ORC Week 3: Basement Flood

This week’s post is not what I had planned because of an unexpected Hauslermo catastrophe. Those of you who follow me on Instagram already know this story, but I wanted to document here for posterity.

First, some background: when we bought our house, we learned our connection to the city’s sewer system was blocked by tree roots. We have a mature tree in our front parkway, and it had invaded the sewer line. The sewer line isn’t a continuous stretch of pipe – it’s clay/terra cotta sections pieced together (like this), which provides easy entry points for roots.

In August 2015, I paid ASAP Plumbing $2,400 to have something called a “cleanout station” installed. A cleanout station (AKA clean-out pipe) gives plumbers easier access to your home’s main sewage line, so they can rod it out – i.e. run a machine down there to remove obstructions in the clay pipe.

Cleanout Station

I do not like the term “adulting” but if I were ever to use it, it would be in this situation. Paying over two thousand dollars for sewer line rodding is some real adult bullshit. Here’s a photo from our plumber’s Yelp profile because Jack C. did a better job of documenting this work than I did.

Cleanout Station 4

Jumping from August 2015 to May 2020: I took last Friday off work so I could go to a nursery on an off-peak day. Illinois recently allowed garden centers to reopen for business, and they’ve been really busy.


If you’re based in Chicagoland, Urhausen Greenhouses in Lincolnwood is a hidden gem. The plants they sell have been grown on-site in their two-acre greenhouse. They don’t have shrubs and trees, but they have lots of specialty plants I don’t see elsewhere, like native plants.


The prices are a little high, but it’s worth it to support a local place – especially since it’s so pleasing to explore a giant greenhouse.


Here’s my haul:


Back at home, I was excited to spend the afternoon planting.


I went down to the basement to get a hanging planter and…. discovered a pond.


There was 3+ inches of standing water throughout the entire space.


Chicago received a biblical amount of rain this month – especially the night of  May 17 – and the sewer system overflowed. For reference: we have a river dock a few blocks away where Jarrod puts in his kayak. This is what it usually looks like:


And this is what it looked like last weekend:


We’ve always had a small amount of seepage around our foundation, but this sewer backup was an entirely different situation. We frantically Googled for an hour and learned 1) we should not wade into the water in case it was electrified, and 2) there was nothing we could do without a plumber. Tom arrived first thing Saturday morning.


They rodded out our sewer connection via the front yard cleanout station.


I went to the basement and heard the water rushing down our floor drains. It was like someone pulled the plug on a giant bathtub. It took less than 2 minutes for all the water to recede. Turn up volume in this video – others have described it as “something from Stranger Things” and “the sound of my depression.”

We were lucky: our basement is unfinished (technically, it had been finished, but we gutted it – something I’ll get into another post) and most of our things are up on shelves. The stuff we had to toss wasn’t special or expensive…


… except for this customized Caboodles case: it was special and expensive for this 1980s pre-teen.



We emptied out the basement onto our lawn.


And then we dragged our hose into the basement and hosed down this floor.


One of Jarrod’s work-study jobs at Grinnell College was mopping the dining hall. He’s pretty cocksure about his mopping skills. THIS WAS HIS MOMENT TO SHINE. We bought him an industrial mop bucket as a special treat. You know what’s hard to find in a global pandemic? Disinfectant. We were lucky to get one of the last bottles of bleach on the shelf at Home Depot.


The cleanout station I mentioned earlier? We definitely should have had that serviced at least once since we had it installed. I am usually on top of home maintenance, but I dropped the ball on this one. Please let my tale of woe be a cautionary tale for you, dear reader.


All in all, this ended up being a best-case worst-case scenario. It cost us a sleepless night spent worrying, a $150 plumber visit, and a hard day’s work. Now we have a very clean basement with less junk in it. I plan to write a Part 2 post tomorrow to show off the very clean basement that most likely no one cares about but me. Get excited!

You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.

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