I'll tell you one thing. Yesterday was a day!

Really, it was a day and a half at least. The whole day was packed full of effort and we got nothing of substance done on the bathroom. That being said, all of our efforts were actually plumbing related necessity items that bumped our regularly scheduled program of grouting.

The roots of this project all started quite some time ago, possibly during the Mineral, VA earthquake of 2011. It's my theory that the shifting and shaking that rattled the ground where our 1886 house stands, worse than any trembler in our home's century plus history, actually caused a little damage to our hundred year old cast iron plumbing stack.

Since our home wasn't built with plumbing, when the first bathroom was added around the turn of the century, a large 4" cast iron plumbing stack was attached to the side of our home to handle that original bathroom's waste water.

It's in every photo we've ever taken of the rear portion of our house and has been an unsightly addition for every person currently alive that's ever seen our house. But after over 100 years in its place, this plumbing stack ultimately met its match by way of the same quake that shuttered the Washington Monument for several years.

A large horizontal crack appeared on the left side of the stack and slowly crept up the lowest five foot section of pipe until it was running clear from the base to the top of the section.

I knew we'd need to eventually resolve this issue for some time, but we kept putting it off since this plumbing stack isn't even in use anymore. Over the years, as bathrooms were added and reconfigured, previous owners re-ran plumbing waste lines within the walls of the home. This exterior plumbing stack is merely a relic of a plumbing time passed for our home. An antiquated vent that causes more problems than good.

This need to eventually resolve our issue came to a head in the last week when our plumbing waste started running a little slow. We knew it was running slow when a long shower would fill up the waste line and allow the water to back up into the cracked plumbing stack. This trick was especially fun when doing a load of laundry produced bubbling foam filled water in the alley area next to our home.

We started on this nagging project by getting several estimates for the removal of the 25 feet of cast iron plumbing stack. Each plumber who visited and provided estimate said the same thing. "My concern isn't about getting the pipe down, it's about what will happen when I start taking it down, and if the whole thing will want to come down at once."

All I could think was, "There are precious original windows right next to the pipe, please, please, please, don't break a window!"

We decided to use a smaller local plumber on the project, O'Neill Plumbing from just down the road. There's just something I like about the guy who estimates the work being the same guy who performs the work. It also helps when that guy's isn't the highest estimate you receive.

Our festivities kicked off when Shannon and his two man crew arrived and got to work. They set up their ladder, devised a plan of attack, discussed their plans with me to make sure I felt good about it, then got to work.

I'll tell you one thing, as a control freak homeowner who likes to be involved in absolutely everything that goes on with our home, it was an excruciatingly difficult exercise to sit idly by letting the pros take care of this one. But having discussed this project with Wendy many times, I knew the likelihood of my own eventual death, either from a fall from the ladder or at the hands of Wendy, so *we* felt it was best to defer to the pros.

As the crew slowly dismantled the stack, cutting out major sections at a time which would allow them to cut all of the way through the pipe with limited access, they attached some strapping to each section and lowered them one at a time.

The sound from the interior of the house was terrifying. The buzzing grinding cutting from the diamond blade had me literally on the edge of my seat. I'm glad to report that Lulu is definitely my daughter, as she was quite perturbed by the myriad of people and noises as well.

Just look at that gaze of utter panic.

After a quick couple of hours the crew had all of the old plumbing stack removed without a single broken window or piece of pipe that had fallen into the waste line below (the other significant risk of this work).

The idea behind this whole project was to leave me a ground level plumbing clean out which would allow an easier service entry in the event we need some service. And this is exactly what I got.

As emotionally draining as hearing the chatter of cutting wheels on my house without my participation was, I really should have been listening to Eye of the Tiger and getting myself pumped up for the next step of the project. As I mentioned, our plumbing waste has been running a little slow for the last week or so.

Things were still draining, but it's like the 4" waste line had been reduced to something a little closer to a drinking straw. The plumbing crew ran a camera down our newly installed clean out and reported, "You've got waste water in there and I can't see anything. But you've definitely got a blockage at about the 16 foot mark."

