Identifying the Location of the Clog is the First Step to Fixing It

Plumbing is one of those things that we take for granted – that is until it stops working. If a clog happens, and the water just won’t go down the drain, or the drains are overflowing, it’s possible that there is a problem with your main sewer line. But we’ll want to make sure.

When your Out of This World technician starts testing for the location of the drain clog, and determines that it’s in the main connection from your home to the sewer, he or she will often recommend a camera inspection to be sure. Identifying the location of the clog is the first step to fixing it.

Firstly, a drain camera is a video lens on the end of a strong cable. Think of an eyeball on the end of a stick. It is generally sent down any drain that is 2” in diameter or more, although it can work on drains about 1.5” in diameter if needed.

These cameras are great tools, but they have their limitations. For example, if the pipe is full of dirty water, the camera may not be able to see anything. Clean water is not as much of a problem, so your plumber may advise you not to run any water before the inspection in order to give the debris in the water time to settle.

We will open the closest drain to the blockage, and run a snake down the drain to ensure the camera can go through, then feed the camera in. Depending on what we see, we can diagnose the problem.

Here are some common issues:

  1. Offsets in the joints between pipes. Your sewer line is made of sections of pipe joined together. Over time, the ground outside your home can shift and settle, and push the pipes in different directions, causing breaks in the joints. This can create a ridge that traps debris and leads to a clog.
  2. Invasion of pipes by tree roots. This often looks like noodles inside the pipe. If a break in a pipe occurs, water will leak out and attract thirsty tree roots. The water leaving your house is nutrient-rich, and that’s a bonus to the plant. The roots will collect around the moisture from the leaking pipe, and eventually invade the cracked pipe itself, and build up inside the pipe over time.
    If the problem is less serious, we may pull 1 – 4 feet of fine roots out of the pipe. The worst case we’ve personally seen is a larger root that was working its way back into the house through the pipe.
  3. Areas of pipes that have been crushed or bent. This can be caused by inadequate support under the pipe during construction and/or settling and compression of the ground above the pipe. This can often happen when extensive landscaping (think large rocks) is added above the pipe. We can tell that this is the problem if the camera hits water and then becomes clear further on. This means that water has collected in a low point in the pipe.
  4. Corrosion on the inner surface of the pipe. Some older homes, especially those built in the 20s and 30s, have cast iron sewer lines. Over time these corrode, and the metal develops pits and even flakes that can trap debris.
There are a number of possible outcomes, and the action we recommend will depend on the severity of the problem and whether it is likely to happen again after the clog is removed.

Pipe Join Offset

Sometimes water will still flow reasonably well if the offset isn’t too severe. If the ground has shifted a lot and has created a major blockage, we’ll recommend one of 2 things:
  1. Having the pipe lined. This is will create a pipe within the pipe. It has a smaller diameter, but it will be nice and smooth, so debris won’t get trapped. This can be a good option if you’ve put a lot of effort into the landscaping above the drain, but it is not always possible to have the pipe lined.
  2. Having the pipe dug up and replaced. If there is more than one joint offset, this is usually a better solution. If planned in advance, this can often be done in a day.
The costs for pipe lining and pipe replacement are similar for a standard job, but will depend on the obstacles and how easy it is to access the pipe.

Tree Roots

While we are happy to scrape out tree roots and fix the pipe, the problem will likely reoccur in 1 – 2 years if the source is a large tree. Sadly, the only truly permanent solution is to have the tree cut down. It will be your choice as to whether to remove the tree or not.

When you buy a home, keep in mind:

  1. Find out how old the plumbing is – both the sewer line and the system inside the house. If it’s over 30 years old, you may run into problems, although sometimes the plumbing can last a lot longer if you’re lucky.
  2. With time, plumbing materials have gotten better, but construction methods have generally gotten worse. That means older homes and newer homes are likely to have different sewer line issues.
    For example, homes built in the 60s often have a nice deep bed of sand below the sewer line to prevent offsets, while newer homes just have a bit of gravel. New drain pipes, on the other hand, are constructed of newer plastics that are less prone to corrosion, and are less likely to become pitted and trap debris from the inside.
  3. When looking at a new home, find out where the sewer line is in relation to trees. If the trees are young, find out how large they will eventually get.

When planning additions to your home or new landscaping:

  1. When planting new trees, remember that they grow. Allow enough space so that the tree roots won’t reach your main line even when the tree matures.
  2. If you’re adding rock gardens, don’t place them above the main sewer line.
  3. Before adding extensive landscaping, have your plumbing evaluated. If the pipe is extremely old or causing problems, you may want to consider having it replaced before putting time and money into your garden.
  4. When replacing a ground pipe, invest in a well-packed bed below the pipe that allows good water drainage.
  5. After replacing a main sewer line, we recommend allowing 3-4 years for the ground to settle before you get serious about landscaping.

Looking for tips to prevent clogs inside your home? Try these.

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