Amazing Technique to Pull Out Sewer Drainpipe Roots

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Old 11-12-06, 01:52 PM
SHG
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Thumbs up Amazing Technique to Pull Out Sewer Drainpipe Roots

During the past year, our ground floor toilet overflowed onto the bathroom floor and out into the carpeted hallway four times. A real stinky mess, plus the rooter man's fee x 4 wasn't fun either. So, I got myself a 1/3 horsepower sewer snake equipped with 1/2 inch cable via eBay ($140) thinking I'd save $70 a pop if/when the drainpipe clogged up again. It backed up thrice more and I cleared it myself each time. Thus (besides the effort), I figured I was ahead because at least now I own a decent sewer snake.

However, last week it blocked up again and this time I couldn't get thru whatever the heck was in the way with any of my new snake's cutters. Had to call the rooter man again; who did his best but also couldn't budge the new stoppage. He said the situation had deteriorated... maybe the drainpipe collapsed, or else there's a crack somewhere in the line, or both, because it's clearly infested with thick roots. I'll probably have to dig it all up, he said, and recommended I hire someone to stick a sewer camera down the clean-out and try to see what's going on first.

I'm thinking... I really am in deep poop because I know the city's 8 inch perpendicular sewer line is 12 feet deep and right in the center of the 13 foot wide X 6 inch thick concrete pad outside my building and it'll cost me around $3,000+ to jackhammer the pad, backhoe dig up all the dirt underneath, replace the drainpipe, backfill, tamp, and re-pour the concrete pad back the way it was. Still, what choice do I have (?), plus it's going to start snowing anyday!

Called around and the rooter guys who can do the sewer videos all wanted at least $350 just to run their one-eyed camera down the line (or $400 which gets me my very own copy of the flick). Now I started pricing sewer cameras (FYI, $140 to $700+ thru eBay).

Okay, one way or another maybe I'll need to spring for the movie, but before I do that I'm gonna hand dig down into the 32 inch wide earthen space running between my building and the concrete pad, expose the drain pipe, and (who knows?) maybe I'll be able to fix whatever is broken without having to rip out the whole concrete pad. Besides, I'll have to dig up that same dirt to replace the drainpipe anyway!

Dug the hole, found the 4 inch cast-iron drainpipe and continued digging as far as I could follow it (roughly 4 feet deep and underneath the concrete pad another 20 inches). The drainpipe decended into the mire at a steep 50+ degree angle so my hole got tight pretty fast. With a flashlight, I could see that the cast-iron drainpipe transitioned thru a rubber boot w/stainless steel straps to schedule 35 green PVC drainpipe. And, I could also see that a few spindly roots (from my neighbor's three trees on the other side of the concrete pad) had burrowed their way underneath the still-tight rubber boot. Couldn't imagine how those few roots could possibly block up the entire drain line, but was told that once they get in they live on the steady flow of rich, composting waste and can grow enormously. Ornery critters, aren't they!

Next, I rented a reed snap pipe cutter for a few hours ($15) and wrenched it thru the cast-iron pipe, half-way between my building and the concrete pad (which was easier than I thought); then pulled the other end of the cast-iron pipe out of the rubber boot. Boy-oh-boy, I don't think I've ever seen such a dense mass of roots and black soil just jam-packed into the entire diameter of the 4 inch green PVC! I tried to dig the roots out with a hand-shovel, dandelion puller and long, thick screwdriver, but no such luck. The roots were just too entangled and dense. Even tried to flush them downstream using a garden hose and jet stream spout with 90 pounds of water pressure. Still didn't budge an inch. Then, I attached a sharp 2 inch wood hole-boring bit to the end of two solid 13 inch bit extender rods and into a strong 1/2 inch electric hand drill to try to bore thru the roots. Pushed with all my 165 lb. weight, but still no luck... the hole bit went in only to the depth of the hole bit itself and just twirled around in place because the roots were so fine, moist and knotted together, yet detached from one another, that the bit couldn't bite into and carve out any contiguous chunk of roots.

So, I called my rooter guy who came out with his major rooter machine again. He stuck several of his snake's cutters right into the roots and ultimately burrowed thru them about 3 feet with his smallest blade set, but no more before they got jammed up. He did get his cutter out, which was brand new when it went in but very dull when it came out. He said, the roots are just too big and tough; plus at the far side of them he felt or believed that the green PVC drainpipe had become crushed and very distorted - so I'm going to have to dig it all up and replace the pipe anyway.

