There’s probably nothing more annoying than taking a shower or using the sink and realizing that the drain is clogged. Since different types of drains have different common causes, we typically break them down into three categories. First is the main line, which is the line outside of your home that carries wastewater from your house to either the septic system or municipal sewer. Second is the laundry and kitchen. Third is utility drains like the floor in the basement or in the outside stairwell. These are any type of general drain, often located in unfinished areas.
The most common issue that arises is a problem with the main line. A lot of times it’s noticed when there’s a backup in the sewer. A backup is really just a symptom of the actual problem. Backups are caused by a stoppage, so the stoppage needs to be removed.
One of the primary causes of backups is root growth. Roots tend to jeopardize the side wall of the pipe. Once they breach the pipe, they’ll grow inside of it. Sewage is a very good nutrient that the trees love. There’s also water and moisture in the pipe, so that’s why those tiny roots get into the main line. Once toilet paper or other things go down the drain, it will get caught on the roots and stop the drain up.
Another common cause of backups is collapsed pipe. In the 1940s and 1950s, there was a type of pipe called Orangeburg that used to be installed. We see a lot of homes that have Orangeburg pipes in them. It’s basically made out of tarpaper, so it didn’t have much longevity. (Of course, we no longer use Orangeburg in new installations.) The pressure of the ground due to age tends to collapse the pipe. If you take a four inch round circle and compress it into a two inch tall oval, larger items going through a drain with that size opening will cause stoppage.
The next common cause for a main line issue happens if the ground settles in a certain area. This will cause the pipe to settle, creating a high point on either side and a low point in the center. We call that a belly in the line. That belly holds water and whenever solids or paper go down the sewer line, it’s almost like hitting the pool of water at a water park—it slows down anything that lands in it. As items get caught in the belly, they’ll build up and cause blockage in the sewer line.
Kitchen & Laundry
In the kitchen and laundry area, the most common buildup comes from grease and food. If you don’t maintain your drains, the grease will continue to collect over the years since it doesn’t have anywhere to go. It cakes the sidewall of the pipes similar to how arteries get clogged. You have to do something to clean out that built up grease to resolve the problem. Because you use soap and detergent so frequently in the laundry, it also causes grease inside it to build up.
Another potential problem happens when the pipes were installed incorrectly. If it’s not the correct grade/fall on the pipe, then the water won’t be able to drain down.
In utility drains (in the basement, for example) there’s loose debris that can get swept over into the drain. We’ve pulled out toys, ping pong balls, and lots of other debris that ended up on the basement floor. On the outside stairwell drains it’s common for leaves, acorns, twigs, and other objects to get blown down the stairwell. If they get washed down with the rain, they have nowhere else to go but right down the drain.
These are the things that we see most often when it comes to drain backups. It’s definitely a smart idea to proactively deal with these issues. If you know what the common causes are, you can take the steps to prevent problems from ever happening. Maintain pipes, prevent food and grease buildup, keep the stairwell drains cleaned, and make sure you have strainers on the drains in the basement. If you know your sewer line is old, have it inspected with a sewer camera to see if there are any roots growing in there. If you do those simple things, you’ll prevent a very costly backup from damaging your home.
To get ahead of drain clogs with preventative maintenance, or give us a call at (540) 483-9382.