Robert Lamoureux: Safety precautions and sewer gases

Robert Lamoureux
Robert Lamoureux

Question No. 1 

Hi Robert, 

I live here in Santa Clarita, where we recently had a sewer backup. We called out a plumber and, because of a tree in our front yard, we’ve got roots in the sewer line and we’re going to have to change it. 

I am in no position to pay a plumber what they are charging. I had no idea that they made this kind of money. 

I’ve got three strapping young sons, so we are going to dig this up ourselves, remove the tree roots and the tree, if we must. According to the plumber who ran a camera and some sort of location machine, which cost about $500, he pinpointed the area of concern. It was good to have that done. Now, I can take over. 

This is an older home, and we’re told that this is clay pipe. My question is, can we update this new section of pipe with plastic or metal and connect it to the old clay pipe? 

— Mike W.

Answer No. 1


You sure can make that change. 

First things first, though: You’ll need to call Dig Alert to notify them that you’ll be digging. This is IMPERATIVE before beginning such a dig, as there could be utilities in the same area and, if you hit one, it could be catastrophic in many ways. Do not dig until you follow all of their instructions, answer their questions, and all utilities are properly marked. 

Also check with the city for permits, so that you are following all requirements. 

You’ll use ABS pipe, which is the black pipe, and in a single-family home, this is likely going to be a 4-inch line, depending on how many facilities are in the home. Of course, double-check prior to purchasing your materials. 

The connection points will require what are called Mission Bands; they are specific to this application of transitioning from clay to ABS. You can purchase these at the plumbing supply house. Just let them know that you are doing this transition and they’ll be sure you are set up properly. You’ll also need to purchase a torque wrench if you do not already own one, as you’ll need to tighten these bands to 60 pounds of torque. As you dig, be sure to track the depth and as/if you approach 5-foot depth, you’ll need to shore up the trench to prevent collapse with a man in the hole. This is imperative. Do not skip this step should you reach that depth. The clay pipe will need to be cut using a grinder with a concrete blade, then you’ll fit the new piece of ABS pipe in between using the Mission Bands. Sometimes a bit of Vaseline will help get the bands seated properly over both pipes, then move on to using the torque wrench to get those tightened on properly. At this point, test your line and once confirmed a proper fit, you’ll backfill to proper compaction so that there is no settling in the future, or you’ll end up having to bring additional dirt in. After that, you’ll be done. This is a great project for you and your boys and should go smoothly — just follow all safety precautions. Best of luck to you. 

— Robert

Question No. 2 


Thank you for your informative column. Our master bathroom sinks sometimes emits a sulfuric odor when the hot water is first turned on. It only lasts for a few seconds. We experienced this even before remodeling two years ago. We now have all new sinks and traps, and we’re still getting it. 

I was advised by a plumber to splash bleach into the overflow holes, and that temporarily eased but didn’t eliminate the problem. Any ideas? 

Thanks in advance. 

— Sam R., Valencia 

Answer No. 2 


Thank you for being a loyal Signal reader. 

Given that when you insert the bleach down the drain and the problem goes away, then I must believe it’s either a trap problem with scum and/or a trap that is getting dry. The purpose of the trap is to prevent what you’re describing, sewer gases. The trap stays wet so that the sewer gases don’t back up into your home and make you sick and/or kill the occupants. 

I would replace the entire trap arm and see if this corrects the problem. While you have the trap arm open, you might want to snake the line. 

Best of luck. Please let me know if this solves your issue. 

— Robert

Robert Lamoureux has 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].

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