Next day, I went to our oldest Boulder, Colorado plumbing outlet and asked an experienced geezer if they had any kind of tool, or perhaps a stiff iron rod, that I could hammer straight into and thru the roots, which could somehow be expanded at the far end or back-hook into the roots - so I could twist and tug them out of the drainpipe? He walked me out to their sprawling odd parts yard and pointed out an old, rusty, long iron rod with a heavy 'T' handle at one end and a short corkscrew auger at the other end. However, the corkscrew auger was 6 inches in diameter so there was no way I could screw it into the 4 inch drain pipe. He said, I'll have to custom weld a tool to do what I want and laughed, saying if it actually worked maybe I could patent it and make a million dollars.

Then, I got an idea... years ago I had purchased a 12+ inch corkscrew thingy specifically designed to screw into the ground and attach my dog's leash to. I no longer have the dog or the device so I went to our local (McGuckin's) hardware store to see if they had something like it, but longer and heavier. And, I found what's called an "earth anchor". The darn thing is a red, 2 inch diameter heavy iron corkscrew that winds a full 33 inches long and curls into a closed loop at the top end (which is supposed to remain above the ground) and costs only $12. Looks like it's made to constrain a lion or two. So far, so good...

Brought the earth anchor home, and with the help of a 12 inch length of black pipe that I stuck thru its' top loop, I was easily able to screw it all the way down into the drainpipe roots. The roots were stuck in there so tight that I suspected I'd probably be unable to pull them out by myself (which was correct), so here's what I did:

From inside the building, I drilled a small pilot hole all the way thru the outside wall's bottom plate to outside the building, right above the center of the dirt hole I dug. Then I screwed an 8 inch screw hook ($3) into the pilot exit hole on the outside of the building and attached a length of 1/4 inch vinyl coated steel cable to the earth anchor's iron loop (the rest of which was still completely screwed into the roots). I threaded the steel cable thru a heavy ($21) pulley that I hung onto the 8 inch screw hook and attached the free end of the steel cable to my riding lawnmower. Revved up the trusty mower and (abracadabra!), *slowly* pulled out the ENTIRE 5 foot+ dense mass of entangled roots... as easily as the smoothest bowel movement I've ever passed ('twas an absolute cinch!). Inspected the drainpipe with a flashlight and it was 100% free, clear and perfectly round all the way down to the city's sewer line. Yeah, I was ecstatic as my wife took some digital pics of me holding up the scraggly mess like it was a huge marlin I had just wrestled out of the ocean.

Here's step-by-step photo links of my adventure, including a few fine images of the de-rooted monstrosity. NOTE: My preview of this post doesn't display these image-links as "live", so you'll probably have to copy/paste them into your browser's URL address field one at a time, or; faster yet, copy/paste only the first link and just incrementally increase the 01-10 number (near the end of the link, right before .jpg), one number at a time, and then hit your Enter key:

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_01.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_02.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_03.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_04.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_05.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_06.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_07.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_08.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_09.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_10.jpg

Now, I'd love to see someone out there invent a snake attachment to send down a sewer drainpipe and somehow affix to the pipe's wall (right before a mass of roots), which can then twirl some sort of sharp corkscrew auger or introduce a rod with retraction hooks, into the roots for tugging them out thru a clean-out... and make themself that million bucks!

Ciao for now,
SHG
 

Last edited by SHG; 11-21-06 at 05:25 AM.
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Old 11-12-06, 03:57 PM
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One of the better stories I've read lately!
Excellent determination!
 
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Old 11-12-06, 05:34 PM
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Figured out how you are going to keep the roots out????
I remember when the maple roots got into ours when I was a kid and my dad put some kind of chemical in the pipes that took out the roots. I thought the tree was going to die it wilted so bad but it didnt and we never had problems again
 
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Old 11-13-06, 10:11 AM
SHG
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Cool How I Permenently Stopped Any New Roots from Invading this Repair

The outside diameter of schedule 35 PVC is smaller than 4 inch cast-iron drainpipe and over enough time the thirsty roots burrowed underneath the rubber boot and in-between the air space where the two drainpipes had originally abutted. The roots crawled under a solid rubber boot (i.e., no cracks or holes) that was still tightly clamped when I exposed it, so even if the outside diameter of the two drainpipes were identical those roots and root hairs certainly will eventually work their way thru *ANY* air space between two discontinuous drainpipes. And once inside, they have plenty of room to grow for as long as the tree lives.

When I first saw the bursting mass of roots inside the drainpipe that just a few spinly roots had spawned I flashed on asking my neighbor to kill their originating trees. However I also enjoy those trees and it dawned on me how I could easily eliminate every bit of air space between two drainpipes made of different material that can't be glue-joined together like two pieces of PVC. Here's what I did:

1. First, using a PVC coupler I glue-joined more schedule 35 green PVC to the remaining schedule 35 PVC (from which I pulled away the cast-iron drainpipe that I had cut out), and cut the new PVC section off at about 24 inches below grade simply to give me enough elbow room to work within (versus the much tighter space at the 4 foot depth).

