Plumber mastered jetting fundamentals and now relies on his high-pressure machine for clearing stubborn blockages in drainlines.
Ruth Coleman, a schoolteacher in Somerset, Pennsylvania, came home to find her basement flooded. The whole house was tied into the floor drain, so when it was clogged, nothing in the house worked. She called Barry Frazier of Frazier Plumbing, Heating & Air for help. When he got the call he thought, “This could be a job for my new water jet.”
Frazier had resisted buying the new water jet machine he’d heard so much about because the business is 60 percent repair work, 20 percent new construction, and just 20 percent drain cleaning.
“For the little drain cleaning work I do, it’s expensive compared to a cable drain cleaner,” he said.
Though his primary drain cleaner is a sectional machine, his first drain cleaning machine was his father’s old drum machine purchased back in the 50s. He’s still got it and it still runs.
Frazier was in high school when he started working in the plumbing business. His father was ill, so in 1967 he went straight to work learning the plumbing business from his grandfather, W. Guy Frazier. Founded in 1936, Frazier Plumbing, Heating & Air served the small mountain community of Somerset. What was then a coal mining community has since become a tourism mecca with several resort communities developing nearby.
Now Frazier has a thriving business with a number of family members helping out. His sister Sharon Christe answers the phone, and his brother Doug and Uncle Joe help out in the field.
Frazier had heard that high-pressure water jets are better for clearing grease-clogged lines than cable machines because grease is a self-healing stoppage. The cable punches a hole in the grease, but when the cable is pulled back, the grease seals up the line again. High-pressure water spray cuts the grease off the pipe walls and the high flow flushes it down the line. He’d also heard that jets work well on sand in sagging, bellied lines, and clears ice in frozen lines.
Take the leap
After much discussion with his employees and other plumbers in the area, Frazier bought a 3,000 psi/4 gpm water jet with a 13 hp gas engine and 200 feet of jet hose. He also bought the accessory reel so he could use the gas jet on indoor jobs. He considered an electric jet because it would be easier to handle indoor jobs. But the power of the gas jet is significantly higher and thus made it better suited for handling the type of jobs he would run into — mainly long runs to the septic system in 4-inch lines.
But after he bought the machine, it just sat in his garage. He used it to clean his trucks now and then, but it hadn’t gone out on a job. Then he got the call from Ruth Coleman.
“She was using powder detergent and the 100-foot, 4-inch line was packed solid,” Frazier said. “We had to work the line from both ends, inside and out. We had to cut through major soap blockages and hard soap deposits. When the line was clear, we had filled a 5-gallon bucket with soap chunks.”
Dave Tipton, a 13-year veteran of the business and one of 10 Frazier employees, added, “It was amazing.”
Frazier continued to experiment with the new water jetter until he got the hang of it. “On another job we cleared mud and shale from a floor drain in our old shop,” he said. “The line was 80 feet long. What’s nice is it pulls itself so easily through the line like its nothing.”
Crew member Jason Griffith vouches for the new machine, too. “It cleans our trucks up nice too,” he says. “Better than any car wash I’ve gone to.”
Trial and error
Frazier said mastering the fundamentals of the new jetter helped him appreciate the machine. “With this new machine, we’ve learned something new on each job,” he said. “You have to let it pull itself — you can’t push it. You can’t be in a hurry. Just let the hose move forward slowly and liquefy the blockage. We use the pulse to let the hose jump around the trap or through a blockage. It will jump around enough to pull through a vent too.“
Pulse differentiates water jets from pressure washers. Pulse breaks the initial tension between the surface of the hose and the walls of the pipe, which helps the hose slide around tight bends and propel itself farther down the line. It also increases the cleaning power of low-pressure electric water jets and is particularly useful in jetting around tight bends in small drain lines.
“You get into some of these old sewer lines, they’re cracked, they’re broken, and you don’t know what’s going on,” Frazier continued. “On one tough job with lots of grease and stuff, we worked it back and forth with the pulse on until the clog broke free.
“What’s nice about it is it pulls through sewer lines full of debris. We thought we had a leaf blockage in an outside drain line, but when the jet punched though it we found the line was packed with acorns, sand and mud. We even blew shale out of the line.”
On another job at Pine Grill restaurant in Somerset, the main drain was packed full of grease. “We used the remote reel and left the unit on the truck. That was nice,” Frazier said. “We didn’t have to take the heavy machine off of the truck, and my back likes that. We ran the hose down the main line, which was clogged with grease, and the jet pushed it open easily. Our old cable machine just bores holes in the blockage. When we use the jet, we know we got the pipe clean. In fact, though we still use our cable machine for cutting tree roots, we use it less since we got our jetter.”
Frazier relayed a story about the time he got a call from Nancy Critchfield, the owner of the local Service Master franchise. She had a clogged floor drain and two clogged kitchen sinks. “We opened it once with the cable machine,” he said. “A couple of days later it closed up again, so we use the jetter and it hasn’t clogged since.”
Handle with care
There are three things that can damage the pump of a water jet — running it without water, running it with hot water above 160 degrees, and letting it freeze in cold weather.
Most of the homes in Frazier’s service area use well water, so he has to be careful to ensure he’s got enough water flow before he starts the pump. He uses a 2-gallon bucket and his wristwatch. If he can fill the bucket in 30 seconds or less, he’s got enough water to run the 4 gpm machine safely.
When it comes to hot water and grease, Frazier said that it’s better to clear grease with cold water than hot. When you use hot water the grease clog melts, then flows down the line and congeals someplace else. When you clear a grease clog with cold water, it breaks up into chunks and flows away cleanly.
In the cold winters of Western Pennsylvania, Frazier knows to keep his jet machine inside at night to protect the pump from freezing. Otherwise he carries a bottle of antifreeze on the truck to put into the pump if it will be in freezing conditions for a long period of time.
“We’ve used the jetter in some really nasty places already, but it takes a while to learn to run it,” Frazier said.
Another trick he’s learned: Use the foot pedal to jump the hose around a corner or through a clog. “There was this one really bad job that I didn’t think we were going to open with the jet, but with this trick it opened it right up.” His advice: Use it a while and practice with it.
General Pipe Cleaners, a division of General Wire Spring Co., is a manufacturer of high-quality drain cleaning equipment since 1930. General serves drain cleaning professionals and plumbing contractors, as well as facilities managers, the rental industry and the hardware/home center market. The Toughest Tools Down The Line.