There are many different types of storm and wastewater pipes for a home, which are listed below. Each type of piping system can have its own unique drainage problems requiring different methods to maintain the lines and clear stoppages.

Reasons for Line Stoppages

There is many ways in which either a sewer or drain line may become stopped up. Additionally, some of these reasons explain why we cannot guarantee a completely free flowing drain and or waste line after rodding work has been performed.

  1. We cannot control how fast tree roots grow into a sewer line.
  2. We cannot control how much grease from a kitchen sink goes down a line.
  3. We cannot control the improper use of a garbage disposer.
  4. We cannot prevent mud or yard waste from entering sewer lines.
  5. We cannot prevent feminine hygiene products and other improper items from being flushed down a line.
  6. We cannot prevent a sewer line from collapsing.
  7. We cannot prevent improperly piped sewer and drain lines from stopping up.
  8. We cannot prevent an already broken sewer line from stopping up by catching waste flowing down the line.
  9. We cannot prevent the freeze-thaw cycles from heaving the ground, causing a sewer line to sag.
  10. We cannot prevent a sewer line from sagging, thereby holding waste material, which builds up and stops the line.
  11. We cannot prevent a line from being stopped up from a back-up in a city sewer line.
  12. We cannot prevent the swing check in a backwater valve from becoming fouled with regular sewerage waste.
  13. We cannot predict when or prevent a sewer with a large stoppage or line break from ensnaring or breaking our rodding cables.
  14. Nor can we prevent any combination of the above items.

Looking a little further into each of the points made above in the same order listed:

