DIY Chatroom Home Improvement Forum

DIY Chatroom Home Improvement Forum (
-   Plumbing (
-   -   Desperate! Daily Backup in Bathtub (pics) Please Help Identify the Cause or Debris! (

richisgame 08-05-2012 11:56 AM

Desperate! Daily Backup in Bathtub (pics) Please Help Identify the Cause or Debris!
3 Attachment(s)
Hi, and thanks in advance for your help.
Please let me give you all the facts, then the description.

I live in a 50 year old apartment building in Brooklyn, NY.
My family has been this apartments only tenant, the entire time.

Though not a "luxury," building, tenants are paying from $2,000 to $4,000 for apartments here.
So it's supposed to be a nice place...

Suddenly, just in the last few weeks, the bathtub is backing up every morning, leaving a nasty residue rising up to six inches around the tub.
It backs up even if I close the external valve, (pictured).

I have to spend twenty minutes scrubbing this nasty residue, because it is so extremely difficult to clean off.
(Doesn't everyone spend the first twenty minutes of every day scrubbing their tub so they can then shower and catch the 7:15 am express bus?!)

The handymen here have snaked it, and it makes no difference.

I am including pictures, including close ups, of this detritus, which as you can see is reddish, and sticks stubbornly to the tubs surface.

What's worse is I have a new roommate moving in for September, and I imagine if this is not cleared up promptly, I could lose the tenant...

Has anyone ever seen this sort of debris before, and can
1. identify it's possible causes, therefore possible solutions?
2. identify what this debris is, or might be?

As snaking the line was totally ineffective, could it be the drains, air vent is clogged? (I'm assuming drains have air vents...)

Thanks again for any and all your help, and suggestions.
This is becoming a huge problem, and now may very well cost me, not only real money, but worse losing a roommate I have spent a lot of time interviewing for.
Heck, I wouldn't move in if the tub looked like that every morning.

VIPlumber 08-05-2012 09:44 PM

Hi Rich,

I have a few questions I'd like to pose which will help clarify things a bit for us.

- Which floor are you on?
- Are any of the other residents in the building experiencing the same issue?
- When the 'handymen' snaked the drain, what was their starting point (through the tub overflow, cleanout), what type of auger did they use (hand, electric).
- Other then repeatedly sending in 'handymen', what else is the landlord prepared to do?
- This problem occurs as a result of; you showering, the tenant upstairs showering, etc... as you say it happens every morning as you're getting ready to go to work. I'm just trying to diagnose why it occurs as if on some kind of schedule.

As for the residue, if it's not feces, then I wouldn't worry too much. Whatever it is, it's been stained by the rust in the cast iron pipe, and it can be a pain to clean.

If this was a job I'd been handed, I'd want to put a camera down there to find out where the clog is. And this stuff doesn't come from the vents, not the way you describe it.

richisgame 08-06-2012 11:26 AM

Hi VIPlumber, and thanks so much for your response.

I want to be thorough, so sorry about the long reply which should hit all your points!

Yes, I certainly should have included which floor of the building I'm on! It is a key point for sure.

1.) I am on the first floor. And, my drain line is shared both with my apt line, and directly with the apartment next to mine. So fourteen apartments tubs and sinks use that line.
2.) I brought the neighbor next door in, and showed her my tub. She said her drains are slow, but that nothing ever comes up, (let alone daily like mine.)
3.) The snaking, starting point, was from that external standing valve, (pictured above),
4.) I think it was a hand powered auger. I didn't watch him work, so I can't rule out there was a cordless drill attached. But, there was no power cord, as there's no elec. outlet in bathroom. I don't know the auger's specs., it's reach / length. (I just tried to find out the exact info, but both the super and handyman are unavailable till tomorrow.)
5.) there is no built in tub overflow, (so yes, it could overflow forever! Again, building was built in 1960.)
6.) The only cleanout is under the bathroom sink drain, which shares the same line, and has been snaked through in the past, but for sink issues, though not for the current tub problem.
7.) As to other options, I believe the super will eventually send in a plumber to have a look. I doubt he will have a camera. (I wish I had you coming in, but BC is a long way!)
8.) The backup itself has never been caused by my water use, (tub sink), it's just there in the morning. I have never seen it happen while using it. And, strangely my tubs drain is not slow, which seems counterintuitive. My guess is it may be a cumulative effect from several of the upper floors showering at the same time.

Thanks for telling me not to worry too much.
It doesn't appear to be feces, just that reddish material which is difficult to clean. And, it does look like rust.
Btw, toilet drains have to be on a separate line, so that should be impossible, right?

As to my vent idea, I wasn't suggesting the material came from the air vent, but perhaps the drain flow could be compromised if there wasn't enough air.
For example, if I just cut off the air vent entirely, could that be the cause? And does that sort of thing ever come up in, "the biz?"

Lastly, how does this even happen if I have closed off the drain by lowering the valve? The upcoming pressure just opens it back up?

Thanks again for all your time!



AllanJ 08-06-2012 04:07 PM

The drain stopper may be worn, not stoppig the drain completely.

There is either a partial blockage further downstream (a thin snake won't catch this) or the plumbing system never could handle everyone showering at the same time.

richisgame 08-06-2012 04:20 PM

Thanks Allan for the reply.
I will have them replace the innards of the drain stopper, and suggest a longer and thicker snake.
I certainly hope it's not the system being over capacity, where there is no solution.
As this is a new problem, I will remain hopeful that it's not the case!

