Adventures in home ownership, part 34.

Our bathtub backed up again. It’s done this every few months since we moved in. It went longer than usual this time, but finally stopped draining altogether. Normally I can use the plunger on it a few times and get it going again, but not this time.

I pulled out the drain snake I had on hand, took the drain cover off and tried to feed the snake in. It wouldn’t go more than a quarter inch. Doesn’t feel like it’s hitting a clog so much as a wall. Turning the handle does nothing. It’s clearly nowhere near the clog. Huh, maybe it’s too big to get past the mechanism for stopping the drain when you want to bathe? I had a similar problem trying to get it down the bathroom sink drain the last time that one stopped up.

Did some Googling. Turns out that, yeah, this snake is probably too big. What the hell would I know? I work in I.T. for Chrissakes. Out to the local Home Depot I go. Find a flat snake specifically for bathroom sinks and tubs. I also picked up a “Power Plunger” that uses CO2 cartridges to clear clogs because a couple of previous backups earlier using a compressed air plunger was the only thing that would clear it. I’m slightly worried I’m going to blow my pipes apart, but I’ll try the new snake first.

Get home and tried to insert the new, smaller, flatter, snake into the tub drain. Again, barely goes anywhere. Clearly not to a clog of any kind. OK, time to break out the CO2 plunger. Set it up, pressed down, FWOOSH and the drain starts sucking down water like an alcoholic at an open bar. I ran downstairs to see if it was pouring into my basement because, like I said, slightly worried I would blow my pipes apart. I can hear the water flowing through the drainpipes and there are no signs of leakage. Yay me!

As the water clears from the tub, I can see down into the drain and I notice that it doesn’t go down very far at all and I don’t see an S bend like I would expect to. More Googling and I learn that I probably have a trip lever with plunger assembly like the one pictured to the right. Except the shoe on mine (the 90-degree angle pipe directly under the grate) is especially shallow.

Now, I’m no plumber, but it seemed clear to me that even the new snake I had purchased wasn’t going to be much use for this so it’s a good thing I bought the CO2 power plunger. This also explains why it seems to get clogged every 5 to 6 months. The house was built in 1959 and has had more than one renovation done in that time. The main bathroom and the master bedroom’s half-bath sit right next to each other and have a door connecting them. The basement is finished with a drop-down ceiling which makes trying to find the pipes to look at more of a challenge than I’ve been able to motivate myself to undertake.

Still, I’m learning and slowly amassing a set of tools that, one day, might be appropriate to the problem I’m having. As of the first of May I have officially been a homeowner for three years and have, so far, managed to not completely wreck the joint. I’ve not exactly improved it much, but I haven’t wrecked it. It’s a low bar, but one I’m happy to be clearing.

9 thoughts on “Adventures in home ownership, part 34.

  1. If you are prepared to take internet advice (I know often people are merely relaying info, rather than asking) – You have quite a beard, so hair could be a problem. Pound shops here sell hair remover, meant for women’s legs, but squirt a tube down (maybe two) and leave for a bit (maybe a little water to move it to the block). As it’s cheap you can afford the experiment.

    Also try Coca-cola. When I was in a reenactment society we had drinking horns – actual cow horns, with bits of cow attached. People used to use bleach to clean this, until one guy found out Coke is 1) Cheaper, 2) more effective and 3) Allegedly passed as a food stuff.

  2. I’m never opposed to a little advice. Sometimes I’ll even follow it. 🙂

    I’ve seen there’s some products out there that are supposed to have enzymes to digest the crud that builds up in pipes that I’ve heard good things about which I may also try at some point.

  3. I assumed you’d already thought about stuff like Mr Muscle. Thought you might like to hear about “one weird trick”.

    I’ve been told Coal in the toilet overnight gets rid of limescale, it’s that acidic.

  4. Another thing that helps is remove the overflow plate and run the snake through that way, after removing the plunger bits first. That T joint where the tub drain runs into the main line will stop a snake every time.

  5. LH, I’ve never heard of Mr. Muscle before. I had to Google it. It’s a Johnson & Johnson product, but I can’t recall ever seeing it in local stores. I may have just not noticed it before. And thanks for the clarification. I thought Coal sounded odd and was wondering where I would even get some in this day and age.

    James, now we’re getting into a level of plumbing I’d really need to psych myself up for. I was proud of the fact that I managed to know I needed to remove the grate from the drain to get the snake down it.

  6. Okay, before you ruin your pipes with drain cleaner, maybe you should learn the proper way to snake out a tub.

    Go to Home Depot and buy a Drain snake.

    It’s a plastic ribbon with hooks on it to fit down that drain and grab hair. They are also called “Drain zippers”. I’ve used a wire coat hanger before with a small hook on the end.

    That’s PART of the process.

    Look at that diagram with the overflow plate. Take the screws out of that, and carefully pull it out and up to remove the drain plunger and linkage.

    Now this has become your “drain cleanout”. This is where you run a snake down the drain to clear any clogs after the tub.

    But never, EVER use drain cleaners. They are hard on pipes — especially in older houses.

  7. DJ, I already have one of those from when the bathroom sink backed up. It couldn’t reach the clog in the sink and I didn’t think to try it on the tub. I’ll give it a shot the next time the tub backs up.

  8. I am the chief engineer for a hotel chain, and I used to deal with bathtub clogs on a regular basis. The zipper was my usual go-to tool. The amount of hair I pulled out of drains made me wonder why I didn’t see a lot of bald women running around the hotel.

    I said “used to” have a problem. A couple of years ago, I converted all of our bath tub drains from the built-in stopper style like the one in your diagram to a popup stopper with a built-in hair strainer that will screw into most bathtub drains. The hair gets trapped at the strainer and can be cleared with your fingers or a brush.

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