Questions and Answers for February 2017: Snow Removal and Clogged Toilets

Philippine Assault Plunger. Note the flange that seals the jet hole, and the night vision scope for late-night clogs. Gasmask Senpai – Wikpedia – CC-SA.

Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers into one here.

Q: Any recommendations for snow removal companies for a small property?

Snow removal is a difficult job to staff. The workload is extremely uneven. You might have very little work for months, leaving your snow removal person in search of steadier work. Or you might have 18” every week for four weeks, and now you need to clear 20 person-hours a week from your schedule to deal with all of it.

The service provider directory gives some options depending on your location (MassLandlords.net/directory). Remember that you need to decide whether your driveway can be plowed (where do they plow to?) and whether you can get by with just snow blowing or if you need shoveling and sanding, too.

The best advice is to consider how you want to pay. You get what you pay for. Put a landscaper on a mini-salary and this will help them to make ends meet without abandoning you to find steadier work. Pay a landscaper by the job and you might end up very far down their list. Plan to hire someone off the street day-of and you can get by for very cheap, but you might not find anyone. There may be job apps or search sites that cover your area and provide very short-term manual labor. You might also check your local veterans’ association or other social group to see if someone there wants variable work.

Q: I have my first clogged toilet. Help. How to unclog a toilet?

Toilets should not clog from normal use. Was there abnormal use? It will be hard to say. It could also be that your toilet design is old or that there are water saving devices in the tank that are making it work badly.

Regardless of the long-term prognosis, short-term you need to get that toilet back in service. You can either call a plumber, call a drain company, or attempt to clear the clog yourself (by far the cheapest option). Record the time and date you went into the premises in case you need to demonstrate your efforts to any court (i.e., if relations with the tenant are not smooth).

The first step is to get some nice latex or plastic gloves. There’s no reason you should risk infection doing your job. You also want a toilet plunger and possibly an auger.
Note that toilet plungers are not sink plungers. Toilet plungers have a collar on the bottom that seals the jet hole. This prevents you from plunging stuff back into the tank. Insert the plunger so that it fills with water, seat it, and give it a slow but forceful heave-ho. The first heave might bubble air out of the plunger. Do it once or twice more. If the plunger is working, it will feel full of water and you will note that plunging in and out moves the drain line water forward and backward without greatly disturbing the water in the bowl. The idea is that forward-backward motion loosens any clog downstream. Lift the plunger up slowly and pray. Is water draining? Hooray! Let the bowl drain as much as possible and then flush the toilet.
If the water remains, try plunging again. Try half a dozen times.

Still no joy? Pick up the auger. The auger is a special snake. You should store your auger in a black contractor trash bag that you take with you. (Pro tip: the auger will not come out of the toilet clean. When finished, put it and the dirty prize you just won directly into the contractor bag.) Feed the auger into the bowl and twist. You might grab a towel, or a diaper, or you might discover something worse.

Still no joy? Note that you cannot use Drano. This will eat away the wax ring and lead to leaks.

You may need to call a plumber or a drain service company. Plumbers are more expensive than drain service companies.
A drain service company may have the magic touch to do what you couldn’t do with the auger. They might also be able to snake further down the line.

A plumber can remove the toilet, clear physical obstructions by hand, and/or snake deep down the drain line. Sometimes there are partial blocks like tampon cases or plastic action heroes that lie halfway across the toilet bowl exit. You won’t move obstructions like these with an auger or a snake. (If you find an action hero, by the way, that counts as abnormal use and you can bill the tenant’s parents.)

If you feel inclined to remove the toilet yourself, do it after you have called the drain service company. You must clear the bowl of water and solids before you can replace a toilet, and usually you can get the bowl a little bit clearer than “clogged” before embarking on this sad voyage.

Welcome to the job, and good luck!

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