Drain and Sewer FAQs
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.
All products that can safely be flushed down the toilet will tell you so on their packaging, so if it does not say “flushable” do not flush it. However, for general reference, avoid flushing any paper products other than toilet paper. Paper towels, napkins, tissues, and sanitary wipes are all problematic. The issue is that they don’t dissolve the same way that toilet paper does. 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.
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. 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 can allow this.
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, county or government agency 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, however.