Man vs Plumbing, or, The Great Kitchen Sink Adventure

It all started innocently enough.

It was a Friday morning that looked like any other Friday morning.  Except this time, as I headed through the kitchen on my way to work, I noticed the sink was backed up.  I’m not very handy, so these kind of things fill me with dread.  So, I walked over and followed the process adhered to by every man who suffers from my lack of home improvement ability.

  1. Look at sink and say to self, “(Sigh) This doesn’t look good.”
  2. Turn on garbage disposal, and think, “I’m a genius” as the water goes away.  However, as soon as the disposal was turned off, the water returned.
  3. Stare at garbage disposal and try to figure out what law of physics caused Step 2.
  4. Grab plunger, plunge, and watch water spray out of the silly useless little release valve on top of the sink that I had never noticed before.  Plunge more, and notice how all the water from one side of the sink was being pushed into the other side of the sink.  Stop plunging, and watch the water return to its original home.
  5. Look under the sink.  I’m not sure why we do this.  It’s like we’re expecting to see a little elf with his hand stuck up the pipe, and a sly mischievous grin saying, “Ha, you caught me.”
  6. Look at sink again and say, “Well maybe it will magically fix itself while I’m at work.”

I successfully made it through all 6 steps, and headed to work.  And to my surprise and delight, when I returned home, the sink was clear.  Sure, there was residue, but no more clog.  Life was good.  I was a home repair genius for not panicking.

Now just to be safe, I called for a moratorium on kitchen sink usage.  I wanted to make sure we were safe.  No dishwasher, no washing machine, no sink.  And so when I looked that evening at a messy (but not smelly) kitchen sink with dirty water backed up, I had to scratch my head.  Where did that water come from?  I decided to worry about that later.

Attempt 2: The solution seemed easy enough.  If it was a clogged kitchen sink pipe, all I needed to do was undo the pipes, find the clog,  replace pipes. Piece of cake.  So, I emptied the sink out the kitchen window, pulled out the pipes and…..found no clog. (Sigh).  Now I had an empty sink, but one that wasn’t connected to the pipe system.

Attempt 3: After careful consideration, it was now my expert plumbing opinion that there was a clog somewhere below the second floor.  So I grabbed about a gallon of Drano, and dumped it down the kitchen wall pipes.  Surely, a gallon of Drano would do the trick.  Environment be damned.  It was with a certain amount of displeasure that I watched the Drano come back out of the wall pipe, and into the bucket below the pipes.   Side effect – Child was starting to find this quite funny, and I was becoming a trending topic in her text world.

Attempt 4: It was clear I needed some professional help here, so I consulted the place that all amateur home repairmen go – the Internet.  And the Web provided a genius solution – the baking soda and vinegar bomb.  Child was particularly excited to find out how this would play out, as my battle with the pipes was achieving Movie of the Week status, and her frequent updates were giving her unemployed friends something to focus on.  So the next day, I carefully mixed a few boxes of baking soda with water and salt, and poured them down the pipes.  Then I dumped a bottle of white vinegar down the pipes.  I could hear the compound getting ready to fizzle back up, so I shoved a sock in the pipe to force the mixture in the right direction.  In my head, I imagined a gigantic, organic explosion, blasting its way through my invisible clog, like a supernova soaring through space……In reality, I have no idea what happened, but the clog seemed unfazed.  All I had were pipes with baking soda in them.

Now, somewhere along this time we had a discovery.  Remember, I still never figured out how that sink filled with water again a few days back.  However, suddenly upstairs I heard a toilet flush, and watched with horror as water came from the pipes and filled my bucket.  Our problem was somehow related to the pipes associated with the toilet upstairs.  Not a happy discovery. The upside was that now we had introduced a new set of drama into Child’s broadcasts, and ratings were up.

Attempt 5: It was time to do some real man’s work on this thing, so the next day, I commandeered a 25′ snake from a friend, and shoved it down the pipe.  I went down 25′ without issue.  No blockage.  I thought maybe I had saved the day, and confidently went back upstairs to flush a clean toilet just to test and confirm my successful snaking effort.  Alas….I once again had a full bucket.  At least the water was clean.

Attempt 6: It was time for some real professional macho man work on this thing, so I did what us men do when we want to release our inner caveman.  We head to Home Depot and rent big tools.  Tools so big, they get their own room in the back corner of the store, back where women refuse to wander. In this case, I got the big ol’ 100′ mechanical snake to run through the clean out valve.  It was dirty, heavy and nasty, and I prepped myself for the mess that would come from opening the clean out valve.  Except….. I couldn’t get the clean out valve open.  It was glued shut.  Now, I could have forced it open, but I took a moment to pause and reflect.  Whoever had built my house had gone through a lot of work to stop a yahoo like me from successfully acting upon the thought that it would be a good idea to open the pipe.  He obviously knew something I didn’t, and I trusted that opinion.  The clean out valve would stay closed, and I would return the super snake.  Child had mixed emotions on this.  She was anxious for some real open pipe drama – though admittedly less so when she realized the clean out valve was in her room.

So now we’re close to a week without sink, laundry, dish washer or upstairs toilet, and the natives are getting restless.  But I’ve invested enough hours into this process that stubbornness trumps practicality.  It’s been kind of the theme for the month anyway, dealing with some toxic people and situations, so what’s one more.

Attempt 7: There seems to be one solution left, and if I had known what I know now, it would have been Attempt #1, not #7.  It’s time to remove the toilet, and go in through the pipe.  I’ve never removed a toilet before.  It certainly doesn’t look hard on YouTube, so what the heck.  I get another mechanical snake, this time a slightly smaller 75′ version.  And I go to work on it.

I’m not going to lie, it took me a good 20 minutes to figure out how to use this machinery without either getting my hand or shirt stuck in the wire and almost getting flipped upside down.  I mean, there was a pretty good chunk of time where that snake was beating the heck out of anything in the bathroom that it wanted to.   But for the grace of god did I make it through that “training period” with all my fingers and not winding the power cord into the spinny thing.  But I eventually settled into a nice rhythm, and only had to jump out of the way and hit the emergency stop button every 10-15 minutes or so.

And then suddenly, success!  There was a silence down the hole, as whatever the snake had been banging on for 30 minutes finally gave way.  I recoiled the snake, and the size of the clog I brought back up made me pretty sure I’d solved the problem.

I was riding a pretty high level of confidence, and thus the re-assembly of the sinks and toilets were accomplished at a speed normally reserved for someone who knows what they are doing, not me.  It was a pretty crowning achievement in my home repair merit badge list.  I felt like Foursquare should have a check-in for “I fixed my plumbing” and give me 100 points.

Anyway that’s my story.  9 days, 3 snakes, 4 trips to Home Depot, 2 trips to hardware stores, a gallon of Drano, a few boxes and bottles of Baking Soda and Vinegar, and about $80 in supplies.  But in this episode of Man vs Plumbing…..Man wins.

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