Bill Shupp Software engineer, photographer, musician, space geek

30May/110

Our first foray into do-it-yourself plumbing repairs

Last week our drain in the garage got stopped up during a washing machine cycle, spilling water onto the floor. While the dishwasher was also affected, the rest of the house (kitchen sink and bathroom) were unaffected. This is good news since just a few months ago we had some major plumbing work done.  It meant that the sewer line was clear, and the blockage was somewhere in our internal pipes.  We decided to try out a new plumber since we had some minor issues with the previous work.  But since they wanted $225 to snake the drain, we decided to take a stab at fixing it ourselves.  If we failed, all we would lose most likely was some time and effort.

Peg guiding the rented powered auger

The first step was to pick up a hand powered drain auger (snake).  At around $25, it wasn't too big of an investment, and a handy thing to have around.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get it to go into the drain from the exposed intake for the washer.  Instead, it insisted on going up a different pipe with led to the air intake from the roof.  So it was time to get direct access to the cleanout.

The cleanout is underneath a wooden platform that holds our washer and dryer about 6" above the floor.  Whoever built the platform left an access hole in the platform from the front so that you wouldn't have to move the washer and dryer to get to it.  Awesome idea, right?  Unfortunately, this design was useless for two reasons.  First, they didn't bring the cleanout to the edge of the platform.  Instead, they left it about 18" in, making it impossible to work with.  (We tried buying a telescoping basin wrench, but that was useless.)    Second, once we unhooked our washer and dryer and removed the platform, the cleanout cap wouldn't budge anyway.  Luckily, it was attached to the cast iron pipe with flex coupler that was easily removed.  So now we were able to get our auger into the drain.  But we soon found we were having no luck clearing it.  The hand powered wire auger wasn't going to cut it for this clog.  It was time to get serious.

We went down to the Home Depot Pro shop and rented a powered auger, or "rooter" as they call it.  For a total of about $57 including tax and insurance, we rented it for 4 hours (overnight since we got it late in the day), and with only minimum cursing learning to operate the thing, we got our drain cleared!  The hardest part was actually cleaning the rooter before returning it.  Those things are wily!

The new extended cleanout

 

With the drain clear, we decided to not only replace the cleanout with one that worked, but to extend it out 18" so that the next time the drain got clogged, we wouldn't have to move the washer and dryer to get to it.  So we headed off to Lowes and $32 and about 100 questions later, we had the parts we needed:

  • 2' length of 2" diameter  ABS pipe
  • Cleanout cap and coupler
  • Flex coupler to connect it to the original pipe
  • Hack saw to cut the pipe (Lowe's won't cut it under 10' for some reason)
  • ABS cleaning solution
  • ABS cement
  • Caulk to fix some leaky joints we found along the way

 

It didn't take too long to build the new cleanout and caulk the joints, but we had to wait until the next day for them to dry and be ready for testing.  So we took the opportunity to set up some fans and dry out the entire area over night, which would also make it easier to see if our handy work was successful.

The extended cleanout is now flush with the platform and accessible

Our test the next day was completely successful!  No evidence of leaking from the new cleanout or the joints we caulked.  When we put the platform back in place and re-connected the washer and dryer, the cleanout was flush with the access point in the platform.  If we encounter any problems in the future, it will be much easier to deal with.  And since the existing rug got damaged, we replaced it with something more festive.

All in all, it was a fair amount of work, but we only spent around $125.  And now we have a few extra tools, an improved cleanout, and a lot more experience (or "character" as Calvin's dad would call it) to apply to future problems.

Let the washing begin!

The finished product

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