Snaking a Clogged Bathtub Drain through a Drum Trap

Things have been a bit quiet around here on the blog lately, but I assure you I’ve been keeping busy. Why just today I did some plumbing! I plumbed all sorts of things!

Ok, just one thing. We went on vacation for 10 days over Christmas and when we got back, our bathtub was completely clogged. I’m not really sure how a bathtub clogs while nobody is around to use it, but ours did.

Normally you’d be able to run a drain snake right down through the bathtub and be done with it, but that wasn’t really possible with our old tub for two reasons. First, we have an old-timey drum trap rather than a modern p trap, which generally doesn’t allow a snake through. Second, our tub has an old-timey pop-up drain that also doesn’t really allow a snake through.

Here’s what we were dealing with:

Old-Timey Drum Trap on Bathtub Drain.

Old-Timey Drum Trap on Bathtub Drain.

A lot of folks recommend just getting rid of the drum trap altogether and replacing it with a more modern P trap. But I wasn’t confident I could do that without opening a can of worms that I didn’t want to open right now. I just wanted to be able to clear the pipes without having to replace them right now.

Theoretically, the top of that cylinder just unscrews from the rest of it. However, a quick google search turns up dozens of accounts of people who weren’t able to get the top off because the threads were all rusted shut. My experience was similar. I pushed and shoved on it as much as I could, but it wouldn’t budge. The previous owners of the house left some Liquid Wrench, which I applied liberally, but no luck.

Liqued Wrench from the 70's or Something.

Liqued Wrench from the 70’s or Something.

Again, I turned to the internet, and people recommended using a reciprocating saw to just cut the top off. I also found a few recommendations to drill a 2″ hole in the top, but cutting the top off just sounded easier. And it was. It took me about 2 minutes to saw the top off the trap. I was worried that it would be difficult to keep the saw from riding up or down, and I’d wind up with a jagged mess, but the blade just seemed to guide itself and I had a smooth cut with little effort.

Open Drum Trap

Open Drum Trap

The underside of a Drum Trap after it was cut off with a reciprocating saw.

The underside of a Drum Trap after it was cut off with a reciprocating saw.

After I had the cap off, it was simple to run a drain snake through the pipes. And when I say “simple”, I mean easy, but that job totally sucks because when the drain snake starts spinning, you are literally flinging poo around the room.

Anyway, after the drain has been cleared, the only challenge is trying to figure out how to cap off the top of the drum trap. Since we cut the old cap off, it’s not as simple as just screwing a new one in place. A lot of folks on the internet recommended using a rubber test cap. I used a 4″ cap, and it was just a little bit large, but it was simple to just cinch it down.

Rubber Test Cap on Drum Trap

Rubber Test Cap on Drum Trap

Success. This set-up is water-tight, and still allows easy access into the drum trap in the future.

I’d recommend this strategy to others if they are in a similar situation and want to be able to clear the pipes without having to replace them.

Mo’ Toilets, Mo’ Problems

Well, if having a half-built garage in my back yard wasn’t enough, now I’ve got this to deal with too:

What’s happening to my house?

What is all this gunk?

Problem I don’t need.

Don’t worry, though. We got it fixed, I think.  Not really that big of a deal, just a standard replacement kit for all the guts and gaskets and stuff, although the project involved an angle grinder a few too many times for a project like this.

Fixing a Leaking Sink Drain

Another plumbing problem SOLVED! This is a little more difficult than the last plumbing leak we took on, but not by much. This is still a pretty simple repair.

Our kitchen sink is a generic and low-end stainless steel model. We don’t love it, but it does the job, other than the fact that it leaks everywhere. We have been keeping this giant blue bowl under the sink to help catch the water, but that’s really inconvenient since it’s also our only popcorn bowl. And it doesn’t catch all the water anyway, so what’s the point? The bottom of the cabinet shows a lot of signs of water damage, so we suspect this sink has been leaking for a really long time.

Popcorn bowl under sink.

We knew that the leak was coming from the joint between the sink strainer and the sink, so our first task was to remove the strainer. We didn’t realize it at the time, but in addition to the leaky strainer, there were also a couple of pinhead holes in the sink itself, but these were small enough that we never noticed them until we had the whole strainer taken apart.

The arrows point to the pinhead holes that we had never noticed before.

Here’s a shot taken from underneath the sink, looking directly upwards through the hole in the sink.

The holes in the sink were pretty obvious with the strainer removed.

I was hoping I would just be able to replace the rubber gasket and re-use the old strainer. Unfortunately, the threads on the old strainer were pretty rusty, and I wasn’t able to just unscrew it.  I had to get out the sawzall.

Sawzall.

This was my favorite part of the whole job, but I think it made Mel pretty nervous.

