Katy Elliott

A daily design journal about new england life, home decorating resources, and renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.

I’m A Real Homeowner: Backed Up Pipes, Again.

Posted on | March 29, 2011 | 18 Comments

We’re officially real homeowners. Raw has sewage backed up into the house, at least three times now? Who’s counting, really? This time it wasn’t because the pipes were frozen; it was the damn roots! How many times do we have to clean these freaking things out?

After my post in January, I got a lot of e-mails from neighbors explaining they have their pipes cleaned out every spring and fall due to root problems. They explained because our neighborhood is built on bedrock the roots have nowhere to go. At the coffee shop Monday morning, I swapped pipe war stories and used their bathroom. It seems we are not alone. So maybe this is the house initiating us or should I say, hazing us? You won’t break us!

This time we asked to have a camera sent down the pipes to find out what were really dealing with. Above the actual video of our pipes, edited by Greg—I know gross. But it’s worth a watch just to hear my pipe guy explain the problem in a great Mass accent. We have major roots where the our line meets the city connection. He couldn’t cut through the roots from my side so we were told to call the Marblehead Sewer Department. ASAP made a mark in the street where we have the problem; which is a couple feet from the manhole cover. Stay tuned…

Related Posts:
Yay: New Door, Nay: Frozen Pipes
Ceiling & Frozen Pipes
Field Stone Foundation Rebuild and Digging Out Garden to Lay Root Killer
Weekend Warriors: Tackling Floors and Clogged Drain

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18 Responses to “I’m A Real Homeowner: Backed Up Pipes, Again.”

  1. erin
    March 29th, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    oh dear. certainly not something to describe with lovely or gorgeous or other typical bloggerly comments. but the mass accent is pure gold. hope you guys are able to get things sorted out, soon!


  2. Katy Elliott
    March 29th, 2011 @ 9:41 am

    Thanks Erin. I know it’s not a pretty post but this is really what its like to own an old house. Unexpected disasters and newly painted beautiful molding all at once.


  3. erica
    March 29th, 2011 @ 9:47 am

    my 100 yr old brick apartment building has original plumbing plus piecemeal pvc pieces, and i spend my nights worrying about the strange gurgling sounds coming out of my kitchen sink. our bathroom ceiling nearly collapsed twice due to a leak from the above unit. the basement pipes have flooded from a backed up sewer main. it’s all a mess. for some reason though, roots sound like a rather innocuous nemesis. i don’t even want to know what’s clogging up cambridgeport’s pipes–i’m sure it’s far more disgusting, although no less annoying!


  4. G
    March 29th, 2011 @ 10:05 am

    erica – the gurgling in your kitchen is most likely from water in the P-Trap under the sink. “Most” kitchen sinks have a P-Trap which contains water in it at all times. This prevents sewer vapors from coming up the sink drain.
    The gurgling is caused by water flowing down a drain that the sink connects to. As the water flows down that drain, it pushes or pulls air from anywhere it can. Normally the drains are connected to a pipe that goes down to the sewer AND up to the roof and this would be the path of least resistance for that air being pushed or pulled, this is called a vent pipe.
    In your case, the air is either being pushed or pulled through the kitchen drain causing the water in the P-Trap to gurgle. Try sealing it with a drain plug, it should stop.
    The drain pipe the sink connects to is improperly vented, or the vent is clogged. This can happen from leaves or bird nests.
    Or – you have a dish washer? That can be it.
    Either way – it’s harmless until all the water in the P-Trap is gurgled away and the sewer gases have a way to get in.


  5. Tina
    March 29th, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    At least you’re keeping a good sense of humor about this latest setback. At first I thought you were showing us a horrible colonoscopy.


  6. Katy Elliott
    March 29th, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    ha Tina.


  7. Liz
    March 29th, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

    oh. no. i’m so sorry! i had my sewer scoped right before i closed on my house–i thought it was too late to have it done, but luckily not. in oregon, old houses (like mine, 1927; that’s old for the west!) in the city had shared sewer lines, two houses each had a line, they met in the middle, then continued to the main street line as one. if they are in good condition, they are grandfathered in and you don’t have to replace them. if they are not in good condition, you must replace the line, at your expense, to bring it up to code. it was $120 to have my sewer line scoped, and man am i glad i did–my line had root problems, same as yours, and the new line cost upwards of $15,000–all the responsibility of the seller. whew! dodged one hell of a bullet. i think you have some other issues since you are living in a historic district, but oh, man, do i hear ya. if it’s not one thing with this old house, it’s another. good luck with the sewer line fixing!!! this too shall pass. (and by this, i mean sewage)


  8. Meg
    March 30th, 2011 @ 8:45 am

    Since it’s the city pipes that have the problem, do you still have to pay for it?


  9. Katy Elliott
    March 30th, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    We’re not exactly sure. I assume we don’t but we’ll have to wait and see. They haven’t come yet.


  10. Susan
    March 30th, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    Wow, that’s intense…love the accent. Sorry it happened again. :(


  11. Jessica
    March 31st, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your old house project in MA from my old house project in NH for awhile now – thank you! I had to share a quote with you today, from Bill Bryson’s book “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” regarding 17th century English sewage-related problems.

    “Most sewage went into cesspits, but these were commonly neglected, and the contents often seeped into neighboring water supplies. In the worst cases they overflowed. Samuel Pepys recorded one such occasion in his diary: “Going down into my cellar…I put my foot into a great heap of turds…by which I found that Mr. Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me.”

    Which doth trouble me…that makes me laugh every time I read it – it’s so understated for the situation! Hope your pipes feel better soon.


  12. Katy Elliott
    March 31st, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    ha! Love it jessica.


  13. redbrickbuilding
    March 31st, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    Oh, you poor thing! I so admire you for taking it in stride.


  14. Sara
    March 31st, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    Basement full TWICE in a rental I was in.

    After the second time, the city shared responsibility and took care of their root problem. You have the video for proof. This was in Northampton, MA. Good luck.


  15. david miller
    April 1st, 2011 @ 10:20 am

    You have to be optimistic on these things. We are busy restoring an old summer house in Finland in the archipelago and plumbing is a total mess. These projects are rewarding though and yours certainly sounds exciting. Good luck!! And keep smiling..


  16. Marie
    April 7th, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    Lovely blog.

    As a renter, now I want my own backed up pies…Found you via A Urban Cottage


  17. krista
    April 12th, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    oooh, katie–I know how this feels. 7 months pregnant we got the news that we had 2 cracks in our old clay pipe sewer line. 2 months, $5600 later–we have a totally new PVC line out to the main, and hopefully will never have to deal with cracks or roots again. this might be worth checking into, as it was cheaper to replace than to repair multiple issues. regardless, i feel your pain.


  18. Jo in NZ
    April 15th, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

    I’m British, so I don’t necessarily hear the difference in US accents :-) BUT I did hear “yars” instead of “yours” ! Good luck with the issue, btw.


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