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Thread: Possible belly in sewage line - need some good opinions

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member Khelban's Avatar
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    Default Possible belly in sewage line - need some good opinions

    My situation is kind of hard to explain, but I'll do my best to give as many details as possible....

    We bought this house 8 months ago. The house was built around 1960. The main part of the house is on pier and beam, and it has a large add-on that is on a slab in the back of the house. There is one bathroom in the main part of the house with the original cast iron tub. The add-on has a bathroom with a shower. I don't have any idea when the add-on was built. Guess I should have asked the seller. lol

    Anyway, when we first moved in the house, we noticed that the tub drained slowly. I tried plunging it, and then running a snake down the drain and overflow. It would start to drain a little faster after plunging it, but it never has drained very fast. We also noticed that the toilet in the add-on would back up if there was any water running in any other part of the house, especially the sink right beside the toilet. Plunging the toilet didn't seem to do any good at all, and if left alone, the water would go down on it's own after a couple of minutes. After a couple of months of living here, I noticed that when water was running in any part of the house, the toilet in the add-on would bubble. The next thing that happened was a couple of months later. I was taking a shower, and looked down to see that I was standing in a couple of inches of water. It was the only time that the shower backed up while I was using it. Nothing happened again for a little while except for the bubbling toilet until about a month ago. My wife took a bath at about the time that I was getting ready for work. I went into the add-on's bathroom, and was hit by a horrible smell, but couldn't find the source. When I got off of work the next morning, I went to take a shower and the shower floor had toilet paper and other bits of sewage on it. It was cleaned out, but when my wife took a bath again that day, sewage came up from the shower drain when the tub was drained. We cleaned it out, but every time that the tub was filled and drained, the shower would fill with sewage. Earlier this week, the sewage came back up, and spilled over the lip of the shower and out onto the floor. We called Roto-Rooter out. He ran a drain snake through our main vent (we have one for each bathroom). When he was done, we tried to get the shower to back up, and we couldn't, but the toilet in the add-on still wouldn't flush right and the tub still drained slow. He tried to run a camera down our vent, but the camera wasn't working. He told me to go back into the house and flush both toilets at the same time. We did, and when I re-joined him on the roof, I asked him what he thought was going on. He said that we had a sag in our sewer line somewhere under the slab of the add-on.

    After reading online about some of the "rooter" companies' practices, I've decided to get some other opinions. I can't afford to hire another plumber right now, but the issue does need to be fixed, and knowing what I'm dealing with will help me prevent any more disasters until we can fix the problem. Any help or questions would be very much appreciated.

    I forgot to mention that the Roto Rooter guy told me that the tub drains slow because he thinks that it has a drum trap. He explained what it was (I'm a novice when it comes to plumbing), and it seemed to make sense, to a degree. I may just be thinking about it wrong, but I don't see why a drum trap would make the tub start to drain a little faster after being plunged. Maybe there's just something about it that I'm ignorant of. Anyway, thanks in advance for any information I can get. If anyone wants to know more that I neglected to tell, please ask.
    Last edited by Khelban; 12-06-2012 at 01:42 PM.

  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    If you had a drum trap, you would not have been able to run a snake through it in the tub. They haven't been code since (I think anyway) before when that was built.

    It's hard to tell when snaking through the roof vent, where the snake actually goes, and, if there's a partial clog in one of the branches where it didn't go, you may still have one. You may also not have proper venting on either the new or the old stuff, but that isn't the cause of backups.

    Fixtures will not drain well if the line is full, and you may have an obstruction (roots, collapsed pipe, broken pipe, bad joint, etc) or a belly in the line. A good operator can tell not only if that's true, but also where it is. They make a locator becon for some cameras that can give you quite accurate indications of exactly where it is. You should also ask for a copy of the video so you can solicit a second opinion or help a potentially different company to locate where the problem is, should you find one, or maybe for a second opinion.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  3. #3
    Test, Don't Guess! cacher_chick's Avatar
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    The one thing that I would have been sure to do is rod the entire main line to the street, which you have never mentioned. If you have a partial clog in the main line, everything is going to come back up at the lowest point in the system.

