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What’s That Smell? A Primer on Sewer Back-Up
Home Knowledge Hub What’s That Smell? A Primer on Sewer Back-Up
09 Nov 2016  /  by admin   /   0 Comments

Sewers, believe it or not, have been around for over 4,000 years–though not every people embraced them or even knew about them. Archaeological records show that two cities in the Indus Valley in India had working sewers (and outdoor flush toilets) around the year 2600 B.C.

We’ve made a few improvements in that time.

However, contemporary sewers will break down and have problems eventually, usually back-ups inside a home or business or visible outside above the sewer line.

How Do I Know I Have a Sewer Problem?

This might seem a funny question, but you may not know the symptoms. If you have any of the following you may have a malfunctioning sewer:

  • slow drain
  • gurgling drain
  • toilet not flushing
  • garbage disposal won’t drain
  • the bathroom lavatory (sink) takes an hour to drain
  • water comes up through a basement floor drain after a flushed toilet or drained laundry tub
  • This is not, unfortunately, a DIY fix.

    What Caused This Back-Up?

    There are a number of culprits for sewer back-ups including tree roots, breakage of clay pipe, corrosion of cast-iron pipe, FOG (fat, oil, grease) clogs, and torrential rains or flooding. It is now a FEMA requirement that all new construction includes a backwater valve to help prevent flooding inside a building.

    How Do We Stop the Bleeding?

    As mentioned, this is generally not a DIY fix. The easy fix is to snake the line and clear the clog, but sometimes that can be 150′ of cable down a drain (not usually the length of a home snake). It becomes harder when the sewer line has to be dug up and replaced.


    As an aside, you’ll want to make sure the contractor you hire is competent. Improper installation, using the wrong glue, rushing, and general incompetence can lead to another sewer problem a few short years down the line.


    You're not going to get at your sewer line with a hand shovel

    You’re not going to get at your sewer line with a hand shovel

    You can expect a sewer repair to cost anywhere from $200 all the way into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on the problem and complexity. The repairs can be done in a day or longer. If your municipality has to get involved that may mean securing bonds, special approval and permits, which, of course, only makes the process longer.

    The Care (and Feeding?) of Your Sewer

    Many sewer problems can’t be prevented by home and business owners, but you can do a few things to extend the life of your sewer line.

    • Don’t use solvents like Draino or acids–they  can cause deterioration of the lines and they can cause garbage disposals to prematurely fail.
    • For Heaven’s sake, don’t pour oils, fats, or grease down your drains. They will harden and collect somewhere in your plumbing.
    • If you know that your pipes are older, don’t use the garbage disposal as a trash can.
    • Know that cutting back tree roots by your sewer is usually only a fix for about a year. Trees gotta grow!









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