  1. Blockage from tree root infestation is the most common cause of a stopped or clogged sewer line. Root growth is a continuous problem; it can be temporarily abated with rodding, which is made more effective with the concurrent use of chemicals, but it cannot be stopped unless the tree is removed or a new line is installed. Root infestations only get worse over time. Preventative rodding will become more frequent with time until the roots eventually cause the sewer line to collapse requiring the line to be excavated and repaired or replaced.
  2. A grease blockage inherently occurs in waste or sanitary lines and is introduced into the line from the kitchen sink, dishwasher and garbage disposer. When a line packed with grease is rodded out, it is impossible to determine how much grease is in the line. Once the rod opens the line it is assumed that we are complete with the job. If however the drain line is packed with grease, the grease will droop, closing the hole made by the rodding work, thereby stopping up the drain line again. If this occurs, additional work is required to open the drain line and attempt to find a solution to lessen the frequency of grease line stoppages. Grease stoppages can be prevented by the installation of a grease receptor, periodic rodding or water jet rodding, use of preventative maintenance chemicals specifically designed for grease, and a reduction of grease and oil products placed in drains.
  3. Many people are not aware of what kinds of food matter they can and cannot throw down their disposer or how to use the disposer properly. First, when running the disposer, always run cold water before and at least two minutes after grinding is completed to wash the food waste down the drain line. Second, grind up food in small batches, allowing the food to wash down the drain line, preventing the disposer and drain line from becoming stopped up. Finally, avoid grinding up the following types of food: corn husks & cobs; onion peel; artichoke leaves, banana peels, celery, or any other fibrous foods.
  4. Mud can enter sewer lines from driveway or area drains and yard waste can enter drain lines from dirty gutter lines. Because neither mud nor organic matter will break down into a liquid form like sewerage, this matter tends to accumulate and create a stoppage. The only way to prevent these types of stoppages is to keep driveway drains and gutters clean, and perform preventative rodding maintenance on those lines.
  5. Many people do not realize that sanitary sewer lines are designed to accept toilet paper and human waste ONLY. If you flush anything else down the drain line, regardless as to what the manufacturer of those products states, you are asking for trouble. Do not flush the following items down your sewer line: feminine sanitary products; dental floss; Q-Tips; prophylactics; Handi-Wipes; Baby Wipes; diapers; dead goldfish (or other small deceased pets); paper towels; facial tissue.
  6. A blockage caused by broken or collapsed lines usually occurs with age and is normally caused by interaction with tree roots, heaving and settling of the earth or settling of the building. A broken or sheared sewer line is usually found by pulling mud back on the end of the rod or an inability of the rod to go any further into the sewer line. Once a sewer line has broken, the only remedy is to insert a sewer camera into the line to determine the true cause of the problem, the location of the problem and the condition of the line up to the point of the problem. The decision to repair or replace the sewer line and the cost associated with the work cannot be determined without first inspecting the sewer line.
  7. Small drains, less than 4″ in diameter or lines with a 90′ bend will often cause a blockage. Additionally, there are specific types of waste fittings that were widely used in the past that sanitary engineers found to cause problems and are no longer used today. These problems can be rectified by replacement of lines and/or elbows… or in the case of storm lines above ground, certain lines can be splashed on the ground.
  8. A broken line will slowly accumulate waste matter flowing down the pipe until the line stops up. Once we determine that a drain line is broken, there is no way to determine how long the line will remain open or how much time it will take before the broken line worsens, making an immediate dig and repair necessary.
  9. In the Midwest, our weather freezes the ground in the wintertime. The ground contains water. When water freezes it expands and heaves the ground upward. In the spring, the ground thaws and the earth settles again. The continuous freeze-thaw cycles can cause the ground surrounding a sewer line to heave causing a sag in the line. If the sewer line already has a leak, allowing the surrounding ground to become saturated, the freeze-thaw cycle can have a more pronounced effect.
  10. Sewer lines will sometimes sag. This happens when the ground underneath the sewer settles or the ground heaves up due to frost. When the ground moves, the sewer line no longer has the standard, steady ¼” drop per foot but will create a sag or belly that will trap waste and water. When waste becomes trapped in the sagging portion of the sewer pipe, that waste will harden and slowly accumulate until a line stoppage occurs. Normal sewer rodding will usually remove the stoppage and clear the sewer line but this will only be a short lived temporary solution. Only a dig and replacement of the sagged sewer line can provide a longer lasting repair.
  11. When city storm and sanitary lines are full or “charged,” the drain lines that run from the home cannot drain. Additionally, the full city drain lines carry much more debris than the individual house sewers. Sometimes when a city sewer fills to the point where it starts to back up, water and debris flow up the sewer line toward the home. Once the city sewer empties, that debris is left behind which can cause a line stoppage. Depending upon how much water is backing up into a city sewer main, that sewer main can become full to the point where it backs up into and floods a home. There is nothing that can prevent the flooding once it starts. Once the city sewer drains, the water left in the basement will usually drain away. There are a few ways to prevent a full city sewer from flooding a basement, they include the installation of a standpipes or a backwater valve.
  12. Less common are blockages caused by malfunctioning check valves or back flow preventors. Repair or replacement of these devices along with annual maintenance should help to eliminate problems.
  13. It is not uncommon to have a sewer line ensnare or break our sewer rodding cables while trying to open a sewer line. Unfortunately there is no way to determine from the onset the severity of a sewer line stoppage or if the sewer might ensnare or break our rodding cables. If a sewer cable breaks in the sewer line sometimes the lost cable can be retrieved with a special retrieving head that is placed on the end of a sewer cable. If cables are stuck in a sewer line we can sometimes free the cables with a more powerful machine, by pulling on the cables or by waiting for the tension in the cables and the stoppage to relieve and release the cables. If stuck or broken cables cannot be retrieved or freed from the sewer line, the sewer line must be excavated to remove the line stoppage and cables, repairing the sewer line.
  14. Finally, many sewer problems are exacerbated by the fact that more than one problem can exist with a sewer at the same time. Sewer problems are remedied on a trial and error basis and only one problem is found and fixed at a time. Once the first problem is taken care of, only then can we determine if a second problem exists and so on. Unfortunately, the customer perceives that the field technician has misdiagnosed the problem or has not fixed the problem when in reality the sewer is showing us that more than one problem exists or that the problem is bigger than can be remedied by rodding alone.

