Raising a stink
Sunday, January 11
As Eric and I idled away our Sunday morning drinking espressos and watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, a knock came on the door. Bang bang! Maxwell’s silver hammer came down on our heads! “I think you have a sewage leak,” said Mel, our neighbor. We threw on our coats and went to investigate.
Holy crap!! A cesspool was forming around poor Mel’s back stoop, which is only about 15 intimate feet from our bathroom. It smelled awful. I have to say, though, that when Eric graded the side of our house to drain away from our foundation, he did a magnificent job. (Ours is the house on the left—the one that cries out to be painted.)
Of course, it had to be a Sunday. Eric called one of those 24/7 rooter services that don’t charge extra for weekends. Then we went to Costco to shop in denial until the plumbers were scheduled to arrive.
By running the water, we could plainly see where it was burbling to the surface, straight out from our bathroom’s waste line, in the hedge that runs down the lot line. The rooterman (I made up that word … I like it) set to work draining the swamp, so to speak, and digging a pit around the spot where the waste line turned to run toward the street. A little action really turned up the volume on the smell.
The failure of the line did not surprise me. I knew that the old concrete (yes, concrete in places, clay in others) drain tiles were in bad shape, but I didn’t know that the tiles I could see in an eroded hole in the ground were sewer. I thought it was an old French drain. Well … poop. Okay, enough with the jokes.
The estimate to fix the broken line, install a cleanout, jet the line, and scope it came in at a cool $3K … in line with the info Eric dug up online while Rooterman dug up the problem. No one expects plumbing to be cheap, right? But … when Rooterman jetted the line, water geysered up out of another hole 40 feet downstream. So now we had two breaks a long ways apart, and a lot of bad ancient drain tile in between. Fixing the second break would more than double the price. Okay, we’re up to $6,600, and I was starting to freak. I knew that the entire line was suspect and could blow at any time. To do the job right, it should all be replaced. But replacing it all would bring the bill to nearly $11,000.00. I cried.
Rooterman worked far into the night to prepare the fixit pit for the second break. Meanwhile, Eric and I paid a late-night visit to our favorite grocery store with the clean restrooms. As we entered the store, Eric picked a penny off the ground. It had come to that.
I did not sleep much. I got up twice to look at the estimates and once more to haul my snuggly cat, Checkers, to bed for comfort. (I’m sure Eric would have comforted me had he not been sound asleep.) And then I made a decision. We’d have the two breaks repaired and wait until spring (or whenever the remaining line fails) to get a bid from our regular plumber. I finally fell asleep, imagining that I could smell the sewage through the wall … but Duke may have farted.
Monday, January 12
Come morning, Eric agreed that we’d take the “cheap”-but-risky route. After staring at 11 grand, $6600 was looking downright doable (funny how that works). We both worked from home that day, keeping an eye on progress and making trips to the grocery store every few hours. I reminded myself that the staff who worked the night shift weren’t the same folks who were working the next day … no one would recognize us. We had not showered since Saturday, and if this routine went on much longer, we would start to look—and smell—homeless.
In between bathroom runs, we reflected that although we were spending a lot of money, it felt kinda nice to sit back and let professionals do the work. This was not a DIY project. I was glad that the rootermen had fine, dry, sunny weather to work in … not the January norm in this part of the country.
Toward evening, Rooterman had the job sewn up. We could use our plumbing again! (Our water had never been turned off, and we could grab water for coffee and drinking, and small uses like brushing our teeth, but no showers, laundry, dishwashing, or flushing.) The excavations had to remain open until the city inspector signed the permit. We showered and flushed to our hearts’ content. There’s nothing like indoor plumbing. It’s just the greatest invention!!
Tuesday, January 13
I worked at home again and waited for the day’s action to begin. The inspector arrived before 9:00 and pronounced us good to go. I was beginning to feel like we were getting over the hump, and the sticker shock was wearing off … or resignation was setting in. Two new rootermen showed up and spent the entire day capping the new cleanouts, filling the excavations, and tamping soil. They even removed a layer of contaminated soil from Mel’s side of the hedge and hauled in clean topsoil. (We’ll buy some sod and make it look better than it did pre-spill.) By day’s end, you wouldn’t have been able to tell anything had gone wrong. Good work, guys!
Wednesday, January 14
Our original rooterman stopped by to make sure all was well and to accept final payment. By then I was inured to the price and just wanted to put the whole episode behind me. It’s only money, right?
So that concludes our smelly adventure. If you haven’t done it lately, now would be a good time to go hug your toilet and flush a (small) flower into your sewer line as a gesture of appreciation.