April fools day had one last surprise in store for us. Late in the evening the children informed mommy that the basement smelled bad. Mommy went down and found a toilet that had not been flushed. Figuring this was the issue she proceeded to flush it. It did not flush. She then proceeded to plunge it. It did not plunge. She found a second plunger and tried it to no avail as well. She then noticed that water was coming out from behind the toilet and out of the drain in the floor of the laundry room. At this point it was clear that there was an issue well beyond the toilet...
The children were marshaled to fetch towels. More water was found pouring out of the drain in the boiler room. Mommy texted daddy who was in bed with norovirus and thus not terribly helpful. Daddy did at least suggest checking with neighbours to determine if the issue was localized to our house or not. He also directed mommy on how to access the main cleanout to determine if the issue was within our house or not.
After some confused neighbours figured out what we were trying to ask and it was determined that the issue was just our house we started calling plumbers and the city. The city ended up responding first (which in hindsight was probably a good thing). They sent someone who determined that we needed further assistance and got us to sign away our lives. Further assistance arrived around 11:00pm and determined that we had a 5 meter long clog starting just outside our house and carrying on all the way to where the city line connects to our line. They cleared it out as best as they could with the equipment they had but cautioned us to use as little water as possible. No baths, no laundry, quick showers, etc... They said what we needed was to have the line flushed out but that required special equipment and doing so on the weekend would be extremely expensive.
We duly conserved water and on Monday called to get them to come and flush the line. They came on Tuesday and did a more thorough inspection and found that there was a hole in the bottom of the pipe and a broken joint under the road. They decided that they could not flush the line as doing so would end up blasting out the ground under the pipe where the hole was and would then cause a sinkhole and the collapse of the entire sewer line. Instead they used some fancy equipment to mark the locations of the break and the hole and assured us that the city would be along to dig it all up and fix the issues.
The city ended up coming out with two diggers, various dump trucks and a whole team of workers. They dug up the lawn and replaced that part of the line out to the edge of the road. They then came back the next day to continue but ended up calling it off early as it was absolutely pouring rain. Friday they were back again and dug up the road to replace that part of the line. All this digging was of course complicated by the presence of both a gas main and a water main. They ended up replacing the entire city portion of the line and actually rerouted it between the trees in the boulevard as the old line went under one of the trees and they didn't really feel like digging up the whole tree.
With the line replaced we were now back to the issue of needing to flush the line. On Monday we called again and they ended up sending the flushing crew again on Wednesday. This time they inspected and found no further issues with the line. They did find that most of the issue was a very large quantity of gravel (roughly half the pipe diameter was filled for the full 5 meters with rocks ranging in size from 3/4 inch up to 2+ inches. They then proceeded to try flushing it. After about 30 minutes and little progress they decided that they needed a pumper truck to come vacuum the gravel out. The pumper truck came and they stuffed the hose down in the sewer line with their water jetter and their camera and then proceeded to use the water jet to pull the gravel back towards the house instead of trying to push it out to the main sewer line in the street. This worked much better and large amounts of gravel were sucked up into the hose periodically interrupted by cursing as the larger rocks got stuck from time to time. They would then beat the hose and disassemble the hose and poke things into it until they finally would get it clear again and keep vacuuming. Hours went by and finally they decided to again try pushing the rest out to the street. They got us to fill every fixture in the house with water and unleash them all simultaneously to help flush stuff out and finally 5 hours after they started the line was clear. In the end we figure they vacuumed out at least 5 gallons of gravel and pushed about another 5 gallons out to the street (where it now sits in a heap in the main sewer waiting to be cleaned out by the city another day). After nearly two weeks we were again allowed to have a bath, do laundry and generally go wild.
We learned a few interesting things in the process of all this. Sewer lines both old and new each have their own pros and cons. Old stuff (clay, cast iron) are hard and rigid which means they are less likely to sag over time and form a dip which can lead to clogs but are rough and more prone to not draining cleanly. New plastic pipe is nice and smooth but does tend to sag over time. The guys working on the line said they see lots of issues with both old and new lines. For example the break under the road was likely broken during installation 30 odd years ago. No one has any clue how all the gravel got in the line or how it managed not to clog until now. The main guy doing the flushing of the line, when asked, said that if it was up to him he would inspect sewer lines every 3 years as a preventative measure. Given that we really had no notice that things were about to clog we are somewhat inclined to agree with this concept. Also the water jetting technology is pretty nifty and can be used to really clean out pipes very effectively. Seems like the sort of thing that could also be a good idea to do from time to time to ensure no surprises late at night on April fools day.