Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flooding in Coralville

Since the flood of 2008 is still fairly fresh in everyone's memory here in eastern Iowa, people have been a little anxious about the amount of rainfall we've been getting this month and whether it means we'll have a (diminished) repeat of that summer.

It turns out we've been keeping an eye on the wrong body of water. Today's dramatic flood event took place in my bathroom.

Nearing the end of my morning routine, I stepped out of the shower. On my way past the toilet, I flushed it (liquids only). At the sink, I started the final sink-related grooming activities. I had just finished putting on whatever hair product I use (I think it's wax) when I noticed a cold, wet sensation on my foot.

While random drips are not out of the ordinary, I'm usually fairly drip-free by the time I get to the sink. I looked down, expecting to see a slightly-larger-than-usual wet spot on the rug. It took a second to realize, "That's a lot of water for--OH, NO." The toilet was not just overflowing; water was practically gushing over the top of the bowl.

I grabbed the only thing on the floor that might be irreparably damaged by water, the electronic scale, and chucked it out the door. Then I took the lid off the tank to stop the immediate flow of water. I held up the floater, stopping the flow of water into the tank. For your own future reference, the preferred move at this point would have actually been to manually close the valve at the bottom of the tank, in order to stop water flowing from the tank into the bowl. In my defense, I was still naked. I never think very clearly when I'm naked.

I knew I needed help at this point. Because I couldn't let go of the floater without more water flowing into the tank and then into the bowl and therefore onto the floor (again, I know NOW), I needed to call for one of my kids. But I'm naked. Just to help add to the mental picture you're getting, remember I had just applied sculpting wax to my hair and hadn't had time to sculpt it. So I'm buck naked with my hair standing straight up; I can't call my kids in. I still need them to sort of respect me for the next 3 or 4 years.

I finally managed to pull on my boxers with one hand, and then I yelled, "CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?" Both kids came running to my rescue. Cassie tried to help at first, but she couldn't stand on the (rapidly shrinking) dry area of the bathroom rug and reach the floater. So Alex came in to hold it for me. I ran to the laundry room to get a plunger and started to work on the clog. The plunger I grabbed seemed fairly ineffective, so I ran back for the other plunger. I got the waters to recede a bit, but still wasn't getting the whoosh of water that signals the blockage has been cleared.

I think by this time I figured out I could close the tank valve and relieve Alex from his post. I helped him wash off his feet and ushered the kids out the door so they could catch the school bus. I got back to work on the clog, which took a lot longer than it usually does. Finally, that reassuring whoosh, and the bowl emptied.

With the situation at a precarious holding point, I went to put a call in to the plumber to get someone here as soon as possible. (I like the company we've used since we moved to this city; they can usually get someone out to us within a few hours.) On my way past the laundry room--which shares a wall with the bathroom--I noticed that floor was full of water as well. I realized my day was pretty much shot at this point.

I got most of the movable stuff out of the laundry room and cleaned up most of the standing water from both rooms. When the plumber arrived at 11 AM and I--now dressed--described the situation, he pointed out that the water probably backed up from the laundry room drain rather than under the wall as I suspected. Guessing it was tree roots or baby wipes, he asked if we flush wipes down the toilet. I admitted that we do, making sure to only flush one at a time as advised on the container. He replied, "Yeah, those things say they're flushable, but they're not; they never are."

He set to work with his auger on the main sewer line and then the laundry line. He finished up a couple of hours later, and I gave him a check for $173. Ouch. Because of supposedly flushable bathroom wipes that really aren't. But then he said, "It was a tree root. But once I punched through that, it was pretty easy." My guess is that it was probably the root and the wipes together that caused the problem, or at least made it happen sooner rather than later.

I asked him if this meant we had to have some outside pipes replaced, and he said no. I'm a little surprised that a tree root working its way into an underground pipe isn't a sign something needs to be dug up, but my wallet is okay with that. I asked if the past week of rains made the problem worse, saturating the ground. The plumber said that it was probably more likely that last summer's drought had more to do with it. Because the ground was so dry, tree roots were drawn to the one source of water they could sense; underground pipes. Nature: 1, Man: 0.

After all this, I really didn't feel like going in to work for just a few afternoon hours, so I mowed the lawn instead. Maybe that was a mistake, because the shower I took afterwards was one of the most anxious showers I've had in a long time; I kept checking the toilet for more signs of flooding. So far, everything's still dry.

I can tell you one thing: I'm going to put a ban on flushing toilets in the mornings. Ruined my whole day.

2 comments:

  1. I have the same issue with tree roots, and I have someone come out every fall to clean out the sewer line (I suggest you do the same). When I had them come out last fall, he said it was about three times the amount of roots needed to back up the drain. It was bad.

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    1. I was actually surprised the plumber didn't tell me I should now do this every year. The one thing he did say was that some people try root killer with mixed results. Maybe he was just assuming I'd realize this was now an annual maintenance thing.

      This morning my boss said he had tree roots, and he has the plumber come out once a year. Now you're telling me about yours...

      I guess I'm a yearly tree rooter, now.

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