Knowing what caused the backup is the first step in understanding where and how to fix a blockage, says Jeff Carmichael of Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing and Water Treatment. The first action item is to determine what fixtures are affected. Is the backup isolated to a single fixture such as a shower drain, a sink, or a single toilet? Or is the blockage system-wide?
Different Types of Blockages
Drain systems are gravity-based, meaning all floors’ drain lines (branch lines) collect wastewater in your home by sloping the pipes to some central collection point. At that point, the main line takes all the waste to either a municipal sewer system or your septic system.
In our sometimes-hilly terrain throughout our state, if the lowest collection point for your home is lower than the adjacent sewer system, it will need to have a pump that completes the waste delivery to the main.
If the system is blocked, sewage will back up into the lowest fixtures in the home. The low points are typically a shower pan, tub, or toilet. If your home has a sunken bathtub, you could be surprised by the presence of sewage in the event of a backup. Special tools are needed to resolve that blockage when your system is backed up or running slowly.
If an isolated fixture is not draining, that indicates the blockage is localized, and the solution might be as simple as cleaning the p-trap and or the down-line drain. A common tool often used for this process is a thin, hardened steel wire called a snake. Jeff tells us that if you have a working knowledge of plumbing drains, you can address this type of blockage on your own.
Almost all plastic drain lines are joined with screw-type connections that are relatively simple to unclog. Vintage homes with cast iron or galvanized piping will likely require a skilled plumbing technician.
Knowing which system your home has is helpful when you make that first call to the plumber. The technician will then have the information he needs to bring the right type of equipment to solve your issue.
Isolating the Blockage
When a single fixture is involved, isolating the blockage can be straightforward. More significant are the system-wide backups.
Jeff tells us that a drainage technician will begin a visit with questions about your usage. For instance, if a toilet is blocked, he may ask if a child in the house could have sent a toy down the toilet.
They should ask if this problem is recurring or an isolated issue. Navigating these questions with the customer will help the technician better understand where to begin. Isolated fixture issues indicate a branch line needs to be addressed. If sewage backs up into lower fixtures, the main line is the focus.
Fixing The Blockage
As stated, the fix for a branch line generally requires using a snake. However, if the main line is blocked, it will require special tools.
The primary tool used for a mainline is a Drain Machine. This machine is a motor-driven cable with a small auger at the tip. The motor causes a twisting or rotating motion on a cable sheathed with an outer cable.
The technician will locate the sewer cleanouts that almost every home has outside the foundation wall, where the sewer main line exits the house. The cleanout is where the Drain Machine cabling will be put into the main line leading away from your home toward the primary sewer connection. Drain Machines come in cable lengths from 50 feet up to 350 feet. Once put into the sewer line, the motor drives the cable forward and initiates a rotating or grinding action to the auger head.
Once a blockage is encountered, this device typically chews through whatever is causing the blockage. The technician will continue the clearing process until the larger community sewer line or septic tank is reached. A skilled tech has a good idea when the line is clear by knowing the distance from the cleanout to the line and/or the ‘feel’ of resistance to the cable.
If the slow drain is a result of buildup of grease or debris in the sewer lines, an alternative to restoring flow is by using a Hydro Jetting Machine. This machine acts like a pressure washer through your drain system. The drain technician will recommend having a sewer camera inspection to identify the severity of the issue. The camera will help identify which solution is the best to have the lines cleared.
Am I Done?
The short answer to “am I done”, should be no. The next step is to verify that there is no lingering threat. If blockages have happened before, then there is a recurring issue that needs to be addressed.
Jeff tells us that Day & Night includes the cost of a camera examination of your sewer line in their inspection if it is necessary. The camera is propelled through the plumbing system with a push rod. This view provides live feedback on the line’s condition. It helps determine the cause of the blockage and where it could occur again.
The technicians are looking for signs of wear and tear on the pipe itself, breaks in the line that would allow roots to grow into the pipe, or severe breaks that can stop the flow of waste.
Complete disintegration of the main line has occurred in older neighborhoods where the main line is made of clay pipe. Replacing the pipe is an extensive and expensive repair.
The camera provides a lot of valuable information about weak points in the system, necessary for effective repairs. The camera provides the exact location and depth of the defect via GPS.
Accurate estimates of repair can be offered based on the camera’s findings. Repairs can be costly. The greater the location accuracy, the more accurate the estimate.
Using an HD camera systems is a valuable service and represents a considerable investment for the plumber ($12,000 to $15,000+ per camera); it also provides you, the homeowner, with the peace of mind that comes from knowing how your system functions.
When that emergency strikes, know what type of system you have and who you will call. Be observant and provide them with as much detail as you can about the issues you are having.
Jeff reminds us that a properly maintained system will never back up!
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Sewer back ups and clogged drain lines can happen anytime. Brandon Williams of Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing and Water Treatment discusses some of the tools they use to unclogged those drains and inspections to move your wastewater out. We also cover noninvasive techniques for installing new sewer lines that don’t require saw cutting. Plus listeners have some plumbing issue we try to tackle.