I am root!

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sat, Mar 24, 2018 - 7:36am


Perhaps this is not the best place to discuss this, but the reason I did not write the planned article (on early plantings and dodging frosts) last week, was that we had a tree root in our main drain line for our house. There were some lessons learned, however, that apply to all of us, so let me share them.

The first hint we had that anything was wrong was years ago, when we've had to use a pressure bladder to clean out the sewer line. Three times. In retrospect, we should have assumed there was something growing in that line since we are very careful to not put clog-producing things in our drain.

Let me tell you, there is nothing that can throw you into a near third world situation faster  than a blocked sanitary drain. 

  • You cannot flush the toilets
  • You usually discover this after something(s) have been deposited in said toilets.
  • You cannot bathe in the tub or take a shower. 
  • You cannot wash dishes like you used to. Or wash vegetables, etc
  • Heck, just brushing your teeth or shaving gets difficult. 
  • You cannot wash clothes in your washing machine, if you have one.

Being preppers meant we had a lot of options the average person does not have, though.

Toilets: We had two choices on hand for sanitary facilities: a Luggable Loo...

...or something we had left over from my hip replacement: a bedside commode 

We went with option 2. Recommendation: use pine cleaner (not bleach) and water in your temporary toilet; it really cuts the scent. Then, you'll have to dump it once a day. Liquids can perhaps be poured somewhere but solids need to be buried. (I know, TMI. But this is a practical post.) I'm sure an outhouse would be a better long term solution, but we only needed to do this for a week. 

As for the residue in the actual toilets, when the plumber tried to snake it out there was a little capacity left over even when he failed,so we were able to flush each one once, then scrub them. We put "Do Not Flush" notes on each, and something like a bottle of pine cleaner that had to be moved before opening the lid. The last thing we needed was to forget and use one of them out of habit in the middle of the night!

Bathing. We took sponge baths and shampooed in the kitchen sink, with a basin underneath, then threw the water out the back door. Had it been summer, we have a kiddie pool. 

We spit into a trash bin after brushing, and shaving meant another basin of water thrown out the back when you were done. 

Dishwashing. We washed them in  basin in the sink, put the washed dishes to the side, tossed the wash water out the back door, and then rinsed them in the basin. Toss the rinse water and you're done. 

Laundry. We pulled the washer away from the wall, and connected a series of hoses and pipes to the washing machine drain. The waste water went into our back yard. A friend of mine in Australia did this during a long drought, and by using mild soap she was able to water her garden this way when it would have been forbidden otherwise. PS- we also have a setup where we could wash our clothes in a 5-gallon bucket out of doors, but that was not necessary. We had water and power. 

Being without a working sewer line for a week was a reminder of how fragile our civilization is. The plumber (expensive) could not fix it and diagnosed a root in the line. He suggested a company that could temporarily clear the line with a very high pressure hydro-jet (even more expensive), or we could have someone dig it up and replace the line for a permanent solution (extremely expensive). We decide to dig-and-replace ourselves. When we called for utility mark-outs before we excavated we got a pleasant surprise. The town had recently taken over our sewer service from the water company, and they decided the blockage was in their part of the line. Although we were now in the hands of a bureaucracy, so they needed their own mark-outs, they eventually fixed it for free. 

Here's what they took out of the line. 

Wait, just kidding. But not by much. Here's the culprit. 


Markhemp's picture
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Posts: 21
Brilliant post Wendy

Thank you, got me thinking!

greendoc's picture
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Joined: Sep 23 2008
Posts: 152
Composting toilets help out too!

SO glad to hear you had the resourcefulness to manage this crisis. 

We live at the base of mountain that hangs up the rain clouds and any time we get a deluge, like 10 inches in a day, the water table rises to the surface. You literally see little upwelling springs of water in various parts of the yard. Since we are septic, you cannot flush a toilet or take a shower. I never heard a toilet burp before this. This first time It happened I thought it was possessed!

Luckily, we have a natures head composting toilet as an emergency backup.  https://natureshead.net/

I highly recommend (although i see they have doubled in price since we bought one 7 years ago!).  


We also thought to do a grey water system for the sink and shower in the master bathroom when we remodeled.  So, we have two 40 gallon surge tanks buried in a shallow mulch basin that waters an avocado tree.  IT has never failed us in 15 years of wet or dry weather.  See the excellent book on creating a greywater oasis by Art Ludwig.   http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/createanoasis/


Usually conditions likw this only last 2-3 days until things drain, but some neighbors have moved  to a hotel for the duration.




pinecarr's picture
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Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2259
Geez, Wendy

You got me with "root"!! 

Patou's picture
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Posts: 8

I bought a large wood box at a thrift store, cut a hole in it, glued on a toilet seat and put a bucket underneath.
I have a bin full of sawdust next to it. It's comforting knowing it's there if i ever need it.
No need to bury, it'll compost as is.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
beating inflation


Good for you! And you said:

i see they have doubled in price since we bought one 7 years ago

Great to know. One of our mottoes is, "Buy preps now; beat inflation!"


- Wendy

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