At this point I had two options. I could:

  1. Ask the crew to use some of the other equipment on their truck to clear and then reassess the blockage (likely to the tune of about $1000 minimum and possibly more if the blockage required excavation). Or,
  2. Thank the crew for their service and rent myself a snake/auger in an attempt to clear the blockage myself, knowing this could ultimately end in the rental of a jackhammer and many more hours digging and even calling the plumber back later if I'm not able to clear things on my own.

Since I'm not one to shy away from turning a small part of any given project into a large part of a project of my own, do you have any guesses which I opted for?

Yup, snake/auger rental.

I rushed down to our local tool rental store and picked up a 3/4" 100' long heavy duty powered snake for the remainder of the afternoon. And in case you've never rented a snake before, I have one word of advice.

If you put the snake in the back of your car, meaning not in the bed of your truck or in your trunk, but actually in your car, you'll want to drive with the windows open. Trust me, you must, I know, just trust me.

Getting this 125 pound behemoth poop chute pummeler out of the back of our car required two sets of hands. But that's easily the most difficult aspect of this tool's use.

After lugging it down the alley I started pulling the large snake out and began feeding it into our new clean out. I've done this once before, probably about seven years ago, and let me tell you how much easier a ground based clean out is than one sitting 12 or so feet in the air. The old clean out was a square hole in the side of the stack that had been covered by duct tape for at least five or six years.

After the 16 or so feet of clean feed I knew I was approaching the blockage, so I grabbed the hose and started filling the waste line through the clean out. My thought was simple. If I could fill it up and make sure the water was visible, I would be able to know for sure when the blockage was clear as the water filling the pipe would vacate as well.

I continued my feed until I hit was seemed to be a bit of a speed bump, but the large snake head (not to be confused with the fish, a snakehead) easily pushed through whatever it was and continued along its route. I fed the snake another 15 feet or so for good measure, and then began spraying the hose into the clean out again in an attempt to once again flood the pipe.

Totally sexy photo, I know!

I actually unhooked the sprayer nozzle to ensure I was getting a maximum amount of water through the pipe, but even after another five minutes of allowing the hose to run we still had no backup. It seems the snake was all I needed to clear the pesky clog. Best of all, I was able to resolve the issue and pack the smelly beast of a power tool up to return it before the rental store closed for the day.

Though we had plenty to celebrate for the day, I had one more thing I wanted to accomplish. Our plumbing waste drain tile is actually a tile, as in, a terracota clay tile. This is pretty typical for a home who had its plumbing and sewage line put in place long before the man made materials of modern day (PVC and ABS) graced the face of the earth.

These earthen tiles were great for the time. They could be buried below ground without the concern for rust, could flex slightly with the earth as necessary, and were inexpensive. But time does take its toll on these rather fragile tiles. And through the years the tiles have a tendency to allow infiltration from nearby tree and other plants roots.

Since our waste line sits just about 1.5 feet below the ground, the risk of root infiltration is significant. But rather than allowing the roots to take hold of the sewer line, possibly causing a clog or complete blockage in need of a re-pipe, we like to take preventive measures.

We've been using a product for the last many years called RootX.

RootX, as the name implies, gets rid of unwanted roots in your sewer line. It's a product that's easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and has kept roots out of our sewer line for going on eight or nine years. The best part is that the new method of applying RootX to the sewer line is tremendously improved and much easier.

The old RootX container used to be a single plastic cylinder filled with the two part chemical. To apply in the old method you'd need to transfer the chemical to another bucket, stir it up, then apply it to the sewer. Given that the warning labels on the product essentially promise death if only a little bit of the chemical gets on your skin (okay, maybe I'm slightly overstating the warnings), the old mixing method left something to be desired.

But seriously, the warning are the most prevalent part of the packaging.

This new two part square plastic container with screw in mixing funnel is pretty awesome (as far as harmful chemical mixing and delivery is concerned).

The container actually splits the two parts that must mix together before sending it down the pipe. Screwing on the funnel and then cupping a gloved hand over the end of the container and tilt it back and forth for one minute, mixing the chemicals together thoroughly during that time. 

The other great part about this new approach is the delivery funnel. Once mixed, just tilt the funnel into the clean out. 

You now have no concern that the chemical will spill all over the place or pull a Donny in The Big Lebowski by blowing all over you in the wind.

