Friday, January 01, 2010

Christmas Joy and sewage

( I know many of you are well holiday seasoned by now.  I want to share this Christmas day experience with you anyway and I will probably repost it next December. )
Legend has Santa coming down the chimney.  This past Christmas we had unwanted presents coming up.
We had a Christmas Day disaster.  Now I realize that in the big picture of life many people have suffered through more extreme disaster such as hurricane Katrina.  But like Katrina we had sewage flooding but fortunately on a smaller scale.

photo from FreeFoto.com

It was looking to be a quiet Christmas Day this year because the grown kids schedules put our family celebration off for two days.  It was just wife, still-at-home daughter, and myself.
I had just settled down to some blog and web surfing when out of the basement there arose such a clatter.  My wife rushed upstairs to sound an alert.  We all needed to report to the basement ASAP.
It was flooding.  Initially, we both thought it was the problem we had spent big bucks on just little more than a year ago.  We had an annoying problem with the fast draining of washing machine loads.  Plumbers had dug into the floor and replaced sections of the drain pipes.  Could it be that it was back again?
The water was rising and we didn't have time to ponder plumbing.  We just needed to scoop water and stop the spread of the water.  Daughter and mom started picking up and moving stuff.  Stuff - no time to ponder why this stuff exists here - just get it moved out of the water's path.  Our daughter had an incentive to get the stuff out.  Most of it was hers.
Maybe 10 or 15 minutes into this it became clear that the water was still coming up strong.  We knotted up an old towel and jammed it into the drain pipe.  The towel didn't hold.  It started to be pushed out by the water pressure.  We slid a big tub filled with collected water on top of it.  That worked.
What also became clear was how UNclear the water looked.  It also smelled.
Fortunately I had an old wet vac and it still worked.  The 5 gallon attached bucket filled quickly.
For the next 5 hours (the alert was sounded about noon) we all worked on scooping, sucking, squeegee-ing the sewage.  We hauled 5 gallon bucket after bucket of water up and out to the back yard.  Obviously we could not use a drain.  Luckily it was raining then snowing outside.
I was ankle deep in raw sewage all afternoon.  After I was able to lower the water level, I checked the drain by moving the big tub off.  It was still coming in!  I started wondering now how much water could our house have in the drains.  A quick check between us confirmed that none of us had used any drain for hours.
I called my house-building-carpenter brother (thanks bro for being there).
Me- "Merry Christmas, how much water is there in the drain pipes of a house?"

Bro- "Huh?  What are you talking about?"

Me- "I pissed off someone in Bethlehem and now we have water flooding the basement."
After some back and forth Q&A, it was determined that the water was coming from outside the house.  It was backing up from the sewer system.  Our neighbors were sharing their waste with us.  How nice!
We had called a few neighbors and ones at home checked and no problem was found anywhere we called.  We were special.
Did I mention - it was Christmas.  Who would be around at the public works department?  My wife called the police department.  After some questions they promised to relay the issue to the public works department.
I was not hopeful.  We had slowed the flow to a manageable amount but it was still seeping in.  It would need to be watched and sucked out all night.  We started brain storming about where we could use a toilet, a shower.  I would sleep on the floor upstairs. 
Who did I pissed off in the Holy Land?
Maybe our karma was not too bad - the public works called back.  Some more Q&A and he said he would over in about an hour.  Wow, a public works guy coming out on Christmas.
I was watching the drain, when my wife called down to announce a truck was out in front of the house.  I eagerly threw on a coat and headed out into the snowy night.  As I stepped off my front porch the truck pulled away.  Hey come back, don't leave now, I wanted to yell but they would not of heard me anyway in that big noisy truck.
Surely they will come back.
About 10 minutes later I spotted the truck.  This time I stood in the middle of the street to stop them.  There were two of them sitting high in their cab.  He rolled the window down.
"We are working on it."
I thanked them and asked if coming inside to see the situation would help.  No, they could figure it out from the outside.  He did come by later to explain what had happened.
Outcome - grease clog about 100 feet down the pipe from us.  They unclogged it and I was able to shower and use the toilet again.  It was about 9 PM when the water flowed the correct direction again.
It's impossible to be prepared for everything that flows into your life, but this experience taught me a few suggestions that you might find helpful.
Our damage was limited because we have shelves and file cabinets which keeps stuff off the floor.  Those plastic storage tubs are great because they stay dry inside.  You should own a wet vac.  We should also own more buckets.
Another lesson learned was about plumbing (I've never had good luck with plumbing projects) in a house.  The drains only have water in the traps.  A sink trap holds less than a gallon and a toilet trap would hold more but not much more.  If you have water flowing up from the lowest drain and its more than a few gallons, call the sewer department.  The problem is outside your house system.

