At some point I guess we should just expect unexpected plumbing to happen. However, I can say with certainty that we didn’t expect a loud thud followed by a cascading shower of water from the mechanical room ceiling one fine Saturday evening. We’d just gotten the kids into bed and Sarah was doing dishes when it happened. I came running from the living room (one of us has to sit watch so the kids stay in bed and go to sleep) and she was already pointing me out the back door and upstairs.

Cast iron pipe dropped

When we got upstairs we saw what had happened: one of the three cast iron soil and vent stacks in the wet wall had basically fallen straight down about two feet. The straps holding it in place were both snapped, the top of the stack was in the attic instead of sticking through the roof, and most critically, the PVC pipe it connected to at the bottom (where the washing machine drains) had cracked at the main stack and the waste water from the washing machine had poured out of the broken pipe end into the basement from above.

Broken fitting

The good news is that there wasn’t any serious damage. The 2″ cast iron pipe was already slated to be removed, nothing in the mechanical room that got wet was harmed, and the PVC section connecting the washer was temporary. We turned off the washer and went to bed, leaving the problem for the next day.

Vent stack dropped out of roof

Sunday morning I started by removing the cast iron pipe. This drain used to be used by the kitchen drains from the first and second floors. Apparently, it had been supported by the plaster and lath of the walls, and with only the straps (and the PVC pipe underneath) holding it up, it simply gave way. The bad news was that the PVC had cracked at a fitting, right before it went into the main stack, so I had two options: use a heat gun, some pliers and about an hour to pry the remains of the fitting out and try to re-use the Tee, or cut out the 4″ PVC stack section and put in a new one. That seemed easier, so I ran to the store and got some supplies, including a 10′ section of 4″ pipe.

Pipe removed

I managed some Three-Stooges-level incompetence when it came to removing the old PVC pipe section, spilling the remaining water inside at several opportunities before finally getting the rest into a bucket and the pipe out of the wall…before knocking over the bucket on the floor. I did my best to clean up the new mess on the subfloor and Sarah put down even more towels in the mechanical room below. I put together a new branch for the washing machine and glued it together with minimal fuss.

Roof penetration

The final step was to patch the hole in the roof. When I got up on a ladder in the second floor and took a look, I found the expected congealed tar, but also some bent aluminum flashing. Because I didn’t want to get onto the roof and do a more extensive repair, I simply put some flashing tape over the aluminum cylinder from within.The roof (and walls) already leak, so it doesn’t need to be perfect at this point. We’ll be putting on a new roof in the not-too-distant future and it’s Good Enough™ for now.

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