Help - Basement Floor Drain Overflowing when doing laundry

pcjsSeptember 30, 2007

Help - Please:

Our basement floor drain is overflowing when we are doing laundry. So, common sense says the pipe is backed up. So, how do we fix this? We are usually DIY after bad luck with plumbers - we've learned to do almost anything but this. Any ideas on how to unclog this - we were thinking draino or an enzyme or renting a machine at Home Depot?


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The problem is most certainly lint from the washing machine unless the clog is considerably downstream of the drain (could be tree roots, etc.)

Do you have a problem with any other drain causing a backup in the floor?

I would use a drain auger, rented from HD, if you suspect the problem is close to the drain (rather than roots in the main drain).

If you think it could be down-pipe, call in a professional.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 5:51PM
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Thanks for the response. I don't think it is lint but it could be other stuff as we are DIY in the house and my husband does pour excess stuff down the drain or we're thinking maybe hair (I have very long curly hair). I keep a stocking on the hose to catch the lint. The house is 55 years old. On and off we've had drain problems. When we moved in, we had a couple of the drains snaked via the warrenty company (took 4 plumbing companies so we ditched the warrenty and learned to DIY most of it).

We're hoping it's not the down-pipe as that could get very $$$ and we're aready spending a small fortune redoing the house. We can redo plumbing we can see/access (love MAPP gas) as we've been replumbing parts of the house with copper but this isn't something we can see.

My husband was thinking of putting some enzyme down there as he's been doing that with the sinks and it works well. My thought was yours - rent the drain auger. We have a snake but it didn't do much good when we tried it when we bought it.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 9:59PM
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with a recurring problem, and this IS recurring since you have had several backups as evidenced by the 4 different plumbers, you likely have roots in the drain line. only a properly sized cutting head will solve the problem, for a period of time anyway. once roots invade, they will keep coming back.

but it could be a clog just past the drain. a small snake won't clear certain clogs, it MUST be the correct size head for the drain line. for example, a couple weeks ago i had a clog in a 2" drain line. i snaked it with a 1/4" head and it went right thru and out the next cleanout, yet the water would not flow at all. i went and got a 2" snake and forced it thru the line and instantly the clog cleared and water flowed as desired. pushed a mess of grease and soap right out of the line.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 11:50AM
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Re: "Excess Stuff down the drain"

You want to avoid that. Things like drywall mud, plaster, latex paint and caulks, etc. can all settle out and clog a drain. Clean the bulk of it outside, not in the utility sink.

Using the proper head, etc is important when you run the drain. Having a cable knot-up in the drain isn't fun.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 1:06PM
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I just found this - I hope there is someone out there to help me. I discovered the same problem tonight. How do I know how far "downstream" a clog is - is that dependent on how long it takes for the drain to flood out as my washer empties?
I have a manual auger, but I can only get it about 3 feet down the clean-out plug - I have no idea what that means. Is that where my clog is, or does the pipe bend and my auger is not?
Will any hardware store (worth its salt) have a power auger to rent? We do not have a Home Depot, Menards, or any other large chain home building store for 100+ miles.
I am pretty certain that my clog is dog hair - we have three very shedding dogs and the basement floor gets washed often, I am sure hair is always going down the drain. We also had a contractor doing plaster a few years ago, and he totally plugged our utility sink with plaster (they ended up replacing it) so I bet that may be in there, too.
I've been afraid to run any other water in my house, as I don't know where the water all goes. If I flush a toilet, is the basement floor going to flood (is there only one water path out of a house?)?
I got some help from the This Old House site (google search), but I am really trying to avoid calling a plumber, if I can. I have had SUCH problems with different service people in the past couple years, that I am hesitant, almost afraid, to call another.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 2:23AM
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We don't want to call a plumber too for the same reasons I described above - it took the warrenty company four plumbers to fix the main shut off water valves - the last guy was good but he lives far and he wasn't cheap private pay.

We tried snaking (snake went through fine), an enzyme and my husband just tried liquid plumber snake... we're not sure what to try next. We also have water just sitting in the drain and not sure if that should be there - it has gone down some since we snaked it but we are surprised to see it.

We don't have problems with the toilet or anything but that basement laundry, we think.

I did get my husband to agree to just toss the buckets vs. cleaning them or he'll use a hose outside. But, in a 55 year old house, I'm just hoping it's not a major problem.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 11:48PM
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This may not be a clog problem at all.

The house is 55 yrs old which tells me that the line in question may be an 1-1/2" cast iron drain line.

In the mid to late 80's the appliance industry began using a higher volume pump in washing machines, which in turn prompted the plumbing industry to change the standard size of a laundry standpipe from 1-1/2" to 2". To the untrained eye this may appear as a minor change but in fact a 2" line has nearly twice the volume of an 1-1/2" line.

1-1/2" cross sectional area =
2" cross sectional area =

In the final analysis I think what you will find is that the size of the line itself may be marginal for the discharge rate of modern laundry appliances, which in itself would result in a minor backup as the machine pumps out. This problem is further complicated because the original pipe is most likely cast iron. While cast iron is a fantastic material for DWV piping it has one minor drawback. In its new state the interior walls of cast iron pipe are comparatively rough, which means a high coefficient of friction. This is further complicated by the fact that the pipe will rust slightly as it ages which in turn further increase the friction loss.

