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Question DetailsAsked on 12/5/2013

the drain by my water heater overflows whenever the washing machine drains but first the toilet makes a noise-

starting last week, every time the washing machine drains the drain by teh water heater overflows, and the toilet make a noise. When the washing machine stops, the water goes down. I have tried snaking, chemicals, and cleaning out the outside cleanout . Any solutions?

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The washing machine typically puts out the highest drainage flow rate in a house, so when a drain pipe blockage starts, it is usually first noticed when the washing machine is pumping out.

Sounds like your drain by the water heater is a floor drain. There is a blockage somewhere in the sewer pipe - the water is backing up and pushing air up into the toilet a little so it gurgles (so most likely on same floor as washing machine or next floor down) and is backing up through the floor drain. This is only a partial blockage, hence not running out the drain in earnest yet and goes down when the washing machine discharge ends.

This is NOT something to let go - it can sometimes go on for months like this, gradually getting worse, but also can change to a total blockage with a single flush of the toilet, causing a nasty flooding issue.

You have a blockage somewhere downflow from the washing machine, toilet, AND the drain by the water heater - whichever is furthest downflow on your sewer pipe. I am guessing that floor drain by the water heater is the last drain before the sewer pipe heads outside. If not, and you have other drains at the same elevation or LOWER than that drain which are NOT backing up, then your blockage is between the water heater drain and those that are not backing up. If that is the last drain (don't forget to check garage floor drain too, if you have one) in your system, then the blockage is somewhere between there and the street.

If you got a full hose flow in the outside cleanout (letting it run at least 10 minutes to fill it up if partly blocked) without backup in the riser pipe, then likely the run from there to the street is OK, so then your blockage is in the most common place - in the sewer pipe between where it drops vertically from the house to the gently sloping part under the floor slab (or crawlspace, as applicable). Ok course, if the outside cleanout DOES back up when you run the hose in it, you have a blockage between there and the street - and possibly also in the run under the house, because if the outside pipe blocks up the low flow rate commonly causes a partial blockage inside as well.

Another way to check this is to open up the outside cleanout, then have one person start the full washer on a pump-out cycle then run down to the water heater drain to watch when that starts backing up, to be able to shut off the washer before it floods much; while the other person watches down the outside cleanout with a good flashlight from the time the washer starts discharging to see if the water is backing up from the run to the street, or if it is running free from that point on.

You would have to snake all the way from the floor drain that is backing up to the outside cleanout to clear the blockage, if it is piled up organic material. If it is grease and sludge buildup on the pipe, or a collapsing or offset (broken or dislocated joint) pipe, then a snake might go through OK but it could still be too small an opening to let the full volume of water through.

My recommendation, assuming this has not been done recently - get your entire sewer pipe full-diameter routed out from top to street - about $175-250 for normal length run to street in our area if not on weekend or overtime. Whether you get it run with a COLOR camera (black and white does not show a lot of problems clearly) or not is your call - if it has not been cleaned for a decade or more might be a good idea, or you can hope the routing does it and then call them back for camera run if not. Frequently they can "feel" a pipe offset or broken pipe through the cable while doing the routing, so you might arrange for them to bring the color camera but make it an option whether it is to be done, depending on the results of the routing - typically about $100-150 more if done on same trip, or $150-200 if on separate trip.

On the routing - make sure you get a full-diameter cutter routing, not just a narrow snake, because your type issue commonly means long-term buildup of grease in the pipe, root intrusion, an offset or partially collapsed pipe, or a breakage letting rocks and such in whcih are too big to wash out. A snake will go right through without clearing or detecting the problem. High pressure washign is also available, but from the couple of camera runs I have seen the residential sized systems do not remove the grease layer well and cannot push rocks and gravel and any broken pieces of pipe ahead of it, so I do not like those for full-pipe cleaning purposes.

I also emphatically recommend having them rout and chase it all the way to the street - it is all too common for someone to have a plumber snake or rout the 20-50 feet under the house, like to the outside cleanout, only to have to call them back in a day or two because the clogging material was just pushed and washed down the line and it caused another clog further along before it got to the street. Not that much difference in cost to get it all done at once, but you commonly need a different contractor or at least a different truck- many plumbers can snake to about 50 feet, but cutterhead routing takes a machine that is too big for a normal plumbers truck to carry conveniently, so either they have to bring their sewer cleaning truck, or you need a sewer and drain contractor rather than a plumber. The indoor routing machine they will bring in is about the size of the largest rollaround suitcase you have ever seen, so you have to provide access clearance for that. It will fit through doorways and such OK, but blocked halls and staircases can be a problem. It will run off a standard wall outlet.

My recommendation is to go with the sewer and drain cleaning contractor, as they have a better feel for what they are going through because they are doing this every day, generally have larger capacity equipment, and also tend to be cheaper. Be sure to pace off the approximate distance to the far side of the street (or alley, if your sewer runs down the alley, or septic tank if on septic) from the furthest away drain in the house plus about 15 feet for the vertical run, or the distance from the far side of the street or septic tank to your outside cleanout in your case, then add about 15 feet to account for the fact your pipe probably does not run the shortest distance to the sewer main or septic tank, and tell them this approximate distance when you set the appointment so they know if they need to bring their long-reach router machine or not - most have a 50 footer for routine work, and a 100-400 foot one for long sewer and drain runs that they usually do not carry around with them, and is sometimes 2-wheel trailer mounted.

They will clean the inside pipes starting at a toilet (removing the toilet to access the sewer pipe) to the outside cleanout, reinstall the toilet, then start over there and run from the outside cleanout to the sewer main in the street. Ditto with camera, if that is run.

Routing of your sewers, at least from the point where it enters the slab on out to the street, should be done about every 10-20 years. Toward the shorter timeframe if you put grease down the drain and use a garbage disposal a lot or do not use clothes washing machine much or have only 1 person in the house (low water flows and not a lot of hot water use), longer timeframe usually suffices with larger families (lots more water to clean it out and more hot water flows) and in households where grease and table scraps are put in the garbage, not down the sink. Areas with deeper pipes due to deep frost penetration require more frequent cleaning if grease goes down the drain (because the cold ground congeals it in the pipe more), but less frequently if grease is not put down the drain because pipes over about 5 feet deep tend not to get so many roots getting in through the joints, though of course that depends largely on whether you have large trees planted over or near the sewer pipe or not, too.

Good luck.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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