Or, rather, two contractors and a plumber told me that in order to "repair" the downstairs toilet, I'd have to hire them to tear out the wall, break through the foundation, bust out the old sewer line, and then rebuild everything correctly. I thought they were all wrong. Surely the correct course of action would be to leave as much of the house intact as possible and simply tunnel underneath the foundation? Notice the asbestos tiles all over the side of the house? C'mon, aren't you guys professionals or something?
Yep, we are, and the right way to do the job is demolition and reconstruction.
Hmm, I thought. How hard can it be?
So here's the problem that we bought with the house: a sewer line through the slab that for some reason effluent flows back up through. Room full of flies year-round. Note the "vent" that vents into the room. Sweet. Previous owner stuffed a plastic bag in it to cut down the odors. Maggots lived under the carpet. Ick. Way, way ick.
My first "solution:" put the toilet up on a pedestal. The extra drop provided the necessary pressure to force waste through the line. Unintended benefit (that's a permie term) was that I didn't have to aim at all; the bowl was that much closer. Not-so-good was the increase water use. This toilet takes 5 gallons or more to flush. A year later I am ready to tackle doing the project as correctly as I can.
Outside the house, the 4" line appears to pierce the footing, and has this odd "step" poured around it. "You know, Bob," said Karl, "You have to assume that the people who did this job in the first place were at least as smart as us. So if they did it this way, there had to be a reason. Maybe there's something big in the way, or the geometry of the curve is all wrong in order to make a straight shot to this outside line."
I dug a hole.
I busted off the concrete block. Nothing big was in the way. I saw that they'd completely broken through the footing. They plumbed the 4" line uphill. Small wonder that toilet wouldn't flush. Water and waste doesn't flow uphill so very well. I dug some more, up under the house. The soil is heavy compacted clay, so a cave-in wasn't high on my list of worries, but it was there nonetheless. I worked on pulling the old cast iron pipe out.
Here's the part of the job that nearly wrecked me. Pounding through the slab as I was feeling like God has given me too big a job resulted in 4 hours of work to chip out an area you couldn't pack a quesadilla into. Devastated, I took a time out, got my head right with my heart, and suddenly the pick started finding all the weak spots in the concrete. 30 minutes later, I had this nice hole. Thanks, God. Sorry about that whole despair moment.
Of course, a hole under your house, aligned with a break in the foundation by a previous owner, is a bad thing. So I quickly glued up the new 4" ABS sewer line (complete with a vent on the outside, set to go past the roof line), connected it to the outside pipe, ran it into the watercloset, and started re-packing the earth. My practice with cob and rammed earth came in handy here! Pound, pound pound. Mix clay and water and sand. Pound, pound, pound. Pound until the ground is shiny. Then add another 2 inches or so and pound again. Pound, pound pound. 4 pound sledge and 8 pound sledge. Pound, pound pound.
Shape the hole to provide the form so the new concrete I pour will tie the old foundation back together. Pound, pound pound.
I am really tired of pounding. I think that's the part that all the professionals were trying to avoid, with their massive intervention strategy. I can report, however, that this corner of the house is better supported, now. And no asbestos got introduced into the environment. I filled not only voids I made, but voids I found, too. Cleaning up, I caught a glimpse of myself as I came out of the shower. "Hey Xena, lookit! I've got muscles!"
"No honey," she corrected me, "You're just swollen. Muscles do that when they get overused. Four days of effort isn't enough to build them up like that. They'll go back down."
The capstone to the project? Installing this new, ultra low flow toilet! Yay! We qualify for the EBMUD $150 rebate, now! Well, and also, we have a toilet that a 4-year-old won't fall behind in the middle of the night.
And I have a physique for another 24 hours or so.