Be thankful if you avoid the plumber

Plumbers say it’s not an urban legend: Thanksgiving really is their busiest time of year.

Many of the scraps from our favorite traditional foods cause big problems when they’re dumped down the drain. The biggest offenders, plumbers say, are potato peels. Gravy and cooking oils also top the list.

Having a house full of people can also present other plumbingissues – clogged toilets or broken hot water heaters – that require immediate repair with guests around, and make the entire holiday weekend hectic for plumbers.

“We’ve got to have at least a couple of guys on duty,” Alan Gagnon, owner of Profile Plumbing Services, which serves much of Southern New Hampshire through a contract with Roto-Rooter, said. “But you can never really have enough people when all the emergencies hit.”

Plumbers in greater Nashua say they’re most often called out on Thanksgiving Day for potato or carrot peels stuck in a disposal.

“They’re cooking 10 pounds of potatoes or carrots,” said Bob Philbrick Jr., owner of RDP Water Systems in Milford. “People don’t run enough water and don’t run the disposal long enough.”

Most plumbers say it’s not a good idea to put any kind of vegetable peels down the drain even if you have a disposal, because they don’t dissolve easily. It’s better to throw them in the trash or compost pile.

But if you’re going to do it anyway, Ed Boisvert from Masi Plumbing & Heating in Nashua recommends running dishwashing detergent and hot water down the drain so they have a better chance of sliding down.

It’s also a bad idea to dump any kind of grease down the drain.

Jim Cuervels, vice president of plumbing for PM Mackay Group in Nashua, said some people opt to dump their grease down the toilet because the pipe is bigger. But that’s risky, too, because there’s no hot water to help force the grease down, he said.

The problem of folks dumping grease down the drain has even caught the attention of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Because grease is the No. 1 cause of sewer overflow and can cause private septic systems to fail, DES is warning people not to put anything fat or oil-based down the sink this holiday weekend. That includes butter, gravy or cooking oil, too.

“We’re trying to let the general public know: if you’re frying a turkey, don’t dump that grease down the drain,” Ray Gordon, the agency’s septage coordinator, said.

If you do need a plumber on Thanksgiving, it won’t be cheap. Plumbing companies will have to pull a technician away from his or her family to fix your Thanksgiving Day crisis, and that will cost extra. Plumbers typically charge much higher rates for overnight and other “odd hour” visits.

That’s why some people decide to hold out until Friday or Saturday – when the rates are a little lower – before calling for help.

“Some people will say, ‘Oh, the sink is clogged, but I can survive a day,” Gagnon said. “Others want someone there right away, even if it’s small.”

Even if you make it through the weekend without clogging the drain, there are plumbing issues that are tough to anticipate – namely, the mischief that can happen with lots of kids together in one house.

In addition to clogged sinks and broken hot water heaters, Philbrick has been called out on Thanksgiving weekend to remove household objects that mysteriously ended up flushed down the toilet.