Remember that rodding a sewer line is only a cure for a sewer line that stopped up due to improper debris or a build-up of debris in the line. Rodding cannot cure sewer lines that are broken, sheared, sagging, infested with roots or are piped improperly.

How a Sewer Line is Cleared

The clearing of a sewer or drain line is not as simple as inserting rodding equipment and turning on the machine. There is quite a bit of diagnostic work that coincides with the knowledge of how building sewer and drain lines are SUPPOSED to be installed in home. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Find the floor drain or fixture that is showing the symptoms of a sewer stoppage.
  2. Determine which fixtures are served by the blocked line.
  3. Determine if the stoppage is in a branch line or a trunk line.
  4. Determine the best location to rod from.
    1. Where is the largest cleanout?
    2. Which cleanout will allow access to the largest portion of the drain line
    3. Which cleanout will get the cutter head closest to the blockage to transmit the largest amount of power to break through the stoppage.
  5. Determine if a second person is required to help rod to prevent damage to customer property or prevent injury of the rodding technician.
  6. Determine the type of rodding machine and cable to use.
  7. Determine the best type of cutting head to use.
  8. Determine if the sewer line has to be drained before removing a clean-out plug that could otherwise cause water damage.
  9. Begin rodding.
  10. Note the distance that the sewer line opens.
  11. Note the distance of any spots in the sewer that cause resistance to the rodding.
  12. Continue rodding until the city main or trunk line is reached.
  13. Extract the cables noting the distance of any hard spots.
  14. If any hard spots still exist in the sewer line, continue to work the cutter head back and forth over the hard spot.
  15. Extract the remaining cables, noting the type of debris, if any, extracted form the sewer line.
  16. Seal the clean-out plug and pressure test if possible.
  17. Test the sewer line to determine if the drain line is open.
  18. If the sewer line is open, we have to assume the rodding has been completed successfully.

Once the sewer line is open and flowing, we have to assume that our work is done. It would be ridiculous to continue to work the cables back and forth through the sewer if no hard spots are detected. To do otherwise would be a waste of the customer’s time and money.

Re-Occurring Line Stoppages is a Sign

When a drain line stops up shortly after rodding work has taken place, it is for one of two reasons. Usually, the amount of roots or debris in the line was not completely cleared during the first rodding session. Unfortunately it is impossible to determine if all of the debris is removed from a sewer line without the use of a video system. While the use of a video system will determine if the job is complete or if the sewer may have additional problems that should be addressed, most customers would not benefit from paying for a sewer line to be video inspected unless warranted by a reoccurring stoppage. To suggest that every sewer line should be video inspected would be considered unethical and gouging.

Sometimes a reoccurring line stoppage is a sign that the problem with the sewer is larger than can be remedied via conventional rodding. This occurrence generally requires further diagnostic work to determine what other problems may be causing repeated stoppages.

What is in a Guarantee?

There are many companies that offer a one-year guarantee on a sewer or drain line. Unfortunately what customers fail to realize is that a one-year guarantee on a drain line is nothing more than a marketing gimmick that is sometimes designed to take advantage of the consumer. If you have read and understand the above 13 points you can quickly realize why it is impossible to guarantee that a sewer or drain line can stay open for any length of time. Some companies offer a one-year guarantee because they are hoping that your line stops up again within the warranty period. This allows the company to sell further diagnostic measures which may be necessary but often lead to the conclusion that some or all of the drain line needs to be excavated and replaced at great cost. While some lines do need to be excavated for a repair, be wary of the costs involved, the use of undersized rodding equipment, and the lack effort put forth to open a line via conventional rodding.

Maintaining Sewer and Drain Lines

There are several methods available for opening and maintaining sewer and drain lines including:

A more detailed explanation of each of the aforementioned points follows.

