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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a bit of a saga so sorry if there's information overload but I tend to figure better too much info than too little.

My husband & I bought our first home, a HUD foreclosure, just after Christmas. We are in South Dakota, btw. It's a modular on a semi-finished basement. It has 3 toilets upstairs (2 back-to-back) and one downstairs (that one's on an ejector pump) About a week after we moved in, all the upstairs toilets clogged and the bottom one seemed to work but sent bubbles up the line and made the tubs backup. So we called a Drain-cleaner guy and he ran a camera through our lines and had no trouble until he hit a wall about 5 feet out from the house heading to the city sewer. And then he couldn't find a clean-out. So he suspected the sewer line had collapsed.

So we had a contractor come out, he dug up where the dead-end was and found a buried clean-out and that the sewer line had separated from the house as the dirt settled. He replaced everything and installed a new clean-out up top. He said the pipes weren't glued properly before and that he assumed the rest of the line out to the street would be the same but that it was all downhill to the street and properly pea-graveled and that we should be fine.

All of this was done January 17th. Everything has been fine since then. And then Thursday morning (the 30th), the back-to-back toilets clogged. My husband was home alone getting ready for work. Bath, toilet and clogged. He
plunged repeatedly but couldn't get them to work. Part of the trouble is when you plunge one, the water in the other seems to move, too. So we called the camera-drain-cleaners and arranged for them to come out Friday morning. I did some googling at work and when I got home that evening, I put some Dawn dishsoap down the two toilets, let them sit about 15 minutes and then poured a bucket of barely-warm water in the toilets and they both flushed fine. We thought it was probably due to the flushable wipes my husband has been addicted to using and he finally agreed, no more using them. (they were cottonelle brand which Consumer Reports says do break up after several hours.) So I canceled the camera/drain guy.

Saturday morning the doorbell rings and it's the contractor. He'd heard from the drain guy and was in the neighborhood so he wanted to check in. He was concerned it might be the sewer line, farther down where he didn't check. I told him our theory about the wipes and he agreed that we should discontinue their use and told us to let him know if we have any further issues. I thought that was pretty kind of him.

Then Sunday morning the toilets clogged again. Plunging didn't fix anything. Pouring warm water and dishsoap didn't fix anything. A friend of ours mentioned there may be a problem where the two toilets connect so I went to town and bought a toilet-auger. (Like if they used a T-connection instead of a Y-connection or something.) I could only find the 3-ft kind of toilet auger which I'm not sure would be long enough but I had to get something. When I got home I tried the buckets again and the toilets seem to be flushing just fine again so I never used it.

But now I'm paranoid. What if the line is partially broken further down after all and the reason the toilets suddenly magically clear is the water dissipating outside? We've decided to only use one of the two toilets for a week or so and see if anything happens again. But should we call the camera guy to check the lines to be on the safe side? It's over $200 for him to come out but maybe we should spend it for peace of mind? The 3rd toilet upstairs seems to work when the two are clogged but maybe that's just because it's on the other end of the house and we never use it so it's pipes aren't full?

I called the contractor this morning and he advised we open up the clean-out, stick a hose about half-way down, and run it while using a flashlight to peer down and see if everything drains properly or starts to backup. He said that'd at least help us narrow things down to problem inside vs outside. Not really looking forward to that since it's about 16 degrees outside but better today than tomorrow when our high is supposed to be 7.

Will that work? Or will the water head into the house instead of away?

On a possibly separate note, I also noticed a little water on the cover of the ejector pump when I checked out the utility room downstairs yesterday morning. The green light by the pump alarm was on so it looked like everything was functioning ok. But we've never even used that bathroom other than to test it. And water just sitting on the cover seems odd?
 

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His advice is good---that cleanout should allow you a clear view of the main line---if the sewer is running slow or clogged --the water level will rise in the cleanout--

We have a good crew of plumbers here (an experienced home owners) --one will be along soon---it's still working time for many--Mike----
 

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I suspect your problem is outside- very good, thorough post too!
The water down the cleanout is a good alternative to the $200 camera but it wont pin point the location.
Also, you may have some rocks, dirt clods or similar stuff down stream from the clean out- caused by the repair work- that the hose may break free and solve your problem. I've seen it before but not often. Then again, your contractor maybe right- another joint has failed. If the line is old enough you may have a root issue.

