Angie’s advice: Listen to your drains for sounds of sewer problems

Written by

Angie Hicks

The average homeowner likely knows that sewer lines help transport wastewater from the home to underground mains. Other than that, most homeowners probably don’t think about what goes on in their sewer lines.

When there’s a problem, though, homeowners must take notice. A sewer line clog could lead to raw sewage backing up out of the drains, which could lead to significant damage.

Homeowners who understand and respond to early warnings can stave off severe sewer issues. The most common red flags are water backing up out of a drain or toilet, or a gurgling sound coming from the drains.

“Your house is basically going to talk to you,” said Tammy Sims, senior technician with R&S Sewer Cleaning in Indianapolis. “If you notice that when you’re done with the washing machine, the toilets start percolating — it sounds like a coffee pot — or you’ll get water around the floor drain in the basement, that’s one of the first telltale signs.”

Clogs can occur in the main sewer line or a secondary line, Sims said.

“Your house is basically set up like a tree,” Sims said. “You have one main trunk line that runs out of the house and then you have all these small branches off of that.

“If the clog is in the main line, that means any water you run in the house will cause problems. If it’s a secondary line, it’s just going to be isolated to that secondary problem.”

Tree roots are the primary cause of sewer line clogs, especially in older homes, with feminine hygiene products, paper towels and even certain types of thicker toilet paper a common source of clogging in newer homes.

“A lot of people have broken-down drains in the ground that have tree roots in them,” said Jay Bedell, of Bedell Plumbing in Carmel. “That would be the number-one reason why people have drain problems.”

Sewer companies typically will run a cable through the clog in an effort to clear it. If they can’t find the problem, many companies will recommend a camera inspection.

“A lot of companies out there now do that as a way to find work,” Bedell said. “They’ll inspect your sewer to (seek out) problems, not to help you, but to help themselves. We’ll run a cable through it with a cutting device on it to try to open the drain first.”

If you get a clog in your home, Sims said, it’s important to shut the water off at the source or at the main if it’s a main line clog. Homeowners who have access to their sewer cleanout line, can remove the cleanout cap. The cleanout line is typically a short, round white pipe with a rubber cap in the yard near the house.”

“Taking that cap off will relieve the pressure in the house and you’ll have water come up outside instead of in the house,” Sims said.

Bedell has one easy recommendation.

“Fill sinks to the top and then drain them once or twice a month,” Bedell said. “That (water pressure) will help ensure you have proper flow through the pipes and move out any waste that’s sitting in the line.”