No match for the sawzall.

With the old strainer thoroughly busted, I headed off to the big-box store to buy a cheap replacement. This cost about $15.

Generic Strainer.

I also had to buy some plumbers putty, since I didn’t have any on-hand. I gave the inside rim of the sink a pretty generous ring of putty. This is probably way more than is actually needed.

Plumbers Putty.

To install the strainer, it’s really handy to have one of these: It’s just a fancy adjustable wrench made for just this sort of thing. This is one of those $20 tools that you can live without, but it’s sure nice to have when you need it. Luckily, we already had one from a sink we had installed in our last house.

Expensive tool that is nice to have but not necessary.

The new strainer installed without any problems, but we still had to figure out what to do about the pinhead holes in the sink. Since we don’t even really like the sink, the best solution would be to just buy a new sink, but we want to get a few more years out of this one before be tackle a full-scale kitchen remodel. For now, we’ve just used a quick band-aid fix to keep it from leaking.

New Strainer in place.

Since we didn’t have any epoxy handy, we decided to just use a little bit of silicon caulk on the underside of the sink. I just globbed some on over the holes. Eventually this fix will fail after the caulk becomes dry and starts cracking – but I’m hoping we can get a couple years out of it anyway. When that happens, I’ll try using some epoxy or JB Weld.

Band-Aids.

We let it cure for about 12 hours, then filled the sink up and let it sit for a few hours. NO LEAKS!

Success! Now I’m ready for some popcorn!

Replacing Bathroom Faucet Rubber Washer

We had a pretty busy weekend, but not working on the house. We had just enough time to try and tackle a small plumbing job we’ve been meaning to get around to since we moved into the house a few months ago. There’s a half-bathroom in the basement, which is really pretty dreary looking, but we hardly ever use it, so we’re mostly ignoring it for now.

However, the sink has been dripping non-stop and it wasting a phenomenal amount of water. We finally had a chance to figure out why it was leaking, and what we needed to do to fix it. We figured it was something small, like an o-ring or something, but I’d never worked on a sink this old, so I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.

It turned out to be a total snap. This is a job any novice (like me) can handle.

Here’s a look at the old sink. Don’t look at the dirty wall behind it, or the dirty sink. It was that way when we moved in, and like I said, we’ve mostly just been ignoring this whole bathroom. If you look closely in the next couple photos, you can see the drips of water coming out.

Old Sink with dripping faucet.

To get started, just grab a hold of that hexagonal nut at the base of the knob,  and turn counterclockwise.

Grab the base of the knob with a Crescent wrench.

When that whole chrome piece is totally unscrewed, just keep rotating the handle counterclockwise and the whole thing will come out in one piece.

Just keep turning counterclockwise to pull the whole thing out in one unit.

At this point, if you haven’t shut the water off to this sink yet, you’ll be scrambling to do so now, as water will be pouring out of that hole in the sink. We avoided a disaster like that, but we did have to shut the water off to the entire house, since the previous owner didn’t install shutoff valves on any of the fixtures.

At this point, you’ll notice a rubber washer on the end of that piece. If you’re lucky, it will be in terrible condition, because then you’ll know that all you have to do is replace that washer and you’ll be done. The washer is just held on by a single screw. I was really surprised that this screw wasn’t rusted to pieces, but it wasn’t. Go figure.

Old busted up rubber faucet washer.

All you’ll need to do to fix it is to buy a new rubber washer. These things come in all sorts of different sizes, and the best way to find out which one you need is to just take the whole assembly to the store with you and fit the new one in place in the store. You want it just big enough that it’s a struggle to squish into place.

(The following photo is actually from a different faucet that I was doing the same repair to…)

Replace the rubber faucet washer.

Once you’ve replaced the washer, just re-assemble everything in reverse order and you’re set. No more leaks.

Easy stuff, huh?

Overflowing Laundry Tub

This is what happens every time we do a load of laundry.

Utility sink overflows

The washer discharges into the sink, which can’t drain fast enough to keep up with the washer.

This thing couldn’t drain fast enough to keep up with ANYTHING.

Eventually, it will drain, but on at least one occasion, it has overflowed on us when we got too aggressive about doing a lot of laundry. Luckily, aggressive laundering isn’t much of a problem for us. We’re always willing to take an excuse to do less laundry.

But still… problem right here.

We cleaned the p-trap and snaked the drain already, but it’s still a problem. Not sure what we’re gonna do about it. Probably just live with it.

Adjusting a Toilet Ballcock

Ok, another quick TISH update!

