Bubbling Basement Toilet

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My basement toilet has started to erupt as a bubble of air blows water up and out. As far as we can tell it happens on a random basis. We'll lift the lid and the underside will be all wet. My daughter was walking through the basement and heard - well, she heard whatever sound a large under water bubble would make.
Let me describe the drain and vent set-up:
First: This toilet has been installed for as long as I have lived in the house (25+ years) and has never bubbled before. Nothing has changed as far as the venting or drains. The toilet flushes fine and all other fixtures drain normally.
Second: This bathroom is in the corner of the house where all the drains meet under the slab just before leaving the house. The toilet, shower and sink in this bathroom are the last set of fixtures before the drains leave the house. The toilet is before the shower and sink which wye into the main sewer pipe about 3 feet from the exterior wall. There is a clean-out just inside the exterior wall under the sink.
Third: My house has only one vent - the soil stack, which is in the opposite corner from the bathroom. No fixture in the house has it's own vent, and never has. Right or wrong, this has never been an issue. All fixtures have always drained properly.
So, based on the information above, can someone explain why my toilet has suddenly started erupting like Mount St. Helens?
Thanks!
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DerbyDad03 wrote:

I say that it has to be caused by an obstruction (not complete clog) in the sewer from that point out to the street. More than likely tree roots.
When a toilet upstairs flushes, a big slug of water travels down the stack and past the basement toilet. Under normal conditions, that slug doesn't fill the exit sewer and no significant pressure builds to cause eruption. But clog the sewer a bit and the exit *does* fill completely with no room for escape.
Jim
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That's kind of what I thought. Now I just have to figure out if the obstruction is in my section of pipe or the town's.
In years past whenever we had a backup, the town would snake from my interior clean-out to the street and every time the clog was well out into the town's section of pipe. A few years ago they replaced the town's section with PVC and put a clean-out in the front yard so they wouldn't have to come into the house anymore.
Now that the town's section is less than 5YO PVC and mine is still cast iron, are the odds greater that the obstruction is in my section - (i.e. my cost)?
Thanks again.
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If your section has to be snaked, and roots cut, I suggest the use of copper sulfate crystals. This time of the year the roots are really moving, this is the time to drop a couple into the commode in the evening, let them go into solution, then flush it the next morning. Help the dissolve process by shattering a crystal before dropping it in the water. You may be able to keep roots from being a problem after a root- cutting down the pipe, without replacing the line. And it doesn't kill the tree or bushes. http://www.eco-nomic.com/pix/Tree%20Root%20Control.pdf

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On 5/24/2008 6:11 PM DerbyDad03 spake thus:

That would be, approximately:
BbbblewwERP!
(think fart in a bathtub)
--
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I would think most likely a partial obstruction has developed, most likely somewhere upstream toward or in the vent. Check the vent for debris. A properly installed and working vent is intended to prevent this exact thing. Flushing a toilet injects a large slug of air into the line and if it does not escape out the vent it will pressurize the line and blow water out of the toilet and other traps.
Don Young
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Interesting.
One answer was slug of water hitting an obstruction beyond the toilet and the next answer is a trapped slug of air before the toilet.
P.S. since posting my original post, I heard the BbbblewwERP and then the sound of the upstairs toilet flushing, at least I know I should be able to reproduce the problem.
What if I opened the cleanout in the basement, essentailly venting that toilet. If the bubble still occured (or didn't) would that help indicate where the problem was?
Not doubting you, but if the vent was clogged, wouldn't it cause problems with other drains?
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If this is a standard cleanout at approximately. waist level (no pun intended), The water isn't going to have the impetus to travel 3 feet up the soil stack, verses just slowly making it's way out to the sewer. It sounds like you have a few roots growing into the clay or cast lateral, and they are partially obstructing waste paper etc. Large quantity drain dumps like a toilet or a clothes washer during spin/drain should yeild the same phenomenon. Whatever you do, make sure that the above toilet isn't serviced by the same stack with the cleanout, or you will have one big mess if you flush it with the cleanout off!

