Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 45° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

Don’t just flush your money down a toilet

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

Many similarities exist between having a 50-plus-year-old house and a 50-plus-year-old body.

Both have urgent maintenance needs. Both cost a fortune to fix. Both periodically require the use of a very small camera, snaked up inside of their plumbing.

This week, I also learned a valuable lesson that applies to both, which I will shorten to its acronym, IAPTGASO. You would do well to heed it, once you learn what it means.

First, let me tell you the story, the pungently smelling story, of how I learned that lesson. I call it “Rooting Out the Problem,” or “How I Lost $4,000 One Day and Gained It Back the Next.”

It involves plumbing of, thank God, the house variety. Last Saturday, we noticed an odd situation in our downstairs bathroom. Our toilet suddenly resembled a bidet, or possibly a sitzbath. The water level was up to the brim.

We (I say “we” so as not to implicate any one individual) noticed this the hard way, through the act of lowering ourselves onto the perch without looking. The results were ear-splitting, calamitous and undignified.

Ear-splitting, because the water was cold.

Calamitous, because it caused a storm surge to overflow the levees and slosh out onto the floor.

Undignified, because our pants were around our ankles

My (I mean, “our”) first impulse, after shutting off the water supply and setting up a system of rolled-up-towel dykes, was to plunge that sucker within an inch of its life. My plumbers’ helper and I pounded that toilet for five minutes, with one result: I sloshed another gallon onto the floor.

While gazing glumly at the rising tide, I noticed another problem. The toilet had backed up, disgustingly, into our bathtub.

I know very little about plumbing. Yet I know enough to realize: When your toilet starts backing up into your bathtub, the entire system is in crisis. A plunger is no longer an adequate weapon.

Let me make the following comparison: If your 50-plus-year-old body were experiencing a massive failure of plumbing, would you continue to treat it with Rol-Aids? No. You would seek state-of-the-art professional care. You would contact a company with the word “Rooter” in the title.

So that’s exactly what I did. The next day a technician came out. He took one look at our toilet and our murky, noxious bathtub. Then in a procedure familiar to many 50-plus-year-olds, he snaked a camera-on-a-cable down into our main drain line. Then he said the same words my doctor said after the colonoscopy, “You got yourself some tree roots growing down there.”

So he snaked in another line, this one with claws, and snipped off the offending polyps, I mean, roots.

He pronounced the procedure a success. The only problem was, the toilet was still backed up into the bathtub. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and not just because I hadn’t been able to access the facilities for 24 hours. I knew the solution was going to be far more complicated, i.e., more expensive, than previously thought.

Was that ever the truth. The next day a whole squad of specialists arrived, performed more tests, and issued the diagnosis that we all fear: Sir, we regret to inform you that we’re gonna have to excavate your sewer line. We’ll be back Thursday with a backhoe to tear up your front yard. It’s gonna cost you $4,010.

First, you cry. Then you start applying for loans.

Then, you think, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to call someone else.

So the next morning, I called another company with “Rooter” in the name. Not long after their technician showed up, I walked into the bathroom. The tub had drained and the toilet was at normal, pre-flood levels. He was testing the toilet. It flushed perfectly, like a Kohler should.

I practically hugged the guy. Then he said the bill would be $190, so I did.

I asked him what had happened. He just looked at me, smiled, and said, “It always pays to get a second opinion.”

IAPTGASO. Take it to heart, in every sort of plumbing crisis.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.