Any plumbing pros that can answer crazy plumbing question?

45 Replies

I have a unit that has experienced way too many plumbing issues. Now it seems I have a toilet that has some issues. For one it doesn't seem to flush very well. The tenants have not complained, but I have noticed that it flushes very slow, has no 'power' to the flush, and you sometimes need to flush multiple times to get it to go down if there is anything but liquid in it.

Well then the other day the tenant sends me some pictures of the toilet filling up with soap bubbles. It seems that when the tenants upstairs take a bubble bath, that bubbles come up into the toilet bowl and up around the bolts and around/through the floor area. I have tried to attach pictures, but the bubbles basically come up from under the floor and up through the toilet. The bubbles on the floor came up through the floor (they did not overflow from the bowl onto the floor).

Does this indicate that the toilet is not installed properly? Or that the toilet needs replaced? Or is there a problem farther down the line? The bathtub in this bathroom was recently plugged but some draino took care of that. Apparently this soap bubble issue happened previously about 4-6 months ago, but they asked the upstairs tenants and found out they had taken a bubble bath and so they didn't worry about it until they saw it happen again this time. What would make the soap bubbles from upstairs come up through the toilet???

We have @David Doyle who has offered his opinion on plumbing previously.

Since upstairs and downstairs share the same stack frequently, I would suspect a blockage or even pipe collapse down below the lower tenant. A drain camera inspection could be used to confirm if a snaking of the drain can't clear it.

I'm not a plumbing pro but have had my fair share of experience with plumbing. Seems like your sewage drainage pipe leading out of the home is backed up. The water waste is taking the path of least resistance which is the downstairs toilet. You will more than likely need to get someone to snake the drainage line for blockage. That should take care of your problem.

Undoubtedly a plug in the drain below the lower level toilet. The bubbles coming from around the toilet bolts suggest a bad wax ring on that toilet as well. Since the wax ring needs to be replaced, I'd pull that toilet and snake the drain. Should be a 3" or 4" drain so you'll need a real snake, not the little hand model, or a professional. Pretty simple project actually.

Thank you for all the input. I should add that the lines have been snaked (professionally) SEVERAL times, although the last time was just over a year ago. That didn't seem to solve the problem and after multiple snakings I had the drain line jetted. That seemed to take care of it for the time, but now we are seeing this crop up again. Is it just going to need snaked annually as routine maintenance, or is there something else going on?

Mike you have what is known as a " Partial Stoppage"

In simple language its a "real Stoppage" getting ready to happen.

I strongly suggest you get the person responsible for the maintenance of the building to get a video pipe camera inspection of the main sewer line.These symptoms tell me there could be a really big problem down the road if not remedied quickly .Better take the bitter medicine now and fix things than suffer the consiquiences of a major raw sewage backup incident later

Dave Doyle.

PS Once you sewer line issue is resolved I would reccomend either a Kohler Wellworth or Gerber Avalance Tank Toilet.Very reliable ,,,,,hope this helps,,,DD

Los Angeles

I wondered if that might be where this is going.

I had major work done just over a year ago, and I had a feeling they did not fix the actual problem.

What kind of issues are you thinking? Would snaking/jetting solve them for a year or so and then they could come back, or what would make the issue seem to come and go?

Originally posted by @Mike Palmer :
I wondered if that might be where this is going.

I had major work done just over a year ago, and I had a feeling they did not fix the actual problem.

What kind of issues are you thinking? Would snaking/jetting solve them for a year or so and then they could come back, or what would make the issue seem to come and go?

There could be many reasons, and hard to pinpoint without taking into consideration of your surroundings.

One problem you DEFINITELY have which needs to be resolved is the seal between your toilet and the DMV system is broken. It is either a wax ring issue, or a flange issue, so remove the toilet and see what is happening there to rectify it to make a tight seal. If bubbles are coming up the floor that means sewer gas is also coming up the floor. This is a potential health hazard. So get this easy problem fixed first.

Now, on top of a broken toilet seal problem, is why the bubbles coming back up the toilet from and that is a more severe issue. The come and go nature suggest something that is either only partially resolved and return over time. Several possible reasons - you could have a tree root penetration into your line, and as you snake the line it clears most of it and over time the roots came back, and solid waste get tangled up in the mess and create another blockage. You could have a busted joint somewhere downstream of that location. I once had a line where an combo fitting was pulled apart an inch or so below a slab. Whenever water drains through that space it draws sand and dirt into the pipe. Then I would do a load of laundry and the high pressure discharge would scour the line a bit. But once a year or so the sand would pile up in a downstream elbow and I would need to have it jet clean. You could also have a "belly" in your line causing stuff to pile up over time.

