It's Christmas and the family is visiting and all is well with the world. Except that you've got a downstairs bathtub full of shower gray-water
and worse. What do you do? Well, first--if you've got a little backbone--you plunge into that problem all by yourself. You pull out the plunger, and when that doesn't work, you pull out your 50 foot drain auger. Except the sewer trap won't open. Hours later, you call a rooter service, Roto-Rooter being one of the brand-names available nationally.
What is Roto-Rooter?
The classic activity that most people associate with Roto-Rooter is drain and sewer opening. When you've got a human-caused obstruction (toilet paper, tampons, poop, etc.) or nature-caused (tree roots, primarily), they run an auger through the pipe. The sharp bit at the end of the auger can cut through the obstruction and open up passage.
Talking to the Roto-Rooter guys, I was mildly surprised to learn that Roto-Rooter was also a full-service plumber. So, presumably you could hire Roto-Rooter to install a dishwasher or toilet, as well as opening up a drain.
A strength of Roto-Rooter is that it usually can show up fast--within a couple of hours.
Read: User Reviews of Roto-Rooter
My Personal Experience With Roto-Rooter Seattle
Essentially, all drain activity in my house was 97% blocked. Liquid and solid waste was not moving from toilets or bathtubs. Because the basement bathtub is at the lowest point, waste would congregate there. There must have been a little opening in the blockage, because liquids would slowly drain from the bathtub at the rate of about 3 inches per hour.
I had two separate Roto-Rooter services: drain opening and video camera line inspection. In each case, Roto-Rooter promised a two-hour window starting from the moment I called, and they showed up within each timeframe.
The first Roto-Rooter plumber had to shatter the old brass sewer clean-out cap (there was no other way to get it off; I had tried). He then ran a full 3" auger blade down my sewer line, but could not pass at the 30-35 foot point. He pulled the auger line back up and switched to a half 3" auger blade. The full blade is roughly shaped like a large "U" and the half blade like a "C." The half blade is narrower and passes through tight spaces easier. After about two hours of work, the plumber was able to clear a small hole.
The next day, I had a call from the video camera line inspector. He ran the video camera line down the sewer. At the 30-35 foot point, where cast iron pipe switches to clay pipe, he found that the pipe constricted to about 1.5" diameter for a few feet and then opened up again.
How Much Does Roto-Rooter Cost?
Labor for the drain opening was a flat fee of $350. Parts were $25. So, the drain opening came to a grand total of $375.
The camera line inspection was a flat fee of $250.
I feel neutral about the Roto-Rooter visit. It was expensive, but competent. I knew the costs in advance and I paid for them. I do not feel short-changed nor do I feel that I got a great deal for my money. It was a simple exchange of money for service.
Both the plumber and the camera technician were highly courteous and good at explaining problems and solutions. While I suspect that Roto-Rooter employees are trained at up-selling the homeowner, I never felt pressured. Options were presented to me, and it was my decision to go forward or not.
As our Plumbing Guide details, you can run a sewer drain snake yourself, if you have the inclination and the luxury of time.
Response to mecasa2012: I felt neutral about the Roto-Rooter service because, even though they did everything I hired them to do, the drain still wasn't cleared. They say that their augers can cut through even the heaviest roots. When I later dug up the sewer and pulled out the clay pipe, I found it to be clogged with a mass of fine roots. Why wasn't the auger able to cut through these roots? I still don't know.