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.

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.

Should you hire a professional cleaning company after a sewer backup?

woman mother cleaningSewer line breaks result in messes, which require cleanup. While many homeowners may roll up their sleeves to do the work themselves – you may consider hiring a professional cleaning agency that has the appropriate tools and necessary experience. The decision is one of personal choice that involves time, money and the extent to which a homeowner is willing to risk exposure to the health hazards.

While homeowner’s policies don’t cover repairs to a broken or leaking sewer pipe, some might cover the cleanup, so read your policy or call your insurance representative to determine coverage. If your homeowner’s policy provides coverage, it’s highly recommended that a professional restoration service be used. After assessing the extent of the damage, make a list of what you can do yourself and what you may want a professional to handle. This should include a minimum of replacing floor coverings and wallboards, checking the home’s foundation for cracks or splits and pitching any ruined materials or sending them out for professional cleaning. Sewage may have possibly contaminated your heating and air conditioning unit and duct work, so have it professionally serviced.

If you plan to do it yourself, experts suggest investing in professional cleaning gear to protect yourself from germs. This includes protective eyewear, gloves, boots, pants and long-sleeved shirts. Be sure to wear goggles and, if possible, a face mask when hosing off items to protect from back splashing. Remember to never touch contaminated materials with your bare hands and always wash your hands thoroughly after cleanup.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health suggests these tips when cleaning up sewage:

  • Dry the space out, removing all water with a sump pump, wet vac or bucket. Many of these items and more can be rented locally.
  • Control the temperature to improve the evaporation rate and ventilation.
  • Collect and discard properly of all solid waste. Contact your local Health Department for instructions on discarding.
  • Discard carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture. Wallboards or paneling with water stains should be cut above the water line and replaced. Generally, all porous materials contaminated by sewage should be discarded – such as cardboard boxes, paper items, books, magazines, mattresses, pillows, stuffed animals and anything else difficult to clean. Clothing may be salvageable if laundered professionally.
  • Wash all contaminated areas with a detergent solution and then apply a disinfectant (anti-bacterial) or a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Disinfectants and/or bleach should be in contact with the items for 15 minutes or more to be effective and then allowed to air dry.

Whenever sewer backups happen, because of the health risks, it’s best to contact a professional restoration company for cleanup to ensure your home returns to its original state.

Don’t contaminate your drinking water when it rains

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Many cities use treated water from lakes and streams to provide fresh drinking water to their communities. However, many communities could be unintentionally contaminating their drinking water each time it rains.

Stormwater drains (not sewer systems) help return rainwater to nearby lakes, streams and treatment systems; however, there is risk of pollutants, trash and sediment being carried underground. While these drains keep the public safe from rainwater flooding and potential hydroplaning, keep in mind that stormwater runs into other bodies of water.

Storm drains are for rain – not dumping household products that you wouldn’t otherwise pour down a drain in your home. As a homeowner, you can help prevent dangerous pollutants from entering storm drains.

  • Clean up pet waste. Pet waste left on the ground could wash into the storm drains.
  • Never apply pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides to foliage and plants before it rains. Rain doesn’t help soil absorb chemicals; it washes them away. Also, consider using non-toxic or organic alternatives.
  • If possible, drain pools (even kiddy pools) into the sanitary sewer system where the water can be treated.
  • Dispose of chemicals properly instead of dumping them on the ground or in a storm drain.
  • Chemical spill? Don’t rinse it with the hose. Use absorbent materials like kitty litter, which can be swept and disposed of properly.
  • Take your car to the car wash so soap doesn’t leak into the storm drains. Many car washes recycle their water, so you’ll be conserving water, too. If you must wash your car at home, consider using biodegradable soap.

For more information about storm water pollution, visit the EPA website.

Sewer problem warnings

Repair water pipeSewer backups are a nasty business, from the mess they leave behind to the expense of having the repairs completed and potentially ruining family treasures. It’s important as a homeowner to educate yourself about the warning signs of a sewer problem, long before a backup occurs.

Look for:

  • Soggy ground when it hasn’t rained.
  • Irregular bumps or low spots the yard.
  • Foul odor or sewer gas smells, such as rotten eggs.
  • Gurgling sounds.
  • Slow drains.

If you suspect you have a sewer problem, contact your warranty provider first to send a technician out for repairs. If you do not have a warranty provider, contact a local, certified plumber who can inspect your sewer line with a camera and locate any problems in the joints.

Protecting your home from sewer problems starts with learning what not to put down the drain. Learn more about what to keep out of the sewer here.

Early detection is the key to preventing larger problems for your home.

Myth Busted: I Can Pour Anything Down the Drain

iStock_000007110284XSmall US marketplace benefitsDrains are found in sinks, showers, garbage disposal, toilets and stationary tubs. What most frequently goes into your drain? The correct answer is water. Water leaves your home via the sewer or waste water line and fresh, clean water is supplied to your home via the water line. What many people don’t realize is that, besides water, what goes into your drain impacts the condition of your service lines.

Before pouring hot bacon grease down the drain, you might want to think twice. As grease cools it begins to solidify, which will accumulate along drain walls and start to trap food, hair and debris. Eventually, flow will be impacted because the lines become clogged.

Things you should not pour into a drain, grind in a garbage disposal or flush down the commode include:

  • Solid foods such as fruit rinds or peels, cereal, etc.
  • Paper products such as paper towels, disposable diapers and feminine products
  • Hair (human or otherwise) or lint
  • Dirt
  • Cigarette butts
  • Medications
  • Chemicals such as antifreeze; insecticides; pesticides; cleaners and solvents; fertilizers; paint; batteries and more

Cooking oil, grease or greasy foods can be frozen or mixed with cat litter or coffee grounds in an empty can and put in the trash. Certain household chemicals can contaminate septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems, as well as harm sanitation workers if poured down drains or commodes. All medications should follow proper Federal Drug Administration disposal requirements, which can be found here. Many communities have “take back” programs that enable residents to drop off unused medication and special collection days for chemicals to ensure their proper disposal. Learn about the Environmental Protection Agency standards for chemical disposal here.