Your home’s sewer line is arguably the most important part of your home’s pipes and plumbing. This line, typically PVC, copper, or—if your home was built prior to the 1960s—cast iron, is responsible for carrying all the wastewater out of your home to the municipal sewer. In other words, everything that goes down the shower drain, kitchen sink, or toilet travels through the sewer line. There are several threats to your sewer line you need to watch out for, however.
Common sewer line problems include clogs, leaks, and pipe movement. These issues can cause homeowners a whole lot of headache. Sewer line clogs, for instance, can lead to a sewer backup: a disastrous event in which wastewater comes back up through the drains into the home.
It’s critical that homeowners take sewer line threats seriously. In this article, we’ll review the major threats to your sewer line and what you can do to prevent them or—if it’s already too late—address them with our professional drain cleaning services.
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Thirsty tree roots
The buried sewer line most likely runs from the home’s foundation through your front or side yard to the street, where it connects to the municipal sewer. The trouble typically starts with a small leak in the line: a hairline fracture or separation that allows moisture to escape. This attracts any nearby tree roots, thirsting for a drink and nutrients. Some species have aggressive, fast-growing root structures that hone in on the sewer line like a heat-seeking (or, in this case, water-seeking!) missile.
Once the root reaches the sewer line, it often starts to grow around it and—in search of even more moisture and nutrients—into it. Tree roots are powerful enough to break open cracks in PVC or copper pipes. Not only will this exacerbate the leak, but it could be the start of a partial or complete clog in the line. Once the tree root completely takes up the circumference of the line, your home is at imminent risk of a sewer line backup.
Preventing tree root issues
To prevent this nightmare from happening, it’s best to take several precautions on behalf of your sewer line. First, take note of where your line is buried underground, and any trees, bushes, or shrubs within a 10-15 foot perimeter of the line. If there are trees overhead, do some research into the species, and consider calling an arborist.
Some trees and bushes with slow-growing, less-aggressive root structures may pose minimal threat to the line, while others—such as the California Pepper Tree—may need to be proactively relocated to another part of your property.
Dealing with tree root issues
If you have a root structure already growing around or into the line—which you’ll notice if you have a partial clog in your home’s sinks, showers, and toilets—it’s time to call out a professional plumber. At Allbritten, our plumbing team has the tools to safely clear sewer line clogs and make an effective sewer line repair. Of course, once this is done, you’ll want to revisit the idea of moving the offending tree somewhere else in your yard.
Your sewer line doesn’t feature any kind of pump: the entire system uses gravity to move wastewater away from your home to the municipal sewer. To take advantage of this natural force, the entire line is slightly sloped, so that the end connected to your home is higher in elevation than the end by the street. This slope is very gradual: plumbing installers recommend a minimum slope of a 1-inch drop for every 8 feet of line. Depending on how far it is to the sewer, the entire sewer line might only be sloped by a few inches.
It’s worth noting that this slope is a “Goldilocks” situation where precision is key. Too little slope, and the sewer line won’t drain properly. Too much slope, and you have a different problem: liquids will drain too quickly, leading to clogs.
However stable it feels under our feet, the ground is constantly moving. Over time, soil subsides and expands under different conditions. This shifting and movement can lead to several problems for your sewer line. Most commonly, parts of the line will sag, creating a gentle “valley” in the line. This puts pressure on the line and can cause it to crack, but it also means the line is no longer draining properly. Soil movement can also “lift up” the sewer end of the line, taking its slope angle out of that aforementioned “Goldilocks” zone.
Preventing soil issues
Here in California, a lot of soil subsidence occurs when parched earth is then flooded with rainwater. This issue is often exacerbated by our gutters, which carry rainfall off of the roof and dump it right onto the ground surrounding our home. One thing to consider installing are gutter or downspout extenders that will carry this moisture away from the yard, or at least distribute it more evenly. Some homeowners have even set up gutters that take rainwater to their gardening beds!
Dealing with soil issues
Any issues with soil movement and your sewer line require the help of an experienced plumber. We’ll need to inspect the problem and advise you on your next steps. This may include digging up the line so that it can be fixed and reoriented to the correct slope.
Yes, you read that right. Homeowners are perhaps the most pressing threat to their home’s sewer line. That’s because many sewer line clogs start in the kitchen. Certain types of food and cooking waste, when put down the drain, can start to form a nasty clog, deep in the line. Once this clog completely obstructs the line, you’re in trouble.
Preventing sewer line clogs
To avoid sewer line clogs caused by kitchen food waste, you need to start thinking twice before running your in-sink disposal. In general, avoid putting these major clog-causers down the drain:
- Cooking grease and oils: As these cool on their way through the sewer line, they start to solidify and stick to the interior walls of the line.
- Uncooked rice and pasta: These foods expand as they absorb moisture. A handful of dry rice accidentally put down the drain can start to expand into a clog-forming mess.
- Flour: As any home baker knows, flour and moisture is the starting point for a sticky, glue-y dough. The same thing happens in your sewer line.
- Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds tend to clump together, allowing them to form a water-blocking clog in the line.
As a general rule of thumb, never dispose of these food and cooking byproducts down the kitchen sink. Instead, throw them in the garbage. For hot grease and oil, take a leftover glass jar—upcycled sauce or salsa jars work great for this—and allow the grease to cool and solidify in the glass before chucking it into the trash.
Dealing with sewer line clogs
Your first warning sign of an impending sewer line disaster is all of your home’s drains clogging simultaneously. This means the problem isn’t with a single drain—it’s with the one drain connected to all of them. Immediately turn off the water supply for your home and call us for fast service here in Fresno.
Our team has professional-grade drain cleaning and sewer line unclogging equipment that allows us to reach deep into the line and unclog it.
Guard against threats to your sewer line
Given the critical role it plays in your home and the dire consequences of any problems, it’s worth it to think ahead about the key threats to your sewer line and take steps to prevent or address them. If you need more information, or want a professional to come out for a consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.
As Fresno’s leading plumbing repair company, our team is ready to help you tackle any project or problem in your home.