What to do when you have a clogged pipe

Handyman on the scene

Clogged pipes are one of the most common problems in sewer lines, but do you know what to do when it happens?

When sewer pipes clog, it is a plumbing emergency because your wastewater has nowhere to go and could inevitably cause other plumbing fixtures to back up as well.

There are warning signs that will alert you to a problem – like a slow drain or a foul odor emanating from the drain. This means that something is impeding the flow in the line. When multiple drains are slow, it may be a sign of a bigger problem in the main line. Toilets are particularly prone to this problem, but other pipes could be involved. Toilets generally have the most direct path to the sewer with the biggest drain line in the house, so if you’re having a problem with the toilet, it’s likely affecting the entire household plumbing system.

If you suspect you have a clogged sewer pipe, it’s best to consult with a professional plumber rather than attempt to unclog the line yourself. It’s possible the problem could be more extensive than a simple fix and attempts at repairing the line yourself could cause more damage.

If you’re enrolled in external sewer line repair or in-home plumbing coverage with Service Line Warranties of America, this consultation would be a covered expense through the warranty program.

Protect Your Home from Water Damage

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Did you know, water damage is more likely to occur in your home than fire damage? We protect our homes from catastrophes, but water damage could be just as dangerous.

Plumbing leaks are common anywhere there is running water, such as:

  • Toilets
  • Faucets/Sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Ice makers
  • Water heaters
  • Tubs/showers
  • Washing machines
  • Internal pipes and hoses

Water damage isn’t only a problem financially; it can lead to serious health risks from chemicals, toxins and mold, such as rashes, asthma or other chronic health conditions. Additionally, recent studies have shown that children with prolonged exposure to water damaged rooms in their home are at a higher risk of developing eczema.

Whether from a slow leak or flooded basement, water damage can be devastating, but there are things that a homeowner can do to mitigate or minimize the extent of the damage.

  • Check for leaks or cracks in hoses that run to the washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator at least once a year and replace these hoses every five to seven years.
  • Be sure the caulking around tubs and showers is free of cracks.
  • Know where your water main is located and how to shut it off.
  • Install floor pans under appliances to prevent damage from slow, undetected leaks.
  • Use water leak alarms, which will alert you to a leak in basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and sump pumps.
  • Buy a water flow monitoring system, which attaches to your water main and, if flow that exceeds normal use is detected, will automatically shut off the flow of water into your home.

Can you afford a costly repair?

sad worried man in stress with piggy bank in bad financial situation

Times are tough and a recent study by the Federal Reserve discovered that more than 50% of individuals surveyed could not afford a hypothetical emergency expense of $400 without selling belongings or borrowing money.

Homeowners work hard for their money and it’s no secret that the expense of owning a home adds up over time. In fact, the study by the Federal Reserve also revealed that “more than a third of all respondents said they were worse off financially than five years ago.” With credit hard to come by and many of those eligible for retirement unprepared, expensive repairs are just not in the budget.

When evaluating monthly expenses, such as a water or sewer line warranty program, it’s important for a homeowner to consider what they have in savings and what they can honestly spend each month for protection. For those homeowners living paycheck to paycheck, a few dollars a month to provide peace of mind could outweigh the risk of “if” a failure would ever occur, considering just over half of the survey respondents were putting some portion of their income away in savings and only 39% said they had a rainy day fund.

If you’re evaluating whether or not to purchase warranty protection, consider the following factors:

  • Do you have savings to adequately cover a repair of potentially $2000 dollars?
  • Could you sell belongings to help cover the cost of an expensive repair quickly?
  • Could you apply for a loan in an emergency and know you would get approved? As more homeowners struggle to make payments, credit has become more difficult to obtain.
  • Could you refinance your home and use the excess for repairs?

What’s that smell?

Bad Smell!!Have you ever walked past a sewer pipe that smelled like rotten eggs? While there probably isn’t a rotting egg in the pipe, hydrogen sulfide could be present, which can be very corrosive for sewer lines. In addition to a rotten egg smell, high levels of hydrogen sulfide could also smell musty or swampy.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable and highly toxic gas known for its pungent rotten egg odor. Many might recall the scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when grandpa lights a cigar and drops the match by the storm sewer.

According to the United States Department of Labor, hydrogen sulfide is used or produced in a number of industries – such as oil and gas refining, mining, tanning, pulp and paper processing and rayon manufacturing. Additionally, it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water and volcanoes, as well as oil and gas wells. Because of their density, low-lying and enclosed spaces are attractive to hydrogen sulfide, which makes confined spaces (such as pipes) very dangerous. Prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide poses dangerous health risks, even at low levels – ranging from headaches, eye irritation, loss of consciousness, and the inability to smell to death.

A simple chemical test can help determine the levels of hydrogen sulfide to which you are exposed and can be obtained at most home improvement stores, from a local plumber or the health department. If water lines contain excessive hydrogen sulfide, a homeowner has three options for rectifying the situation:

  • Find an alternative water supply, such as drilling a new well or contacting your local water authority.
  • Purchase bottled water to use for food preparation and drinking; however, this is not a cost-effective measure.
  • Remove the impurity. There are numerous treatment options available, which will be determined by the levels of chemical impurities in the water, the possibility of bacterial contamination and the volume of water.

The best advice is to let a professional handle any kind of chemical contamination because they have the tools, knowledge and experience to do the job properly

Can I trust a warranty company?

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When you receive a warranty protection offer, you might wonder if it’s right for you. Can you trust a warranty company since many have a bad reputation for high denials and limited coverage options?

