My Sewage Adventure

Have you seen that Kohler commercial where a man sees a pretty lady plumber walk into the house next door? He goes inside and starts flushing a bunch of junk down his toilet, presumably so he can have an excuse to call the pretty plumber. The man is exasperated when everything he flushes magically disappears, whether it’s a towel, votive candles, lingerie or travel-sized toiletries.

They really need to have a “do not try this at home” disclaimer at the bottom of that commercial. Even if the toilet has enough power to force towels and toys out of view, the pipes that lead from a residence to the sewer main, called “private laterals” are a different story. They’re just not designed to handle that sort of abuse.

A big chunk of sewage spills around San Diego can be traced to private lateral spills. Why are there are so many private lateral spills? These pipes are generally pretty small—I’m guessing that most people have no clue how small and vulnerable these pipes are. The one leading from my house to the main sewer line is only 4” in diameter. I learned this the hard way.

Late last week, I noticed some water pooling on the floor after I had done a load of laundry. The next day, our toilet started gurgling. The following morning, the water level in the toilet was really low. That evening, while I was finishing up at work, I received a frantic call that our toilet was overflowing and my boyfriend was stuck bailing the wastewater into the shower. Gross.

Our friendly Roto-Rooter team came to our rescue. Unable to clear the clog by snaking the toilet, they had to completely remove the toilet and use closed circuit TV to find the cause of the problem. Two hours and $400 later we found the answer. The culprit? It turns out that an out-of-town guest visiting the prior weekend flushed feminine products down our toilet. Coupled with a piece of wood that partially blocked the 4” pipe (the Roto Rooter guys think it got washed into the pipe at a cleanout during a rain storm), those seemingly innocent tampons caused a major headache for us.

So the next time you think about flushing something down the toilet—whether it be for convenience or to have an excuse to call the cute plumber—think about how small those pipes connecting your house to the main sewage lines really are. Trust me, the cost and the ick factor of having to clean up the aftermath of a plugged toilet is not worth it!