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    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    There is no way he could determine that there was a low spot in the sewer WITHOUT using the camera. A drum trap does NOT "cause" slow drainage, and since water seems to back up very easily, it does not appear that the tub drain is clogged. He tried to "dazzle you with his brilliance", but was really trying to "baffle you with is B.S." we do not have enough information to give a good diagnosis, and would really have to be there to do our own "snaking and testing", since there are many possibilities which can cause those symptoms. However, a sag in the pipe would normally ONLY cause a problem when it completely plugged the drain, otherwise, water and sewage just flows through, or across it, like a boat over a pond.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  5. #5
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cacher_chick View Post
    The one thing that I would have been sure to do is rod the entire main line to the street, which you have never mentioned. If you have a partial clog in the main line, everything is going to come back up at the lowest point in the system.
    Exactly. I once lived in a rental with the same symptoms, and I had to begin at the far end and work my way back to be sure the line was clear and the effluent actually had some place to go.
    "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people." --Eleanor Roosevelt

  6. #6
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    ONe thing I should have mentioned is that some of those companies have "stock footage" of various problems. When they THINK, or more important YOU think, there is a specific problem they just run their camera through the sewer but give you the "stock recording" to prove you have a problem and they have to charge X dollars to fix it. I have reviewed recordings for customers as a second opinion and had to tell them that the recording they had, had NOTHING to do with their sewer, usually not even a close match.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  7. #7
    DIY Junior Member Khelban's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hj View Post
    There is no way he could determine that there was a low spot in the sewer WITHOUT using the camera. A drum trap does NOT "cause" slow drainage, and since water seems to back up very easily, it does not appear that the tub drain is clogged. He tried to "dazzle you with his brilliance", but was really trying to "baffle you with is B.S." we do not have enough information to give a good diagnosis, and would really have to be there to do our own "snaking and testing", since there are many possibilities which can cause those symptoms. However, a sag in the pipe would normally ONLY cause a problem when it completely plugged the drain, otherwise, water and sewage just flows through, or across it, like a boat over a pond.
    Well, it's good to know that the general consensus is what I was thinking anyway. He was full of it. I didn't want to complain to the guy about the camera, because he wasn't charging me any extra $$ to use it. There are a few things that I forgot to mention when I made my original post. I was operating on 2 and a half hours of sleep at the time. Sorry about that.

    Anyway, when he first got here, I pointed out a cleanout that was in the front yard behind a row of bushes in front of our house. It's pvc and has a cap over it that someone had drilled holes in. He asked me why I drilled holes in it, and told him that the old lady that lived here before us must have had it done for one reason or another. I told him that I didn't think that it was anchored into the cast iron below because I had popped the cap off before to try and snake it myself with what I had. It wasn't anywhere near adequate for the task, but i was going to try anyway. When I shined a flashlight down the pvc, I could see the rim of the old cast iron coming across the middle of the pvc, so I knew it wasn't connected. Roto-Rooter guy grabbed the pvc and pulled it out of the ground. He shined a light down into the hole, then told me that he didn't think that the cast iron pipe below went anywhere. He said it was an abandoned sewer line, and that's when he decided to go in through the vent. I asked him why he felt that way and he said that it's because of where the line was running. Our house faces west and all of the plumbing in the house is on the northern side of the house. The cleanout is at the southwest corner of the house. He said that it made no sense for it to be there because there is no plumbing near it in the house. Made sense to me, but I'm no expert. I couldn't give him any suggestions as to why they would have run the sewer line there.

