Plumbing: Waste Systems

Clearing Clogged Drains 

Step by Step to a Solution.

By far, most calls to plumbers involve clearing plumbing drains or dealing with backed-up sewers. But not all backed up drains are alike. Some are easy to resolve like simply clearing hair out of a bathroom sink trap or unclogging too many artichoke leaves stuffed down a disposal. These may only require a couple of hand tools or maybe a snake (drain auger). If your handy or tend toward DIY then it may be a good investment to keep a small hand operated plumbing snake handy. Get a good one here from Amazon.

Do not use liquid drain cleaners. I have written entire articles on this topic of liquid drain cleaners. Clogged drains require a sound mechanical clearing solution not a poisonous liquid miracle.

Unfortunately, about 30 percent of the calls are more difficult than simply clearing plumbing drains and require more work and bigger equipment.

Clearing plumbing drains
Don’t use chemicals to clear your drains

Video cameras

Clearing clogged drains
Plumbing video camera
Clearing plumbing drains
Plumbing inspection camera

When clearing a plumbing drain, if the clog cannot be resolved after several attempts with a normal snake, alternatives need to be recommended. If the clog is stubborn and the drain water is fairly clear, we may recommend a video be taken of the interior of the clogged line.

A video can usually tell what type of material may be causing the line to fail. For instance, has the line has been blocked by a collapsed or disconnected pipe? Or is something solid, like a large root or some other obstruction blocking the line? The video may provide enough visual clues to determine the next step.  Even if the blockage is not visible, running a special video camera into the line will at least help determine the approximate location (distance and direction) of the clog.

Resolving the blockage

If the blockage is caused by a visible break in the line or if there is a solid root filling up the space, there will be no alternative but to dig up the line and replace it. On the other hand, if the blockage appears to be of grease, caked on dirt or some mass of smaller roots, then a Hydro-flush may be in order. A hydro-flusher is an expensive pressure washer. It consists of a high-pressure hose with an optional cutting bit attached to the end. It is then fed into the line and run through to the blockage. The high operating pressures will clear anything loose in the line and can sometimes cut through masses of smaller roots.  

Unfortunately, even a hydro-flusher it will not cut out large roots. It is important to note that if roots of any size are the problem, the clearing will only be temporary. When roots are present in the line it means they have an access point somewhere. Likely a crack or an open joint in the pipe. Even if you cut them out they will be back soon. When you find roots in your system, it is best to replace the line.

When clearing clogged drains is not enough

Replacing the drain line can be done by trenching, or trenchless construction. The choice usually  depends on the cost of avoiding obstacles in the way of the work. Trenchless can be a good option of the path of the line is obstructed with a lot of surface hardscape. Trenching by hand may also be required if equipment will cause damage.

Either way, a lot of work will be involved in replacing a sewer lateral from house to the street. If you have to do this work do not skimp on replacement materials or workmanship. Do the job right so you don’t have to deal with it again. Use the heaviest duty materials with well-sealed joints and the proper number of clean-outs in order to make future maintenance easy. Cut-back or block off all invasive tree roots. Backfill carefully around the new line with the proper material to achieve the required slope and avoid settling and dips along the length of the line.

Here’s to clog-free plumbing in your future!


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