12 comments:

Green-Eyed Momster said...

I can thoroughly appreciate this post since I learned way, way, way too much about our septic system last year. My driveway is still torn up over the distribution box where our real life sh!t creek was a couple of months ago. We couldn't call the sewer department. My Hubby fixed our problem one week and we're not sh!tty neighbors anymore.
I'm so sorry that this happened to you on Christmas. Last year was a sh!tty year, IMO!
Maybe you can invent something that could prevent this from happening to anyone else? Maybe you could make a million dollars or more with the idea. ??
I hope that never happens to you again.

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Living alone, this is the stuff of my nightmares!
Our septic is failing and we're hoping to make it to March. If not, I may have an equally smelly story to share....

Joanna Jenkins said...

I yi yi! That is no way to spend Christmas-- or any other day for that matter. I am so sorry.

So glad the city turned out to solve the problem on a holiday. I take my hats off to those guys. And so glad it didn't turn out to be a huge expense for you.

Hopefully the problem is solved FOREVER and you don't ever have to do that again.

Wishing to a dry and happy New Year!

Cheers
jj

dave hambidge said...

Holy sh8te and unholy crap. That Xmas will go into the family legend!

Best to you all for a happy and pooh free 2010.

Ocean Girl said...

We were missing you at Christmas and I wondered where you were.

I am really sorry to hear of what happened but it had a good ending, in fact it sounds like a happy ending, something you could share with for many Christmases to come.

The sewerage was not just from one neighbour but it was from the neighbourhood. 100 feet is a long way, and someone has been putting their leftover cooking oil down into their sink! I wonder why did it backflow into your house and not into anybody else's house but you'll never know, someone could come home from the holidays to find their basement in a mess. But you do have to look at it because if it can clog once, it can clog again.

I'll make a point about having that wet vacuum, I could imagine it can come in handy in many emergency situations.

Happy New Year lisleman.

secret agent woman said...

Oh my God, what a way to spend Christmas! I had some basement-flooding problems this fall but it due to excessive rain and an overly-saturated ground. Came in right through the cement walls. I'm still working on fixing it.

lisleman said...

Thanks everyone for the supportive comments - you guys are great. yes the whole mess turned out not to be too bad and will make for a lasting story. My wife is enjoying the removal of clutter.
Green-eyed momster suggested inventing something - well there is a plug device that you can put into your drain to plug it and stop any water going through. The problem of course is it stops the water both ways and could be a problem if the washer overflowed or something like that. I might get one and just keep it handy. The towel with the weight on top worked pretty good.

thanks again for stopping by.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Oh, man, that is horrific. I was upset enough a few weeks ago when the water heater tank malfunctioned and started spilling water in the garage. We had to pull in a ton of boxes and dry them out. Professor X was really secretly happy because it forced me to sort through all the old paperwork and recycle the heck out of stuff.

But sewage. I can't imagine how you stomached it.

Yay for the government employees who came out to rectify the problem. Yes, that word choice was deliberate. Sorry for the lame pun.

lisleman said...

@FF - thanks for sharing - Maybe nature has a way of forcing us to clean-up every so often. I didn't think of doing too many puns about this mess. They would have been crappy.

Unknown Mami said...

Holy crap! I can't believe you were ankle deep in dookie on Christmas. That stinks! But how awesome is the public works dept?

lisleman said...

@unknown mami - dookie - that's a new for me - it sounds too cute for what it was like. Yeah that public work crew was better than the post office delivery.

Ocean Girl said...

We were missing you at Christmas and I wondered where you were.

I am really sorry to hear of what happened but it had a good ending, in fact it sounds like a happy ending, something you could share with for many Christmases to come.

The sewerage was not just from one neighbour but it was from the neighbourhood. 100 feet is a long way, and someone has been putting their leftover cooking oil down into their sink! I wonder why did it backflow into your house and not into anybody else's house but you'll never know, someone could come home from the holidays to find their basement in a mess. But you do have to look at it because if it can clog once, it can clog again.

I'll make a point about having that wet vacuum, I could imagine it can come in handy in many emergency situations.

Happy New Year lisleman.

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