How do you prevent a sewer line back-up?

Posted by Matt Buchanan

Functional sewer lines are a cooperative effort between homeowners, and the towns or cities they live in. Municipalities are responsible for installation, maintenance and repairs on the main sanitary sewage line. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining the service line, that part of the pipe that extends from their property into the main line.

What Causes Sewer Lines to Back Up?

Sewer lines back up for two reasons. Either the pipes are not wide enough to handle the volume of water flowing through the line, or an obstruction of some kind is interfering with the line’s capacity to handle the volume of water flowing through it.

The former situation sometimes arises after a particularly heavy rain. It will lead to multiple backups throughout the area, and residents may see water overflowing through their floor drains.

The latter situation can be caused by a number of different things. One of the most common is a tree root. Tree roots won’t grow into a sewer line that’s intact, but they will seek out the moisture they can siphon off from a cracked line. Root intrusion is a particularly common cause of service line obstruction in houses that were built before 1980. Snaking and cleaning lines regularly as a routine maintenance precaution will minimize the root intrusion problems.

Structural defects can also cause sewer line blockages. These defects include things like the collapse of pipes, the corrosion of pipes and offset joints, or cracks and sags in the lines. If these types of defects occur, resulting flooding can be serious and will frequently require an overhaul and reconstruction of existing sewer lines or service lines. Vandalism can also cause sewage backups when people throw bricks, rocks or other items into drains or manholes.

Man Made Sewer Line Obstructions

In many cases, service line blockages are caused when property owners or members of their families throw things down sink drains or into toilets that clog the lines. These items include:

• Grease, dairy items and food scraps: Warm grease congeals as it cools. Although it may pass through vertical pipes, it will become a solid mass and obstruct any horizontal trap or pipe. This is why all establishments that cook and serve food are required by law to have grease traps.

• Garbage including hair, cigarette butts, cat litter, aquarium gravel and other household refuse.

• Paper products such as disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, paper towels and sanitary wipes. Paper expands when it gets wet. Since it’s constituted from cellulose, paper can take a long time to break down.

Preventive Maintenance for Sewer Service Lines

Commercial drain cleaners are not effective solutions in the long run for clogged drains. They can damage pipes and harm the environment. The easiest and most inexpensive way to ensure your pipes and sewer service lines are draining the way they should be is to make sure that nothing goes down them that shouldn’t be going down them and to snake them once a year.


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About Matt Buchanan

I grew up in Irving, TX and left for Nashville, TN for college. After college I lived in Washington, DC and then in Cairo, Egypt. After coming back to the states, I spent a couple of years back in Dallas before moving with my wife to Denver!
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