Monday, December 10, 2007

Another day, another surprise

The weekend provided another not-so-joyous discovery to add to the pros and cons of home ownership.

It goes back to Memorial Day, when we discovered after an hour of particularly high water use that we had a backup in our main sewer line. Roto Rooter cleared it out, but diagnosed the problem as roots in the pipe. Our 1920s-built house comes with older sewer lines made, most likely, of clay tile piping, as was common back in The Day. Sections of pipe were laid end-to-end and sealed, but over the decades, the mortar of that seal -- and the pipes themselves -- can crumble or crack as the land settles and other changes occur in the surrounding areas. Any roots in the vicinity, in their search for moisture and nutrients, tend to find the sewer lines -- and the cracks, no matter how small, in them.

Can you tell I've been reading up on this today?

So they Rootered the roots out of the pipe and told me to buy their Root Destroyer -- copper sulfate -- which you flush down the nearest toilet to the main line and it kills the roots from the inside. (I'm particularly intrigued by the more direct method, but the extra details involved -- namely, the checks and permits needed before digging where there could be electrical and gas lines -- make me wary.) Stupidly, I didn't act right away on the Root Destroyer, and the little buggers found their way back in.

I finally flushed the sulfate down the toilet at the beginning of November, but a few weeks ago, when we discovered our utility sink in the bathroom filling up after we'd run the washing machine and I followed that with a shower. (Our initial discovery, on Memorial Day, came after we showered back-to-back -- instead of Casey showering and off to work long before I'm even out of bed -- and the sink overflowed and the water made its way across the bare basement floor.) I sent some chemicals meant to unclog the drain down the utility sink, hoping that we had a more simple backup and not more roots. But I knew. So when the sink started filling up as I was rinsing off some things over the weekend, I knew I had to call the plumber again.

He cleared it out this afternoon, but not before cracking, "That's why I own a condo!" And he laid out our future. Tonight, when I get home, I'll send another dose of the copper sulfate down the toilet, giving it several hours to work while we sleep and aren't sending water through the system. At the end of March, when the growing season begins, I'll do it again. And then again in mid-April. If we run into more problems after that -- or after more home remedies -- our options become pretty clear: sign up for regular maintenance with a plumber (Roto Rooter knocks 10 percent off the service call when it comes every six months), purchase my own snake (no, more powerful), or look into having the line replaced. That's the expensive, Mr. Moneybags option -- but it's also the one that will most effectively ensure a final solution to the problem. If we ever feel we have the money for that level of improvement, it'll go into the records as a home improvement and get marked down in the ledger for when, years down the road, we have to determine what to set for our asking price.

Next we get to see how capable I am when it comes to more manual labor -- as in replacing our faux-bricked-and-shingled basement walls with more traditional (and smoother) paneling -- and whether I can get it done before the end of next week, so that we can open the new year by finally setting up the basement, my Man Cave.

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