The answer lies in research – with a little bit of know-how, you can evaluate any program offer and determine if it’s the right fit for you.

Review the company

  • How long has the company been in business and have they had multiple changes to their brand name?
  • Are they partnered with any notable companies or industry organizations?
  • Read customer reviews.
  • Review their Better Business Bureau profile for accreditation and complaints.
  • Have complaints been resolved in a timely manner and to the customer’s satisfaction?
  • Have they been recognized by the BBB or industry associations for their customer service or contributions to the industry?

Review the Terms and Conditions for each offer and note the following:

  • What are the warranty coverage inclusions and exclusions?
  • Are there hidden service fees or deductibles?
  • Are there coverage caps on the amount paid per repair or per year?
  • Are there coverage restrictions?

What are people saying online?
Google the company name with the word “Complaints” and see what appears. Also note the kind and number of complaints a company has had with the Better Business Bureau or the State Attorney General.

Contact Customer Service
Call the company’s customer service number with questions. Were your questions answered to your satisfaction? Did you have a long wait time before you spoke with a representative? Does their company website have a “frequently asked questions” section that addressed some of your questions? How well the customer service team responded to your questions is usually indicative as to the level of service provided to customers.

Are they accredited with the Better Business Bureau?
All companies are rated with the Better Business Bureau, but some companies choose to be accredited, meaning they abide by a code of ethics set forth by the Better Business Bureau and communicate with the organization regularly by responding to all inquiries and complaints in a timely fashion.

Once you’ve completed an evaluation of the company, only you as a homeowner can determine which warranty is most beneficial for you.

Sewer backups could lead to health problems

 

Ill man with a feverRaw sewage left untreated contains a variety of pathogens, chemicals and nutrients – many of which pose a serious health risk. Additionally, research shows billions of gallons of raw sewage flow into waterways every day, putting the health of millions of Americans at risk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 3.5 million people fall ill from swimming in water contaminated by sewage overflows each year.

When sewage backs up into the home, the overflow leaves behind germs on the surfaces with which it’s been in contact. The degree of danger depends on how long the sewage was in contact with a surface, the type of materials contaminated by sewage and how long the occupant was exposed to the sewage. Left untreated, exposure to sewage could leave you with gastrointestinal (GI) distress, hepatitis, skin rashes or infections. In extreme cases, sewage can also contain rat urine, which could lead to Weil Disease – which can result in liver and kidney damage if not treated and can be fatal.

While sewage germs are rarely airborne, in an emergency it’s important to seal off any backups until a professional can rectify the situation. If you must handle raw sewage to clean, always use protection, including rubber gloves, eyewear, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. If available, a breathing apparatus is highly recommended.

If you discover a backup, remember:

  • Contact your warranty service provider and/or a local professional about the situation.
  • If there is standing water near electrical appliances or outlets, turn off the power to that location.
  • Do not flush toilets or drain sinks. If you must continue using sinks, plug the drain or use a bucket until the drains have been cleared.
  • Keep children and pets away from the sewage.
  • Wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with raw sewage and never touch it without gloved hands.
  • If your home has a septic system, contact the local health department for advice on how to properly dispose of the water/sewage.
  • Contact a professional to clean up large jobs to ensure you eliminate the possibility of health risks.

Do I need a water or sewer line warranty?

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It’s not uncommon to have homeowners tell us they don’t need a water or sewer line warranty because their lines haven’t broken and will never break. While we’ve uncovered this is far from the truth – many homeowners are unsure if they need a water or sewer line warranty. When evaluating whether or not to purchase a water or sewer line warranty, homeowners must first understand the coverage details. Warranties are not the same as insurance. While insurance typically covers damage to personal property as a result of service line failures, disasters and extreme circumstances (such as fire, flood, etc.), warranties focus on normal wear and tear – such as aging, ground shifting and tree root intrusion. Problems due to normal wear and tear with the sewer and water lines located outside the home are usually not covered under traditional homeowner’s insurance policies and could be very costly to replace or repair.

When considering whether or not to invest in a water or sewer line warranty, consider the following:

Age of the home
It’s common knowledge as products age, the failure rate increases. While newer homes with PVC pipes may be at lower risk than a 50-year-old home with clay pipes, the age of your home can help determine your need. As homes age, so does the infrastructure supplying water to and removing waste from them.

Types of pipes and length of lines
Do you know of what materials the water and sewer lines inside and outside of your home are made? Some materials are more prone to problems and have shorter life expectancies than others. Knowing what the lines are made of can help determine the level of risk. In addition, the longer the line, the greater the risk of failure and the higher the cost to replace them.

Weather
Weather conditions can affect a pipe’s life expectancy and conditions as they swell with changes in temperature and ground shifting. If the area in which you live is prone to heavy rainfall, droughts or extreme temperature changes – your infrastructure could be at risk.

Plants
The closer your water and sewer lines are to the ground’s surface and  plants and trees, the greater the chance of roots permeating the pipes. It only takes a small pinhole for a root to begin to infiltrate the line, which may result in a leak, clog or break.

 Cost
What is the cost-benefit ratio? Should you pay a small monthly fee for the warranty or do you have enough in your emergency fund to pay for a repair that could cost from $1,300 to $3,500 or more?

Fine Print
Check out the Terms and Conditions of the warranty. Do they adequately cover your particular situation?

Company
Before buying any product, do your homework; research financial stability, outstanding consumer complaints, etc.

Time
One of the many benefits of participating in a maintenance or warranty program is the ability to make one call to solve the problem. If your service line breaks, consider the time invested in locating a qualified, local plumber and scheduling the visit, which may require taking time off from work and is disruptive to your daily routine.