The Great Toilet Saga
... or more than I ever wanted to know about sludge!
Sheila and I had been having some trouble with the toilet in our guest bathroom. It would get stopped up when there was apparently nothing in there but water! We’d plunge as needed, but a day or two later it’d get stopped up again. On Sunday, I went to the basement for an unrelated reason and noticed a lot of water on the floor right below where the guest toilet is, and that’s when we decided to call Workman & Sons Plumbing.
Now, for those of you who have never seen their ads on TV, Workman & Sons is a local company. They’ve run several different ads recently but our favorite remains the one where the fellow is on the operating room table when he gets a call to fix a lady’s plumbing problem. He jumps off the table, rushes over to the house, gets under the sink and starts fixing things. He then mows the lawn, gives the dog a bath, and waters the flowers – all this while still in his hospital gown. The lady in the ad goes on to say "He was some kind of super plumber… and cute too!" Anyway, it’s a very funny ad and was probably instrumental in our calling them to help with our problem.
The fellow came to the house at about 11:45 on Tuesday to get a better grip on things. I showed him how the toilet keeps getting stopped up (good thing too, because it did exactly what I’d been telling him it’d do) and then took him to the basement to show where the water was coming out. He said the water was caused by a leak in the wax ring under the toilet in addition to any blockage we might have. He took some notes including our wanting to get a new "super toilet" to replace the old one which had been there for about 20 years.
About 1½ hours later, two new fellows show up – one about 40 and the other about 25, but neither of them have been in the ads (which was a bit disappointing as I was hoping to meet a celebrity of sorts). They brought in the new toilet – sorry, commode (which I guess is their preferred method of talking about such unpleasant things) – and wheeled in this big camera thingy. It consisted of a tubular metal frame with a long tube attached to a camera at one end, and a display screen at the other. The camera was similar to something they’d use in a colonoscopy but, of course, a lot larger and probably much more uncomfortable were it to be used for said medical procedure! They both put on surgical gloves and removed the old toilet and wax ring. He then lowered the camera about 10 feet into the soil stack and after a moment or two said, "You’ve got standing water in there – that’s not good". He pulled the camera out and asked if I wanted to use the eel? Not knowing what the eel was, I said "Will it help?" and he said "Yup, should!" so I said go ahead. They left for about 10 minutes and then wheeled in this other contraption with a tubular frame and a large circular thing stuck to it – very reminiscent of a cement mixer. They then brought in two "snake" thingies consisting of several 10' to 15' segments which could be hooked together to make a single long snake. They fed it in one end of the cement mixer thingy which rotated the snake at high speed and the fellow fed it down the main soil stack.
He had 3 of these segment things down the drain when the machine suddenly made a screeching noise and stopped. He pulled about a foot of the snake back out and then fed it in again. Again the screeching noise and the machine stopped. He did this about 5 times and finally was able to clear whatever the obstruction was. Unfortunately, as soon as the obstruction was cleared, there wafted into the room the most disgusting, foul odor it was ever my displeasure to smell. It was so bad, it just about knocked me off my feet. The fellow smiled wryly and said "Yup, seems to have cleared things up for now!". He fed another 20' or so of the snake down the drain but there was no further blockage. He pulled the snake out of the hole, cleaning and wrapping each section as it came out. When the final length of snake came out he looked at it (it was pretty dark and sludgy) and said "Hmm… tree roots!".
Apparently, small roots can get in to the pipe through any tiny crack or joints and, over the years, they grow larger and eventually block the flow of stuff within the pipe. He said we could buy some "Root Killer" stuff which is 99% copper sulfate solution and periodically flush it down the toilet and it’ll keep the pipe clear. It’ll kill the part of the root left in the pipe but does not kill the tree (although, to be fair, if the tree died neither of us would be too upset) nor harm the surrounding soil.
When they had packed up the equipment, they opened the boxes and installed our new "super toilet". It looks like a regular toilet but there is a separate vacuum compartment in the tank which helps to suck stuff down the drain. It also uses less water than a regular toilet. The practical upshot of all this is that the new toilet works really well. The fellow said you could toss golf balls or a whole roll of toilet paper into the bowl and it would get sucked out with no problems! Good to know, I guess.