Monday, March 19, 2007

My Downstairs Plumbing, Vol II: The Plop Thickens

It gets better.

The rest of the plumbing in the house must have been watching me during the last episode and got the idea that I was responsible for the murder of the drainpipe and toilet flange. It took revenge on me the only way it knew how. In an incredible and disgustingly literal way last Saturday afternoon, my house took a giant shit on me.

Let's back up a bit before we get to that part: after my last post I did some poking around, and a bunch of signs (and a comment by Da Snoop) pointed to a clog between the main standpipe and the city sewer connection as the root cause of my plumbing woes. A local plumber concurred, and suggested the City of North Adams' Water and Sewer Department keeps a cape and set of tights in the back room to swoop in and save the day in cases like this. Eager to fulfill that mental picture, I called downtown and explained the problem. Shortly therafter, three guys from the city came out to snake my sewer connection. None of them were wearing tights.

We traipsed around the cellar looking for the main sewer pipe cleanout, which we never found. Our guess: it's buried somewhere within 3 feet of the foundation wall, 12 to 16 inches under the southwest corner of the basement. None of the branch lines will work to get them in. There's nothing they can do. They left the house, tried snaking out the sewer pipe from the manhole to the property line, and told me to call them back when I find someplace they can stick their auger into.

I had a few ideas, believe me. But now I was back to square one. At a loss, I cast my eye on the crappy old washing machine that was in the basement when we bought the place, but have never and wouldn't ever use.

In a good swift kick to the nuts of the plumbing code, the previous owner had put the drain hose from the washer straight into a 1.25" inch hole drilled into the side of a 4" vertical cast iron pipe. It was an illegally vented drainpipe branch, poking straight outside somewhere underneath our porch. Wonderful. But a light went on in my head: I would simply take the drain hose out of the standpipe, get my auger in through the hole, and snake out the damn thing myself.

Brimming with unfounded confidence, I secured a 50' auger and some pipe repair materials, stood steadfast by the old crappy washer, and pulled the drain hose out of the hole. It dripped some foul stenchy water, then began oozing out a plug of nauseating semi-solid grayish-brown slime. Imagine a turtle, poking its head out of its shell--only instead of a face coming out, it's actually a glop of the vilest substance known to mankind.

I did what I had to do and used the auger to get in the hole. I felt something give. And then it came.

Out of this three-centimeter hole came an explosion of waste material the likes I hope to never see again. For about 15 full seconds, my house bent over and shot projectile diarrhea an arm's length from my face, in an eight foot long stream, from the depths of its bowels onto my basement floor. About 10 seconds in, I was worried it would never end. I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain a house full to the rafters with poo to an insurance adjuster.

Fortunately, it slowed, and eventually stopped. I stood stunned in a quagmire of confusion and raw sewage. My own house had taken a giant crap on me. What the hell had I done to deserve THAT?

I straightened up and recovered my senses, several of which I would have liked to immediately lose again. It's not like I was covered in the stuff or anything, but the shoes I had on are getting buried in the tomato patch once the snow melts. I hope to never touch them with ungloved hand again.

I called in a hazmat team to take care of the aftermath, and Tara's probably never going to set foot in the cellar again. But it did take care of the slow drain situation. The bathtub is psyched about that, at least. Repairs and remediations are set to take place while we set up to do the final plumbing for the kitchen sink and dishwasher. It'll be just like a real house, sooner than later.

Until then, I believe my house and I have reached an uneasy truce. Let's see how it holds.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ah, Downstairs Bathroom Plumbing,
We Hardly Knew Ye

About a month ago, the plumbing in my downstairs bathroom came to life. It acquired full sentience. Became a conscious being. It was a miracle.

Here's the interesting part, though: having achieved its goal of being the first bathroom plumbing system to experience a sense of self--to reach beyond mere copper, brass, wiped lead, and porcelain to take a sniff of the unexplored realms of consciousness--its very first act was to commit suicide.

The signs were ominous and the portents veritably dripping with looming tragedy, kinda like the part in Flowers For Algernon when the mouse starts acting all about-to-be-deady.

One day last month, apparently right after my bathroom plumbing came to life, I noticed the drain in the bathroom sink was a little slow. So, as any unsuspecting accomplice would have done, I decided to remove the S-trap underneath it and clean out any potential cloggage therein. I mean, there's a lot of hair going on in this house. Still, fair enough, easy enough; mission accomplished.

But my glow of plumbing confidence was matched only by the stench of impending death from the chromed brass drainpipe, which decided while I was reattaching the trap to take some quality time and simply disintegrate. It just (intentionally, I swear) turned into about 400 smallish pieces of jagged chromed brass flakes right in my fingers, leaving a great big empty space where something to keep sink water from getting all over my bathroom should have been.

A quick run (actually, more of a hurried trudge) to Aubuchon Hardware produced a Fernco coupling--a little rubber sleeve with hose clamps on either side of it--and a new piece of drainpipe. I hooked this all up with the meager earthly remains of the previous drainpipe. To my surprise, this textbook jury rig has held water for a couple of weeks. I thought I had saved my sink.

But instead, it seemed that my sink had actually become a zombie, creeping the streets at night moaning "Braiiiiiinnnnss" and terrorizing the other bathrooms in the neighborhood until sunrise.

Then just today, the toilet flatlined. Or at least went into what the cardiologists call crapicardia: not getting rid of all the...well, we'll call it the Republican Party platform...after a flush.

So given my liberal arts education, software development background, and passing knowledge of quantum entanglement, I made an educated decision and pulled out the plunger. A few plunges later and the toilet was flowing like the rain in Seattle. Yes, it was quiet.

Too quiet.

Then I heard a rhythmic thoomp-thoomp-thoomp sound from the basement below. It sounded a bit like blood dripping from the severed head of a teenager who figured that splitting up to look for the maniacal killer would be a good idea.

It actually was the blood from the plumbing in my downstairs bathroom, dripping from two cast-iron joints in the drain line. Well, it wasn't blood so much as water, but still, it was making a thoomp-thoomp-thoomp sound, circling the proverbial drain. I tried to tighten the dripping cap on the cleanout to no effect, then tried to verify that it was true toilet suicide by flushing again and running back downstairs.

That's when I saw it: a gush of water such as should never be seen by anyone but a licensed plumber, going straight from my toilet tank onto the unfinished floor of my basement. The corpse of my plumbing was laid bare for me to observe in horror. I have nightmares about it. And I haven't even gone to sleep yet.

So requiescat in pace, you brave and beautiful toilet flange, and you merely mortal cast iron hub fittings. You only winked at the face of God--or at least whatever was staring down at you through the toilet bowl--for a brief time. You will be missed.

Donations in lieu of flowery-smelling air freshener can be made to me directly; I'm going to need them when the plumber bill comes.