An animal, probably a fat rat, has got stuck in an underground 100mm (4 inch) stormwater drain pipe and blocked it somewhere in our front yard, possibly under the driveway. The drain has started to stink and rainwater to pool in the backyard. The pipe is around 60 meters (~200 feet) long and I don't know where exactly the blockage is. Hiring a plumber to use a jet drain cleaner and inspection camera will cost about $500. Is there any cost-effective way of dealing with this stinky situation?
Many hardware stores will rent out tools. Renting a tool for a couple of hours usually doesn't cost very much. I recommend renting an inspection camera and getting a good look at exactly what the problem is. Look at the blockage from both directions, if possible. Once you understand what's blocking the pipe, you'll have a better idea about what to do next. You might be able to rent a drain clearing machine and take care of the problem yourself. If you end up having to call a plumber, you can tell them precisely what's needed ("there's a tree root obstructing my 4" PVC storm drain line 35 meters from the opening"), which could end up cheaper because they won't have to spend time diagnosing the problem and they'll know exactly which tools they need to bring.
When renting tools, be careful and ensure that you know how to use the tool safely before attempting anything non-trivial. An inspection camera is unlikely to damage anything, but you could damage a motorized pipe cleaner (or your pipes) if you try to clear out a tree root and the tool isn't rated for that. When in doubt, tell the store what you're trying to do and let them recommend which tool to use. I usually try to get the tool's model number ahead of time so that I can go through operating and safety manuals, video tutorials, etc. ahead of time.
I would start by walking the line on the surface and look for extra damp spots, or sunken spots that may imply where a fault is. You mention a deformed area in the previous inspection, that could be a likely suspect spot too.
You say the street end is open because its storm-water. So there's a good chance you can get into the pipe at the top end, where your drain is or downpipes are. Start by pushing a long garden hose in there with a jet-type nozzle blasting, and keep shoving the hose into the pipe till it ether slows to a stop, or you feel it hit something and stop abruptly.
In the former case, its because of friction with the pipe and means nothing, the latter means you may have found a block.
You can also try and shove the hose up from the downstream side, but that's harder because you're fighting gravity and the water coming down again.
Measure off the length of hose that you got into the pipe, and that should give a rough idea of where it stopped, which may give clues.
If nothing else helps, you may have to dig down, find the pipe, and install an inspection hatch or simply cut it and scab in a repair length afterward. That will reduce your pipe from 60 to 2x 30 metres, and hope you get lucky. Also hopefully pipe is not fully under your concrete/driveway.
I didn't see anyone else mention them. Isn't this exactly what drain rods are for?
Long flexible rods that have a corkscrew on the end (if you are wanting to pull something back) or can have a 4" flat plate on the end (push). The rods (each about 6' long) screw together to reach many times that distance.
Not too expensive - far cheaper than a plumber (and can, I'm sure be hired)
You could take a chance and use a strong chemical drain cleaner, such as caustic lye or hydrochloric acid.
There are several pros and cons to weigh up.
- Caustic chemicals are relatively cheap.
- Your plastic pipes are (practically) immune to chemical corrosion that would affect metal pipes.
- Caustic chemicals can digest animal tissue with frightening speed and effectiveness.
- Caustic chemicals react exothermically, generating heat. This would need to be managed to avoid heat damage to your plastic pipes (i.e. using an appropriate dilution and flushing with copious water once the drain clears)
- Caustic chemicals can be dangerous to you and the environment. As others have pointed out, this is a storm drain, hence the use of caustic chemicals may be especially hazardous to the enviroment and possibly even illegal.
- As your pipes are 60 feet long, it would be difficult to monitor progress of the reaction.
- We don't actually know that the blockage is caused by an animal carcass, so caustic chemicals may not work as expected.
A lot of plumbers would advise you to run a mile from this suggestion, given the risk of things going wrong. But it since you're asking for cost-effective alternative options, this is one to consider. Good luck.
A hosepipe with fishing spear hooks
Use a garden hosepipe, try and get a stiff one, keep a bucket of soap and sponge handy to squeeze it as it comes out. The hosepipe will be fairly buoyant compared to the water and should be able to go through the drain easily by the time it's cleared.
Firstly, tie some fishing spear hooks to the end of the hosepipe, see if you can snag whatever it is.
Secondly, use a jet nozzle.
Every time you pull out the hosepipe, squeeze it down with a soapy sponge.