Recently my girlfriend purchased a home and began experiencing plumbing problems. Symptoms: Shower running created gurgling and bubbling in the toilet. Eventually all the toilets wouldn’t flush and the shower drains wouldn’t drain.
For less than $15 bucks, a plunger, a ladder and some time we got it straightened out and saved hundreds in having a plumber come out in the evening. Not to mention she was traveling before normal business hours the following day.
First, a simple run down on plumbing. House plumbing requires vents. Typically they are pipes sticking up through your roof. On two story houses there may be an access fitting that can be unscrewed to gain access to the vent without having to get on the roof. The vents allow a free flow of air down to the plumbing to prevent vacuum locks with the water. This also provides a convenient access to the plumbing under the entire house. No, you won’t be able to put your hand on it, but you will have access with the right tools.
Frequently on new homes or homes that have had major improvements, contractors and laborers will dump trash (dirt, spackle, etc.) down toilets as an easy disposal. If the house is empty for a period of time this can dry and harden. Of course, there are also errant home owners that drop tampons and other inappropriate garbage into their pipes. This can lay in the downstream drainage pipes and cause constrictions.
Once you realize there is a problem and basic toilet plunging doesn’t help, I suggest you gather a ladder for getting on your roof safely. Go to a hardware place near you and buy a plumbing snake(also known as auger). You don’t need the most expensive, but realize you get what you pay for. I picked up one for about $15 at a home store that was 25 feet long. I would recommend this length at the minimum.
Climb up on the roof safely with your auger(snake). Avoid power lines to your house. Ensure you practice all the proper safety requirements. Gloves are recommended. Identify all the pipes protruding from your roof with each of the rooms below (sinks, showers, toilets typically). Don’t get confused with a chimney or boiler flue. Lower the business end of the auger (typically a bulbous end or twisty wire end) into one of the vents. When you run into an obstacle, use a rotating motion (to spin the auger) and up and down pushing to work it down. You are either at a corner in the pipes or an obstruction. Continue this for the total length of your auger.
Basically it is traveling through all of the piping under your flooring. As you snake it along, it should be breaking up and moving clogs under the flooring. When you’ve done all you can to the first vent, pull the auger back out and repeat the process for each of the vents. Be aware that your auger will be nasty. That’s why plumbers get paid the money they do.
If you found one or more vents where the auger didn’t go very far, really rotate it a lot in those for as much forward progress as you can. Some augers have handles to do this, others are connected to drills. The hope is to loosen and break up whatever is holding up the works.
Okay, now that you’ve completed running the auger down each vent for as far as you can it’s time for the next step. Run the water in all the sinks, showers and flush the toilets. The flow of all the water at one time will hopefully provide enough pressure to flush the clog. If they are backing up, stop all of them before they overflow.
Not to worry, you’re not done yet. At this time you may have loosened things, but obviously they aren’t free flowing.
Now it’s time to go back to your plunger. I’m assuming you know the proper technique to plunge. In a nutshell, you submerge the plunger, slowly depress it to push any air from the suction cup, try to get a good seal between the cup and the bowl, then pull back sharply with out lifting it from the bowl. Why this way? Removing the air ensures you’re using hydraulic pressure rather than less efficient air pressure. The sharp backward motion is easy, efficient and certainly less splash prone than shoving down.
Go to each toilet and plunge. Generally you’ll know the moment the clog frees up because every drain will suddenly begin to flow simultaneously.
If you still have no luck, take a short breather and start it from the beginning again. You’re odds are good that you’ll break it up.
Some closing notes: Just because you’ve done it once doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. Something in the pipes led to the constriction in the first place and may still be there. If you have repeated instances, consider a larger diameter auger with a longer length or even one that can be rotated with a drill. Consider snaking the plumbing on a regular basis. If you have trees hanging over the vents on your house (like oaks) cover the vents with a screen or chimney cap to keep leaves out.