Got a Clogged Sewer Line? Here’s What to Do

sewer

When you have a clogged drain in your house, your first instinct is probably to grab a plunger. Little do you know, there are some cases where standard plunging is almost useless — like when the main sewer line in your home gets clogged. When this happens, you can end up with widespread flooding and plumbing problems all over your home.

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To prevent serious damage, you need to be able to identify clogged sewer lines and know how to handle them.

Are Your Main Sewer Lines Clogged?

Throughout your home, you have drain lines carrying wastewater away from sinks, toilets, tubs and more. All of these lines lead to the main sewer line. This huge pipe sends all the waste from your home right to your sewer or septic system. When it gets clogged, drains all over your home are unable to work — and you could even end up with water backing up out of your fixtures, leaky pipes and other problems. Yikes!

If you find yourself with a main sewer line clog, there’s not really any do-it-yourself way of fixing it. These drain lines are often buried deep under the ground far away from your home. You typically need special equipment and professional know-how to handle them. Though you usually cannot repair it yourself, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. There are still a couple things you can do to keep the problem from getting worse until a plumber can help you.sewer

Clogged Sewer Line Causes

This type of clog is fairly rare, since most sewer lines are around 4 to 6 inches wide. It usually only happens if something has gone seriously wrong in your plumbing system. One of the most common causes of a clog is damage to the sewer line itself. If a pipe collapses or bends, the damage can keep waste from moving through the line properly. There are all sorts of things that can harm a sewer line, including:

  • Shifting soil around the pipe
  • Corrosion within the pipe
  • Construction near the line
  • Heavy traffic above the sewer pipe
  • Damaged pipe joints

Another big reason sewer lines clog is that they gradually sag over time. This bend in the pipe makes it easy for debris to collect, eventually causing a clog.water service line

The most common type of debris that clogs a sewer line is fat. If you pour greases, fats or oils down a sink drain, they will eventually cool and harden. Even if you run hot water with the grease, it typically firms up by the time it reaches your main sewer line. Then, the fat sticks to your lines and causes a clog.

Other types of debris that often causes clogs includes paper towels, so-called flushable wipes, sanitary products and other bulky items flushed down the toilet. You should never send anything besides liquids and toilet paper down your drains.

A final cause of clogged sewer pipes is tree roots. Trees are surprisingly powerful. Even tiny roots can worm their way into your pipes over time. You may not notice a significant leak since the root will clog up the broken area in the line. However, as the roots keep growing inside of the pipe, they form a mass through which sewage has a hard time passing.

Signs Your Sewer Line May Be Clogged

Most clogged sewers happen gradually. Being able to identify them in the early stages will help you address problems before you end up with sewage water flooding your entire house. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect that you may need a sewer line cleaning:

Dark Water

One of the signature symptoms of a main-drain clog is water backing up in your tubs or showers. This happens when you try to drain water but there’s nowhere for it to go because the sewer line is clogged. The water then moves backward, seeking the lowest point of entry. In most homes, this will be the shower, tub or floor drain in a basement.

Unlike flooding fixtures caused by a leaky pipe, the water will not be clear. Since a lot of waste material is mixed in, it will usually be dark, stinky and gross-looking. Keep in mind that this water can have raw sewage, so you need to be cautious around it. Use proper protective gear and powerful cleaners when cleaning up after dark water flows into your drains.

Slow-Moving Drains

Take a minute to think about the drains in your home. Are they draining rapidly, or do you notice water pooling whenever you run the water? Your drains tend to slow down when there’s a clog because most sewer line clogs do not suddenly block 100% of the pipe. Instead, debris accumulates over time, making it harder and harder for waste to move through.

If all the drains in your home are starting to slow down, the problem is most likely a clogged sewer line. Typically, the first drains you will notice slowing down are the toilet drains. When you flush the toilet, the water may seem to hang there for a moment before gradually sinking down. Toilets are often the first drain affected by a mainline clog because they’re usually connected directly to your sewer line.