2. I needed to transition the new length of schedule 35 PVC to schedule 40 PVC because its' outside diameter is the same as the outside diameter of 4 inch cast-iron drainpipe and my idea wouldn't work with two drainpipes that don't have the same outside diameter. And just for convenience, I also wanted to install another clean-out. So, I glue-joined a schedule 35/40 adapter to the drain ingress (top end) of a new schedule 35 clean-out and set that whole assembly aside.

3. Next, using a stiff wire wheel attached to my hand drill, followed by a tough 60 grit aluminum oxide sanding disc, I brought the last 2 inches of the cast-iron drainpipe (coming out of the building) down to smooth new metal.

4. With a small sheet of sandpaper, I roughed up the inside half of a new schedule 40 PVC coupler and emptied 2/3 of a 1 ounce tube of J-B Weld™ steel epoxy to completely coat the end 2 inches of the descending cast-iron drainpipe and the roughened inside half of the PVC coupler, which I then pressed onto the epoxy coated cast-iron drainpipe. Immediately cleaned up two drips of epoxy that overflowed into the lower half of the PVC coupler when I pressed them together with a quarter turn (which is a good sign of an airtight fit). Used some duct tape to hold it in place until it set up anyway, and 4 hours later squeezed out most of the remaining steel epoxy to completely feather-seal any remaining space around the top of the PVC coupler and the cast-iron drainpipe already inside of it. Now I had an airtight seal against/all-around the cast-iron drainpipe with a coupler socket on the other side ready to accept 4 inch schedule 40 PVC... and you can probably guess the rest.

5. I cut a section of schedule 40 PVC long enough to fit: |<- up into the schedule 40 PVC coupler (already firmly attached to the cast-iron drainpipe) and down into the schedule 35/40 adapter glued to the ingress socket of the new clean-out I had set aside after that clean-out's egress socket would be glued to the ascending new section of schedule 35 PVC) ->| and leaving barely enough flex room to scrunch it all together.

Was a bit nerve-wracking to snap the clean-out egress socket onto the schedule 35 PVC, the schedule 40 PVC into the open schedule 40 coupler socket and join the other side of the schedule 40 PVC to the schedule 35/40 adapter all at once before all 3 glue joints set, but got it done. Whew!

Note: I've successfully used J-B Weld™ steel epoxy even to seal sprinkler shutoff valve cracks (due to frozen water) which have continued to hold water pressure for the last 10 years without leaking, so I've got no reservations about how it will hold up in this application.

Summary: Short of an army tank driving over the 6 inch concrete pad and very close to my building, (crossing my fingers) I'll rest easy that this repair won't crack and allow anymore new roots to make our poopie tube their home.

~ SHG
 

Last edited by SHG; 11-18-06 at 06:31 AM.
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Old 11-14-06, 10:52 AM
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Let's see some pictures of this monstrosity.
 
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Old 11-19-06, 09:59 AM
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Talking Okay Burke, You Asked For It!

I couldn't figure out how upload images here, so I wrote one Forum Moderator who advised me to use "photobucket.com". Here's step-by-step photo links of my adventure, including a few fine images of the monstrosity. NOTE: My preview of this reply post doesn't display these image-links as "live", so you'll probably have to copy/paste them into your browser's address field one at a time, or; faster yet, copy/paste only the first link and just incrementally increase the 01-10 number (near the end of the link, right before .jpg), one number at a time, and then hit your Enter key:

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_01.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_02.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_03.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_04.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_05.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_06.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_07.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_08.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_09.jpg

http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q254/shgboulder/SewerDrainpipeDe-Rooting_10.jpg

Ciao for now,
SHG
 

Last edited by SHG; 11-19-06 at 10:32 AM.
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Old 11-19-06, 10:29 AM
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Wink

What that one poster here said they used to get the tree roots out years back is copper sulfate. Just put some in the drain now and then. Another way this works real good . Get a 10'or 15' long bare #8 copper wire feed it down a floor sewer to the end and hook it on the cover plate. This way it will give off the copper sulfate to keep roots out all the time. Dont know if you can find them . But also years back they made a copper ring that you put in the cast iron hub first then the next cast pipe. This would also keep tree roots out.

ED my .02 cents
 
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Old 11-19-06, 10:50 AM
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Bwahahaha . now that is good i love it . I open the picture and there is this crazy pulley /lawn tractor setup ! haha Good job.
 
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Old 11-19-06, 01:04 PM
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I bow to the master of "DIY-dom" - oustanding job - and great ingenuity..
 
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Old 11-20-06, 09:23 AM
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You deserve a gold medal and a blue ribbon. Nice job of slaying the dragon. Sometimes you have to think outside the box.
 
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