Published on November 17th, 2014 | by Henri


Laundry-room drain is backing up

Q.  My house is a 50-year-old small ranch with a full basement. It has no sump pump. About a year ago, my basement laundry room drain started to back up. About a gallon of water comes up, but goes back down within five minutes or so. If I am doing a few loads of laundry, the first back-up has a sewer odor.

About seven months ago, I had my plumber come and rod out the drain. He worked for about an hour trying to clear it but was not able to do so. He could only go about 22 feet.

The next day, I had a sewer man come over. He put a camera down my main drain. The pipes looked quite clean except for a few small roots for which he said he had some solution to kill them. He could not get the camera down the laundry room drain as the pipe is too small.

He put a transmitter down the drain pipe as far as he could, then went over the basement with something like a Geiger counter. It made a lot of noise by the foundation of my house so he said this is where the tile is broken from the weight of the house over the years. He said he could enlarge the laundry room pipe so he could put a camera down there to see what the problem is. Then he would have to tear the basement floor up at great expense to repair the drain tile.

I dread this as my basement is full of 50 years of living (my husband built the house). I am planning on having another sewer man give me a second opinion. The recent severe rains we had flooded part of my basement from the window wells. Because of the drain problem, the water did not go down fast enough. Your opinion and suggestion are really needed.

A.  Usually, the main drain from a house to the city sewer or a septic tank is made of cast iron. This does not break easily. Furthermore, a house should not settle if built on solid, undisturbed ground. If the house has settled, you would be able to tell, as cracks would develop in the walls, and windows and doors may be binding, etc.

Since your husband built the house, does he remember what he used for the drain pipe? Does your municipality have a building-inspection department that issued your husband a building permit and checked on the excavation before concrete footings were allowed to be poured? These are insurances that the house was built on solid ground.

You should have a Roto-Rooter or similar drain-clearing firm come and run its auger through the pipes – these specialists can go much farther than the 22 feet your plumber did. They have solved clogging problems where others have failed. Ask them if there is any charge if they do not succeed in clearing your drain.

The window wells may need to be cleaned. Be sure to remove leaves and any other debris that gets in the wells. More clearance may be needed between the soil in the wells and the window sills – a foot or more should be the minimum, and the soil should be covered with several inches of stones, still leaving a 6-inch clear space between the top of the stones and the window sill. The drain pipe may need to be shortened.

You may also have a grading problem, causing water to get in the wells from the sides. Check it out and correct any negative slope around the wells, so surface water runs away from the foundation.

But if rain came in through your window wells because of the failure of the drain in them, consider installing plastic covers over the wells to keep the rain from getting in them.

If it is determined, after all else, that the sewer pipe is broken, see if it can be repaired from outside. Some skilled plumbers and septic contractors have made such repairs by digging a small tunnel under the footing to replace a piece of pipe under a slab if there is a joint not too far back under the slab.

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