The basement pump will only discharge when the basin is full so it will take several flushes to activate the pump. Check the pipes overhead of the pump for water spots/stains.

I had a call back on a pump I installed- water on the lid. Turns out the owners cat thought it made for a good litter box :eek:
 

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Sounds like you've done the right things so far. Fixing the break in the main line and discontinuing use of the so-called "flushable" wipes.

As for the new problem: Is the plumbing exposed so that you can take pictures of where the two toilets are plumbed back to back?

Sounds to me that either something isn't plumbed right or you have something catching solids/paper. Maybe a nail or screw driven through the vertical stack.

should we call the camera guy to check the lines to be on the safe side? It's over $200 for him to come out but maybe we should spend it for peace of mind?
Running a camera the remainder of the way to the city main would definitely be wise to give you that peace of mind.

On a possibly separate note, I also noticed a little water on the cover of the ejector pump when I checked out the utility room downstairs yesterday morning. The green light by the pump alarm was on so it looked like everything was functioning ok. But we've never even used that bathroom other than to test it. And water just sitting on the cover seems odd?
Look around (above). Does anything appear to be leaking/dripping on it? Does it look like it's come from above or come up out of the sump basin? Upload a picture of that area too if you can.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Soon as my husband gets home, I'll use his camera to take some pictures & upload them. Not a lot of the plumbing is exposed but I'll show you what I can.

The house was built in 2006 but obviously a few things weren't done right or the sewer line wouldn't have separated like it did. But there probably shouldn't be any roots problems since it is a newer home and the only tree in the front yard is an old stump way on the side of the house.

There's also minor foundational issues but that's another post.

It's already dropped to 9 degrees outside right now. We're a little concerned about running the hose from the spigot outside. Do you think filling both tubs and then letting them drain while we look down the clean-out would give us similar perspective?
 

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It's already dropped to 9 degrees outside right now. We're a little concerned about running the hose from the spigot outside. Do you think filling both tubs and then letting them drain while we look down the clean-out would give us similar perspective?
A high volume of water is best. I don't blame you however, for not wanting to stand outside and play with a garden hose.

If you watch in the cleanout with a flashlight while running a bunch of water, you should be able to see if the water starts backing up. Otherwise, it should look like a steady stream of water flowing.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks. We'll try the tubs and just running all the faucets afterwards while we watch & see what happens. I'll post the pictures in a bit. He just got home but wants dinner first so it'll be a little while. But I'll be back tonight!
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Well, the drain cleaner guy called to ask how the hose thing went- since we hadn't done anything yet he advised against the tub idea & said to pull the clean-out cap and take a peek - that he suspected the pipes might be filled to bursting and he was afraid the tub thing would be the straw to break the camels back. So we went out & pulled the cap off - water is only a foot or two down the clean-out and it's at least 8 feet down to the sewer pipe. So I suspect it will be hotel tonight until either he can come map it or the contractor come out tomorrow. :(
 

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Well, the drain cleaner guy called to ask how the hose thing went- since we hadn't done anything yet he advised against the tub idea & said to pull the clean-out cap and take a peek - that he suspected the pipes might be filled to bursting and he was afraid the tub thing would be the straw to break the camels back. So we went out & pulled the cap off - water is only a foot or two down the clean-out and it's at least 8 feet down to the sewer pipe. So I suspect it will be hotel tonight until either he can come map it or the contractor come out tomorrow. :(
Hmm yeah, not good. Don't run any more water. Just don't rush into having another repair done until you determine the exact problem.

Not that it matters right now, but I thought you said the basement was on a sump pump? So the sewer shouldn't be 8' deep. If so, the basement wouldn't require a lift pump.

I think you'll need to try snaking the line first, then run a camera again to figure out what's going on.

Keep us posted.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I'm not really sure how deep things are - it looked 8' but that's me just flinging #s out. The ejector pump lifts 3 or 4 feet?

