It’s not something you want to think about, but if you’re a homeowner it’s definitely something you need to be prepared for. We’re talking about sewage backup. And it happens more often than you might think, thanks to all sorts of culprits including clogs, cracks in the foundation of your home, and from tree root infiltration.
Sewage backup is never a DIY job. But, then, who would want it to be? Once you recognize one of the common signs of a sewage back up below, it’s time to call the plumber. Sure, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it – and by someone we mean a professional plumber.
Six signs you have a sewage backup in your home
You can smell it. If you notice any foul smell, especially near or from your drains, you may have a sewage back up. This is usually the first indication of the problem, and it happens when the waste – which should be draining away from your home – gets clogged in the drain.
Slow drains throughout the house. Often, when you have a sewage backup, more than one drain will work very slowly. It starts in the lowest levels of your home when the sewer line gets clogged. Then, as the clog persists and the block gets worse, it will affect drains on other floors of the home, too. So, as soon as you observe a slow drain in the basement – and especially if it’s accompanied by an odor – call the plumber.
Your toilet or drain bubbles. Your drains have to eliminate wastewater, but when there’s a backup, you’ll likely see air bubbles in your drains or in the toilet. That’s because the water is becoming stagnant, and isn’t flowing out from the drains.
Backups in different drains. Sometimes when you’ve got sewage backup in one drain, it will affect another. For example, you may experience sewage backup in the shower after you flush your toilet. That would be happening because there’s a backup in the toilet line somewhere. When this happens, a plumber should investigate every drain, to make sure they thoroughly treat the problem.
Cleanout pipe problems. Your cleanout pipe is absolutely essential to flushing wastewater from your home. Located in your basement or outside of the house, the cleanout pipe connects with the sewer line. If you see any sewage in your yard – or in the basement – you could have a sewage backup. Additionally, if you see any standing water in your cleanout pipe, you may have a backup.
Many drains are clogged at once. As soon as you detect a clog in one drain, it’s a good idea to check the others. A telltale sign of sewage backup are multiple drains clogging at the same time.
Causes of sewage backup
How your sewage problem gets fixed really depends on what caused it in the first place. The most common culprit is a clogged pipe. Kitchen grease, soap scum, and even toilet paper can lead to clogs that can ultimately affect the sewage line. Additionally, older pipes can collapse, which can cause a sewage backup.
It’s important to note that even without trees near your home, tree roots from nearby can grow underneath your property and infiltrate the sewer line. When that happens, your plumber will need to cut the pipes away from the drain, which will probably have to be replaced or repaired.
Sewage backups stink (sorry, we couldn’t resist). If you think you’ve got one in your home, contact a plumber immediately.
Sometimes a call to the plumber is the result of something that’s completely out of your hands, like a burst pipe, a sewer line break or leak, or to install a new water heater or bathtub. But let’s face it, we’re human, and many of us have had to call a plumber for something we could have prevented.
We’re talking about clogged drains and pipes as a result of putting something down the drain or flushing an item down the toilet that’s better off being tossed in the garbage or recycling bin.
To help you avoid the burden of unclogging a backed up sink or toilet on your own, or a call to the plumber, we’ve come up with a top ten list of items you should never put down a drain (or garbage disposal, for that matter).
And the ten worst things to put down the drain are…
- Cooking oils and butter
Cooking oils, butters and margarine that are tossed down the drain when hot can congeal in the pipes. Eventually, this will make debris you send down drain stick to the pipe and eventually cause a blockage. This also happens when you pour animal fat (like bacon dripping) and vegetable fats like coconut oil down the drain.
To dispose of fats safely, pour them in a metal container (like a coffee tin), cover, and throw away. The verdict is out whether to reuse fats or not. While they may not be good for the waistline, grease and oils are definitely not good for the drain.
- Egg shells
These belong in the compost bin. The reason? Eggshells are very hard on garbage disposal blades and even small pieces of eggshell can collect in pipes and cause a blockage.
- Coffee grinds
The biggest issue with putting coffee grounds down the drain is that they won’t break down in water. Since they aren’t water soluble, in time remaining grounds in the drain will clump together and cause a clog. Coffee grinds are best left for the compost pile.
- Rice and pasta
Both semolina and rice will swell when flushed down the drain and will cause blockage. While newer types of pasta made with rice or vegetables (usually gluten-free pasta) may be slightly better for drains, we advise against putting this type of pasta down the drain, too. The same goes for most types of rice including brown and arborio rice.
- Produce stickers
Make sure to peel any produce stickers off your fruits and veggies and discard them so they don’t end up in the drain. The stickers can adhere to the sides of pipes and can even damage the water filters at your city water treatment center.
It’s critical that you take any unused or expired prescription medications back to the pharmacy. Most wastewater treatment systems don’t have the ability to filter out medications which can end up in rivers and lakes. This not only contaminates the water, it can be dangerous to fish and all water wildlife.
- Sanitary napkins and tampons
Most people know that sanitary napkins aren’t flushable, but tampons aren’t either. Sanitary napkins are simply too thick to be flushed down toilets and will almost instantly cause a blockage. They aren’t biodegradable either, so they’ll pollute water if they don’t clog the pipes first.
Tampons, as well as their wrappers, are not flushable, and most manufacturers note this on tampon boxes, but they are often still the cause of toilet clogs. Tampons will expand in water, which makes it easier for them to get stuck in pipes.
- Flushable wipes, cotton balls and paper towels
Like sanitary napkins, flushable wipes including baby wipes, facial wipes, are too heavy and thick to be flushable. Eventually, they’ll get stuck and cause a pretty significant clog in the drain. Consider this: toilet paper will disintegrate completely within 24 hours. When a wipe is flushed down the toilet, it can take weeks for it breaks down. Then, as each wipe gets flushed down the toilet, they accumulate to cause a big clog.
- Cat litter
If you think flushable cat litter is too good to be true, you’re right. Not only can large clumps of cat feces coated in clay or a biodegradable material like corn, wheat, or walnut shells, clog toilets, flushing cat droppings down the toilet can allow a parasite called toxoplasma gondii to enter the water supply, and that can cause toxoplasmosis in humans.
Because bleach is a toxic substance, you should never pour it down a drain. Doing so can cause the bleach to mix with different substances in your pipes which can result in toxic fumes.
Remember: If you’re concerned an item may clog a drain, it probably will. When in doubt, throw it in the garbage can. Keep this top ten list handy, and get in the habit of never flushing these items down the drain.