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Identifying and cleaning blocked drains as soon as possible can avert real problems and costly repairs when your pipes become totally clogged. This is especially true for sewer drain blockages. In this post we discuss signs of a blocked sewer, what it means and what action to take.

Sewer smell

With the exception of plumbing vents, sewer smells should be sealed within the pipeline. So, when you get a whiff of sewer smell from any of the drains in the property, it can suggest a break in the sewer line integrity or it could be retained waste water in the pipe because of a blockage. Kitchen sink smells can be a different issue although easily solved.

Troubleshooting tip: When the scent is coming from a drain inside the property, it could simply mean that there is a blockage in the branch line. As a homeowner, you can try drain cleaning home remedies to attempt to clear the blockage. If the smell still persists or if the smell is coming from a drain outside the property, then call a plumber to investigate. Our plumbers have CCTV drain cameras that can be inserted down the line to view what is going on in your drains. It can identify a block or break in the line.

Recurring clogged drains

Before you panic because your sewer drain is clogged up again check a few things first. Think back. When did you last clean your drain stoppers or strainer? Most bathroom and laundry drain clogs result from hair, soap scum, and gunk. Kitchen sinks suffer from recurring clogs due to food scraps and grease. Hence, it is always a good practice to clean these grates to avoid recurring clogs.

Expert’s Advice: When recurring clogs are accompanied by other symptoms such as sewer smell or gurgling sounds. We recommend contacting a licensed plumber to inspect the blocked sewer line at your property.

Water backing up from drains

To fix or clear a drain that is backing up, we need to know the background story. This would provide an indication of the type of blockage is causing the water to back up from the drain.

Let me give you an example. Say, we need to attend to two separate properties both suffering from drains that are backing up. When we attend the first property, we see kids playing in the yard. Included on the things we would check would be toys lodged in drain traps or wet wipes in toilet drains. This repair could simply involve clearing the blockage from a drain.

On the second property that we attend, we see an older gardener tending to their beautiful garden. In this case, we will probably use the CCTV drain camera to inspect the main sewer system line for tree roots or pipe deterioration. This drain repair could involve cutting tree root intrusion from the blocked sewer drain and carrying out pipe relining to repair the drain.

Troubleshooting tip: By recognising the possible reasons why the water is backing up from the drain, you will be able to identify if the problem is easily cleared by manually removing the obstruction or if it is a situation that will have to be handled by a professional.

Slow draining sinks and gurgling sounds

Most of the time, blocked sinks and tubs are simply clogged up by food scraps, hair, oil, cooking fat and grease. As a result, water and air bubbles cannot pass through the drain. These can often be easily cleared using a plunger, drain snake, or removing the P-trap under the sink and clearing out any clogs.

In other instances, inappropriate ventilation could be the cause of the gurgling sounds and slow flowing drains. It is not common knowledge, but the pipes at your property have drain waste vents (DWV). Vents provide a means to release sewer gas outside the home. It also admits air into the system to help water get away. If one of these vents are compromised, there might not be enough vacuum to suck water away.

Troubleshooting tip: Make sure your sewer vents are not covered so that there’s enough suction to drain water away. Drains can run really slow if not properly vented.

Expert’s Advice: It may be a more serious problem when there are several sinks in your property that are simultaneously draining slowly. Call your local plumber to investigate.

Multiple plumbing fixtures are blocked

Obviously, this would be the most convincing sign of sewer blockage. A main line clog could be the culprit. Try the following test, if one or all comes up positive then it’s likely that you have a main sewer line blockage:

  • If you flush one of the toilets in the property and water backs up in the shower drain or bathtub.
  • When you run the washing machine and the kitchen or the toilet water backs up.
  • If you run water in the sink near a toilet and you notice the water in the toilet bubbling or the water level goes up.
  • If all of the drains in the property are not draining well at all.

Expert’s Advice: Unfortunately, there is no troubleshooting tip for this situation. You need a professional plumber to clear the drain for you. Contact Brisbane Plumbing and Drainage now before the situation gets worse.

Blocked toilet

A simple blocked toilet once in a while is a problem that everyone encounters. An ordinary plunger can often clear it. However, if you experience a repeated toilet clogging we recommend calling your plumber to investigate blocked sewerage.

Troubleshooting tip: Use a plunger as the first plan of attack on blocked drains. You can use a drain auger too if you have one.

Expert’s Advice: Don’t flush wet wipes down the toilet, even if they are labelled ‘flushable’, as they can bunch together and cause pipe blockages.

Less obvious signs of sewer blocks

Dirty water pooling in the yard

When sewer pipes and septic tanks break, wastewater or raw sewage can escape and can pool in your yard. More often than not, you will find that a cracked pipe or clogged drain will be directly under the pool of sewer water. This can also be a sign of a blocked stormwater drain.

Expert’s Advice: Do not attempt to clear the pool of wastewater without personal protective equipment. The damaged pipe will need to be repaired by a licenced plumber. 

Patches of very green grass

Plants need carbon dioxide to live which is abundant in sewer lines due to the composition of waste coming out from our homes. Seeing a patch of land with extra lush or overgrown grass in it can be an indication that sewer water is leaking from the pipe. Similar to the water pooling in the yard, you may often find a break in the pipe right under that green patch of grass.

Expert’s Advice: You may want to check if your water meter is ticking over as this could also be an indication of mains water pipe leak.

Soil settlement or concrete caving in

Another sign to look out for are areas where the ground has caved in. When a pipe leaks water, it gets the surrounding areas damp and after some time, the soil can subside. In severe cases, it can even cause your concrete walls or home foundation to crack.

Expert’s Advice: Subsidence takes time. Other tell-tale signs such as blocked drains would have happened before ground subsidence is noted. Moreover, ground subsidence at a property could also be caused by other factors such as ground movement or water leaks. Consulting with a plumber or a builder would be advised.

Insect and rodent problems

Of course, there’s a variety of other reasons why roaches and rats become inhabitants of a house. These creatures live on waste products which can be found on sewer pipes. Fats and solids washed down drain are very attractive meals for rodents and roaches. If drains don’t have proper grates or if pipes have breaks in the line, rodents can live off waste materials from the drains.

Expert’s Advice: Contact a pest control company to eliminate the vermin before they cause extensive damage to the pipes. And ask your plumber to investigate and detect a water leak before quoting repairs.