How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.


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It’s just a house trap right?

We had our waste drain video taped recently. I had recommended it to customers a lot of times, and always dreaded having the one on our house videoed, only to learn of some enormous repair I’d have to do. You know, procrastination is just French for scared.
So we find out we have 127′ of clay tile drain from just outside the front door to the street. We have a slab house, so our “house trap” was in the front courtyard, underground. This is basically a trap just like the one under the kitchen sink, except 4″ in diameter and buried under the bird bath. House traps are common in my customer’s antique houses, but our house was built in 1952 and a little young for a house trap. I guess that makes me the lucky one. I hire plumbers often enough. We had a tankless water heater put in last winter, I wouldn’t do that myself. But the house trap, less than 20′ feet from my own fridge, this is where I will work on my own plumbing. Replacing a house trap with a clean out in the front yard is a simple shovel job. Right? The man who videoed the drain put flags in the yard indicating the drain’s path and depth. This was helpful, and showed a couple things we had not expected. The only issue of concern in the clay drain from the house to the street was the amount of roots that had grown, through the joints, into the drain. These needed to be ground out by a drain cleaning company. The 2″ drain going under the house toward the kitchen and laundry was so plugged the camera would not push through. The two bathrooms were just feet from the main line, and fine. I was advised to have the house trap removed and a double clean out installed before the drains were cleaned. And the drains had to be cleaned, our laundry was backing up.
I started the house trap by announcing the apparent ease of the project based on my observation. I’d get this done in a jiffy. It looked like a big, but simple job. I’d have this done in time for an afternoon nap. Digging the house trap out was a bear. It was about 12″ below the ground level and continued straight down from there. More of the clay tile drain had to be cut off and repaired on the street side than I expected. The cast iron elbow going to the drain in the bathroom had to be replaced, and the 2″ cast iron going to the kitchen had to be tied back onto. I didn’t expect that either. I ended up with a hole about 6′ long, 20″ wide and about 30″ deep, depending where I was standing.
The job took about 9 hours. Give or take and hour or so for the visitors coming and going in our front door. They’ed never interrupt a hired plumber, but I was fair game. My friends chatted, had snacks and drank cold coffee from my fridge. All the while I chipped and hacked away at the job. At one point I sat on the front porch and had my lunch with a friend. That guy actually hung out and helped for some time. He’s done a lot of house work and knew what I was up to. I worked my can off.
The next week the drain cleaning company came out. He ran his snake a measured 128′ feet to the street. Six times and back. Then he worked the laundry drain from behind the washer and dryer. It was so plugged I finally got my power washer out. Using a special attachment for the power wash I have, we both worked the drain until it ran clear. I settled up with the plumber, dirty as can be again from drain work. The next morning I ran the power washer cleaner down the laundry and kitchen sink drains from the opposite direction. Sounds like a nerd thing to do, but I think it counted. This house is 62 years old. Maybe not quite an antique, but aged and challenging. Plus, maybe a little sweat up front will save me from ultimately ever having to do plumbing work under my slab house.
I didn’t want to do that drain work. I dreaded the ditch and all the digging. I sure didn’t expect to be helping the drain cleaning guy with my own tools. But that’s how it happens. It’s knowing extra attention to detail and good work add up to more that just sweat equity in the bank, it includes an extended level of ownership. Like most other things I procrastinate about, this wasn’t as bad as it could have been and I’m glad to have it done.