Remember that time that I spent several days, flushing chemicals and buying useless tools until I broke down and used a plumber? This is NOT going to be like that. This is how I tackled the biggest home repair project of my life, and it only took a day!
A BAD DISCOVERY
My family and I had gone out of town for a few days. Upon our return, we were faced with an awful smell. My first instinct was that it was a natural gas leak, even though it didn’t quite smell like it…I called 9-1-1 and they sent the fire department. The fire department entered, said they smelled gas and shut off our stove. They then proceeded to say that our stove was broken and to get a new one.
I thought that would be the end of the story, until the gas company, National Grid, arrived with an investigative team. They tested my stove, and to my dismay, it was not leaking at all. Over the next hour or so, they tested every gas pipe in my house, including the boiler and water heater systems. They used a meter and sprayed a soapy liquid to detect any leaks…there weren’t any!
Good for not having to buy a new stove, but what of the awful smell?
After waking up our neighbors to see if their houses were leaking gas (the answer was no), they tested the soil. No gas leak. We were all stumped when they finally left, but after testing my stove twice more, they assured me that I was fine.
So what of the smell?
The next morning, I went into the basement to make sure that I shut off all the lights from the night before. Well, while I was in there, the water in the second floor bathroom was turned on…and the ceiling opened up like a waterfall. I found the source of the smell. Sewer gas.
After clearing out part of the ceiling, I hoped to find a small hole in the pipe that could be patched up. Instead, I found an iron pipe that was cracked over two feet long. I don’t know how long the pipe was open like this, but the rust must have been going on for a long time.
Now that bathroom was off limits, I had to weigh in my options: call a plumber or do it myself. I called my father-in-law, and luckily, he’s always super helpful and has more experience with repairs than I do. After investigating, we decided to do it ourselves.
TAKE ONE: SAWSALL
Bright and early the next day, we got to work. Having acquired metal cutting blades for our Skillsaw (or Sawsall…basically a large reciprocating saw), we got to work. Well…these old waste pipes are made of cast iron, and the walls of the pipe are about two inches thick. We took turns cutting for an hour, but we barely scratched the surface. Plus we had to take breaks to keep from seizing the motor of the saw, which was so hot to the touch that we had to wear leather gloves to operate.
Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. Thanks to the power of the internet, my mother-in-law discovered that there is a tool designed for cutting waste pipes such as these. My FIL went to the local hardware store he knows and was able to rent it for a fair sum of $20.
TAKE TWO: PIPE CUTTER
The pipe cutter is basically a long chain with small circular blades inserted in. You wrap it around the pipe and use a ratcheting lever to create enough pressure that cracks a clean line into the pipe. Once wrapped around properly, it’s less than a dozen pulls on the lever, which takes less than a minute.
When it cuts, it creates a super loud BANG, like a gunshot. Then a nice clean cut.
After cutting the pipe, you can see how badly it was cracked at the top.
After cracking the pipe, we decided to replace the original elbow joint as well, so we down the pipe as it turned 90 degrees.
After a trip to Home Depot to get the PVC piping and no-hubs (a rubber band that connects old iron pipes to PVC with the use of tightened metal bands), we were done in about an hour.
We measured the pipes, cut them with a Sawsall, glued the new elbow joint in with PVC cement and connected the new pipe insert to the two iron pipe connection points with no hubs. Done.
We were done and able to use the bathroom again. The drains move faster than ever, and that smell has not returned.
Now you understand why having to break down and call a plumber for a clogged drain was such a blow the ego. With the help of my patient and wise father-in-law, we got this MAJOR REPAIR job in only a day.
And as I’ve been trying to get at with this website…you can call a professional, but anyone has the skills to learn a little bit about home repair in order to get it done, take pride in your work and save your money.
This is one job I’m especially proud of. I hope that you NEVER had to deal with a 95 year old sewer pipe bursting, but know that it is possible to tackle something like that on your own.