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Last Spring, I bought an old historic house.  This is realtor speak for “money pit.”  My house would make Tom Hanks and Shelley Long proud!  I have already blogged about my pond pool, but since then we have added a new roof–at one point all five skylights were leaking when it rained.  An old cast iron drain pipe from the upstairs bathroom needed to be replaced, but not before it leaked into the basement and created a mold problem.

Finally, winter came.  The pool is closed.  The roof is on.  The skylights no longer allow cascades of water to fall inside my house.  The pipe is fixed.  A closet and ceiling were torn to the bare bones to mediate mold.  I can now sit in front of my fire and enjoy the house I bought.

Until the master bath toilet backed up.

I tried a plunger.  That worked as well as duct tape on the skylights.

Was it just coincidence that the water was backing up when the temperatures had been in the single digits for a few days?

The master bath is huge and non-historic, having been redone back in the 1980’s.  It has two toilets–his and hers–three sinks, and a large walk-in shower and steam room.  (The steam generator does not work.  Imagine that!)

When you use any of the sinks, the water backs up in the toilet.  The shower is fine.  It has a separate drain pipe–the one we already replaced.

The plumber insisted it can’t be a frozen pipe.  Four inch pipes don’t freeze, and we have no other frozen pipes.  He thinks there is a blockage somewhere, but would need to come back later with other, presumably more expensive, equipment.

So with nothing else better to do, I decided to do some investigating.

Here is where the drain pipes come down into the basement.

Basement

The darker pipe is from the shower.   It’s cold in this room but not pipe freezing cold.

So where does that pipe go?

morepipe

Behind that cabinet?  How interesting!  There’s actually part of the cabinet cut out to access the pipe.

wallpipe

Is it going through the wall????  WTH!  The blue packing material isn’t really insulating very well.  There’s a draft here.

So I head outside into the frozen tundra to see what is going on.

The hole in the wall should come out somewhere underneath this brick patio.

Porch

So let’s take a peek . . .

Pipe

Holy Crap!  The drain pipe actually comes outside the house and then back into the basement!  No wonder it froze!  Who in the wide, wide world of sports would have thought it was a good idea to run indoor plumbing outside?  Maybe you can get away with that in Phoenix or Miami, but not here in central Pennsylvania!

And in further confirmation, once the temperature rose above freezing, the toilet and sinks worked normally again.

Did the previous owner never notice this?  I’m sure it must have been below freezing at some point in the last thirty years.

It has subsequently froze a second time.  I hope spring comes quickly!

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A long time ago (circa 1992), in a state far, far away (well, Ohio actually) I crossed the line.

Any man with opposable thumbs and a capacity for abstract thinking knows that line.  It is the line between a weekend warrior and a professional, be it landscaping, electrical wiring, painting, or building a space shuttle.

In 1992, on a dark and stormy night, when my wife was away, I thought I could be a plumber.  Crossed that line; here’s my sign.

ProfessionalPlumbing

It was a simple problem, actually.  A clogged sink drain on the second floor that would not respond to Liquid Plumber.

I was not going into this unprepared.  I was armed and dangerous.  (I have arms, and I am certainly a danger to myself and apparently to pipes as well.)  In preparation, I went to the local hardware supply store to find the proper tools and ammunition.

I wandered aimlessly through the aisles of plumbing supplies for perhaps minutes—maybe hours—and I might have come back on other occasions as well.  Eventually, I came to a realization:  I did not know what I was looking for.

I stared at the array of pipes, valves, fittings, soldering guns and power tools, many of which were not designed specifically for plumbing tasks but which I thought I could adapt suitably given the correct circumstances and enough beer.

Eventually, a salesman tried to help me.  After I explained my problem, he asked, “Have you thought about a plumber?  You’ve been in here all day looking for something, and you still haven’t found it.  Worse yet, this isn’t even the plumbing section.  These are auto parts.”

Eventually, I left the store with a “snake” to unclog my drain.  He told me how to use it.  A little knowledge, though, can be a dangerous thing.

To make this long story a bit shorter, I couldn’t get the snake to work, even when attached to an electric drill.  Don’t ask.  Just keep on reading and don’t try to get a mental picture of that.  Then I thought I could unscrew the “J” fitting under the sink without a wrench.  Surely, a wood clamp would do the trick.  It did not.  But it did break the hot water pipe.  It didn’t take me long to discover it was the hot water pipe as I tried to plug the gushing hole with my finger.  By the time I raced downstairs with my scalded hand, heading to the basement where the water heater was located–as if I would be able to figure out what to do once I got there–the water had seeped through the ceiling light  into our kitchen.  I hit the wet linoleum floor at full steam.  I also hit a cabinet, I think.  My ear was bleeding.  I was dazed.

After the fact, I reviewed what had happened and made these conclusions:

(1) It is nearly impossible to retrieve twisted coat hangers out of a drain.

(2) Hardware store owners will sell you anything just to get you out of their store.

(3) Do not attach a drain snake to an electric drill.  (I should also note that it is not a good idea to operate electric equipment in a sink plugged with water.  Just trust me on that one.)

(4) If it looks like you should probably use a wrench, then use a wrench (although with a little practice and patience, I think you could get a clamp to work.)

(5) If you have to break a pipe, make sure it carries cold water.

(6) If there is water leaking through a light in your house, don’t turn it on.

(7) If you have to resort to abstract  thinking, or you are looking for plumbing tools in the auto parts section,  it’s likely best to just call a plumber.

YOU WOULD THINK I WOULD HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING FROM THAT DRAINING EXPERIENCE!

Au contraire!  (French for “I am an idiot.”)

It is now 2014 and I have a clogged drain that won’t respond to Liquid Plumber.

I look at the pipes under the sink, and I think to myself, “I can do this.”  (I am an idiot, hear me roar.  In pain.)

I cross the line once again.

I have a wrench this time.  I didn’t need it, though, since the “j” tube has convenient connections that unscrew by hand.

Water dripping!

I run and get a pan.  It’s a baking sheet of some sort, but my wife won’t know.  I only do plumbing when she’s out of the house.

Too much water!

I need a bigger pan!  Maybe a bucket.  Can’t get the bucket in, but a plastic container works fine.

The drain is indeed clogged and I am able to clean it out and restore flow.  Listen to that heavenly fanfare.

Now all I have to do is empty the pan and the plastic container . . .

. . . which I had to tilt sideways to get them into the sink cabinet . . .

[bleep]

It’s like some kind of macabre Chinese water torture puzzle!

Recreation of Plumbing Problem--do not try this at home.  or at work.

Recreation of Plumbing Problem–do not try this at home. or at work.

Sink_2

I was successful at removing the container and cookie sheet with a series of maneuvers–dumping water out of the plastic container into the pan, and then tipping the pan on an angle to allow water to drain out the door opening into another pan.

I managed to fix the clog without a plumber or a trip to the emergency room.

Chalk this one up as a success!

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