The reason it's happening at your basement toilet is that it is the lowest point in the drain system that has an air trap in it (cast into the toilet bowl). The gallon or so of water held above this air break is why you *hear* the gurgling of air escaping. You won't hear it with other "vented" drains like the floor drain or shower/tub because there is no above ground water to push out of the way in these cases.
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..
re: If this is a standard cleanout at approximately. waist level
Cleanout is at floor level.
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m...
OK. You do have an open (covered with grate) floor drain in the basement also, correct? If the blockage ever gets bad enough, sewer water will start to back up there onto your basement floor.
I haven't seen anywhere where you've tried a professional cleaning yet. The ideal setup would be if your pipe is the same size from cleanout to street, or if there is an outside cleanout installed incase the pipe increases in size once it leaves the house. This way the rotorooter guy can select a blade that matches the size of the pipe and get more roots. Starting with a 4" blade inside the house and going through a 6" lateral is fairly ineffective.
Also consider having them camera and videotape the lateral once cleaned. You can tell what kind of obstructions and if there are any flat points in the lateral that aren't moving water properly. Roots and land movement over time can shift the lateral and sometimes heave it upwards in one spot, causing a slow decline in functionality.
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com...
re: You do have an open (covered with grate) floor drain in the basement also, correct?
No...there is no floor drain.
Update: Basement toilet overflowed this morning and water also backed- up into shower stall through shower drain - while I was in the middle of changing the brakes on the wife's car. Figures, doesn't it?
Town workers came and snaked thier section - no luck, not surprised since it's fairly new PVC.
I used a flat snake with 2" diameter four-side arrow-like head through the floor level cleanout in the bathroom floor. I managed to push through an obstruction/clog about 40 feet from the hosue, which would still be on my side of the town's cleanout.
Everything is draining but I'm still getting a bit of a gurgle in the basement toilet. I'm going to cross my fingers and wait until after Memorial Day to call a plumber and have it snaked with the proper sized head. No sense paying holiday/emergency rates.
Thanks for all the suggestions.
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Geez, that doesn't sound good, but I'm no plumber. Is the basement floor finished, possibly covering up the drain? Is the bathroom a remodel job or was it original from when the house was new?

Too small of a cable cutter will rarely affect anything longterm. Like someone once said of attempting to pleasure an overly experienced woman, "it's like throwing a hotdog down a hallway".

I agree, BTDT. You'll know when it becomes an emergency.
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re: Geez, that doesn't sound good, but I'm no plumber. Is the basement floor finished, possibly covering up the drain?
Why do you say it doesn't sound good? I've lived in (and been in) many, many houses with no floor drain. I guess it would convenient for some purposes, except when the sewer backs up. Right now, a lot of the back-up water stays in the shower base. With a floor drain, I assume that all that water would end up on my basement floor.
re: Is the bathroom a remodel job or was it original from when the house was new?
Both. The original shower (when I moved in) had no base, just a gasket under the stall walls and a hole in the slab with a kitchen sink strainer sitting in it. There was a toilet with a wall mounted tank but no sink.
I have since remodeled by breaking up the floor and putting in a regular shower stall with a base, a new toilet and added a sink.
re: Too small of a cable cutter will rarely affect anything longterm.
The call has already been placed to a highly recommended plumber, who has me on his schedule for Thursday. In the meantime, I snaked again last night and will do it again each evening. All I want to do is get through each morning's sh*ts, sh*wers and sh*ves without an issue.
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Final Update...I hope
Plumber came out today and found a mass of roots in the drain about 40 feet from the front wall. This is (coincidentally?) very close to the junction where the town replaced their section of the sewer pipe with PVC 3 - 4 years ago.
The plumber said that if the symptoms return, I should call the town, explain the situation and ask that they check out the line with their camera. It's possible that the junction has shifted and roots are getting in. Otherwise, it could simply be a bad section of pipe on my side of the junction, in which case any future repairs would obviously be at my expense.
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On Wed, 28 May 2008 10:28:20 -0700 (PDT), DerbyDad03

I don't recall reading about what type of trees you have. Consider doing a "root prune" of the tree roots. Between the tree(s) and sewer pipe CUT the roots a few feet back from the pipe.
One poster here puts salt down the drains to kill roots.
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How far away from the pipe should I be concerned with the trees?
The only tree within 30 feet of the pipe is a small dogwood that is about 10 feet away from the problem area and belongs to a neighbor. I could probably prune the roots back a few feet and still stay on my property.
The roots that he pulled out were very fine, kind of a stringy mess.
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On Wed, 28 May 2008 13:12:39 -0700 (PDT), DerbyDad03

Depends on the tree I guess. Not all roots are equal. A ficus will seek water and invade the pipes. An Oak may just lift the pipe.

Prune them back, especially if they match the roots pulled from the sewer pipe. I suspect the dogwood tree is doing very well! Enjoying the gray water/ moisture from the pipe.
I don't think a small pruning of the dogwood roots would harm it.
What color flowers and how big is this dogwood <g>?
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Not salt. Copper sulfate. Go back to my previous post, follow the directions. You will halt the spread of the rootlets.

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DerbyDad03 wrote:

1. BTDT. Shoulda done a side deal with the contractor doing the work for the city, and replaced all the way through your basement wall. Yard was messed up anyway, etc, and some things are best done once and gotten over with. In my case replaced all that old nasty iron and orangeberg (don't ask, you don't wanna know) with nice slick PVC, and it was like night and day flushing the toilets or running the washer. Any friends or relatives with similar problems, I tell them 'pay now or pay later- you'll end up replacing it all anyway'.
2, As to the floor drain the other fellow was asking about- around here, those DON'T go into the sanitary sewers, they go into wherever the sump pit and foundation drains go. Drywell or daylight drain, usually.
-- aem sends...
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re: 2, As to the floor drain the other fellow was asking about- around here, those DON'T go into the sanitary sewers, they go into wherever the sump pit and foundation drains go.
No sump or foundation drains in my house. Sandy lot on top of a hill. Never an issue with ground water or anything like that.
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