So I agree with others that a camera inspection is the best approach and the best time to do it is when your toilet is removed to fix the wax seal problem. My recommendation is to hire a pro to pull the toilet, fix the broken seal, AND AT THE SAME TIME, do a snake PLUS a camera inspection. I would not order a camera inspection without snaking, because you could send a camera down 12 feet and run into an obstruction then they will have to snake the line to go further. Have the line snaked clean, then do the camera to find the trouble spot. Sometimes, you can talk the drain cleaners into doing the camera as a "PROOF" that the line has been snaked clean with only a small up-charge, because you have been having recurring issues. Once that's done, depending on what you found, at least you have some time to devise a permanent fix before it clogs up again. The busted elbow I had require a tunnel job that cost me $17,000.

Originally posted by @Sam Leon :
The busted elbow I had require a tunnel job that cost me $17,000.

Ouch. I am already into this over $2k, and I fear they didn't actually fix anything and I got screwed and am likely just out that money.

I did call the city and they will inspect their side of the line (up to the point it breaks off to my house) for free, but I have not heard of my neighbors having any problems so I don't know if this would do anything. Is this worth doing before I pay to inspect my side of it?

And if they snake it first, wouldn't that clear the blockage and the camera may not find the problem, or are you saying you want the blockage cleared first so they can see what is causing the blockage to begin with?

The other thing that baffles me is that the tub was draining really slow and it seemed to back up as soon as you turn it on, so I am thinking the block was very close to the tub. Last time (when all the major work was done), it was the kitchen sink backing up. Now it seems the toilet is the weak link. But in each case it seemed like the problem was right there near whatever drain was having problems.

@Mike Palmer ,

What I meant is, if I were to hire a camera inspection, I personally want the line to be as cleared as possible so the camera can inspect all the way. I wouldn't want to have an inspection and 12' down the camera guy say "well, that's as far as I can go, and you need to have the line snaked first, before I can inspect further." or "if you want me to snake it so I can see further, I will need to schedule another trip as I don't have my snake with me right now..."

So, I usually ask for a quote to snake to the city (property line), then I ask for an additional quote to inspect the line with a camera to verify the snaking cleared the line. Some drain companies will inspect it but doesn't leave you with a recording, so make sure they use a good measurement - the screen should show a distance as he incrementally feed the camera cable, and if you/him see the trouble spot, slow down and go back and forth to get a good view. With a recorded DVD you can show other contractors and get quotes and opinions. Sometimes with camera you still may not know, as you may get to a collapsed section and all you can see is flooded murky water, but if he can pushed through that and continue, you can narrow things down.

You can ask the city to check their end. Doesn't hurt. But if bubbles are coming up it suggests the spot may be closer to your end, not necessarily though. Tub draining slowly may be an independent issue, that could be easily caused by a hair ball. Open the tub strainer and you can usually fish out the hair and resolve that.

I did pull the hair from the tub and it helped some but not much. They then tried Draino and said it is way better. Still didn't seem like it was totally free flowing to me.

This problem originally began with at the kitchen sink. They were hearing gurgling noises at first, then it starting backing up into the kitchen sink (when they were not using the sink). Then when the upstairs would do laundry, or when the water softener would run, water would back up into the downstairs kitchen sink. After I paid big $ to supposedly fix that, it seems the toilet has been the next area where the problem manifests, but I believe it stems from the same problem.

I think I may go the city route first just because they will do it for free. If I can arrange to be there perhaps I can sweet talk them into poking into my line a bit and see what they see from that side while they are there.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words. Send a camera down the line. Even if an obstruction is cleared with the snake before hand, you will see the cause with the camera. Make sure they use a color camera.

Find out what sinks , tubs etc in the building drain correctly , and which dont The clog will be somewhere in between . The upstairs toilet works , the downstairs doesnt and bubbles , how about the bathtub near the bad toilet ? Does it fill with water when the upstairs flushes ? If not the clog is near by . Is there another floor below the bad toilet with waste plumbing ? If so and it works this just about rules out a mainline problem .

I would make sure there isn't a bird or something stuck in the vent pipe prior to everything else. It sounds like a vent issue. Best of luck, be sure to let us know what the issue was.

I Dont think its a vent issue , with the upstairs flushing fine , a venting problem would cause gurgling in the toilets and traps in the sinks

There has been some gurgling at the downstairs kitchen sink, but it is random. I will peek in the vent pipes just in case, but I have a feeling that is not it.

