John and I looked at one another and took off for the basement. Sure enough, there was indeed a problem. The main sewer drain had backed up into the basement. If there is any silver-lining here, it is that the sewage did not go beyond the mechanical part of the basement. The finished, carpeted area had been spared.
We had no choice but for John to leave (you may remember John was in Shanghai when the cable guy caused our previous house to catch fire), and for me to clean up the mess. After using about a gallon of bleach, I called Roto-Rooter and they were on the job within an hour. After four hours of snaking the drain, the technician had no success. He was hitting what seemed like a wall, and whenever he pulled the coil back in, there was all sorts of debris (roots, leaves, dirt etc.) He could only get about 25 feet out. That put the problem about one foot beyond the house foundation. Typically, even with roots and debris, the snake will finally get through. He said the next step was to insert a camera to determine what was causing the blockage. Of course there was no one available on Sunday to operate the camera, so we were scheduled for an appointment first thing in the morning.
On a whim, I called the Chagrin Falls Village Utilities Department. Since the problem was clearly outside the house, I wanted to know what was their responsibility and what was ours. The utilities department was awesome! They told me to cancel the appointment with Roto-Rooter because they have all the same snake and camera equipment and will come out for free. Two gentlemen were at our house within 30 minutes. They snaked the drain and inserted the camera, unfortunately, to find the same results. This is when I learned the home owner is responsible for the sewer from the house to the curb. It was now my job to get someone out to trench the pipe, isolate the problem, and fix it.
I called Harry Edwards (Chagrin Falls Building Inspector) to see who he would suggest to do the work. He felt the plumber, Brian Brodnik of Eastern Plumbing, we used for the renovation would be the best idea. Brian would, after all, have an in depth knowledge of the house and it's workings. I called Brian and he was fantastic. He called in a favor and arranged for an excavator to be on site the next morning.
The excavation work began on Tuesday morning. The guys from the village utilities department guessed the sewer ran out the front of the house. Their experience had been that the sewer line usually tracks with the water line. So a seven foot deep trench was dug in the front of the house. Problem was...there was no pipe. Can you say "needle in a haystack?" The utilities guys returned, this time with a glorified metal detector. They followed the sewer pipe as it left the house, found it again outside and tracked it to the curb. This time the trench was right on; the pipe followed the southwest corner of the house.
Brian asked me to go inside and turn on all the faucets and flush a couple toilets. He wanted to assess the water flow. I did as he asked, but no water exited the pipe. I panicked and ran to see if it was all backing up into the basement...nothing, bone dry! This was quite perplexing. Brian asked the excavator to dig a bit deeper. Sure enough, another three feet revealed another pipe. Apparently the first pipe had been abandoned at some point. The speculation is it used to drain the old kitchen. It was easier back then, before codes existed, to just add another drain than to tie it in with the main line. NOW, we had our problem. The "wall" we were hitting with the snake was indeed the "T" put into place to connect these two pipes. The "T" had become completely compacted with roots. There was only about an inch of space, at the top of the pipe, for waste to pass.
Both Brian and Bob from the village suggested we use the camera to assess the pipe condition from that point to the street. As we suspected, the rest of the pipe was completely compacted as well. We had no choice but to replace the entire line!!! We also put in a clean out drain in the tree lawn (required by the village), so that future problems (if there are any) will be easier to address.
Friends and neighbors have asked if this could have been avoided or was caused by the renovation, and the answer is no. This is a common problem with these old houses. In fact, there are six - 10 of these situations a year. It takes many years for this kind of build up to occur, and, there has not been more than one person living in this house for the last 40 years! We just overloaded the system.
So, now it is official...we have remodeled, replaced, renovated (whatever you want to call it) this entire house!
We are now waiting for the landscapers to come back out and re-seed & re-mulch the yard. Also waiting for the sidewalk to be re-poured. You'll remember we had to repair the sidewalk when we removed the original driveway.
UGH...we're looking forward to the day when we can actually sit down and enjoy. This will have to wait, however, as we're out back trying to re-grow that money tree...