This was further complicated by habitually cleaning tools and buckets and discharging the residue into the drain, which no doubt has by now caused a severe buildup of foreign matter in the pipe which cannot be removed even with a powered auger.

At a minimum the line will need to be cleaned with a good heavy duty powered auger with the proper sized cutter head, and even that may prove to provide marginal relief.

We are then left with two options as a permanent solution.

1. The preferred solution would be to replace the existing line with 2" PVC. An even better option would be to opt for the exception in the Plumbing code which allows us to increase a pipe diameter by one nominal trade size. Understanding that the code now requires a 2" line for a laundry standpipe, the option would then allow us to increase the line to 3".

The second option is much simpler although sometimes less desirable. You could discontinue the use of the laundry standpipe and install a laundry sink beside your washing machine. You then discharge the washing machine into the sink. A laundry sink is only required to have a 1-1/2" trap and drain line. In this configuration the sink serves as a reservoir for the discharge from the washing machine, then the 1-1/2" drain line from the sink will meter the flow into the existing 1-1/2" drain line at the proper rate to insure good flow under gravity flow conditions without causing the lines to back up.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 9:39AM
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I can attest to lazypup's statement about washing machines maxing out 1.5 inch diameter drain lines. I've had three houses, and in all three of them I've had to make modifications to the washing mashine standpipe to keep the machine from overtopping the stand pipe.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 2:30PM
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Thanks for those comments - our washer is draining into our laundry sink (with a stocking on the end to catch the lint that is changed regularly) - we have an old double concrete one - one of these day's we'll swap it out for a single to make more room for my husband's workshop, but we have other projects and the basement is the lowest priority right now. My husband plans redo all of the plumbing but who knows when we'll get to it.

We have mostly cast iron, you are correct, except for part with the kitchen sink and parts of the drain we replaced which is now PVC as we remodeled the kitchen. We at some point want to swap out the cast iron. I'm all for overtoping the stand pipe - we over do everything since we are DIY - easier to spend the money on good supplies. :) That makes a lot of sense - we planned to look at all of that at some point as we also want to do an second story so we are trying to preplan some of that stuff (i.e 65 gallon high recovery water heater for now one bathroom).

My questions:

How do we know the proper size head cutter for the power auger? Is it cheaper to pay someone or rent or I just need to look into it?

How can we swap out the cast iron under the house/in the ground as we fear that is our problem? Or, we can't and should focus on what is inside the house?

Is some water supposed to be in the floor drain - it is a good ways done, but you can see it?

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 11:06PM
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Changing the pipe would require cutting the concrete then digging down to the pipe.

The water that your seeing in the line is the P-trap. That is required to prevent sewer gas from getting into your house. That trap is also at the depth where your line transitions from vertical to horizontal so it will give you an estimate of how deep you would have to dig under the floor to change the pipe.

Rather than cut the concrete I would first consider connecting a new line at the level of the sink P-trap, then running the line along the wall to the stack. Of course this would depend upon the distance from the sink to your stack, keeping in mind that the line would require a 1/4" per foot pitch downwards from the sink to the stack.

If you could run a new line along the wall you could make it a 2' line and connect both the new sink and a standpipe. The drain you are using now would then be used solely as a floor drain.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 12:31AM
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Darn, I wish I'd read this a few days ago, I've just been revamping my downstairs bathroom and laundry and decided to put one of those recessed laundry things in that has the tap and drain that sets in the wall, and I just did it with 1.5 inch pipe, the existing one is only 1.5 in and it's fine but it is an older washer, I hope it won't be an issue. I'm annoyed because there's 2in and 1.5 in the same wall/area and I've only got the bathroom sink going to the 2" I could have easily swapped the two around, and the recessed box has knockouts for 1.5 in or 2" - to swap now would be a giant pest, so I guess I'll have to hope for the best. I plan to turn the existing freestanding washer drainpipe into a drain for a laundry sink, I don't have room for one with side-by-side machines but we plan to get those stacking LG machines that do the steam etc when we get rich. I guess one consolation is, the laundry tub when installed will be the connection that will back up/get the overflow if there is any....

But I'm kicking myself now, it would have been so easy to do it then, and it would have cost me all of two or three dollars extra at the time. Oh well.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 3:11AM
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OK so this has been bugging me, having pondered this I guess I can still upconvert to 2" - easier to do it now without the drywall than later if I discover everything overflowing, I guess, but the 2" pipe from the washing machine drain will run right next to the 2" drainpipe, so I will have to run the p-trap off to the right, then have it go down and right across to the left again underneath to the 2" drain - is that acceptable? I realise the sharp turn might negate some of the benefits of the large bore drain, but would I still be ahead, and would it be contrary to the rules? The other advantage of this modification is it will separate the laundry sink and washing machine outlet, I guess the 2" pipe is the stack and the other feeds to a grey water drain, this way it'll be the vanity sink and laundry sink together - should not be a huge flow. Previously the old vanity went to the 2" stack/pipe on its own. Other advantage is the laundry drain will be the lowest point in the 2" pipe so nothing to back up into.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 11:42AM
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