The other day I got a call from a contractor about a house off of York Road in Baltimore City that he had sold to a woman a month earlier. The new owner was getting raw sewage in her basement. Other plumbers had been there three times and were unable to provide a lasting solution.
Part of the problem was the cleanout was buried in the yard and the City wouldn’t do anything to help the homeowner find it. But clearly there was more to this story because the sewer was filled.
I used my camera and although I couldn’t see the problem at first, I could tell where it was. I used my sewer machine to get the line open and then I used my camera to take another look. Somehow a 4” brass cleanout cap had become wedged in the pipe and toilet paper had built up on it over time.
My sewer machine’s head got caught between the problematic cleanout cap and the inside wall of the sewer pipe. I couldn’t move forward or backward. I had never been so stuck in all my life. I dumped a whole bottle of liquid dish detergent down the drain to help lubricate everything. I just kept working back and forth until I eventually freed the tool.
I used a big steel ball cutting head (see photo) to bend the cap and dislodge it. I tried to retrieve the cap, which is always the preferred method, but sometimes it’s impossible, as was the case this time. I had no choice other than to fill up the bathtub with water and to use it to flush the cap down until it reached the main lateral sewer under the street.
Locating in three dimensions
Once the sewer pipe was clear, I used my camera again to find an underground wye. Then I used two locators to find the customer’s sewer cleanout. My camera has a device called a “sonde” that emits a signal that a locating device can detect. I put the sonde at the wye and used my yellow, hand-held locator to determine where the sonde was in three dimensions. Knowing that the wye should be near the cleanout, I then used a ferrous detector to find a buried cleanout, which was six inches under the surface.
The customer, who was understandably dubious that any plumber could solve her problem for her, watched every step of the process, and seemed pleased and satisfied in the end.
I don’t think she’ll have any trouble with her sewer for a while, but if she should, at least she knows where her cleanout is located.
And in case you’re wondering if the cleanout had a cap on it, the answer is, yes. The cleanout cap that I washed down the drain apparently was not from the cleanout pipe that was buried in the front yard.