After emptying the content of the container into the clean out you just follow it with about 5-10 gallons of water. In our case, I sprayed the hose the typical amount to fill about 8 gallons and watched as the foamy froth actually bubbled back up towards the clean out entrance. 

Before the foam reached the top I capped the clean out and allowed the RootX to work its magic overnight. We had just one more night of not using water, as you're supposed to allow the RootX foam to eat away the roots for roughly 4-6 hours. We tend to apply the RootX as the last item before going to bed on a night where it won't be raining, this way we can sleep while the foam eats away any roots that have found their way into our sewer line. 

You know what they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or in this case, four pounds of RootX is worth $5000 of saved money when it comes to digging up and replacing our main waste line.

Supposedly this is the typical before and after when using RootX and all of its glorious foaming action.

Might need to rent a camera of my own to verify.

We still have some cleanup left from the stack removal. The sanitary tee that once served the first bathroom of the house is now just a hole in the side of the brick, and a few other areas need to be repointed or have paint touched up. There are also a mess of wires that need to be taken out that were hidden by the old plumbing stack. But it feels good to have that old stack removed and our house one step back to looking like it looked back when it was first constructed in 1886.

All told, it wasn't a cheap day by any means. Hiring someone to take out the stack was the right move for sure, but it's painful to pay someone to do something you want to do yourself. 

Comments 14

Comments

7/23/2014 at 1:48 PM

Wow what an exhausting process... thanks for sharing and kudos to you for taking on the last steps yourself!!
After all is it much more rewarding to do it yourself and cost effective too...

Jenna
Eco Chic Sense

Alex
7/31/2014

I had to keep reminding myself of these points while dealing with the smell, but I'm so glad to have knocked it out myself.

7/23/2014 at 3:03 PM

I am so glad to read about RootX. We just moved into our 1880's home in June, and we had a backup the 2nd week after we moved in. Previously, we had a septic tank, and I wondered if there was preventative maintenance we could do on our sanitary sewer line. It was on my "research list," and you have done my research for me. Thank you! -Stacy

Alex
7/31/2014

Excellent! Now I really want to rent a camera to see how well it works so I can let you and the other interested people know. Alt smile

Monica
7/23/2014 at 4:51 PM

we have our waste line rotor-rooted every year or so to mechanically remove the roots (woo, another kind of plumbing work that's disturbingly loud!), I didn't know there was a chemical option! Looks like the toxicity to animal (including aquatic) life is low--so thanks for the RootX info./recommendation.

Alex
7/31/2014

Definitely check it out for your purposes, but I know there's a whole timing thing with the removing the roots and then doing RootX. I can't remember exactly, but it's something like "Apply RootX within 12 hours of having your drain snaked, or wait 2 weeks to apply RootX." The justification is that the roots toughen up immediately after being torn/cut and the RootX doesn't work as well until they soften up a bit again with new growth.

7/24/2014 at 11:17 AM

Hi
Thanks for sharing this info. found it very useful and glad to read and know about rootx.

Alex
7/31/2014

Let us know how it works for you if you use it.

susan
7/24/2014 at 2:37 PM

Clogged poop chute will always get my attention, but my worries about what transpired for you were not realized. I am in AWE of what you do and your desire to do tasks. What I need is to clone you or find someone to do these tasks, since I don't have a clue. What is the hardest for a single, female who isn't handy, but a homeowner, is that every project costs so much more because the work has to be hired out.
Wonderful design for adding the RootX-looks like one of those head slap ideas that is so simple but so smart.

Alex
7/31/2014

I've been looking for a good way to clone myself for a while now in hopes of getting more projects done, but so far I've not been able to make it happen.

Like you, I'm very glad your worries were not realized. Ugh, it could have been so bad.

Mia
7/24/2014 at 5:44 PM

Seems that you'll do anything--ANYTHING--to avoid getting those storm windows done. Poor Wendy;)

Alex
7/31/2014

Exactly Alt wink

They're still on the list for 2014!

Franki Parde
7/24/2014 at 7:14 PM

We live about 10 miles from Mineral...we feel your pain. franki

Alex
7/31/2014

I bet you're still finding things affected this many years later.

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