basement ceiling and have any basement plbg on the front of the house is beyond me.
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Old 09-01-2013, 07:59 PM   #14
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Quote:
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4. Use a 1/4 flexible snake make sure you put a slight kink on the end. A rented power snake works best down the overflow because it usually is a straight shot through the trap. Older bathroom installs may have a drum trap pre 1960. Those things need to be removed and a normal trap installed.
The good news is that, after a little detective work, I found an access panel for the tub plumbing in the master bedroom closet and the drain is installed with a P-trap. The drain makes another 90 degree turn going into it and it has a much tighter arc than the ones in my newer home, but at least it's a P. Tracking down a 1/4" snake is on tomorrow's ToDo list.

I'm gonna have to think about the toilet. It wouldn't be the first one I've installed but it's not as big an issue as the tub.

Thanks a million for your help!
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Old 09-01-2013, 08:33 PM   #15
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By the way make sure you run the water as you snake so you know when you hit the clog. Its probably hair.

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