Nothing quite says “emergency!” like raw sewage running into your home.

When you have a clogged main line, it feels like an appropriate moment to panic. Wastewater might be backing up into your house, and any use of the plumbing makes it worse.

All the waste from your home’s sinks, tubs, and toilets flows out through the main sewer line and into the sewer system. A block in that line means it has nowhere to go but back into your house.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are as many as 75,000 sewer overflow events each year, so you aren’t alone. We’re here to help with some tips on what to do in this kind of emergency and how to avoid a repeat performance.

Identify the Problem

Your first step with a plumbing issue is always identification. Understanding the difference between a clogged pipe vs a blocked sewer line can help you decide if your issue is an emergency or not.

The most obvious sign of a blocked main line is that multiple drains will be affected at once. This could mean they’re backing up or just draining slowly. If an upstairs sink is backed up, but the kitchen one downstairs isn’t, you likely have a drain clog at just that sink rather than a sewer line issue.

Water in the wrong places is another obvious sign. This could be standing water in the lowest drain of your home – the basement laundry sink, for example – or flushing a toilet and having water come up in the tub. The water has to go somewhere, and if clogged pipes keep it from going out, it’s going to come back into the house.

Two other signs to watch for are gurgling sounds and sewer odors. If you run water and hear a glug-glug noise, that’s the sound of water having trouble getting past a block. Sewer odors might travel through your HVAC vents throughout the house, making them hard to miss.

Triage the Problem

If you suspect a sewer line block, take a moment to breathe (not too deeply!) and begin triage to keep the problem from getting worse until the plumber arrives.

Start by shutting off all the water to the house, and don’t use your plumbing again until the blockage is taken care of. The average family uses more than 300 gallons of water a day, so you want to cut off that source!

See if you can figure out where your clean-out line is. If you can remove the cap, that will release the pressure in the line and can drain water from the house. This doesn’t fix the overall issue, but it might help with any standing water.

Clean up any sewage and keep your family out of the contaminated area. Sewage exposure leads to any number of nasty illnesses that you’ll want to avoid.

Causing the Problem

Before you can fix the blockage, it’s important to know just what is causing the issue. This helps us know what steps to take as well as allow us to provide prevention advice.

One of the most common issues with a main line blockage is tree roots. Like any plant, the trees in your yard are looking for moisture and nutrition. If they can break through your main line pipe, they’ll have them in ample supply.

Older pipes might be made of clay, lead, or cast iron, all of which get brittle and prone to break as they age. Previous augering attempts can cause damage that might not show up until a block forms.

Shifting ground under the pipes can cause your pipes to drop or warp. This impacts the flow of the water as anything other than water tends to collect in the low spots.

Bad habits in your house can also be the source of the block. This includes putting grease down the kitchen drain or flushing anything other than toilet paper down the toilet. Over time, these things accumulate to block the line.

Solving the Problem

Fixing the issue here can involve more than just auguring out the drain. A damaged line might need replacement, or the block might be more entrenched than a drain rooter can handle.

Our plumbers will start by using a special camera to take a look inside your pipes to see what the issue is. There once we have an idea, we might be able to offer a less expensive solution such as using a hydro jetter or industrial drain snake.

Broken pipes or entrenched tree roots call for more drastic measures. This might entail digging up the area to access the pipe, clearing the blockage, then replacing the pipe.

Preventing the Problem

Anyone who has dealt with a blocked sewer line never, ever wants to do it again. Following some simple rules about what goes down your pipe and making some adjustments to your system go a long way toward preventing a future need for drain line clearing.

Build some good habits by never putting anything down a drain that shouldn’t go there. This includes kitchen grease, coffee grounds, and any paper product other than toilet paper.

Schedule regular maintenance for your system. You can do a sewer main cleaning to get rid of young tree roots and clear out anything that could grow into a blockage.

Changes to your plumbing system might also cut off some problems. This could start with replacing the line with plastic pipe and installing a backwater prevention valve. Also, check for illegal plumbing connections coming from French drains or sump pumps as they can add debris and silt to the system.

Don’t Wait to Fix a Clogged Main Line

Waiting too long to call in a professional for a clogged main line can result in major damage to your home and serious risk to your family’s health. This particular issue is rarely handled well by DIY.

Once you’ve identified the issue is the sewer line, it’s time to get some help. Our team can assist with big problems like a main line clog down to smaller ones like drain cleaning or a toilet clog. Contact us to schedule an appointment to tackle your main line blockage and get your water running again.

About The Author

Brandon Stowe is the President of CrackerJack Plumbing Pros


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