Remember that the City of Minneapolis is requiring us to address 9 items noted on our Truth in Sale of Housing (TISH) inspection. One of the items on the list was to adjust the toilet guts on our main floor bathroom:

6. Plumbing Fixtures – Improper air gap on toilet ballcock.

I won’t show you any pictures, because really, who wants to look at a bunch of pictures of my toilet? Nobody except perverts. Are you a pervert? Does the word “ballcock” make you uncomfortable?

Anyway, I scratched my head about this one because I had no idea what it was talking about. Air gap? What? Then I watched this video from Inspector Reuben, and I realized it was probably one of the easiest things on the list to fix.

I did exactly as the video says, and it took about 5 minutes.

Only one problem, though, now we’re getting a little bit of a dual-flush action on the toilet. You push the handle once, but it flushes twice. Weird, huh? I think adjusting the ballcock up as high as I needed to get the right air gap resulted in the tank filling up quite a bit higher (even after I adjusted the water level back down to as low as it will go). I think we’ll probably try the traditional put-a-couple-bricks-in-the-tank route and see if that helps. But I think it’s good enough as it is to pass our inspection next week.

Ok, after this latest project, here’s the items left to repair before our re-inspection:

1. Sump Pumps – Sump Pump lacks a secure cover.
2. Smoke Detectors/CO Detectors – Improperly located smoke detector in the basement.
3. Electrical Service Installation – Missing house side grounding clamp at water meter.
4. Water Supply Piping – Corrosion noted on water piping in areas.
5. Plumbing Fixtures – No backflow device installed at laundry tub.
6. Plumbing Fixtures – Improper air gap on toilet ballcock.
7. Exterior Pluming Backflow Prevention – missing backflow preventers on exterior faucets.
8. Electric Service Installation – Electric panel located in bathroom.
9. Electrical Outlets/Fixtures – Power mast is loose.

The smoke detector is an easy fix, but I’m not sure about that sump pump cover… I guess I know what I’m going to be doing this weekend…

Installing a Vacuum Breaker

Time to talk about a couple more of our TISH items that the City of Minneapolis is requiring us to address:
Remember these two items?

5. Plumbing Fixtures – No backflow device installed at laundry tub.
7. Exterior Pluming Backflow Prevention – missing backflow preventers on exterior faucets.

The City of Minneapolis requires a backflow preventer or vacuum breaker be installed at a few locations throughout the property. In our case, the City is requiring them on both the exterior sillcocks and the laundry tub in the basement.

These devices are a snap to install. I picked up three of them at the big box store for about $12, and it took all of 10 minutes to install them. Here’s some installation instructions in 3 easy steps:

1. Take a photo of your faucet before you begin so you can blog about it.

2. Thread the vacuum breaker onto the faucet.

3. Grab that little silver bolt head and turn it until it snaps off. You won't have to turn very hard.

I did the same thing a couple times on the outside of my house twice and I was done.

Same thing on the outside of the house.

A caveat, however: Some local inspectors aren’t big fans of these cheap vacuum breakers and recommend using a different kind of device. But for me and my house (and my budget), I’m pretty happy with the cheap option.

Ok, here’s how our list of TISH items is coming so far:

1. Sump Pumps – Sump Pump lacks a secure cover.
2. Smoke Detectors/CO Detectors – Improperly located smoke detector in the basement.
3. Electrical Service Installation – Missing house side grounding clamp at water meter.
4. Water Supply Piping – Corrosion noted on water piping in areas.
5. Plumbing Fixtures – No backflow device installed at laundry tub.
6. Plumbing Fixtures – Improper air gap on toilet ballcock.
7. Exterior Pluming Backflow Prevention – missing backflow preventers on exterior faucets.
8. Electric Service Installation – Electric panel located in bathroom.
9. Electrical Outlets/Fixtures – Power mast is loose.

We only have six more days before our follow-up TISH inspection. Think we’ll make it?

Corrosion on Galvanized Water Supply Pipes

Time to address another one of our TISH repair items! Recall this item from our list of 9 items to address:

4. Water Supply Piping – Corrosion noted on water piping in areas.

I wrote previously about how we hired an electrician to do some work around the house, and one of the items we asked him to address was the missing ground clamp around the water meter (also one of our TISH items). The electrician did exactly what we asked him to do, and we were thrilled with his work. Unfortunately, about 24 hours after he had left, I found this in the basement:

Leak caused by replacing ground wire clamp.

The leak seemed to be coming right from around the new grounding clamp about 6 inches above the basement floor. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the pipe in this location was about as rusty as a pipe could be, and water seemed to be just seeping out the side of the rusty pipe. It was an ancient galvanized pipe, and I suspected that the pipe was damaged while the electrician was installing the new clamp. I called the electrician, and he confirmed that this was probably the case. He said that to install the new clamp, he had to remove the old one, which had pretty much rusted itself solid to the pipe. When he pulled off the old clamp, some of the pipe surely came with it.