    When he ran out of cable on his snake through the vent, he left it running, and we got down from the roof to listen for where the snake was in the line. We found it in the front about midway between the front face of the house and the manhole by the street in our front yard. He didn't have enough snake to get all of the way to the sewer main, and if he had a longer one in the van, he didn't mention it. He was surprised to find out that the cast iron below the before mentioned cleanout was still our active sewer line. He seemed to think that the sewer should be running more in line with where all of the plumbing in the house was. Again, I'm no expert, so I didn't know what to tell him. When he pulled the snake out of the vent, he pointed out some grease that was streaked on the cable.

    When he had my wife and I flush both toilets at the same time, he said that he felt it was a belly in the line because he heard a gurgling, and then a whoosh as the drain let loose. When he wrote out his receipt, he wrote "Dip in sewer - no warranty".

    Another thing that he mentioned is that the vent for the bathroom in the add-on was way too small. It's a 1.5" pipe. He told me that may very well be why the toilet backs up when water is being run elsewhere because it isn't allowing enough airflow for the toilet to drain efficiently. I know I've got some work ahead of me to get it replaced, and will be tackling it soon.

    Now for the updates.... I noticed after he left that the drains still weren't draining efficiently. I asked around up at work to see if anyone had a heavy-duty sewer snake that i could use. I was going to go in through the shower drain to see what that would do. The only snake I could get ahold of was a thick tape with wheels on the end of it (don't know what they are actually called). I couldn't get it to go into the shower drain because about a foot down, there seems to be a sharp elbow that I couldn't get the tape to go around. I decided to try the cleanout. I dug down to get to the cast iron. It was about 3 feet down. There were some roots growing down into the cleanout from where the pvc and cast iron weren't connected. I was able to pull them out of there fairly easy. I ran the tape towards the street until I couldn't get it to go any farther. When I pulled the tape out, I laid it out on the ground to see how far I had gone and It stopped just short of the sewer main. I had hit some kind of obstruction and couldn't get the tape to go any further. I don't know if it was an elbow or some kind of blockage. I tried pulling the tape out a little and ramming it forward again with no success. When Roto-Rooter guy was here, he told me that anything past the water meter was the parish's (I'm in Louisiana) responsibility. Don't know if that was accurate or not, and haven't been able to get a conclusive answer over the internet. The water meter is about four feet deeper into our yard from the sewer main. I've left the hole in our yard because I am going to follow one piece of advice that the rooter guy gave me that seemed to be sound. I am going to replace the section of cast iron that is right there, and run two pieces of cast iron up from there to have two cleanouts there that run in each direction.

    Anyway, I know that this was long, but tried to get as much out as I could. I know the problem or problems can't be completely pinpointed without actually being here to diagnose, but I hope that one of you can give me an avenue to explore until we can afford to get another plumber out here. One thing that Rooter guy said is that I could run some baking soda and vinegar down the line and that should help. If he thought that a belly was really the problem, I don't know how that would really help, but I guess it's worth a shot. lol Thanks for the replies. And it's good to know that my gut wasn't leading wrong on some of what he was telling me.

  8. #8
    DIY Junior Member Khelban's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hj View Post
    ONe thing I should have mentioned is that some of those companies have "stock footage" of various problems. When they THINK, or more important YOU think, there is a specific problem they just run their camera through the sewer but give you the "stock recording" to prove you have a problem and they have to charge X dollars to fix it. I have reviewed recordings for customers as a second opinion and had to tell them that the recording they had, had NOTHING to do with their sewer, usually not even a close match.
    Wow! That is something that I will have to look out for in the future and good info to have. I wish his camera would have been working properly so I could have posted it to youtube for others to take a look at. Well.. if there is a chance that a stock video would have just been given to me, then I guess it wouldn't have been much good anyway.

    One thing I again forgot to mention is that one thing he told me to do was to periodically pull my toilet up and run a plumber's bladder down there to blast away anything that could be caught in the belly.
    Last edited by Khelban; 12-08-2012 at 02:04 PM.

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