Sunday, September 30, 2007

Acidic Eruptions

I hate plumbing. If you've read anything I've written previously about plumbing, you already know that. This could be reason number 235 why I hate plumbing. I have nothing against the profession of plumbing. It's a good honest way to make a living. It's a good honest way for somebody ELSE to make a living. Just not me.

This latest episode involves the house we bought last December. If you know about this house, you are probably wondering what ever possessed me to buy an old house that has six bathrooms and six kitchens. One where the pipes were all frozen a couple winters ago.

When I finally got the water turned on (which is a separate story all by itself), it began to rain in several rooms from the split pipes in the ceilings. I did what any good handyman would do. I hired a plumber. When it became obvious that this plumber would not finish the job in time because he was so busy, I hired another plumber. About four weeks later, when he was wrapping up the last details, I told him to replace a section of pipe in the basement that came from a second floor kitchen.

"When I turn the water on in the kitchen," I told him, "it drains for a while and then suddenly stops. I estimate from the amount of water that actually does go down that the blockage is in the basement."

He took a look at it and told me that they don't handle that kind of work anymore. "Roto-Rooter and the like has taken all that business from us," he said. "That line needs to be snaked out and we don't have the equipment to do that." He told me that he didn't think just replacing the pipe would do it.

I called Roto Rooter. They said they could be out there that afternoon. Later on in the day, he called me back.

"That one is pretty bad," he told me. "It's completely clogged with grease. I snaked it three times before it would drain at all. And it's still a little slow. I put a whole bottle of Pipe Shield down the drain. It should clear it out. It's an enzyme which will dissolve the grease. Just don't use it for 24 hours to allow it to work. If it doesn't work, I have some other stuff called EZ Flow which should do the trick. It's sulferic acid and should eat right through it. It's expensive stuff so we save that for the really bad cases. Let me know if the Pipe Shield doesn't work and I can come back."

Two days later I called him back. "The water doesn't go anywhere," I told him. "It just fills the sink up."

He came the next day. I received a phone call at work from him.

"I put a whole bottle of EZ Flow down the drain, and it is still stopped up. I think you are going to have to replace the section of pipe in the basement. From the amount of water that goes down before it stops, that's probably where the problem is."

Hmmm. It seems I told the last plumber that. An now I just paid another plumber to come out and confirm what I already knew. I told him I would replace the pipe myself. I had enough into this already. Time to roll up the sleeves and dive in. Tim the Plumber strikes again.

This past Friday, I came to the house armed with a new section of plastic pipe, a few fittings, and my odd assortment of plumbers tools. The fittings on the iron pipe were too rusted to take apart so I attacked it with a hacksaw. It dribbled a rather viscous solution of brown goo as I was doing so, but I soon had the suspect section down. As I suspected, it was completely full of gunk. The section in the ceiling was also full of gunk so I stuck an old paint stirring stick in it to get it out.

The pipe drooled brown every time I pulled the stick out and I soon had most of the gunk out of the exposed section. I ran upstairs and ran some water down the drain to see if it was starting to clear. When I got back to the basement, none of the water had made it down. It just dribbled slowly onto the floor. At this rate, it would take all day for the sink to empty out.

I found a piece of flexible tubing and shoved it into the pipe. The tubing was longer than the stick and flexible so it could go around the elbow in the pipe. More thick brown goo ended up on the floor every time I pulled the pipe out. It was also starting to smell pretty ripe.

After I probed as far as the tubing would allow, I ran up to the kitchen and ran a little more water down the drain. Back downstairs to see that none of it had made it out the open end of the pipe. Just a slow, steady drip, drip of dark brown sludge.

I studied the situation for a little while, wondering what to do next. As I sat there looking at it, there suddenly came from the open end of the pipe a gurgling sound. This sound rapidly rose in crescendo until all at once, with a hissing, splattering sound, a column of brown water erupted out the end of the pipe and splashed to the floor about eight feet away. In a couple seconds, this mixture of enzyme, sulferic acid, and water dwindled to a fast dribble, but not before the entire section of the basement, including my tools, supplies, and an old clothes dryer that happened to be in the line of fire was covered with thick, sludge-like substance. A big wad of stuff resembling a giant hairball also ended up on top of the dryer.

When the flow died away completely, I figured I would leave it until the next day, perhaps it would be more tolerable when it had dried out.

The next day, a Saturday, I waited until the afternoon to give it a good chance to dry. It didn't take long to put the new section of pipe in now that all the hard work was done.. Now when I fill the sink with water and then pull the drains, I get these cool little whirlpools in the water, and the water goes away fast. One more item finally checked off the to-do list. The other task that I did on the same day was to replace a sink in a third floor bathroom. More plumbing, more headaches, fit for another story.