The contractor is the draindigger guy. I wasn't sure what to call him. We live in a bit of a remote area so finding someone willing to come out is tough. The Drainmaster guy recommended this construction ditchdigger guy when we first discovered the sewer line is broken.

Drainmaster is coming to run the camera at 11am. Depending on what he finds, he will try fixing it or the ditch guy will have to Or if it's all the way out with the city pipes, the city will have to handle it.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Update! How ironic that my first posting at the DIY Chatroom is turning not so very DIY, although at least we are trying to be informed? I'm sure I'm using all the wrong terminology here but I'll try to convey what I understand.

So the cleanout was empty this morning - that's good so it is draining, just very slowly. They ran the camera and the line bellies about 10 feet out (so pretty much just past what was replaced) and then comes up about 20 feet out and that's as far as he can get the camera. The draindigger guy says he can come Thursday and he thinks they can get it all in one day. He wants to replace everything done by the guy who laid this line but then, while things are dug up, run the camera to inspect the remaining line all the way to the city main.

He thinks that the portion of the line that was installed by the original developer is probably good. That it's just the work done when they built the actual house that is bad. But better to inspect it now for peace of mind while they are down there digging. Also, apparently there's at least two other developments in town that are notorious for trouble at the city-hookup spot. This isn't one of them but they want to inspect it good while they are in there just in case.

He is still talking to the town to figure things out and get our local laws but assuming our town is anything like the big city nearby, everything is our responsibility up to the main city line. So hopefully the developer's part of the line is good because then we won't have to dig up the street.

Does that all sound good so far?
We're planning on a hotel the next two nights but hopefully we can be back home Thursday night if all goes well.

I did get pictures of the Ejector pump. I just haven't had a chance to upload them from my husband's phone. If I'm lucky, I'll have a few minutes tonight to do that. We did find the spot where it is leaking - a coupling (I think) on the waste line. Hopefully, just something that needs tightening but I'll share the pictures first. We aren't planning to touch anything until after the sewer line is repaired anyway.
 

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Sounds like your contractor has it under control. The process you describe is probably the best approach.
One suggestion though, if you have to go into the street, compare the street portion of the cost in February versus delaying that portion until warmer weather- after the asphalt plants reopen. Your township may want an expensive temporary road patch only to be fixed in the spring
 
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e did find the spot where it is leaking - a coupling (I think) on the waste line. Hopefully, just something that needs tightening but I'll share the pictures first. We aren't planning to touch anything until after the sewer line is repaired anyway.
Thanks for the update. Sounds like you've got it under control for now.

That leak was likely because the line was backed up. Probably a rubber coupling that holds part of the ejection line together just above the check valve.
 

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Does that all sound good so far?
We're planning on a hotel the next two nights but hopefully we can be back home Thursday night if all goes well
Oh and if you haven't already, talk to your insurance company. They probably won't cover the cost of the repair, but they may cover your hotel expenses.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Well, they are done and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm also really confused cause I don't understand everything that happened. Here's what I think I've been told:

So they were supposed to work on the sewer line yesterday. (It was frigid, a high of 4 degrees.) My husband swung by the house after checking out of the hotel around 10:45 to see if they were there & they were already at work digging up the yard with their backhoe. He asked if they needed anything and they asked him to unlock the basement door in case they needed to get to the utility room for anything. Then we didn't hear from them the rest of the day until I was just leaving work at 5:05. The Sewer Guy (Contractor?) called and I thought he was calling to see if I could come over. But he was calling to tell me they didn't finish after all - that they needed to get different fittings. I asked if the camera had been run yet & he said not yet as the Camera/Draincleaner guy couldn't come until Friday also. He was mostly calling to let us know to go lock the basement door.

So right off the bat I'm wondering if they really didn't finish because of fittings or because they were waiting for the camera and because of the extreme cold. So I went by and locked the door. A ditch was dug from about 5ft from the house (about where they had stopped the last time) to a few feet from the street (just short of the red painted stripes showing where the power lines are). A long piece of Schedule 40 pipe was laid alongside the hole, propped against the backhoe which was straddling the ditch.

Then today we don't hear anything again. My husband avoided going by the house because he didn't want them to feel like we were checking up on them. (silly) I swung by the house on my way to work at 8am and unlocked the door, texted the Ditch guy & told him but didn't hear back. Then he calls me about 3pm and asks if I can run up to talk.

