LESLIE: Ruth Ann in Michigan is on the line and has a question about a clogged basement drain that I think its answer is going to be a lot of work.
Ruth Ann, how can we help you?
RUTH ANN: My house is about 75 years old. And city water and sewer – I had the sewer line replaced, from the house to the sidewalk, with PVC pipe.
RUTH ANN: And that seemed to last about a year. And now, in September and just two weeks ago, I had to have the line Roto-Rooted out again because when I wash clothes, the water is backing up through the basement drain again.
TOM: What did the plumbers find in that line that was causing a clogged basement drain? Does it have roots in it or something?
RUTH ANN: Yeah, still, with the tree roots. There’s a big tree in the front lawn.
TOM: Was that in the new section of PVC?
RUTH ANN: No. They put an outside cleanout. And when they went through the outside cleanout, to the sidewalk, they didn’t find any. I didn’t – you know, they didn’t find any roots.
TOM: OK. So then, when it went from the cleanout back towards your house, that’s where they found the roots?
RUTH ANN: Yep. When they came in the basement and went out to the – towards the street, of course, that’s when they …
TOM: And what do you have now? You have a cast-iron drainpipe?
RUTH ANN: Yeah. Well, that’s what there was under the ground in the front yard.
RUTH ANN: That’s what they dug out.
RUTH ANN: So I’m sure – what they’re saying is that now, it’s probably – they think the tree roots are getting in the line underneath the basement floor.
TOM: Yeah. Well, it could happen. So, your decision is going to be whether or not you want to tolerate this occasionally having to be cleaned out or whether you want to do something about the clogged basement drain. When it comes to do something about it, you’ve got kind of two options, alright?
First of all, you could tear open the basement floor and dig it out and replace it. While that seems, to the average person, like a really extensive job, truth be told it’s not that hard to break up a floor in a basement. It’s about 4 inches of concrete, in most cases, and it breaks up in pretty short order with the right tools. Then you’ve got to patch it, so that’s going to add to the job.
Or you could line the old pipe. And I suspect that it’s probably going to be the same cost as doing the concrete work, which is a reason probably not to do it. But I’ll explain to you what that is. There is a system where a company can basically – it’s like a fiberglass sock that’s sort of inserted into the pipe and then pulled inside-out and then filled up with water – warm water – that makes it cure. And you end up with a new interior surface inside of either a cast-iron or even a clay pipe. And so it’s kind of like building a pipe inside of a pipe. And it’s a way to do this without tearing things up.
Sometimes, if you have a long sewer line and you’re going under driveways or sidewalks or patios or pools or even other buildings, it makes sense to do something like this because you don’t have to do all that destruction to get to the pipe. In your case, it seems like most of this has been done except for this last piece into the house. You might want to think about opening up the basement floor and then doing this last piece to kind of just be done with it. But like I said, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than you just having to pay a plumber once a year for a clogged basement drain, or once every couple of years, to come out and snake that out. Now that you know kind of where it is, it actually gets a lot easier, too, from time to time.
RUTH ANN: Is it possible that tree roots can grow back into that PVC pipe? I wouldn’t think so but …
TOM: No, unless there’s something wrong with it. Unless it’s separated, they cannot pierce those seams. Those are solid, basically plastic-welded joints in those pipes and they should not be able to get in there. So they’re only going to be able to get in between the cast-iron sections, in your case, or perhaps where the PVC and the cast iron are connected, depending on how they tied those together. There’s a tool called a “Fernco connection,” which is like a big, rubber boot with radiator straps, it looks like, on the outsides of them where it gets really tied to one or the other and they can hold odd-shaped things together.
But it depends on how they make those connections. If they did it right, that shouldn’t be an issue. But the cast-iron pipes are in sections, so the roots can crawl right into those sections and they find all the nutrients they need to grow inside those pipes. And so that’s why they like to be in there.
RUTH ANN: Yeah, for sure. Should I call a contractor to tear up the basement floor and put that new pipe in or is that a plumber?
TOM: You’re going to need a plumber regarding your clogged basement drain. You’re going to need a plumber for that.
RUTH ANN: OK.
TOM: And I would call – I would go to HomeAdvisor.com, find plumbers in your area that are listed there. Read the reviews. I would personally interview a couple of them – two, three of them maybe – and get an estimate on the project. And then choose the one that you’re most comfortable with.
RUTH ANN: HomeAdvisor.com. Yes, I’ve seen that. OK. Alright. That’s awesome.
Could you tell me one more time? What was the – if they were going to put a lining inside the existing pipe, what was that made out of again?
TOM: Well, it’s made out of fiberglass.
RUTH ANN: Fiberglass.
TOM: It’s like a worn fiberglass sock, yeah.
RUTH ANN: OK.
TOM: You’ll find the sewer-cleaning companies – the bigger ones – will probably have that service, so that’s an option.
RUTH ANN: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for the information and calling me back.