One Non Crappy and One Crappy Thing We Are Up To

We’ve been busy. Admittedly, most of my free time these days has been paying attention to municipal politics and I’ve been hanging out more than normal on Twitter talking about the upcoming election. We’ve been posting a veritable metric crap tonne of stuff over on Tenth to the Fraser, so if New Westminster municipal politics is your thing, check it out. Also, vote. Seriously, if you have an election this coming Saturday in your town I want to see your butt out there. No excuses – go vote.

But otherwise, we’ve been busy.

We recently participated in an article for the Globe and Mail. Go on, go read it. The part we are mentioned is in the photo slideshow that goes with it. It’s a really interesting article about how perhaps we have reached “peak car” because having two cars (or one car at all for some) is no longer the be all end all. Ross and I made the decision to only have one car. I walk or take transit or use the car sharing co-op. And while the whole “standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain” part of transit is rather sucktacular, it’s worth more to me to keep the $300+ you spend on a car in a month. Anyway, they sent a very nice photographer by the name of Rafal Gerszak who has very kindly given me permission to use these photos here on the Arbolog. And just to dispel any myths: that is not a baby in my middle region (unless perhaps, you count cake and pie as a “baby”). That was a poor shirt choice with those pants now that I see the pictures in print.

This is the one they ran in the article.
But there is also this one.
And this one.
And this one.

So it was fun to see ourselves in a national paper.

But we’ve also had some crappier (pun intended) stuff happen to us lately.

We’ve been derailed slightly on the ongoing house renos. We started having some plumbing issues a while back, and the toilet would gurgle and bubble when you’d drain the tub. I didn’t think much of it until the tub stopped draining at its normal speed and so I did what any normal long haired shedder would do and I dumped a bottle of Liquid Plumber down there. And it didn’t work.

So we borrowed a snake. Not a real one, of course, ha ha ha HA, but a plumber’s snake which looks a bit like this but without the handle part at the end. We snaked the drain tub down and that was no dice, so we then undid a coupler that connected the main sewer line (in our house) to the main sewer line (going out of our house) and snaked from there back toward the tub. We got nothin’ [except I got a crash course in terminology. That coupler is, in fact, called an MJ coupler, for Mechanical Joint because it uses mechanics to be tightened up rather than glue or another adhesive. But all I think about in my mind when I say “MJ Coupler” is Kirsten Dunst in Spiderman as “Mary Jane”].

So, we called in a drainage specialist / plumber who pronounced it a venting issue and suggested that we needed to replace all of the cast iron pipes that exit our house and then travel across our yard underground and connect to the city’s main lines in the middle of the alley. These are probably the original from 1912 when our house was built. He also suggested that one of those pipes somewhere underground in our yard had likely collapsed or had a blockage. He quoted us $3200 to replace that cast pipe. Um… no thank you. Not yet, anyway.

Ross dug up the pipe right as it goes underground (our old house has an external sewer line, which was typical of the age but is no longer the norm) and it looks like what you’d expect – a 4″ cast iron rusted old buried pipe. It takes a sudden left and goes under our paved walkway, so if we replace that pipe we are looking at major landscaping fixes. Whee.

So, like smart cookies we are, we decided to escalate this whole scene one step at a time rather than go whole hog with $3200 – that amount pretty much decimates our remaining basement reno budget and I don’t want to spend it if we can try a few less expensive options first. Mind you, 5 “less expensive options” can add up pretty quick.

We went to Mecca Home Depot and rented the longest sewer snake you can rent as a homeowner for $58 for four hours. This is a much more serious snake than the little handheld jobbie – sort of like a python as to a corn snake. It is a giant cable on a reel type operation, much like this.   Ross and our poor unsuspecting friend Doug (who had showed up with his family so our kids could have a playdate) played “stuff the cable in the hole” for about three hours Saturday morning – because really, what better way to spend your day is there than stuffing a cable into a pipe that normally sewage travels in?

They fed the 100′ in there and it almost reached to our property line – you could hear it banging away outside in our yard. They hauled it back in and…. nothin’. What the hecks? So they put a different type of attachment on there and did it again and…. nothin’.

