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My House’s Drainage Pipe Blockage

Updated on March 23, 2017

My house was built in the 1950s and had plumbing made of galvanized metal. I had already spent around $3500 to replace the water pipes with copper in the 1990s. I had been using the sink strainer wherever possible to prevent hairs, linens, and similar objects from sneaking into the drainage pipe. Up till now, my drainage pipes inside the house have no problem and do not need replacement. But, my drainage line outside the house is another story. The primary reason has been due to the pine trees that I planted more than 30 years ago. Now, they are all around 40 feet tall providing the much appreciated fresh air at night and cool shade during the hot sunny days.


The first time I needed the plumbing rooter service was in the early 1990s. It happened after I used the washing machine for the laundry. I noticed that the water discharge started to backup in the bathroom bathtub. The plumber brought in the heavy-duty snake machine. Since my house did not have a cleanout in the front yard, the only access to the main drainage line was from the ventilating pipe on top of the roof right above the bathroom. As a result, it became a two-person job and I was charged accordingly. The snake machine pulled out a lot of tree roots which were the culprit for the blockage. Since the total cost was a fraction in comparison to replacing the broken drainage pipe, I decided to tolerate the employment of a plumber to fix the blockage problem which usually occurred twice a year.


After 5 years, upon the recommendation of a plumber, I was convinced to pony up $600 to install a cleanout close to the front door in the yard. In this way, my cost of roto-rooter service would be reduced by a third as the operation could be accomplished without going up to the roof. To install the cleanout required the followings:

1) Dig a hole around 5 feet deep to locate the existing drainage pipe,

2) Cut out a section of the pipe around 18 inches long,

3) Insert a T-shape pipe between the broken section,

4) The vertical part of the T-shape pipe will reach the surface to function as the cleanout hole.

After the plumber located and cut out a section of the drainage pipe, he showed to me its condition. I was surprised to see that it was made of compressed, hard, asphalt-coated paper. It was 5 inches in diameters and no longer round but ecliptic in shape. The plumber explained that it was due to pressure and old age. The new pipe was made of hard plastic and it would not have such problems.

After fitting the ends with rubber tubing, the plumber was able to connect the T-shape pipe with the out-of-shape pipe seamlessly. Overall, I was pretty happy with the money I spent on the cleanout and saw the possibility of doing any future drainage work myself.

Home Depot

To DIY, I needed to get hold of the heavy-duty snake machine used by the professional plumber. So, I went to the local Home Depot to find that a new machine cost around $2200. But a used one was available for rent at $45 for 3 hours. Due to its size and weight, I needed the help of a friend and a pickup truck to take it home. To operate the machine safely, I learned to push the half-inch thick steel cable into the cleanout slowly and alertly. Whenever the snake encountered a slight resistance, I stopped the turning machine and tighten the cable before proceeding to turn the machine again. Several drilling bits came with the machine. I found that the corkscrew was easier and more effective to work with than the blade type. The corkscrew was easier to penetrate the blockage and pull out the entangling tree roots. The blade could be used to cut away the tree roots at a distance less than 10 feet. At longer distance, its effectiveness degraded. From my cleanout to the street was around 45 feet. So far, the corkscrew has been effective in creating a clear path through my over-40-years-old hard cupboard pipe.

A Cheaper Machine

After renting the heavy-duty snake machine to fix my drainage problem around 2 times a year, I started to notice that a smaller and less expensive snake machine for sale at Home Depot. It cost $320 with a length of 75 feet. It was light enough that it could be handled by a single person. I bought it and tried it out with satisfaction. Since it was not as powerful as the one that cost $2200, I needed to use it when the blockage was still light. After a while, I was able to develop a regular schedule of my drainage pipe maintenance. Up till now, I am able to keep it flowing without trouble and my pine trees seem to be happy too.


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