One of the ickiest plumbing problems any homeowner is likely to experience is a sewer backup. They’re relatively unpredictable, noxiously messy, and, if extensive, can cause health hazards, electrical malfunctions, and compel you to dispose of any personal property that has been tainted.
Check out these three common causes of sewer backups and what steps you can take to try to avoid ever having to experience one.
The Calamity Of Clogging
Localized clogging is the lesser of the three sewage backup evils, but, alas, also the more common one. If one toilet in your house is backed up, especially if it’s on an upper floor, you probably have a clog in the toilet’s sewer line.
If the mess isn’t too messy, you can try a plunger or a snake to push down or bring up the clog. If neither works, try boiling water and a healthy squirt of liquid soap, or the old baking-soda-and-vinegar trick. But there are two situations when you may want to forgo pulling on the rubber gloves and call a plumber instead:
- If, whenever you flush, the drain of a nearby shower or tub gurgles up or smells of sewage, you may have a clog further down the pipes in a secondary wastewater line.
- If the situation is so messy that using a plunger, snake, or boiling water causes excessive splatter or really isn’t an option.
Unfortunately, the best way to avoid a clog is to never have a clog develop in the first place. That means keeping toddlers from “feeding” the potty with items that don’t easily dissolve, and never flushing diapers or personal feminine products.
The Tyranny Of Tree Roots
The worst sewage backup eruptions emerge in the lowest drain in your house, usually a basement toilet, utility sink, or floor drain. In an active household with many fixtures in use, the sewage may flood all over your basement before you have a chance to notice it.
The bad news is that you’ve got a clog in your main sewage line. The main sewage line is the wide-bore pipe which leaves your house to drain into a septic tank or the main city sewer line. As an underground pipe, it’s susceptible to tree roots. Any small hole or crack is a way for a tree root to slip inside and take advantage of the water and organic nutrients within. These roots grow and catch materials flowing through. Eventually, the webbing can grow so dense as to cause a clog.
The best way to avoid walking ankle-deep in sewage is to have your lines checked by a plumber and, especially for older homes, cleaned out once or twice a year
The Catastrophe Of Collapse
No pipe lives forever. Depending on the age of your house, your main sewer line may be made of polymer-based materials, cast iron, or even clay. Tree roots are one source of damage, but so is time. Old pipes can eventually crumble.
In this case, you may not experience a sewage backup right away. Depending on the water table and other conditions in your area, wastewater may simply drain into the surrounding ground. You may, however, notice a slowdown in drainage throughout your house. You may also notice a soggy area on your lawn, or some “greening up” of the grass above the area of the broken pipe.
If you notice these symptoms, call your plumber as soon as possible to identify the problem and prevent a sewage backup into your home. You’ll need to have the pipe lined, repaired, or replaced.
As in all cases, whether you’re dealing with a clogged toilet, a smelly drain, or a complete sewage backup, never hesitate to call your trusted plumber to get the problem diagnosed and properly fixed so you can go back to enjoying your home.