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So I've just bought my first house and before we fully move in, we've been doing some work (floors, painting, etc.). I noticed at some point that if someone is using the shower or flushing a toilet, it seems you can hear gurgling in all the other pipes. I knew this wasn't good and then it happened - the toilet on the ground floor overflowed with sewage while someone was taking a shower upstairs. Super.

So in the house closing, they included a home warranty. Yesterday (I wasn't there for this; this is what I was told) the plumber finally came and was very confused because he couldn't find the plumbing cleanout. My husband didn't know where it was either since we've just moved in. We looked at the home inspection report and it's not mentioned in the plumbing section. The plumber had to leave and says he'll send someone else with a smaller tool or something (I thought usually they just take the toilet off but whatever).

Anyway. The house was built in 1994. Is it common that even fairly modern houses just don't have plumbing cleanouts? This seems very strange to me. I've seen things online saying sometimes they've been cut off and buried for aesthetic/mowing purposes or drywalled behind walls or something but we're only the third owners of this house so I don't know if that would be the case.

I guess I'm asking two things: 1. obviously I suppose it's possible that it doesn't exist but is it probable considering the plumber couldn't find it after searching or is he maybe a moron? I didn't spend any time looking last night because I got home fairly late (I have a lot more plumbing knowledge than my husband although still meager and up 'til now have never lived in a house younger than the 1920s); and, 2. I realize it will probably be expensive to have one installed in the event that it doesn't exist; should I put it on my saving-up-for list? The house is in a cul-de-sac kind of at the bottom of a hill so I'm worried about this.

Appreciate any help/insight. Thank you.

Edit: Sorry, not enough info. The house is on a slab; no basement or crawlspace. It is hooked up to a municipal line (city sewer/water).

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    We'll need to know a bit more about the house. Is there a basement? Is the home connected to a municipal sewer, or a septic system? If there is a basement, is any part of it finished? – Tester101 Feb 11 '16 at 14:18
  • I am surprised they did not pull the toilet and snake it from there. I thought cleanouts were required (they are here in Oregon). The cleanout could be buried just outside the house, look to see the direction and the location of the pipes under the house. Dig down just outside the foundation the cleanout may only be a few inches down. I don’t think I have ever found one more than 1 foot down. If you don’t have one with the house being built in the 90’s plastic pipe was probably used and it would not be that hard for a home owner to install one. – Ed Beal Feb 11 '16 at 14:35
  • Sorry, edited the post. No basement, on a slab, yes to municipal sewer. – New House Feb 11 '16 at 14:54
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    There surely should have been a cleanout installed. Though it could have been buried in a wall by an some genius. It's common practice where I'm from to install one inside at the bottom of each waste stack, and one outside along the main sewer line. – Tester101 Feb 11 '16 at 15:01
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    @DMoore Who's responsible for what, is completely reliant on where you are. In some places, the homeowner is responsible for all plumbing up to the connection into the sewer main. In the area where I grew up, the main line was down the middle of the road. Homeowners were responsible for the pipe right to the middle of the street. In fact, if the line had to be repaired, and the street had to be dug up to do so. The homeowner was responsible for paying to repair the street. – Tester101 Feb 12 '16 at 2:07
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You have 2-3 cleanouts for sure in a house built in 94 in the US.

  • The roof. The main stack will have a roof exit. Depending on type of home and where the problem is this is often the easiest to snake.

  • The mainstack in basement (or first floor if there is no basement). Find your main stack. it should have a cleanout that you can open with standard monkey wrench. You can buy decent DIY snake to clean out your own from there.

  • Find the closest sewer to your house. Draw a straight line from stack to the sewer or draw a line from stack directly out the front out your house. You should have about an 8 inch covered pipe. These are usually closer to the street but really differs. Also most are in the front yard since sewers are often laid with roads but this can differ too.

Thoughts on your plumber... If he can't find a cleanout I would not invite him back to do any other work. If you have a new house and main stack is covered with a wall (would have been done by previous home owner) plumber should have insisted on opening walls until he found it.

If you have full access to main stack and there is no cleanout it is rather easy to cut a block of PVC off and put a cleanout T in. This is literally a half hour job - and obviously you need one.

  • Thanks for your answer; that helps a lot. It turns out that that plumber never called back so my husband had to call the warranty company again and they arranged for another one that should be coming today (the new plumber sounds very strange on the phone but hopefully they plumb OK). Our home inspector was actually very thorough so it was probably something more normal that the first plumber just missed for whatever reason. Thanks again; these answers have set my mind a bit at ease! – New House Feb 12 '16 at 13:33
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The cleanout would typically be at the base of the main plumbing stack and/or just inside or outside the home. When located outside, it's common for them to get buried over with landscaping. You should also have one every 100' to the connection with the municipal sewer. When located inside, they may be in the wall with a removable cover on the drywall instead of a large plug in the floor.

