Spring Preview #3 - Underground Drainage Pipe Blockages, and Carbon Monoxide?

I thought that spring had arrived in Chicago. And then I attended Saturday's Cubs game.

I've been to 46 Cubs games in the last 5 years, and I have NEVER been that cold at Wrigley. 

38 degrees is bad for baseball. It was, however, a great weekend at the AAAD household.

We had a full house this weekend - my parents and my wife's mom were in town from Iowa. Which is a great thing, because we needed all of the help we could get around here the last few days.

Clogged Pipes, and Carbon Monoxide? 

Clearing an Underground Downspout

We were getting ready for our first Little League practice (my first as a coach, my son's first as a player) when my mom noticed that we had water... spurting... from a part of the yard near a downspout. 

An underground drainage pipe was leaking. A lot.

So much, in fact, that it didn't even make sense. Where was all this water coming from? It wasn't raining!

Our gutters feed into underground pipes, which empty into the front yard. So I started digging near the downspout... and the hole filled with water faster than I could dig.

I noticed that our sump pump also attached to this drainage system - that explained the excess water. Eery time the sump ran, more water shot out all over the place. 

Bad news. There was a blockage somewhere underground, and so much water was backed up that it was shooting out, under pressure, through a seam in the drainage pipe and up through the yard itself.

We ran a hose down each side of the drainage pipe, on full blast. No luck - just more geysers in the yard.

We were about to call a professional, but first, I picked up a 50' steel sewer snake. About 45' into the run, we had a total blockage. Leaves, rocks... whatever it was, we broke it up.

So - when dealing with an underground drainage pipe blockage - follow these steps:

  1. Disconnect the downspout, and run a garden hose as far into the pipe as you can. 
  2. Turn it on full blast. The water pressure may dislodge your blockage.
  3. If the water backs up, try the hose again, this time from the END of the drainage pipe. 
  4. Feed a steel sewer snake into the hose (from either side) until you feel the blockage. 
  5. Hit the blockage with the blunt end of the snake. Repeatedly. 
  6. In my case, it was about a hundred hits. Seriously.
  7. When the blockage is dislodged, the water level in the drainage pipe will drop quickly.
  8. Flush the pipe with more water from the garden hose. 

See? Easy.

Carbon Monoxide - First Alert Detector Issues

When we got back into the house, our Carbon Monoxide detector was going off. Did I cause that somehow with all of the digging and pipe cleaning? Not likely.

We have about 6 First Alert SC9120B Smoke/CO detectors. And one of them was giving 4 beeps - that's the Carbon Monoxide warning.

I reset it, and about 10 minutes later, it continued its 4-beep signal. Hmm. I opened a window, disconnected it, and we went to Little League.

When we returned, ANOTHER CO detector was going off. Time to call the Fire Department.

The village fire department confirmed that this was a false alarm - no CO in our house. Even the trace readings around the furnace were lower than what they'd expected. The issue is with our detectors.

Something I DIDN'T know about CO detection - it's a technology that's still relatively new. And detectors last a ridiculously short time - from 30 days (for the "color change spot" stickers that you put on the wall) to about 5 years (for your average smoke/CO detector.)

CO detectors work by shining an infrared or other light beam at a translucent surface. If that surface is exposed to CO, it becomes opaque, the sensor can't see the beam, and the alarm sounds.

The problem is, the translucent surface can become dusty, or a bug can die in there, or the surface just ages -- and it becomes a little too opaque, even in the absence of CO.

That's why BRK/First Alert estimates that their CO detectors have a 5 year lifespan. Our bad ones were manufactured in March of 2008 - so they're more or less at the end of that lifespan.

Which stinks. They aren't particularly cheap, at about $50 for the CO/smoke combo model.

On the other hand, this gives us the opportunity to upgrade, right? 

I'm going to be shopping for the greatest smoke/CO detectors available - ideally, one that sends iOS notifications in addition to ear-piercing chirps.

The weekend wasn't all disaster triage, though - we had some big yardwork and room-remodeling projects, too.

Next post - A brief review of the new Scotts' Snap Spreader. I know what you're thinking - AWESOME.


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