freezing vent, toilet
Photo: Jorn Tomter/Corbis
Q: Our roof vent pipe sometimes gets blocked by ice in the winter. When this happens, just one toilet flush will suck the traps dry and fill the house with a wicked septic-tank odor. My husband then climbs on the roof with a kettle of hot water and pours it down the pipe. This works perfectly, but it’s rather inconvenient. Can you suggest an easier way?
—Elizabeth Gauthier, Vermilion Bay, Ontario, Canada

A: Richard Trethewey replies: Rather inconvenient? Anything that forces someone out on an icy roof is downright dangerous.

Although I'm not a big advocate of roof­top heating cables, this is one case in which they might be justified. You could wrap the ­cable around the vent-before winter comes- and plug it in whenever you think ice might be forming. Or you could get a ­cable that's ­ther­mostatically controlled. It might also help to cover the pipe with insulation, ­particularly where it passes through the attic.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has this suggestion: Splice an ­upside-down­Y-cleanout into the vent stack just inside your attic. When the vent clogs at the roof, unscrew the cleanout's access plug and push a stiff wire up the pipe to open the clog. Then your kettle could be used for something better, like making hot chocolate.
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