That said, I believe most plumbers would just pull the toilet and snake it from there. You know the clog is downstream of that toilet, and you know that all drain connections from the toilet down should be at least 3" to run a large snake down the line.

Here a bit more of the requirements for a cleanout from the 2012 plumbing code which I doubt have changed much since your home was built (mine in the early 1980s has the cleanout at the base of the stack and another in the front yard). Note there are lots of exceptions, like not requiring cleanouts for anything above the bottom floor of the residence that can be found in the source link:

2012 International Plumbing Code - Cleanout requirements:

IPC - Section 708 Cleanouts

IPC - 708.1 Scope. This section shall govern the size, location, installation and maintenance of drainage pipe cleanouts.

IPC - 708.2 Cleanout plugs. Cleanout plugs shall be brass or plastic, or other approved materials. Brass cleanout plugs shall be utilized with metallic drain, waste and vent piping only and shall conform to ASTM A 74, ASME A112.3.1 or ASME A112.36.2M. Cleanouts with plate-style access covers shall be fitted with corrosion-resisting fasteners. Plastic cleanout plugs shall conform to the requirements of Section 702.4. Plugs shall have raised square or countersunk square heads. Countersunk heads shall be installed where raised heads are a trip hazard. Cleanout plugs with borosilicate glass systems shall be of borosilicate glass.

IPC - 708.3 Where required. Cleanouts shall be located in accordance with Sections 708.3.1 through 708.3.6.

IPC - 708.3.1 Horizontal drains within buildings. All horizontal drains shall be provided with cleanouts located not more than 100 feet (30 480 mm) apart.

IPC - 708.3.2 Building sewers. Building sewers shall be provided with cleanouts located not more than 100 feet (30 480 mm) apart, measured from the upstream entrance of the cleanout. For building sewers 8 inches (203 mm) and larger, manholes shall be provided and located not more than 200 feet (60 960 mm) from the junction of the building drain and building sewer, at each change in direction and at intervals of not more than 400 feet (122 m) apart. Manholes and manhole covers shall be of an approved type.

IPC - 708.3.3 Changes of direction. Cleanouts shall be installed at each change of direction greater than 45 degrees (0.79 rad) in the building sewer, building drain and horizontal waste or soil lines. Where more than one change of direction occurs in a run of piping, only one cleanout shall be required for each 40 feet (12 192 mm) of developed length of the drainage piping.

IPC - 708.3.4 Base of stack. A cleanout shall be provided at the base of each waste or soil stack.

IPC - 708.3.5 Building drain and building sewer junction. There shall be a cleanout near the junction of the building drain and the building sewer. The cleanout shall be either inside or outside the building wall and shall be brought up to the finished ground level or to the basement floor level. An approved two-way cleanout is allowed to be used at this location to serve as a required cleanout for both the building drain and building sewer. The cleanout at the junction of the building drain and building sewer shall not be required if the cleanout on a 3-inch (76 mm) or larger diameter soil stack is located within a developed length of 10 feet (3048 mm) of the building drain and building sewer connection. The minimum size of the cleanout at the junction of the building drain and building sewer shall comply with Section 708.7.

IPC - 708.3.6 Manholes. Manholes serving a building drain shall have secured gas-tight covers and shall be located in accordance with Section 708.3.2.

IPC - 708.4 Concealed piping. Cleanouts on concealed piping or piping under a floor slab or in a crawl space of less than 24 inches (610 mm) in height or a plenum shall be extended through and terminate flush with the finished wall, floor or ground surface or shall be extended to the outside of the building. Cleanout plugs shall not be covered with cement, plaster or any other permanent finish material. Where it is necessary to conceal a cleanout or to terminate a cleanout in an area subject to vehicular traffic, the covering plate, access door or cleanout shall be of an approved type designed and installed for this purpose.

IPC - 708.5 Opening direction. Every cleanout shall be installed to open to allow cleaning in the direction of the flow of the drainage pipe or at right angles thereto.

IPC - 708.6 Prohibited installation. Cleanout openings shall not be utilized for the installation of new fixtures, except where approved and where another cleanout of equal access and capacity is provided.

IPC - 708.7 Minimum size. Cleanouts shall be the same nominal size as the pipe they serve up to 4 inches (102 mm). For pipes larger than 4 inches (102 mm) nominal size, the size of the cleanout shall be not less than 4 inches (102 mm).

Source: http://plumbingengineer.com/content/code-requirements-drainage-system-cleanouts

  • Hey, I'm too new to +1 your answer, but this helped a lot - thank you. – New House Feb 12 '16 at 13:31
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Check on the roof. There might be a cylinder stack around where the main drain line is located.

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