It was pretty good timing for something like this to happen since we were going to have to address the corroded pipes for our TISH inspection anyway. As handy as I like to think I am, I still have never learned how to sweat copper pipe fittings.

I called around to a few plumbers, and found one that would be able to come over in a few days. In the mean time, we kept the water main turned off any time we weren’t home. This probably wasn’t necessary, but it made me feel better since I kept having daydreams of the pipe bursting wide open while I was at work and flooding the entire basement.

When the plumber came over, we asked him to replace about 8 feet of galvanized pipe with copper. The previous owner had already replaced many of the pipes with copper, but the first 8 feet after the water meter were still galvanized. Here’s what that 8 feet of pipe looked like on the inside:

Corrosion inside galvanized water supply pipe.

Gross, huh? That orange stuff inside isn’t mushy goo inside the pipes, it’s rock hard corrosion that is literally choking off our flow of water. This is part of the main water trunk that feeds the entire house – we were probably only getting about a quarter as much water through here as we should be.

When the plumber had finished and we turned the water back on, we could instantly tell a difference in how the water flowed out of the faucets throughout the house.

So at the point that I’m writing this, we only have 10 more days to address all the TISH items OR ELSE… Here’s how the list looks right now:

1. Sump Pumps – Sump Pump lacks a secure cover.
2. Smoke Detectors/CO Detectors – Improperly located smoke detector in the basement.
3. Electrical Service Installation – Missing house side grounding clamp at water meter.
4. Water Supply Piping – Corrosion noted on water piping in areas.
5. Plumbing Fixtures – No backflow device installed at laundry tub.
6. Plumbing Fixtures – Improper air gap on toilet ballcock.
7. Exterior Pluming Backflow Prevention – missing backflow preventers on exterior faucets.
8. Electric Service Installation – Electric panel located in bathroom.
9. Electrical Outlets/Fixtures – Power mast is loose.

The other items on the list are all pretty easy fixes, so I’m not too worried.

Unclogging the Kitchen Sink

We had no sooner than finished the Thanksgiving holiday than we discovered we were starting to have a bit of a problem in the kitchen. Check this out:

Growse. Plunging this thing didn't help at all.

Growse. We don’t even have the common decency to remove the dirty dishes from the sink before trying to plunge the sink. Plunging didn’t work at all, by the way, even after plugging up the other side of the sink. Plunging mostly just created a waterfall underneath the sink.

Weekend Renovators: Keeping it classy

Since both sink basins were equally clogged, we knew the clog was further down the line than the p-traps under the sink. We thought about calling a plumber, but decided we’d try to unclog it ourselves once. We went to the big-box store, and came home with a drain auger that we could attach to one of our cordless drills. We had never used one of these before, but it seemed easy enough. First, we had to take one of the p-traps off:

Removed the left P-trap

Then we just kept spinning the drain auger down the drain. We bought a 25′ auger, and we got the entire 25 feet in there without much of a problem. I was getting pretty discouraged. I was expecting to get 5-10 feet into the drain and hit an obvious clog or hairball or something, but I never did encounter any significant resistance with the auger. We got all 25′ of auger into the drain and pulled it all out about 3 times and then put it back together, half expecting it to be just as clogged as when we started.

Probably not a safe place for a baby.

Even though we never really felt like we found the clog, we must have shaken something loose because the drain worked great after we put it back together. Score one for us, I guess!

Truth in Sale of Housing

The City of Minneapolis requires that all houses sold in the City undergo a Truth in Sale of Housing (TISH) inspection by an inspector approved by the City. The inspections are pretty basic, but if something doesn’t meet minimum requirements, the homeowners are required to make all repairs within 90 days of the sale of the house.

What happens if we don’t do them?  I dunno. Maybe the take the house away or something. I don’t want to find out.

We knew before we bought the house that there were a number of items that would require fixing, some of which are not insignificant. Most of these have to do with plumbing and electrical issues.

Here’s the list:

1. Sump Pumps – Sump Pump lacks a secure cover.
2. Smoke Detectors/CO Detectors – Improperly located smoke detector in the basement.
3. Electrical Service Installation – Missing house side grounding clamp at water meter.
4. Water Supply Piping – Corrosion noted on water piping in areas.
5. Plumbing Fixtures – No backflow device installed at laundry tub.
6. Plumbing Fixtures – Improper air gap on toilet ballcock.
7. Exterior Plumbing Backflow Prevention – missing backflow preventers on exterior faucets.
8. Electric Service Installation – Electric panel located in bathroom.
9. Electrical Outlets/Fixtures – Power mast is loose.

One by one, we’ll be following up with each of these, showing what we did to correct these problems.