Sewer lines are a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of plumbing systems. All of the plumbing fixtures, drains and pipes in a home are connected to the main sewer line. The sewer line then drains wastewater out to the municipal sewer main.
Under normal conditions, a sewer line should last between 50-100 years. Modern PVC pipes are expected to last around 100 years before requiring replacement. How long a sewer line lasts depends on how well the pipe was originally installed, what’s happened to the ground over time, and how well the drains are maintained.
Signs Your Sewer Lines Need Attention
Since sewer lines are buried underground, it can be difficult for a homeowner to spot a problem. Knowing the signs of a damaged sewer line is the first step in preventing an expensive plumbing emergency.
Luckily, sewer damage rarely happens without warning signs. Below are ten common warning signs to look for:
1. Sewage Backups
A clogged sewer drain line can impact plumbing fixtures throughout an entire home. In severe cases, raw sewage will begin to back up inside drains. A common scenario is when a toilet is flushed and sewage backs up into the bathtub or shower drain.
When a clog is severe enough to cause raw sewage to back up inside a home, a professional plumber should be called immediately. Raw sewage is a health hazard and can quickly cause extensive property damage.
2. Foul Odors
An intact main sewer line should be airtight, preventing odors from escaping the pipes. If you start to notice foul odors in your home, there could be a leak in the main sewer line. These odors are often first detected in basements and utility rooms. If the scent of rotten eggs or sewage starts leaking out of your drains or fixtures, call a plumber immediately.
3. Slow Drains
A sewer drain rarely becomes completely blocked all at once. Slow moving drains are often an indication of a problem more serious than a minor clog. If removing a clog doesn’t restore proper drainage, the issue may be a deeper blockage in the system. Mainline sewer clogs are usually much larger and often require more than plunging or snaking to resolve.
4. Multiple Clogs
If you are dealing with multiple clogs at the same time, there is likely a problem in the main sewer line. Sewer line issues often impact the home’s drains. If only one fixture is clogged, it’s usually a problem involving only that drain. If multiple drains are blocked at the same time, the problem likely lies deeper in the sewer line. If a sewer line clog is left unresolved, it can cause enough pressure to result in cracks and leaks that require costly repairs.
If a sewer or drain pipe breaks, mold is likely to develop. Broken or leaking pipes allow moisture to leak behind walls, causing hidden mold damage that is expensive to repair and creates health problems for many people. If you notice mold growth accompanied by sewer odor inside your home, there is likely a leak somewhere inside a sewer line.
6. Gurgling Toilets
When a toilet makes a gurgling noise with each flush, a broken sewer line may be the cause. In some cases, a toilet will gurgle even though it hasn’t recently been flushed. The gurgling noises happen when air is trapped and then released. Gurgling toilets can be an indication that the sewer line is full of water because of a blockage.
7. Foundation Cracks
One of the most common signs of a broken sewer or drain line is large visible cracking in a home’s foundation. If a sewer or drain line leak goes unrepaired for an extended period of time, it can cause serious foundation damage and sinkholes in yards.
8. Lush Patches of Grass
If your lawn develops an unusually lush, green area of grass, there is likely a pipe leaking underground. If the leak is severe, the lawn may also be wet or boggy in the area. If you’ve ruled out overwatering or a leaking sprinkler system, the next step is to have the sewer line inspected for leaks.
9. Lawn Indentations and Sagging Pavement
If your main sewer line is cracked, it will saturate the soil around it, eventually causing it to sag and dip. You may also see sagging and shifting concrete if patios, driveways and sidewalks are located near broken sewer lines.
10. Insect or Rodent Infestation
An increase in insect or rodent activity can be a sign of a broken sewer pipe. Rats and insects, like cockroaches, live in sewers. Even a tiny crack in a sewer line can create an entry point for pests to enter a home. If you have an unexplained increase in pests that an exterminator can’t easily resolve, they may be entering through a cracked sewer pipe.
Preventive Maintenance Can Protect Your Sewer Lines
Preventive maintenance and good habits go a long way when it comes to protecting plumbing systems. There are four easy ways to help prevent clogs and damage to your sewer line.
1. Be Careful About What You Flush
The only thing that should ever be flushed down a toilet is human waste and toilet paper. Feminine hygiene products, diapers, wipes, and other paper items can easily clog pipes and lead to serious plumbing problems.
2. Protect Your Drains
Grease, oil, hair and other items that are rinsed down drains can build up over time and weaken pipes. Excessive food waste washed down kitchen drains can also contribute to sewer main drain clogs. Harsh chemicals and drain cleaners can weaken pipes and drains and should be avoided.
3. Prevent Root Damage
A common cause of clogged and damaged sewer lines comes from trees and shrubs that are planted too close to buried lines. Gradual pressure from root growth puts pressure on underground pipes which can lead to cracks. Roots then grow inside pipes, clogging them and eventually destroying them if the problem isn’t corrected. Damage from tree roots is a common problem with older and more fragile sewer lines.
4. Prevent Excavation Damage
Sewer lines are frequently damaged when heavy equipment is driven on top of them or excavation work is done incorrectly. It’s important to have underground utilities clearly marked before any work involving heavy equipment or excavation is done. In many areas, it’s a requirement to have underground utilities marked before home improvement or landscaping projects begin.
Avoid Extensive Damage to Sewer Lines
Problems with sewer lines can cause extensive property damage and require expensive repairs. It’s important to maintain drains and sewer lines and repair them at the first sign of a problem to prevent costly property damage.
If you suspect you have a problem somewhere in your sewer line, call a professional right away. Professional plumbing companies use video inspection, including a sewer camera, to review the condition of pipes and identify problem areas. A sewer camera inspection will quickly identify the exact location of a clogged or damaged pipe saving both time and money.
At Simply Green, Sewer and Rooter, we have the tools necessary to diagnose a sewer line problem and repair it quickly. Call us at (408) 716-1686 for all your plumbing needs.
Simply Green, Sewer & Rooter knows that some plumbing situations require emergency attention. That’s why we never charge extra for emergency service calls.