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5 Telltale Signs There’s a Problem in Your Sewer Pipes

Feb 18, 2016 | Plumbing Advice

Often it’s too late to make a repair yourself when you discover a sewer line has backed up, causing horrendous damage, a lingering mess along with a funky smell that permeates your home or office.

You’ve likely read a previous post here on the O’Grady Plumbing Blog where we discussed what the do-it-yourself home plumber can do to proactively minimize damage to their property. Since that blog post published, we’ve heard favorable reports from our community saying how helpful it was.

As a result, we’re going to further elaborate on the five most likely signs you have a sewer pipe issue — signs that indicate you need to get busy and fix the problem or call O’Grady Plumbing ASAP.

To tell the truth, we’ve found that most savvy building managers and maintenance people have given up on trying to resolve mainline sewer backups on their own. The task is difficult and these normally very handy folks generally don’t have the proper equipment.

For the homeowner with a mainline sewer problem… that means it’s almost always best to call in a drain service company or trusted plumber. They have the expertise — and the right equipment — to help you on short notice.

Here, then, are the top five indicators you have a problem and should contact a professional immediately:

  1. When you see a puddle of water around a drain in the garage. However, if the low point in your sewer system is the garage drain and water backs up here, the problem is controllable. But if the garage drain is clogged when the main line fails, the next lowest point — say a lower-level bathroom — may be where the water emerges, overflowing onto your finished surfaces and valuables.
  2. When the toilet starts to gurgle or swirls like a bathtub drain whenever you flush it.
  3. When a seldom-used, out-of-site drain backs up. There might be residual paper or food products surrounding the drain, which can be particularly bad when a home or office has plumbing on a seldom-used lower portion of the building. Everything is draining just fine upstairs, until the aftermath is noticed far too late. The worst is when there is no area drain and the low point is a shower or sink that allows the water to continuously overflow without anyone immediately noticing.
  4. Unique to San Francisco is a combined sewer system, where water from toilets and sinks goes down the same pipe as the water from the roof drain. Your sewer may flow fine when there’s no rain. Then the downpour begins and unbeknownst to you, roots in the sewer main, or a defect or other obstruction wreaks havoc on your property. In this case, you have no option but to call the drain specialist and the damage restoration company, and the insurance company.
  5. When you spot water pouring out of a vent at the sidewalk, there’s likely a main line clog. For those living outside of San Francisco, the water will likely be coming from a pop-up device designed to allow the water to emerge outdoors as opposed to inside your home. People often associate a main line sewer clog with the underground pipe below the house or the one that heads to the street. However, the water that you flush down the toilet runs to a mainline that is really no different than the one under your house. When this line clogs, it is likely the result of a foreign object going down the toilet. In one case, we saw beer bottles cause the main to back up after some idiot dumped the bottles down the main vent from the roof. No matter the cause, it’s time to call for help.

A good way for you to understand your drain system is to think of it like our nation’s marvelous Interstate system. All might be well for motorists on Interstate 80, but an accident on the nearby 680 has halted traffic from the point of the crash all the way to the 80. That makes for one large mess.

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