My Blocked Drain
Blockage of the drains. A few years ago we lived in a large house with eight steps up to the front door, that is one step up from the pavement, then a flat bit for five or six feet, then seven steps further. We'd been in the house for a few months when one day a scream came from the toilet and my wife came dashing out yelling that the toilet bowl was about to overflow. I took a look at it and water had risen in the pan and was not draining away. It was totally blocked solid. I said, 'OK, Who's been putting things they shouldn't down the toilet?'
No one had. I went to see an old, retired builder down the street. He came up to the house, looked at the tree on the pavement, and said, 'I know these houses of old. What happens is the root from that tree gradually finds a crack in the sewer pipe, and forces its way in to get at the moisture. Over the years, the root expands and closes the pipe. They used the old china clay pipes in these houses, and they get very brittle. I've seen it dozens of times. But the good news is,' he said, 'it's not your problem. It's the Council's problem. It's their tree and it's in their road. Just call them up and they'll come out to have a look and sort it out.'
'Oh, great,' I said. 'Another thing,' he said, looking at my wall where the single step up was. 'See that damp patch on the wall. That's where the siphon is situated, around there. When there's a blockage the water backs up and comes out of the siphon. That shows you that the blockage is this side of the property, under the pavement.'
'Marvellous,' I said, highly relieved. I'd had visions of hiring contractors, digging up roads costing huge amounts of money. I rang the council and told them the tale of woe. I was told I'd have to write in so that there was a permanent record of my complaint. I wrote my letter and waited, all the time the toilet was still blocked. The level of water in the bowl had gone down but we didn't want to press our luck after trying it a second time and getting the same rise of water up to the rim. We were using neighbours toilets and family showers. Two weeks later I had a reply to my letter, saying that my tree root theory was highly improbable, that the blockage was almost certainly on my property and therefore my responsibility. I wrote another letter asking how they were so certain that it was on my property. Two weeks later I had a reply to tell me that their engineer was coming to see me. Great, I thought. I'll give this guy a piece of my mind, I'll tear him up in strips. On the appointed day, a van turned up with three men in it. One of them explained to me that the sewer pipes left my property then dropped down steeply to the main sewer in the centre of the road. He pointed out the manhole cover in the road. 'All well and good,' I said. 'But if the tree root has wormed its way into it and blocked it, then it's your problem.' While we were talking, the two other guys had lifted the manhole cover using a small crane. We all grouped around the hole in the centre of the road. The main sewer channel was evident about fifteen feet down. 'See the drop from your house to the sewer?' the first one asked. 'Yes, I can see that, but how do you know it's not blocked at some point between here and the house?'
'Because I've never heard of tree roots blocking a sewer before. But,' he said grinning. 'I'll prove it to you' His two men went to the van and brought out a mobile movie camera and a monitor. They connected it all up and lowered the camera down to where my pipe joined the sewer. We could see up the pipe clearly. He drove the camera up the pipe with a little joystick while we watched the monitor. It was as clean as a whistle all the way to my property. Of course my builder friend had joined us to see the fun, and when he saw the clear pipe on the monitor, he walked away without a word. So the problem was mine and I'd wasted four weeks by listening to his theory. I felt a real idiot. The council boys were grinning like Cheshire cats when they left.
I started digging inside my property where the damp from the siphon was. About four feet down I found the pipe. It was a clay pipe so there was nothing to lose, I broke a hole in the top of it. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the blockage. It was cement. There was so much of it that I could just get my fingers between the top of the cement and the pipe.
Some builder in the past had emptied his left over cement down the drain and it had hardened into a solid mass at the base of the siphon. From then on it was simply a matter of breaking out the old piece of cement filled pipe and fitting a new piece over the two ends. I could have saved a month's wait and a great deal of embarrassment if I'd done it on the first day. We live and learn.