What goes around should be going down
Q: Until recently, our toilet was working fine. But lately we can't get it to flush, even with very little paper in it. The water just goes around, but it won't go down. With a bucket of water and a plunger, we are finally able to force everything down, but there's just no downward suction. We have a 5,000 gallon septic tank, and it was just pumped about six months ago. What could be the problem?
A: Without conducting an on-site review, the best we can do is consider some likely causes, three of which come to mind:
• Although the septic tank is large and was recently serviced, it is possible the leach lines are clogged, preventing the liquid effluent in the tank from draining into the leach field. However, if that was the cause, you'd probably have drainage problems at other fixtures, such as showers and sinks, not just the toilet. Just to be sure, contact the company that pumped out the tank to confirm that they tested the leach system as well.
• The drainpipe from the toilet may be clogged with roots or other matter. To ensure unrestricted flow, the line should be checked by a licensed plumber.
• A small unauthorized object (e.g. plastic superhero replica) may be stuck in the toilet trap. As any thrill-seeking first grader can tell you, it's hard to resist the fun and suspense of watching Batman descend into the swirling, aquatic abyss. If some such object is presently lodged in your toilet trap, it may be necessary to detach the bowl from the floor. This, of course, should be done by a licensed plumber.
Q: When we built our home, our contractor ran the dryer exhaust duct directly through the roof, rather than through an outside wall. This has turned out to be a problem, because the attic vent screen becomes clogged with dryer lint. Every few months, I have to go into the attic to clean the screen. I've been told that the installation meets code, but I'm not convinced. Does this sound to you like a proper way to install a dryer vent?
A: Your description of the clothes dryer vent is puzzling in one respect. If the duct extends through the roof, rather than terminating in the attic, then the lint should be on the outside of the screen, accessible from the roof, rather than inside the attic. Given that disparity, it would seem that the vent either terminates in the attic, or the duct is disconnected in the attic.
Your best bet is to have the installation reviewed by a qualified contractor or home inspection to determine the condition and code compliance of the vent. Even if it comports with applicable requirements, it may be installed in a faulty manner. Whether or not it is legal, it may warrant improvement.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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