Most people avoid thinking about their drains or sewer system as much as possible. And while it works for a while, eventually something is bound to go wrong. To avoid issues and maintain your sewer system as long as possible, the following tips are designed to keep your lines from needing major repairs.
The first and easiest thing you can do is work to prevent major blockages in your drains. Clogs and blockages are the number one reason for major sewer line repairs and they are completely avoidable.
To start, do not put anything down the drain that your system is not designed to handle. Remember that while toilet paper actually dissolves in water over time, other types of paper do not. Napkins, sanitary products and paper towels will remain whole in the sewer system and eventually clog your sewer line. Instead of breaking down (something toilet paper is designed to do), they absorb water and grow heavy, eventually clogging the drain, if not in your home, in the sewer line. Also avoid flushing any food, dental products or hair down the line.
If you have a child, make sure they do not put any small objects in the drain such as toys, food, or clothing. Even when something actually flushes down the drain, there is a possibility it will get stuck between your home and the final sewer outlet.
In the kitchen, avoid putting any grease or other food waste down the drain. Only use the garbage disposal for things that it can safely break up and run the faucet at the same time as you grind the food. This will ensure that it completely breaks down whatever you place inside before it is flushed through. Grease in particular is a major problem in pipes as it coats the lining and other items can stick to it.
Roots are another major issue for sewer systems that can be avoided. Most of the time, trees and shrubs are planted far from sewer lines, unless they are added after the line is installed. Make sure you know where your sewer line is located and do not place any plants with extensive root systems nearby. Additionally, keep all root systems properly watered. Roots will usually only extend toward the pipes under your home if they are looking for a water source and the sewer line can provide that source.
Trimming or removing trees that are growing too quickly may be necessary. However, you should also have a professional do a video inspection of your sewer line and check for any potential cracks and leaks. Any water escaping the sewer line, even in small amounts will attract root growth. If roots do grow into your pipes, immediate service is needed to avoid a complete break.
Regular maintenance on your drains goes a long way when you are trying to avoid problems in your system. Pouring boiling hot water down the drain once per week will help to break up any errant grease that may have clung on. You should also install strainers and traps wherever possible to avoid the impact of things like hair or soap scum building up in the drain.
Clear out your traps regularly as well. You can use an auger if necessary to avoid any buildup in the actual drain. If you notice any foul smells escaping your drains, it is likely due to a dried trap. If you use the fixture regularly, call a professional to have the trap and the drain attached to it checked and make sure nothing is flowing backward in your system.
The vents on your roof may also be a problem as air is required to push the water through the drains. If the air vents get clogged, sewer gasses can back up into your system and cause noxious fumes or smells to form.
There are many symptoms of a clogged sewer line. The first thing you should look for is slow drainage of your fixtures. If only one or two fixtures drain slowly, it is likely due to a local clog and can be fixed with a plunger or auger. However, if the problem persists or if you notice that all of you fixtures are draining slowly at the same time, it may be because of a clog in your sewer line. In extreme cases, you may notice a smell if the clog is severe enough. Call a professional immediately for assistance in diagnosing the problem.
Because your sewer line is probably installed under your lawn, it is surrounded by soil. Normally, tree and shrub roots will stay in their own area. The person who installed your sewer line likely did not place a tree right next to it. However, over time, especially if water is scarce, the roots will begin to seek out a source of water, which is exactly what your sewer line is. In some cases, roots will simply wrap around the pipes – something that can be fixed with some careful cutting. However, if the material used for your pipes is susceptible to cracking, the roots may even get inside the line. PVC is a good replacement for metal pipes that allow this.
Proper maintenance will catch any intruding roots before they get too close. It will also help to close up any gaps or leaks in your line that are attracting tree and shrub roots to the line.
Normally, smells should not escape back into your home through drains. All fixture drains use a simple P–trap that creates an air vacuum through which sewer gasses cannot return. As long as that trap remains clear, it’s a stopgap between strong smells and gasses getting into your home. However, in some cases, the vacuum disappears. When a fixture is not used for a long time, the water in the trap evaporates and leaves an open space for gases to return. The easiest solution is to pour water down the drain to refill the trap. If you notice the smell does not go away after doing this, call a professional immediately to inspect your trap.
Most of the time, the sewer lines located on your property are your responsibility. If a problem persists into the main sewer line or off your property, there may be issues of city responsibility as well, but you should check with your local municipality first. Most plumbers and drainage technicians can easily find this information and help you determine what repairs you are responsible for in your sewer lines. It is safe to assume that any problems on your property are issues you will need to have repaired.