VIPlumber 08-06-2012 11:10 PM

Hey Rich,

If you & your neighbour share the same line then maybe it's coming from her side. If she's at the end of the line and drains towards you on the way to the stack, it's something from her line. My suggestion would be to have the next person who comes to auger the line start at her place. The reasoning is that since the problem appears in your tub, then start upstream of the problem area. Seems to me that your external valve may be downstream of the tub drain, could be wrong though.

Now if the drain line starts with you, then goes past her place on the way to the stack, they'll have to use a bigger head on the snake next time like Allan suggests. Either way they'll need a pretty long line to be sure they snake the entire line, maybe 50' or so. And those don't run on hand power, electric only.


Btw, toilet drains have to be on a separate line, so that should be impossible, right?
Up here they have to be last on the line before the stack, but I'm not sure about NYC code (or even 60's code for that matter) so I cannot answer that.


As to my vent idea, I wasn't suggesting the material came from the air vent, but perhaps the drain flow could be compromised if there wasn't enough air.
For example, if I just cut off the air vent entirely, could that be the cause? And does that sort of thing ever come up in, "the biz?"
Yes, in a gravity drainage system, the drains ability to clear is directly related to the air available. Less air means slower drain time. As for no air being available and this is the result? I just can't see that happening. That being said, strange things come up in this biz, usually due to 'creative' solutions tried by homeowners. But you & your family have lived there since day 1, so there has to be a logical explanation and there is. It's the other people in your building. The more people that share a common drain line, the more chances are that there will be problems. I'm currently working at a local hospital and I could go on for hours about the problems that occur with people (read:staff) dumping whatever they feel like down the drain. This does keep me employed though, so I shouldn't complain too much.

Just some food for thought. Let us know how you get on.

richisgame 08-06-2012 11:54 PM


Up here they have to be last on the line before the stack, but I'm not sure about NYC code (or even 60's code for that matter) so I cannot answer that.
I am a little concerned about this answer...!


Less air means slower drain time.
If the air vent for the drain had been partially obstructed, and a lot of people were showering at the same time, the drain which in the past worked, might now back up into my tub?


But you & your family have lived there since day 1
I assume my upstairs neighbors are up showering in the morning as much now as in the past.
And as this phenomenon just started happening, something is suddenly different.
What could be that different that it went from never, to every morning?

Thanks for all the great food. I'll report back!

NYCMaint 12-18-2012 07:43 PM

This may help...
This sounds like buildup in the line, causing a restriction or reduced water flow. This is common on aging pipes, even more-so if they are shared with the kitchen waste line (introducing grease/oil into the line). Picture a 2" diameter circle with the interior caking up to reduce it to (for ex.) a 1/2". This happens slowly over time, and eventually the water cannot drain properly and will eventually start backing up at the lowest point before the stoppage. When water is not in heavy use (from yours and/or other apartments in that line), you may not notice it (water can still drain). I get this complaint the most in the early morning hours when most people are showering, and yes, it affects the lowest floor.

If the handyman is hand-snaking it, the small diameter snake and head can pass through that small space (clearing small obstructions), but the residue will remain and the problem will continue. Most likely, they will have to enter the basement and look for a long run of pipe coming from the tub/basin sink to the stack, and clear that run of pipe (sometimes called an overhead line) with an electric auger with a spear or cutting head. Then run lots of hot water from the apartments above.

Again, if this were an outright stoppage (something trapped in the line), it would have went from good to dead stop. This sounds like a restricted waste line.

By closing your drain, water can back up into the tub, and the stopper will trap it (it works by gravity - force down and it's closed, force coming up will open it). As I said also, that small hole can get easily clogged, and a hand snake will dislodge it, but the restriction remains and the problem comes back again and again.

As for there being human waste... I've seen it happen, but it doesn't look this is the case. The small bits of tissue are unusual, but I've seen people stop up their basin sinks by balling up toilet tissue and then it falls into the waste line. If it were human waste, believe me, there would be no question.

One bit of advice (safe and cheap) for maintaining a healthy pipe: vinegar. Once every three months or so, pour vinegar (buy the cheapest white vinegar) down the drains before bed. Don't run the water. In the morning, pour HOT water down the same drains (NOT the toilet). This will help break up any build-up of grease or soap. The inside of your pipes will look better than the outside.

I'd love to hear any progress you've made in resolving this issue.
BTW - as soon as I saw the picture, I said to myself: that has to be NYC!

jagans 12-19-2012 08:55 AM

1 Attachment(s)
To me this is a no brainer. You have a 50 year old main sewer line that has had 50 years of grease, feces, paper and whatever else anyone has thrown at it for 50 years. Are there any trees out side your apartment building? If so, the pipe may be mostly blocked with roots. I have seen roots grow right through the joints in CI pipe, and you might even have Orangeburg pipe with the age of this place. A cutter snake can go right through the side of that stuff. The pipe is plugged up enough so one or two tenents running water or showering has no effect, but apparently, you have quite a few people that shower in the AM before they go out to work. That is when the flow rate exceeds the ability of the restricted pipe to handle the flow, and since you are on the first floor, you get the backup. As others have said the tub drain seals by gravity. If you fill the tub, and it does not drain its OK They aren't meant for back pressure.

You need a professional plumber with a camera, as the first responder (TIC) suggested. He needs to see what you have blocking that main lateral going out to the sewer main. He needs to determine the type of pipe, and use the correct cutter head to clear that pipe. Considering the age, That line may have to be dug up and replaced.

Leroy and his rechargeable drill ain't gonna cut on this one. I bet your pipe looks like this one:

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:50 AM.

vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
User Alert System provided by Advanced User Tagging (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.

Search Engine Friendly URLs by vBSEO 3.6.1