Drain Doctor and the Toilet that Needed a Colonoscopy

by Anne P. Mitchell

Being homeowners, from time to time we suffer the slings and arrows of home ownership, namely something breaks and needs to be fixed -- now!

Such was the case with our main sewer line, which, as confirmed by two independent authorities, really needed to be replaced if we wanted the brown, foul-smelling slurry to stop backing up into our shower and bathtub, and onto our floors.

The work completed, and water turned back on, we joyfully put our new plumbing to the test. And the master toilet promptly backed up, venting its spleen and bile, as it were, all over the bathroom floor.

As one might imagine, especially after having spent all that money on a new sewer line, we were less than amused.

We called the plumbing service, Drain Doctor, back in. This time only the toilet was involved -- that much we could tell, as everything else was working perfectly, and nothing else had backed up.

We were duly advised that we needed to replace the toilet. "OK", we thought, "we've trusted these people this far (and they were recommended by a contractor whom we trust a great deal), what's a toilet between friends?"

The plumber came and installed the new toilet.

It promptly backed up the next day, all over the floor, following my husband's first test run, as it were.

We called the Drain Doctor back out.

This time we were advised that the problem was not the brand new toilet, but... my husband.

"Your husband, his poo is too hard. I install this toilet all the time, never any problem... your husband's poo is too hard."

The only thing which kept my jaw from hitting the floor was the fact that at this point there were so many brown-sludge-germs on that floor that I feared contracting a staph infection, or malaria, or typhoid, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (that's "mad cow" to you vegetarians).

"What," I said, rather sarcastically, "do you suggest we do?"

And the reply, I kid you not, was: "I don't know. Maybe take him to the hospital?"

Say what???

But wait, it gets better and...I swear... I'm not making this up...I couldn't make this up!

"Your husband keep two sticks next to toilet, and before he flush, he crash the poo."

Ok, even at that moment I could see the humour value in this, and yet somehow still, I was not amused.

Thank you, Drain Doctor, for your expert diagnosis.

Nor was my husband, who of course had never had a problem in all his mumbledy-mumble years with regurgitating toilets unwilling to accept his offerings.

Nonetheless, he dutifully tried altering the firmness of the offending substance, but still...flush...splash.

My friend and colleague, Tim Carter of Ask the Builder fame had us put the toilet to the 5 gallon gulp test -- which the toilet passed with flying colours -- thus proving that there was no ongoing blockage in the toilet. Nor, Tim was sure, could the problem really be on my husband's end (er, no pun intended) as, he explained, at manufacture toilets must be able to pass test capsules which are 2 inches in diameter, and, as Tim pointed out, if someone was passing a two-inch diameter item they would have bigger problems than their toilet backing up!

Tim was confident that there was a defect in the toilet. I was confident that there was a defect in the plumber's head.

We called the plumber back out. "This is ridiculous," I said. "Fix this!"

"There is nothing wrong with this toilet, I have installed it for many customers, no problem -- your husband's poo is the problem."

And so we seemed at an impasse, at least for a bit, and for a few weeks my poor husband simply used our guest bathroom, while we waited -- for something.

That something happened three weeks later, when our son had the toilet back up on him. This was no manly, hard production, it was 5-year-old-sized.

I seized the opportunity, called the plumbing service, and spilled some of my own bile.

"We'll send [name omitted] back out."

"No!" I almost screamed, "send out someone else, someone who isn't going to blame my family's rating on the fecal hardness scale for the toilet backing up."

So they send out this nice guy, and he and I go to investigate, and almost instantly we together figure out the problem.

Now, in case you didn't know, the pathway which goes from the toilet bowl into the floor is called the "colon" (interesting, eh?)

So this nice guy and I look at the colon of the toilet, and suddenly I see it.

There is a right angle in the colon of the toilet!!!!

Not a nice gentle curving pathway, not even a hard curve, a @#$&ing right angle! A minnow under its own power couldn't navigate this angle, let alone ...well... you get the picture.

"Aha", said builder friend Tim, "I told you something was defective!"

"Tim", said I, "that's not defective. That's stupid!"

We have a new toilet now. And a new plumbing company.


By day, Anne P. Mitchell is the President and CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy and on her off hours runs IndigNation.org.

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Drain Doctor is a franchise, so not all of them are going to be that bad.

We had a serious problem with a house we owned, and the local Drain Doctor franchise owner helped us finally resolve it. Turned out when the house was originally built, the builder had allowed a large stone to be put into the soil of the front yard and right over the sewer pipe (and planted 3 trees near the pipe). Over time the stone cut a hole in the pipe and the tree roots moved right in. Drain Doctor worked with another plumbing company to dig up the yard and replace the pipe.

Then a few months later it became apparent we needed to replace the rest of the line from the downstairs bathroom to the pipe in the yard. Apparently the previous owners answer to the tree root problem had been to dump tons of caustic chemicals into the lines and the pipes were shot. Again, Drain Doctor helped us get that up and running, and there were no 90 degree bends. :)

I had toilet troubles with my toilet clogging up at times with no clear explanation. It was only a few times a year that it would happen and it never overflowed so it never was an emergency. Until one time it clogged up really good and our normal methods didn't work. So we drained it and took it outside to our backyard to unclog it, after running water though it with a hose, we found a plastic piece in the backway where the water drains out of the toilet.

It has about six inches long, two and a half inches wide and had an angle in it that ran though the length. Not unlike the shape of a roof over a simple rectangular building. It was wedged in there tightly. Presumably, crap and toilet paper would catch on it and build up and eventually clog. This was somewhat limited by how each flush would also tear it away, reducing the number of clogs. The only way it could have ended up in there was when the toilet was installed.

I'm a homeowner who had learned to do a number of things on my own. One is fixing and replacing toilets. Our home's builder put in cheap toilets, like any other, but these were before the low flow toilets were required, so they used lots of water and still clogged several times a week. I finally replaced the two that we use the most. In the master bath I installed a Toto brand from Japan. Their basic model is attractive but $310 (a few years ago), including the slow-closing seat (very nice). This is a water saving toilet but its almost impossible to clog up. Installing a toilet yourself is kind of hard but its a 1 day project even for a beginner--ask for advice at the hardware store. It was easier than trying to get a plumber to return my call! With the money you save, you can buy a good brand. I hate the small round bowl units and I'm just an average sized guy--buy an extended bowl. They don't really take up much more room. Measure the distance from the drain to the wall before you head to the store.

Also, I am shocked that a toilet would splash all over the floor unless you gave it a second flush while the water level was still high. Buy a good plumber's helper (I like the orange plastic one with the accordian-like bellows) and use it before flushing a filled bowl. If the toilet overflows from a normal level--something is definitely wrong and its not anybody's poo!

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