The shower was backing up. He called a plumber. It got more complicated after that

Part of the work that needed to be done by plumbers to help fix the problems at the John Spevak’s home.
Part of the work that needed to be done by plumbers to help fix the problems at the John Spevak’s home. Special to the Enterprise

Recently I gained new appreciation for something most of us take for granted — plumbing. And I gained new respect for people whose work enables us to function each day — plumbers.

When I found water that had leaked around a toilet in our home, the one we recently moved into, I was worried. This was the second time my wife and I had seen this troubling sign, and we knew we had to call a plumber. We weren’t too worried, because the house we bought had come with a warranty that covered many things, including leaking toilets.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

We called the warranty company, and they sent a plumbing team two days later. In the meantime, I saw some other troubling signs. The shower next to the leaking toilet had backed up. And the toilet that had leaked also contained within it — yikes— remnants of the garbage disposal.

Using my powers of household deduction, I began to realize the true nature of my plumbing project. The bathroom with the problematic toilet and shower was the one closest to the sewer drain leading from our house to the street. This could mean there was a clog beyond the house, in an underground pipe.

I had experienced a clogged outside pipe in a house I lived in several decades ago on Granada Circle, an older house with old sewer pipes. That ended up with a backhoe digging out a lot of dirt, a long pipe being replaced and a considerable expense.

When the plumbers came to my current home, I realized they knew a lot about toilets and pipes, and they weren’t afraid of extensive physical labor. They removed the toilet, found the closest clean-out, inserted a commercial-grade “snake” and tried their best to unclog the drain.

I know the challenge of a residential-grade snake. I had used one often in my Granada Circle house. It is a challenge that often perplexed and defeated me.

The plumbers at my current house used agility, strength and know-how, much more than I ever had. They tried mightily, for several hours, struggling with a recalcitrant snake, but were unsuccessful.

They returned the next day with a more powerful hydro-jet snake and a camera. This time they dug out dirt near the house to install another clean-out with a direct access to the underground pipe. They had to remove a bush and cut through roots. Along with their expertise and equipment, the plumbers had to exert considerable energy and sweat. But their snake was stopped cold again.

The camera they slithered into the sewer pipe found the problem, a partially collapsed sewer pipe that was blocking sewage 12 feet away from the house underneath the cement driveway.

There was nothing more they could do that day. The project would entail significantly more work, time and expense, beyond the cost of that day’s work, which already wasn’t covered by the warranty.

After some research, I discovered a local construction company that could do something remarkable. Without digging a trench through my 22-foot driveway, they could pull a new 22-foot PVC pipe under my driveway. They only needed to jackhammer a 4x4-foot square of the driveway near the sidewalk.

I was particularly lucky that the construction company was owned by a friend I had known more than 30 years, who assured me his crew could get the job done quickly and at a (comparatively) reasonable cost.

Over the course of the next several days, two plumbers, Roberto and Josh, dug up dirt, jackhammered concrete, and somewhat incredibly pulled a 22-foot pipe from a hole dug near the house under the driveway all the way to the 4x4 foot opening and a connection to the city’s pipe at the sidewalk.

Watching them use their expertise and strength was a revelation, working hour after hour until they had completed the job, not even taking breaks. I was watching craftsmen at work, using tools and equipment in just the right way to do the job successfully.

They also pointed out that the city pipe was also partially collapsed. I contacted the city’s public works department, and before long the city’s maintenance crew was digging up the street and replacing their section of pipe.

Soon after the dug-up street was paved, the hole in the driveway was patched with concrete, and all was good.

I remain grateful and appreciate to all the plumbing craftsmen who worked on this project. All is well now in the Spevak house. I don’t have to worry about toilets leaking or showers backing up.

I no longer take for granted each flush and shower. And I have new and greater respect for the persons with the talent and expertise to fix plumbing projects.

The same could be said for all the other hardworking plumbers in town, as well as other local craftsmen with mechanical and engineering skills, including HVAC, landscaping, auto body and auto repair technicians. I salute them. Their expertise and hard work enable our community to function smoothly and successfully.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.