We called the City after that. You know, we pay a whole bunch of money for taxes and a bunch of money for sewer service ($463.22 a year, to be exact), and we thought “hey, why not?” We were shocked and amazed that not only did the City of New Westminster answer the phone listed on the website for “backups and complaints” (which is totally a tautological expression, as far as I am concerned) on a Saturday during a long weekend, but even more amazing is that they sent a dude 30 minutes later. Yeah. No kidding.

City Dude was very pleasant and nice and patient and wandered around with Ross outside and poked his head inside and let Ross bounce ideas off him, but essentially, the way it works is it is the homeowner’s responsibility for all sewer lines up to the point it connects to the city main (also a fun fact I learned – those things are usually about four feet in diameter!), even if that means you have to go over the property line for the actual connection. 

So we called back the very expensive drainage plumber who had quoted us on replacing the pipes and asked if they could send a unit with a 150′ snake. Home Depot only goes to 100′ for homeowner rentals, so we figure out next step is to go a bit bigger. We know we made it to really close to the end of our property line, but the city’s main line runs down the middle of the alley, not on the edge. They couldn’t come until today so we called around to [a national chain] who was able to come yesterday for about the same price.

Because this isn’t funny enough (and by funny I mean OMFG IF I DO NOT LAUGH I WILL CRY), the [national chain] guy showed up hours later…. with a 100′ snake. You know, the SAME FREAKING LENGTH OF SNAKE WE RENTED OURSELVES. So, he went away (no charge, thankfully). We went back to Plumber A and arranged for them to come after all today. We talked to a different dude than the one who came by and quoted us, and the second guy called back a while later and informed Ross he was going to use a HydroJet – essentially, a really high powered jet of water – to clear the clog.

Hang on a minute. Let’s just back up and think about this for a second.

We have a pipe about 4″ in diameter that is filled with sewage that can’t drain properly, because of a clog that is more than 100′ away from our house. And you want to squirt high powered water in there? One question? Where the eff is the water going to go? Ross and I both immediately had visions of a sewage shower spraying all over the basement. I know our basement is unfinished and all, but um… ew. But you know, he’s an expert, right?

This morning I left for a very exciting resident’s association meeting and got a text from Ross part way through that they weren’t coming. What?

Seems the plumber who originally came (presumably the senior dude) got wind the guy we talked to Saturday was planning to send a hydrojet, and kiboshed it (see also sewage shower). He suggested we pay to have a camera stuffed in there to figure it out what’s going on. For about the same price as it would have cost us to send a guy with a 150′ sewer snake. Dude, really? And then we get to pay you to snake it out after that? Ugh, really?

I’m kind of done with this company now, so we’re on to expert number three, who we skillfully found on Craigslist – where I have had remarkable success finding trades. He’s a two man drainage specialty company based in our city. He’s coming tomorrow and I’ll update this post (for those of you still awake) after. Please, for the love of Dog, be a happy ending.

Here are three pieces of advice I have learned so far:

  1. Get multiple quotes and opinions. Go with what makes the most sense to you.
  2. Write it into the contract when you buy a house that the former owner has to pay to have a company come and snake out the lines. We are likely clearing out a clog that is comprised of not just our hair (and other things) and for some reason that is more disgusting than if it were just our stuff.
  3. Do not watch videos on YouTube of people clearing sewer blockages. OMG.


You’re dying to know, aren’t you?

So, Expert # 3 came by Monday. If you ever need drainage work done at your house I can recommend Wetcoast Drainage. Dan was a hard worker, pleasant and didn’t talk down to me (as a woman, I get that a lot from trades – which is funny because *I’m* the one used to fix cars in this house, although admittedly, these days I get it a lot less), well priced, and dedicated to getting the thing fixed. He stayed positive the whole time he was at my house.

First he ran an auger from inside my house and everything seemed to have gone fine but when we tested the toilet and tub from inside it wouldn’t flow. We had dug a hole in the yard to expose the pipe (and by “we”, I mean Ross) and so we decided to put a clean out in there. A clean out is essentially a little access hatch. So, Dan smashed up the clay pipe and put in a T so that if ever we have to deal with this type of thing again, we have access to the pipes without having to dig trenches.

We shoved a hose down there and determined the water was flowing beautifully from the clean out to the city’s main lines in the alley. So then we knew the problem had to be from the clean out back to our house, which was about 4 metres. Dan shoved the auger in from that point back and while it “went” it got a bit hung up at one spot. So I gave him the go ahead to dig it up. he had to smash the concrete walkway and remove all the hard work I put in making the stone steps and when he exposed the pipe, he called me outside to have a look.