Why Sometimes Does it Take a Second Person to Perform Sewer and Drain Work?

  1. Sometimes it is impossible to rod a sewer with one person. Certain situations call for a second technician to provide a hand and / or to provide a safe working environment. Examples of a two man rodding call are:
    1. If the customer has a sewer cleanout that requires that the rodding machine be more than 4′ away from the jaws of the rodding machine. This situation requires two men because the greater the distance between the rodding machine and the cleanout, the greater the risk of injury to the technician. At a distance of 4′ or more, two men are needed to hold the spinning rod.
    2. If the customer has a sewer cleanout that requires that the rodding machine be more than 4′ away from the jaws of the rodding machine. This situation requires two men because the greater the distance between the rodding machine and the cleanout, the greater the risk of injury to the technician. At a distance of 4′ or more, two men are needed to hold the spinning rod.
    3. Rodding from a roof requires two men to move the equipment onto and off of the roof and the second man helps to keep the equipment from sliding off of the roof due to the vibrations of the running equipment.
    4. Rodding in confined areas such as a crawl space requires two men to move the equipment into and out of the space. The second man also helps with the feeding and removing the cables while the other technician works the rodding machine.
  2. Protection of property. If we have to pull a toilet to rod your sewer line, it is usually necessary to have a second man to prevent the cables from destroying the interior finishes of the home.
  3. Locating a line underground. If one technician is having difficulty locating a sewer line, a second man will help move the camera inside the home while the second technician will use the locating wand outside to find the sewer.
  4. The element of time. Many times, having two men cuts the time of the service call in half. There is no difference in the charge to the customer if one man charges for 2 hours of work as opposed to 2 men charging for 1 hour of work. The total charged time in either case is 2 man-hours.

Preventative Maintenance Versus Excavation and Repair

There are many customers who are on preventative maintenance schedules with our company. The idea is to rod a sewer line with enough frequency to prevent the sewer line from backing up into the house. The frequency of rodding maintenance is historically based and differs with every sewer line. We have customers who know, from past experience, that they need to rod their sewer anywhere from once every other year to up to 4 times a year.

Over time, a sewer will require move frequent rodding maintenance because problems with a sewer line do not get better over time, they get worse.

When a customer reaches the point where they require preventative rodding maintenance two or more times a year, we will usually suggest inspecting the line with our sewer camera to determine the type of problem and a cost for a long lasting solution.

At this point the customer has to decide how much longer they intend on living in the house and calculate the maintenance cost versus the repair. Other considerations should include the risk of damage when a sewer does backup (if not repaired) and the value of the home when selling due to a problematic sewer, (Disclosure laws prevent homeowners from not informing prospective buyers of the sewer history.)

When is it Determined that Excavation is Necessary

Miscellaneous Customer Concerns

  1. I never had a problem with the sewer before, why do I have a problem now? Sewer and drain lines, like everything, have a useful life. When a sewer breaks, it breaks. There is a specific point in time when the condition of the sewer becomes a problem.
  2. Why is it taking so long to rod the line?
    1. If the sewer and drain line piping was not installed properly, it may take a long time to rod the drain line. Because most drain lines are buried inside walls or underground, it is impossible to know if a drain line was properly installed without first attempting to rod the line. If during the course of our work it is determined that our rodding cables will not follow the sewer line downstream, this is an indication that the drain line was not installed properly.
    2. If the sewer has a large root mass or contains a lot of debris, it may take a longer than normal amount of time to remove as much of the roots and / or debris as possible to prevent the sewer from backing-up again.

While Ravinia Plumbing & Heating Co. cannot 100% guarantee a clear line. We can assure you that our expertise and the open mind of an informed customer willing to take the necessary steps to affect a proper repair will keep sewer and drain lines open for much greater periods of time.

If you have any questions regarding the above information, please do not hesitate to contact us at (847) 432-5561 or [email protected].