Monday, February 9, 2009

How NOT to spend a winter weekend...

So two weekends ago (or so), I ended up having to take an extra three days off work from my "city" job in order to take care of a crisis at home. Backed-up plumbing.

We're a one-bathroom house. So things not draining as they should can become a major deal. We decided to address this issue one day when it was particularly nice -- about 50 degrees and sunny. We thought we could get it all done in one day, but as with most projects that involve older homes, it snowballed into something much larger, and four days longer.

We already knew we had serious troubles in the toilet area - the floor was rotting through - water was backing up somewhere, and had been for some time. But we had hoped to delay that project until spring. When things quit flowing all together, however, we were compelled to action.

First thing we did was rip out our one and only toilet. This created a whole new problem, of course, involving discrete trips to the woods for my son and I, and a make-shift commode for my elderly mother. We also discovered the trouble was not within the toilet or immediate piping there, either.

Steven is the only one in the family skinny enough to fit in the tiny crawl space under a portion of the bathroom. So we dug that all out and he slipped under to inspect. Not good. The bathroom floor is rotted through including floor joists, as well as our sewer not draining anywhere. So this is now two separate but connected projects — one to repair the bathroom floor and toilet; and a one to clear out the septic system.

Steven starts on digging up the sewer pipe -- I knew there was a make-shift cleanout there somewhere, but took awhile for him to locate it. (sadly, I don't have any photos of his hard work on this for 5 days). The cleanout showed the bottleneck was definitely further downstream, so that meant more digging. It also meant both of us digging up the septic tank lid and prying it open (heavy concrete!) to see if that was backed up. On a positive note, the septic tank looked fine (although smelly) so the problem was somewhere between the two points we had uncovered.

While Steven continued digging up sewer line to check for breaks, collapses and clogs, I began working on the flooring. (I guess that was the easier job, since it was now into the next day and long past nice weather).

I have no carpentry experience, really, other than what I've learned watching others in times past, and a few minor projects of my own. So I was terrified of trying to do this on my own, but knew there was no way I could afford it any other way.

First photo (below) - of how bad the damage was once I got all the old four layers of floorboards ripped up (including the original 1 x 8s, which I think were there from the original construction of the house in 1880)

Then, (below) we started by reinforcing the existing floor joist by bolting new floor joists in line with them.

Then I had to cut new 1x8 boards at the diagonal angle that the old ones were. This was the first layer:

After that, we started on the second layer of flooring (which still wouldn't get us up to the level of the existing floor). These could go straight across (MUCH easier to cut) and gave it more reinforcement.

Steven (below) helped me cut the masonry board underlay I bought (all we had to work with for all this is a circular saw and a jig saw. How I wish I had a table saw!). And then we put that piece in place, and began filling in sheet rock where needed.

After mud/taping the sheetrock and filling in some areas, we placed adhesive tiles on the rebuilt area. (No redneck jokes about using a CoolWhip container over the opening to keep it covered!)

The last photo I took was after we got the toilet in place. We've done more work on the walls, etc. that I don't show here. But at least it works great and is sturdy!.

While I was doing all of this, Steven had finished digging up the entire sewer line (in 20 degrees or less) and we had rented a sewer auger, but had no luck getting anything to move. I finally gave in and on a Sunday called out Reddi Rooter, who came with their big truck and a really nice worker (about my son's age, in fact - they hit it off very well) and working together they got things flowing again! (Never use Charmin with a septic system, we found out).

So after beginning this on a Thursday morning, finally at 1 AM the following Monday we had "a place to go!" again.


Mary Cate said...

Oh my freakin' stars! What a job, and you tackling it yourselves! I have thought about what I'd do in a similar situation. I've heard that opening septic tanks is very hazardous to your health. I'm glad you are all OK and that you have a working camode!

Tracy said...

Huh - I had never heard that, and have helped open it for maintenance sevearal times over my lifetime.

Of course, it is in a very open area, lots of Kansas wind to ventilate, and believe me, you don't want your head too close! LOL Did get down close to check the input pipe for clogs, however.

Here it was in the middle of one of our driest winters, and very cold, but when we dug that up -- the ground was FILLED with earthworms (love that organic matter and moisture around the edges of the tank, I guess). The ducks had a party - working through the dirt pile (which was clean - nothing from inside the septic tank was in that dirt) - they ate earthworms until they were stuffed.
It just made me want to take the day off and go fishing! LOL