Seems the standard of the day was to shroud the pipes with concrete – I guess to protect them – but one pipe had caved in slightly (perhaps from the weight or perhaps from the work we did with the stone steps), making it oval shaped and providing a bottleneck. Which is why the sewage would back up at the end of the day, seep free again over night just enough for us to flush a few times and have a shower or two and not really notice it and then seep again overnight. When he smashed the pipe, it started to seep sewage from the house side and he ran the auger up there. I will spare you the photos, but I texted Ross with “We have a gusher!” if that gives you enough of an idea of what happened.

So, Dan had to replace a section of pipe about 3-4′ in length.

And that seemed to have solved the problem. Dan charged us just shy of $500 plus tax for the work he did and I feel it was a fair price. Considerably cheaper than Expert # 1. But there’s more.

When I first posted this last week, Melanie pointed out in the comments that in Calgary, the city would send a person to come and shove a camera in the pipes at no charge, and the City of New Westminster people we have dealt with said the same thing. So, I called them Thursday and they were there the next day. They shoved a camera into the clean out and looked from that point (about halfway through our yard) out to the main sewer line.

A few interesting things emerged. For one, our main sewer line is not in the centre of the alley, but rather only a few feet from our property line and secondly, the engineering employees were somewhat surprised that the pipes were only about 3.5 feet down.

I asked them to look from the clean out back to the house and what they saw was a number of misaligned pipes. Because we’re at the bottom of a fairly significant slope, there is considerable run off, which over the 100 years the pipes have been in our yard, has slightly shifted and settled. The worst section was from the clean out to the repair – about 1.5 metres. One of the engineering guys said if it was his house, he’d replace that section. The pipes had a bit of a belly (meaning they were bowed and water was settling) and since there was already a hole where the clean out was and a hole where the pipe Dan repaired was, it wasn’t much more effort to connect the two, and replace the pipe. That seemed like good common sense to me.

So guess what Ross did this weekend?

Ross looking pleased after he ran new plastic pipes (including a tricky Y to connect the laundry lines)

And then he got to fill it all in with gravel and sand we had delivered (another $250).

So all in all we spent just shy of $1000 (rentals, materials, and professionals) not including the entire day Ross got to spend shovelling and hauling. In addition to my recommendations up there, I am going to also suggest if you buy a house in New West, do call the city and determine what’s going on in the pipes. Had we done that first, we may have saved the time of renting the auger ourselves and solved the problem a day or two faster. I still think we would have had to have a pro come but Ross could probably have done a bit more digging himself (and saved us a few hours worth of work from the pro).

Having had to spend this unplanned money has done one other things for us. We’re reconsidering what we’re planning to do in our basement and wondering if we can cut a few corners by downgrading the planned work  (using, say, rigid insulation rather than spray foam because we can do the rigid ourselves but not the spray foam) and planning to have an emergency fund specifically for the house.

In the immortal words of one Lord Baden-Powell, BE PREPARED.



10 years ago


  1. OMG is right. Holy hell. I hope you get that clog exploded in no time flat.

    Is it wrong that I chuckled a little while I read this? Like, my mouth was open in horror the whole time, but also, the ‘sewage shower’ and the ‘backups and complaints’ — I dunno maybe I’ve been hanging out with under-6 boys too much but I’m snorting over here.

    But mostly, may it get fixed, and for not too much more money. Amen.

    1. Oh I’m laughing over here, too. You sort of have to, right? Otherwise it’s the most disgusting thing in the whole world and also kind of one of the saddest things too.

  2. Very adorable photos!

    When we bought our house we had The City (ooh, it’s important when it is capitalized right?) come and they stuck a camera down our pipes to check their condition – no charge. Does your City have any services like that?

    What I loved most about the visit is that the City guy said he wished the City would stop telling everyone to get low-flow toilets because the old pipes (like, you know, OURS) can’t handle them. So our low-flow, dual flush toilet doesn’t work that great because there isn’t enough Umphf to push everything through. New toilet is on my to-do list this winter and I’m just going to give our old/but still new toilet to a friend who has newer pipes.

    And we survive with one car too. The Mister either trains it or bikes to work. Since he works downtown it would actually be painful for him to have to drive and park every day.

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