I get there and the backhoe is just finishing up piling the dirt back over the former ditch. It's in piles because of the cold, the ditch guy says it is too frozen to clean up nicely and it'll just have to settle in the spring.

He tells me that the line didn't belly after all. That the camera/draincleaner guy just thought so because there was so much water in the line. That there was a spot with a series of fittings and a small curve about 20 feet out that was solidly packed with dirt/gravel. (He shows me the chunk of pipe - I will post pictures tomorrow when there is daylight) He said it was all from the earlier break that was repaired - that during the previous break, there had been so much gravel washed down the line that it clogged it up down there, too.

So there was the previous spot coming out of the house which was repaired, then a long stretch of pipe, then the clog, then more pipe running under the power lines, under the road to the main. They re-used the long stretch of pipe because it was fine and dandy, sch40 which he likes, very clean, etc. They just replaced the clogged chunk.

At some point (I'm really not clear when) the camera/draincleaner guy cleaned the pipes. He got supposedly 125 feet out cleaning which is a mystery to them as supposedly the city main starts about 20 feet out from where they were. But his camera is broken from when he came the other day and it slammed into our clog of gravel. He actually left today to head to Denver and fix his camera. So he couldn't use the feature to find exactly where the line was under the road.

Ditch/Sewer Guy kept saying camera/draincleaner guy didn't come today cause he had to go repair his camera. And he said he held off having him come yesterday since they were having issues with the fittings. So I'm a little confused when did he run 125 feet of line to clean if he didn't come? Or he did come, then left, then didn't come back?

So since camera/cleaner couldn't come today, the contractor/digger guy ran a hose with some kind of sewer nozzle. He ran the hose 50 feet out to make sure there was no gravel left in the pipe. When he pointed a light into the pipe (the piece poking out from under the power line where they were about to replace clogged section) he could see two spots where it wasn't perfectly straight - where the line was offset a tiny bit. But he says it was offset with the further piece slightly below the closer piece and since water runs on the bottom, we should be fine and not to worry. He also never felt his hose hit the city main line which he thinks is odd. But without a camera, there's no way they can determine anything for sure. According to the city, the city main is 20 feet out. But he never felt it so he's not sure what is going on.

So because of the two off-sync parts of the pipes & the fact that they aren't sure where the city main line is, he recommends having camera/draincleaner guy back out in the spring/summer just to have a look and make sure everything is A-OK.


My husband and I just don't know what to think at this point.

For one, if this clog was part of the original problem, then shouldn't they have run the hose the first time and caught the problem then? Should we have to pay for this when we already paid once? Or at least, should we expect a discount - no transportation fees and so on? (We don't know what the bill will be - he quoted us $1500-1700 on Tuesday when we first discussed this. Which is how much we paid last time. But that was when we thought the line bellied, not that it was more clog from the earlier disconnect)

Two, this whole part about "the pipes not being seamless when he shines a light down them, but not to worry, but have it checked out in the summer". And the city sewer line they aren't sure is where it is supposed to be. How should we feel about this? We wanted peace of mind and to know 100% no more problems and I don't feel like we were given that. But at the same time, if this guy was trying to give us the run-around, he wouldn't have told us all of this in the first place.

Should we just relax, not worry, resume life as normal & just mark on our calendar to have a camera run in a few months? Maybe I should talk to the guy from the city who came out to watch and took some pictures of his own? (Is that normal or just one of the things that comes with being in such a small town?)
 

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I think you need a new camera guy. Have it video inspected right away. As far as whether the excavation contractor did the right thing, it's hard to say without seeing pictures of what was going on. If they re-used the old pipe, you definitely shouldn't have to pay for new pipe which would have been included in their original bid. Post some pictures. A little hard to follow your story, but it sounds like they didn't accomplish much at all.
 

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DIY wife
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Yes, it's about as confusing to us, as well.

Well, here are pictures of the chunk they replaced and while they worked. I should have a series of pictures in the next day or two showing details of what they did. The clogged portion was at the extreme end, under the backhoe.











 
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