Gurgling Sounds

Because a mainline clog keeps your drains from working properly, you might get some weird reactions as you use your plumbing system. When you run a sink, flush a toilet or use a washing machine, water and air bubbles can form. All this stuff rumbling around in your pipes can cause noises. Since sound travels strangely through pipes, these noises can seem to come from plumbing fixtures, walls other rooms, or even the floor and ceiling.

The most frequent sound people report is a gurgling noise that happens while they’re using a drain. However, you may also notice strange hissing, bubbling or trickling noises. If your main sewer line is almost entirely clogged, it can take a while for stuff to drain through. Therefore, you may keep hearing weird noises long after you quit using a drain.

Clogged Plumbing Fixtures

If your clogged sewer line goes unnoticed for too long, you’ll start noticing this sign: As the clog builds up, almost no wastewater will be able to move through the pipe. When this happens, your drains quit working altogether. Instead of just slightly slow drainage, your plumbing fixtures will seem to quit draining entirely.

Remember that all the plumbing fixtures in your home are connected, so a clogged sewer pipe will keep draining from happening all over the house. If you run the kitchen sink, you may walk into the bathroom to find a shower that seems clogged. Your toilets on the upper floor might seem to work fine, but then when you go downstairs, all the sinks may be clogged.

What to Do When Your Sewer Line Is Clogged

Noticing that your sewer line is clogged is half the battle. Once you realize it’s happening, the solution is simple. You just need to keep calm and follow these two simple steps:

1. Turn Off the Water

First of all, turn off the water in your home. This step is important because it keeps the situation from getting worse. You don’t want to absentmindedly turn on a clogged sink and end up flooding one of your bathrooms with raw sewage. It also keeps leaking pipes or automatic processes — like a dishwasher on a timer — from trying to drain more water into your clogged line.

To turn off your water, you need to identify your water main, which is the line that supplies your home with water. Often, you can find it near your home’s water meter, or sometimes it’s outside the home near a corner of your house. It typically has a large wheel, handle or lever. Turn it until it’s entirely closed off.

2. Call a Plumber

It’s technically possible to clear out some small sewer line clogs yourself, but this is rarely advisable. The problem with DIY repair is that the majority of sewer line clogs are caused by broken pipes, tree roots and other issues deep within your plumbing system. Most people who know how to handle a basic drain clog don’t have the tools for sewer drain clogs.

Professionals have heavy-duty main sewer line cleaners and other equipment that lets them clear away all sorts of clogs. They also have the knowledge and experience to diagnose the primary issue. Just dumping some main drain cleaner down a toilet yourself won’t help you identify and repair tree root growth or other serious plumbing problems.

Getting a professional to examine your whole plumbing system will help ensure the real problem is addressed. Depending on your situation, you may need to replace sewer pipes entirely, which can involve digging up the yard and doing some major plumbing.

How Do You Unclog a Sewer Line?

Ultimately, you do need a professional who knows how to unclog a sewer line. However, there are a few things you can do to at least try mitigating the clog before your contractor arrives.

Many homes have a sewer line cleanout, which is a large pipe with a cap on the end, found in your basement or on the side of your home. You can remove this cap to access your main sewer line. If you get very lucky, the clog might have been forced against your cleanout, in which case, you can just pull it out manually.

You can also try running a plumbing auger through the sewer line. This may break up the clog or enable you to pull out some of the debris. However, sewer line clogs are often big enough that the standard drain auger can’t fix the clog.

Most of the time, snaking your sewer line yourself will just get things moving a little, making it easier to clean up backflow and get your home in livable condition. Keep in mind that clogs will probably keep happening until you get a thorough sewer line cleaning. You’ll still need to call in a licensed plumber to handle the main clog.

