I bought a 1962 home in Merritt Island, Florida last year and immediately noticed a plumbing issue due to cast iron pipes corroding since they sat for a few years. Where is my cleanout so I can snake it? At this time, everything is backing up into the master shower room and I am not able to use any bathroom or even the sink in the bathroom or the washer. I have many neighbors who tell me I have a cleanout but they don't say where.

How far should it be from the house? How far should I look to find it in the ground? How should I locate it? Is it in the front of the house or back, left or right? I know if I find it I can fix a part of the issue but I don't know where to find it.

  • This may not be the best solution, but do you have access to a metal detector you could potentially locate your cast iron pipes with? PVC began to grow in popularity and mature as a technology in the 50s and 60s- so likely your outside pipe is cast iron just like your inside. – Ramrod Dec 25 '16 at 5:54
  • Related question: Does my house just not have a plumbing cleanout?. – unutbu Dec 25 '16 at 14:07

You basically have three main options for a cleanout:

  1. Roof. Most home during that era, especially with cast iron have a full clean out on the roof vent.

  2. Main stack on lowest level. This would be basements in some homes but guessing you don't have one. Without a basement these can be on the first level or crawl space, usually first level. If there is a cleanout opening it should have an access panel which could be any sort of panel size and less than 1' by 1'. I would look in the center of the house or close to bathrooms/kitchen, really close to toilets.

  3. Closer to the street, probably on you front lawn. You should see a small manhole or some other sort of contraption for a cleanout to your street sewer system.

Things to think about...

  1. You need something to snake this. Snaking old cast iron is not easy. As it corrodes it becomes smaller inside. You shaking metal inside that always isn't a good scenario. Pieces break off and make a bigger mess. So make sure you are using the proper tool. We have no idea how big your yard is but in mine I need a 300 foot auger out ever two years to get tree roots. I of course don't own one so I call someone.

  2. Calling a plumber is not going to help you if you just want it temporarily fixed and snaked. There are other companies that will do this for you local for $75 or so. There are a ton in my area that for $50-75 will send someone out and let them snake for an hour for that amount - or until issue is fixed. Calling a plumber could run you 4x the costs.

  3. Which brings me to the real answer... Just have a plumber convert your lines to PVC. Most of the time this is a one day job and ranges in price from $750-1500. I know you are trying to save money but having a plumber troubleshoot one time could be $300-400, and he very well may never touch the root cause of the issue. Something like this isn't worth half-assing because it isn't something that is just broke but it is broke and getting worse.

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  • If the house is on piers or pier and perimeter beam then replacing old cast iron drains is not that big a deal. Unfortunately, many houses in the south are on a slab. Replacing failing drains often means tunneling under the slab and is costly. In our neighborhood of about 300 tract houses built on slabs 1969 to 1970 the first built have cast iron and later built ABS plastic. (Luckily we are in the latter category.) I know of 2 houses which have had replacement with PVC ($10k to $20K). Larger 'custom' homes around us built a little later mostly have cast iron, and are having problems. – Jim Stewart Dec 25 '16 at 14:03
  • Yeah that's my problem I am on a slab and I know its going to be around 15k I wish it was only 1500 to change to PVC otherwise I would of already done that. Its funny everything worked fine for two months after buying the house and I am one person and my family taught me to use the thin almost dissolvable toilet paper so I know it wasn't that issue. Plus I work usually during the day come home and pass out so I don't know what happened except for using the shower and kitchen sink. – Laura Hoke Dec 25 '16 at 14:41
  • Also look at the location of roof vents. There may be a larger one in line with where your drain goes out from under the foundation, but it may be far back. – Jim Stewart Dec 25 '16 at 16:02
  • If you are lucky, this blockage will be in your yard and not under your house. If you are really lucky, the city or sewer authority will decide they should fix it. Of course you neighbors will tell you their experiences. Built in 1962 . . . what is the construction--wood frame or concrete block or other? – Jim Stewart Dec 25 '16 at 16:52
  • @JimStewart the novel you wrote up there would serve better in an answer. :) – isherwood Jan 24 '17 at 18:00

You should try to get past this crisis with only clearing a blockage, although eventually the cast iron will have to be replaced. If your house was one of a group of houses of the same construction, you could locate your cleanout by looking at other houses of the same plan in your neighborhood. I have helped several people in my neighborhood find their cleanouts by doing this, by finding one that is not covered with soil. Then probing with a long thin screwdriver for the buried one in the corresponding location. Neighbors will know whether the city sewer is in the street or elsewhere.

My experience in Dallas and elsewhere is that the city sewer is under the street in front of the house. In some places there is a mark on the curb (often a "Y") indicating where the house drain sewer connects to the city sewer, but this will not in general line up with where the drain leaves the foundation. The drain line will come out 3 to 6 ft and then angle off at 135 deg (or 45 deg depending on how you look at it) to line up with the city connection and then have another 135 deg angle to go to the connection with the city sewer.

In my house, on a slab built 1970, the main clean out is in front 3 ft from the foundation. This is a double cleanout (two adjacent 3 or 4 inch screw fittings in line) so a snake put in the near one goes out to the city connection, a snake put in the farther one goes under the house. A newer type of cleanout is single and the operator of the snake must perform manipulations to direct the snake. Our house has another cleanout on the back wall of the house near the kitchen sink. The screw caps in these fittings (brass or plastic) can be stuck and may have to be destroyed to be removed.

Presumably the sewage emerging from your shower drain is from your own house and the blockage is in your own drains, and your responsibility. However in Dallas the city seems willing to fix sewer collapses involving the Y connection and even close to it. You might check with city or county water and sewer. But if there is a blockage in the city sewer and you are the last house before the blockage then sewage from other houses will back up into your house. This would not be your responsibility. Are you the lowest house on a hill or the last before a city connection?

Two houses in my neighborhood that are each the last house on their street at the bottom of a hill had sewage emerge from shower drains and cover the floors (episodes 30 years apart). In each case the cause was a blockage in the city sewer where the city sewer under the streets connected to a larger sewer line running perpendicular across the base of the hill. The city installed large cleanouts at the end of each of those two streets, and this provided a relief overflow when another blockage occurred. Sewage flowed out into an open space in a park rather than into a house.

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