First, see below for some simple tips to help avoid this messy situation:
- Do NOT put anything except bath tissue into your system, especially in older homes with older utilities.
- Do NOT use caustic drain cleaners for clogged drains; rather try boiling water or a pipe snake. Many times the drain cleaners just push your clog further down the pipes, not necessarily solving the problem.
- Determine whether you are on a city/municipal sewage system or a private septic system. If you are on a septic system, that is a whole other animal and will be discussed on a later post.
- Figure out if the problem is inside your home, or somewhere in the line from your house to the city tap connection.
If you don’t have water coming up through the floor drain in the basement, or the bath tub has a slow drain and/or filling up with dirty water, you have good news. The problem is most likely somewhere in your home and could be as simple as a clogged Pee Trap.
- If you determine the problem is not a clogged Pee Trap, your next step is to locate the clean out pipe*. (The clean out can be located inside, generally within 5 feet of where the pipe exits your home, or it can be located outside close to the foundation.) Once you find your clean out access point, you can use a powered pipe snake and try to fix the blockage yourself. The nose friendly option is to hire a professional with a powered pipe snake and sewer camera. For those do-it-yourselfers, keep in mind your home may not even have a clean out.
Some of the problems your sewer line could encounter are a separated pipe, where the clay or plastic sewer pipe breaks away from the connecting pieces of your homes cast iron pipe. Paper products and waste can lodge at the separation, causing a slow flow or even complete blockage. The pipe could also be separating or breaking anywhere along the length of the pipe, normally caused by soil movement or tree/bush root growth. Roots can even break small holes through the pipe, and then continue to grow within the pipes, causing you trouble as well.
Discuss your options with a trusted professional, but many times you only need a spot repair on the line. However, if you have multiple problems or if the camera shows some breakdown in the pipe, it is probably best to go ahead and replace the whole line so you don’t have to deal with this ordeal again. Your sewer line should last many, many years, pending you care for it correctly.
The last tip I can share is regarding the price. Keep in mind, these numbers are from the Front Range area of Colorado. For an average sewer line spot repair, you should look to spend about $2500. Clearly the price will increase depending on the length of pipe that needs to be replace, if the line is hard to access and extra heavy equipment is needed, if the sidewalk or landscaping needs to be replaced etc.
I hope these tips help you feel a little more confident and knowledgeable when dealing with this very common and very inconvenient problem.
*Clean Out Pipe = cap or plug access point to the sewer pipe; see image.