Replacing Old Sewer Line - tree roots


Old 09-10-06, 08:18 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Denver, CO
Posts: 22
Replacing Old Sewer Line - tree roots

I'd like some feedback on ways to fix the problem of tree roots in old clay sewer drains. My house was built in 1949, the drain is clay pipes. About 6 or 8 months ago the kitchen sink clogged and the result was a rotorooter company came out and showed me massive amounts of tree roots (the worst I've seen, he said) and a camera inspection showed where the roots were getting in. There was one area where the clay pipes were actually separating meaning not just roots but dirt could be getting in there.

Previous to this, I had 7 years with absolutely no problems, never had a rotorooter come out, no drain clogs.

Last night the kitchen drain backed up again. I could see that the clog was not in the drain under the sink so I suspect the sewer line again. I went into the back yard and opened the trap (which btw is new, pvc, added recently but not by me, I think the previous owners walled in the original trap and built this one about 10 years ago) and I could see a trickle of water, a trickle mind you, which makes me think that the problem is not in the sewer line but in the house?

When I had the camera inspection earlier this year, the quote to replace the sewer line all the way out to the city tie in, was $7500, a little more for trenchless. We are in no place to pay for this in cash without digging deeper into debt which I do not want to do.

Two questions: would a plumber dig up just the area that is bad and do a fix of just that area? Or is that just prolonging the inevitable. Is there any less expensive alternative?

Second... the area where a new sewer line would run would include running it underneath: an electrical conduit, sprinkler system hoses, landscaping including sod, steel landscape edging, railroad ties, imbedded concrete edging (don't ask, previous owners used old concrete sidewalks and imbedded them 6 feet deep to form and edging, my landscape/sprinkler installer could not remove them and ended up planning around them instead), a gravel driveway and finally, out into the city tie in to the alley which is under concrete. Wouldn't trenchless be the best way to go? If I had to have a trench dug, does that $7500 include all the problems of going around the above? Or would that cost more as they started working?

And then there is the question, is it really the sewer line or somewhere in the house? Nothing else is or has ever backed up in the house.

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Old 09-10-06, 04:10 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
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Do the other sinks, toilets, showers and bathtubs drain properly? In other words, is the drain problem confined to just the kitchen sink? If so, then the problem is somewhere between the kitchen sink and where this particular branch line connects to the main (or intermediate) drain.

Do you (or anyone in your household) pour meat juices or fat from cooking down the drain? Do you have a garbage disposal?

As for clay pipe and problems with roots...once roots get into clay pipe you will continue to have problems. The only solutions are to either eliminate the roots (almost impossible) or else replace the pipe. Clay pipe is slightly porous and has many joints. Roots will go for any source of water and in the case of clay pipes they will wrap around the pipe and as they grow will actually crush the pipe to get more water. Once the pipe is broken (or the joints are broken) the roots will love it. Your only course of action is to either replace the pipe or periodically have the pipe cleared by a professional sewer-cleaning company all the way to the street sewer.
Old 09-11-06, 07:45 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Denver, CO
Posts: 22

Well, to answer your question (and mine), we did discover the problem is actually in the house, not out at the sewer. It's the kitchen drain only, the rest of the house is fine. We do not have a disposal and I am very careful to not let anything go down the drain, we have a good strainer and I never put grease down the drain. However, the pipes are old.

We snaked it with a 25' auger and the clog is further than that so I read on another post about an enzymatic drain cleaner and found a Zep product so for the past 24 hours I've given the drain 2 doses of enzymes (has to sit 6 hours) and two doses of boiling water. Now the drain is slow so I'm going to try one more dose before calling a plumber.

The sewer line is not the problem, THIS time.
Old 01-14-09, 11:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 1

Going from the sink there would be a section (I'll assume 3" pipe) that has a decent slant but eventually along that length there's probably a section that is only very slightly slanted, if a slant is even apparent, resting on the ground and ending up in a larger pipe junction.

Over the decades sludge tends to build a rock hard layering up along the bottom of that near horizontal section of 3" pipe such that by now you end up with maybe a 1" open section running along the very top of that pipe. That rock-hard layering cannot be removed by any means and is so much a part of the pipe by now that if you try to chip away at it with a chisel you'll just break the bottom of the pipe summon up a great force of will and simply leave it alone.

What you can probably do to fix your immediate problem is to cut horizontal section of the old pipe away at some point up along the slanted section on one side and a bit out from the larger pipe section it joins to on the other side, and replace that entire section with plastic (PVC) pipe from Home Depot. They sell a 12 foot length if 3" PVC pipe for about $7. To join that pipe to the existing pipe they sell rubber couplers with stainless band clamps on each end for about $4 each. So your parts cost is very affordable.

To cut through the old pipe and the PVC pipe you'll need an electric saw of some type. I use a handy Black & Decker Powered Handsaw in the $50 range that comes with both a wood and metal cutting blade (like their PHS550B 3.4 Amp), selecting the metal cutting blade for this job. When it cuts through the PVC pipe it melts the plastic a bit leaving undesired edges which I quickly file off. Takes a minute or two to cut through 50 year old 3" metal pipe.

At the end of the job your fix won't be perfect since where the new 3" pipe attaches to what's left of the old pipe near the larger pipe junction will be that only 1" open section at the top still, meaning the new nearly horizontal plastic section is always going to have water in it up to the point of that opening at the top of the old 3" pipe. But the drain will work again and it'll drain much faster than before.

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