It is basically an up/down duplex. No problems that I know of upstairs. Downstairs has 1 bath and a kitchen, and a floor drain in the utility room that I added after the last fiasco just over a year ago. There is no floors below this one. The bathtub is near the downstairs toilet and does not drain well either, but I haven't thought to watch that while things are going upstairs. I will have them keep an eye on that and see if any bubbles or anything comes up there, but to my knowledge it is not.

Does this sound like something I need to rush to figure out? It has been several months in the making already, so I assume I can wait until I happen to be up there next (the property is quite a distance from me) and check the vents at that time and go from there?

I work for a national plumbing company. Your Main sewer line is backing up. If you are on a city line you need it snaked. If your on a septic you need it pumped.

The other thing is if this has been happening over a long period of time you could have root intrusion in your main sewer line. The roots will slow everything down until it backs up completely. It is only a matter of time.

Thank you for the input Mindy. It is a city line and it has been snaked. It was actually snaked multiple times and that would not fix it, so they jetted it and that seemed to do the job (for the time). It has now been a little over a year and similar symptoms are beginning to reappear...

So they snaked it and jetted it without ever running the camera through? Did they charge you for both? Time to find a new plumber.

@Mike Palmer Tell us more about the house. How old is it? Level lot? How long have you owned it? How's the weather been?

Cameras would be very helpful, but maybe there's something extraordinary happening. More background might help.


It was snaked and jetted without a camera. The place that jetted it was a new plumber, and I actually called them out to do the camera. He got there and checked everything out and wanted to snake it first to see what he found, and said due to the way things went he felt jetting it would do the job without the cost of the camera. This is after 3 previous places had all snaked it and said they 'hit dirt' and that there was a broken pipe under the house and that it needed to be dug up and fixed. This was when things were really brewing and water was backing up out of the sink and going everywhere and something had to be done, so after getting 3 opinions I had them dig it up to replace the broken pipe. Personally I don't think they found anything, but they say there was a plastic p-trap in a random spot on the floor that was broken. I don't believe them, or I think they struck it with their shovel and broke it themselves when they didn't find what they thought they would. The problem was back the next day and they came and snaked it again, and again the problem came back. That is when I called the last place to come and do a camera. I tried to fight the other guy about it but he refused to give a refund or do any further work...

Anyway, that was a little over a year ago, maybe even as much as a year and a half ago now. It has not caused a problem since, so I figured (hoped) the jetting did the trick. Now they have sent me the pictures of the bubbling toilet (that they said happened 4-6 months ago as well, but they didn't think anything of it after finding out the upstairs had taken a bubble bath), and they report that they have randomly heard the kitchen sink gurgle.

It was built in '59, but has basically all been remodeled since. The basement was finished at a later date as well, so I think some of the plumbing is newer. Most of the original was cast, and now there is a mix of cast, copper, and a little pex (mostly copper now I think). The lot is fairly flat in front with a slight slope in the back (so one side of the house the upstairs unit walks out to ground level, and the other end of the house the basement walks out to ground level, with a small/gradual slope between). There are several very large trees on the lot. The trees are all located at the perimeter of the lot (as far from the house as they can be), but they are large trees and even with that some of them are within maybe 10-15 feet of the house and I know roots could possibly travel that far. I have only owned the building for about 3 years. Did not have a problem the first year and a half, then things kind of exploded and within about 3 months we went from the first report of gurgling sink to things totally backing up.

Property is in Salt Lake area, so we experience all 4 seasons, but fairly mild winters since I have owned it.

I can't think of any other pertinent info, so hopefully that gives a good idea. I know this post (and now thread) is long, so if you are still with me I thank you for sticking with it and for all the helpful thoughts and ideas. Keep them coming if you have any more, but at this point I think it might be worth just doing the camera to get this over with and see exactly what is going on...

Maybe this time you should pay for the camera. It is not all that expensive. Go on Angie's List and get a coupon for something like $150 for a snake and camera. If the sewer lines are anything like Michigan then they are made of clay and deteriorate after 40-60 years. Most likely the main sewer line needs to be sleeved or replaced.

No problem! If it has only been a year since it was jetted then you probably have root intrusion. See if the plumbing company that is jetting your line will put a camera down the line once it's clear at no charge. If they do excavations it may be worth getting the line either spot repaired or replaced especially if they are terra cotta lines. If you don't have the money another option would be a preventative maintenance service once a yr. Normally if you do that they won't charge you the same it'll be at a discount.

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