When you have coverage from HomeServe, even big plumbing problems don’t have to be a hassle. We help cover the cost of repairs up to your benefit amount, so your finances are protected from unexpected issues. With our 24/7 repair hotline, you can always speak to someone about scheduling a visit from a plumber. Get access to these benefits and more by signing up for a plumbing plan from Service Line Warranties of America today.

Why are my Water Pipes so noisy?

Water Pipes making loud noises

BANG. Rattle. BANG. Last night I had to spend two hours convincing my kids there wasn’t a scary ghost haunting our house. They were obviously skeptical (who wouldn’t be at constant rattling and banging seeming to come from behind the wall?), but I was finally able to put them to bed and investigate the noises myself.

After grabbing a flashlight, I made my way to the basement and discovered the strange noises were coming from my water pipes. Knowing my plumbing could need a repair, I called a professional for help.

Luckily, they knew what the problem could be just from the noise! And now I get to share this information with you.

Name that noise

Banging

A loud banging noise coming from your pipes may sound frightening, but it’s a relatively common household problem that’s easy to fix. According to The Spruce, these booming sounds are most likely the result of a water hammer – A.K.A. hydraulic shock.

A water hammer occurs when a faucet or valve quickly shuts off the flow of water into the fixture or appliance. This sudden stop means the moving water already in the pipe comes to an abrupt stop when it meets the closed valve. The startling noise you hear reverberating around your pipes is usually amplified when the pipe fittings become loose due to the sudden change in water flow.

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Most water supply systems have pipe fittings called air chambers that act as a shock absorber for water flowing at high speed under pressure. The shock wave from the sudden stop will hit the compressible air, minimizing the banging noise.

If you think the chambers just need a reboot, turn the water off to drain the pipes and allow the air to refill the chambers. But, if a noisy pipe is persistent, it’s best to call in a plumber to see if you might need a water hammer arrestor. They will know how to fix the problem and how to properly handle all kinds of materials, including copper pipes.

Gurgling

Clogged drains are one of the most common plumbing problems. If you hear your drains gurgling or notice water is draining slowly, something is probably obstructing the pipes. There are a lot of DIY tricks for unclogging your drain – especially if you’re dealing with soap scum and food waste. But if the problem persists, it’s time to bring in a plumber.

Most professionals will charge a flat fee of around $150 to come out and unclog a drain with a snaking tool, reports Thumbtack. This is perfect if you can’t reach or locate the obstruction yourself, or it’s not budging with your home remedies. If it’s a larger blockage in your main sewer line, you may pay upwards of $800 for a plumber to hydro-jet the debris out.

Rattling

No, there’s not an earthquake. Rattling pipes may make it seem like your home is constantly shaking, but that’s probably not the case. This can be another sign of a water hammer echoing throughout your plumbing. Even more likely, though, is that your suspended pipes are not securely fastened.

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When the fasteners are loose or fall away all together, your pipes may rattle when water runs through them. If the pipes are easily accessible, like in a basement, it may be easy to tighten up the fasteners yourself. It can become more complicated when they’re located behind a wall – you’ll probably need to call a professional to help.

Humming

I don’t know about you, but a constant humming coming from my pipes is usually hard to detect until my house is quiet (which is a rarity with kids running around 24/7.) If your water line is constantly buzzing, Realtor.com says high water pressure is most likely to blame.

Overly high pressure can seriously damage your water heater and appliances. With a little bit of DIY knowledge, you can probably handle installing a new water pressure regulator yourself to help keep the system operating at peak efficiency. If you’re not comfortable working with the system, a plumber can easily install a new regulator, or check your current water pressure situation to make adjustments.

Squeaking

The final common noise is whistling or squeaking. Hunker.com explains this is usually a result of a bad or faulty shut-off valve. Common culprits are your washing machine or faucets. Once you’ve identified where the noise is coming from, you can replace deteriorated valve parts or call in a plumber for more help.

You never know when your home systems might need repair. Be prepared with a plan. See how plans from Service Line Warranties of America can help you be prepared for the costs associated with covered plumbing repairs.