Unclogging a Renter’s Drain

“What’s the big deal about a clogged drain?”

I would never invest in real estate – I don’t want to get a call at 3 am to unclog a drain

That seems to be a very common excuse I hear from people who know real estate can lead to riches, but don’t want to pursue it themselves.  I’m not sure why unclogging a drain is the chief obstacle for people who might otherwise create wealth in real estate investing, but apparently it is.

The easy answer to this question is to say – well just call a plumber or drain cleaning guy and have them do it.

But that can be expensive – especially if it is an easy clog.  Sometimes the clog is right under the drain plug in the sink or bathtub – and usually it’s the tenant’s hair.  Do you really want to pay $75 – $150 to clean those out?  Especially when the tenant can live with it til the next day when you can get over there and fix it.

Yech! – Chemicals

There are also a lot of chemical drain cleaners on the market, but I have never seen them work effectively.  I have heard that the do occasionally, but their track record is not very good.  I’ve also talked to my plumbers about drain cleaners and they ALL say stay away from them for the following reasons:

  • Effectiveness – Not very
  • Damage to your pipes – The caustic compounds in these drain cleaners sometimes do more harm to the pipes in your rental property than they do to the clog.  Is it cheaper to hire someone to ‘snake’ out a clog or replace plumbing in your walls that is leaking?
  • Harmful to the environment – Many of these cleaners contain sodium hydroxide (lye), potassium hydroxide or sodium hypochlorite (bleach). The acid drain cleaners contain dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride or sulfuric acid.  Sound yummy?  Care to get some on you?

I really don’t like these cleaners.  In fact, when I give my new tenants an orientation to their place, I tell them NOT to use drain cleaning chemicals.  I also put it in their welcome guide.

The Poor Man’s Snake

Many landlords and real estate investors also have a big ‘snake’ that they can send down the drain and clear it themselves.  The heads of these snakes are a coiled piece of metal that wraps around the clog and pulls it out.  But the head is a reasonably good size which may not always fit down a drain, especially if it is older and has one of those metal crosses on it that supposedly catch hair and other stuff going down it.  Then you have to take apart pipes below the drain to get at the clog.  Snakes run anywhere from about $15 to over $700 for a fully automated electric snake.