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Why Does Your Main Drain Keep Backing Up?

The main sewer drain is one of the most critical parts of your home’s plumbing system. Because it’s out of sight, it’s also mostly out of mind, but if it gets clogged or bursts, it will be the only thing you’ll be thinking about until it’s fixed.

A backup can occur when the main drain gets clogged or backs up due to overloading the system. That backup results in raw sewage waste being pushed back through the pipes and into the home. The most common places for backups to occur are toilets, basement drains, and bathtub drains.

You don’t need us to tell you that raw sewage backing up into the home is disgusting to see and smell and to clean up. It can also cause a great deal of damage that can be expensive to repair. Finally, sewage water contains contaminants that can make it toxic, meaning it can present a health hazard as well.

It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a homeowner, but it’s something many homeowners have to deal with at some point in time. That makes it essential to understand what causes main drain backups, how to prevent them (along with trouble signs to watch out for), and what to do when they do occur. If a backup does occur, the response will probably include calling for the services of emergency plumbers.

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What Causes Sewer Backups?

A number of things can cause main drain backups, and some of them are beyond your control. Still, it’s important to know what they are so that you can monitor for signs of trouble if the conditions exist.

Blockages from Tree Roots

Tree roots are probably the most common culprits when sewer backups occur. When a root growing underground reaches a pipe, it can cause holes or cracks, or it can actually grow around a pipe and crush it. All of these can cause backups. Even if you don’t have trees in your yard, you may still be at risk if your neighbor does since roots can spread far underground.

Broken or Cracked Pipes and Lines

This is mainly a concern with older homes that have older pipes made of cast iron or clay. These materials break down as they age, making them prone to creating backups when they crack or break. Although newer homes mostly have plastic lines that are far more resistant to deterioration, there is no guarantee that cracks and breaks won’t occur.

Clogs from Materials That Get Stuck

This is another fairly common cause. Grease, hair, and other solid materials that get washed or flushed down drains can clog them, causing backups.

Heavy Rain

Municipal sewer systems may reach and exceed their capacity when heavy rainfall occurs, especially the type that can result in local flooding conditions. Floodwater inside sewer systems has to go somewhere, and sometimes that somewhere is residential sewage pipes. As a result, sewage may find its way out and into people’s homes.

Steps To Prevent Sewer Main Drain Backups

Because things like heavy rainfall, tree roots, and old piping are things you can’t do much or anything about, prevention is typically your best defense against backups, along with vigilance for the signs that one has occurred.

Watch What You Put down the Drain

You may have been told that it’s okay to pour grease down the drain as long as you use plenty of hot water to break it up. That’s not the best advice; somewhere along the line, grease will cool and congeal, and if that’s in your drain, it can cause a blockage. You should also try to avoid washing hair, coffee grounds, bits of food, and other small solids down a drain.

Toilet Bowls Are for Toilet Paper Only

Along with human waste, of course! Toilet paper by design, disintegrates quickly, whereas things like paper towels and feminine hygiene products do not. What about flushable wipes? While these are better to flush than paper towels, they still take longer to disintegrate, increasing the risk of causing a clog.

Use a Backflow Prevention Valve

Once installed, these valves allow sewage to leave home and prevent it from returning. Note that this only pertains to backups in sewer main lines; they will not, for example, prevent a clogged toilet from overflowing.

Replace Old Sewer Lines with Newer Ones

If you have those older lines made from cast iron or clay that we mentioned, it’s not your fault, but you can do something about it by replacing them with newer, plastic lines. Yes, this is going to be expensive, but when you consider the mess and the expense of a sewage backup caused by old lines when they crack or break, it may very well be worth it.

Perform Regular Sewer Inspections

Professional plumbing companies recommend an inspection and cleaning at least once a year. Often, this is included with service packages you can sign up for your home. This service can clean pipes and drains out, find breaks and cracks, and help prevent significant problems. Another benefit is that if you go with a trusted company, you’ll have their contact info readily available when an emergency occurs; you certainly don’t want to add the stress of seeking an emergency repair company to an already stressful situation.

Recognize the Warning Signs

Your plumbing system may be telling you there’s a problem. You just need to know how to “listen.”

  • More than one clogged drain. Clogged toilets are pretty common and usually not a sign of a major problem. However, if multiple toilets or drains are clogged, that signifies serious trouble.
  • Typical clearing efforts don’t work. Let’s go back to clogged toilets for a second. Most of the time, you wait long enough for toilet paper to disintegrate enough, or you get out a plunger or a snake. But if you do those things and the clog still doesn’t clear, there could be a bigger problem.
  • Bubbles when flushing or draining. Air can get trapped when water is trying to get past a blockage. There might be a sewer backup if you see bubbles when you flush a toilet or drain a sink.
  • Backflow and Gurgles. Water staying behind or coming back up when you drain a sink may indicate a backup. The same can be said about gurgling sounds coming from drains, not in use. Say you flush a toilet and hear gurgling from the sink or the tub; this might be a sign that there is a backup and water is seeking other places to escape.

What To Do When There’s a Sewage Backup

You’re not looking at a DIY job when you know or suspect there’s a sewage backup. This is something that calls for the pros. The job will be dirty and complicated, and, as we mentioned way back, it may also be hazardous.

A sewage backup is always an emergency, and when you need an emergency plumber in Fletcher, NC, or elsewhere in the Asheville area, please call Four Seasons Plumbing.

Licensed. Insured. Trained. Professional. Courteous. Reliable. Fair.

Four Seasons Plumbing is all of the above and more, and yes, we offer emergency plumbing services.

How can we help you with plumbing repairs or other services? Let’s talk today!

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Max Rose - Owner of Four Seasons Plumbing

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Rose

Max Rose is the owner of Four Seasons Plumbing, a plumbing company in Asheville, North Carolina.