Homeowners already have packed home maintenance checklists. Understandably, “taking care of drains” is far down on the to-do list. For the most part, your drains and sewer line are your home's little-thought-about, unsung heroes, carrying away the water you use in your sinks, showers, and toilets daily. As the holidays approach, it’s good to understand the importance of caring for your drains and sewer lines.
The holiday season is great because it allows us to spend time with our families and friends. The holiday season can also be stressful regarding meal planning and preparation. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for drains to get clogged.
Here are some things you should never put down your drain.
- Coffee grounds – they can cause a buildup to occur in your pipes. Your best bet is to recycle or toss them in your garbage.
- Eggshells – the membrane of an egg can cause a sticky mess.
- Grease and oils are the leading cause of gross fatbergs that can wreak havoc on your pipes.
- Pasta and rice – because pasta and rice are high in starch, they expand when put into water. It’s ok for small amounts of each to go down your drain, but never intentionally dump a significant amount.
- Potato skins are full of starch, and it only takes a small amount to clog your drain. By the time you realize you have a clog, you’ll have a big mess.
- Flour – when mixed with water, it creates a glue-like paste.
- Bones are very durable and tough for garbage disposals to grind completely.
- Raw meat – the fat in meat can cause a fatty buildup in your drain.
Please keep these important tips in mind all year round.
1. Get familiar with your sewer line. It can be argued that the sewer line is the most essential part of the home that homeowners know the least about. However, the key to preventing several major sewer line issues—including the dreaded sewer backup—is understanding how the line works and why taking care of it is so important.
2. Understand the causes of leaks. Most modern sewer lines that run underneath the home and front yard to a municipal sewer are made of either copper or sturdy, long-lasting PVC or ABS (both forms of hard plastic) pipe. If your home was built before the 1960s and hasn’t had its sewer line replaced, the line is likely made of iron. As you might have guessed, the combination of metal and water can only last so long. Iron or steel pipes are eventually subject to corrosion—a sewer line leak and the need for pipe replacement is almost inevitable.
While they’re immune to the rust that impacts steel and cast-iron pipes, PVC and ABS lines also have the potential to leak. Over time, PVC can develop cracks and fractures due to shifting earth above and around the buried pipe and a common culprit: trees.
If you have a tree in your front yard near your sewer line, there’s a chance that the tree's roots might grow around the pipe and break it. This is a self-escalating problem: as the root cracks the pipe and accesses wastewater, the root is encouraged to keep growing in the direction of the water. Many sewer line blockages (more on these in a minute) have a clear “root” cause once unburied, as the plumber finds that the tree root has grown into the pipe, completely blocking the water flow.
3. Prevent blockages. Sewer line blockages are bad news. Your sewer line is how your home disposes of wastewater—everything from the water you use while showering to every toilet flush goes through the sewer line to the sewer. Any kind of obstruction in the line slows or prevents this process. With nowhere to go, the wastewater begins to back up the line leading back into your home. All your drains clog simultaneously as sewage comes out of the drains. It’s a bad scene: beyond being incredibly disgusting, this can also cause severe water damage and require professional cleanup, on top of getting your sewer line repaired.
So, what causes sewer line blockages, and how can you prevent them from happening? We’ve already mentioned one common cause, but an even more common scenario is caused by the homeowners themselves. Too many of us treat our sink and garbage disposal like a garbage can. Things that shouldn’t be disposed of in the sink—cooking grease, oils, coffee grounds, eggshells, produce stickers, and more—travel down the sewer line. Sometimes, they get stuck and begin collecting more waste, starting a blockage inside the line. Grease is particularly dangerous: you may dispose of it as a liquid, but it can start the process of solidifying while in the line.
4. Protect your home’s sewer line. The good news is that many sewer line issues are within your control: of all sewer line problems, 52% are caused by sewer blockages. By being mindful about what you and your family put down the sink—and, for that matter, the toilet—you can protect your line and ensure that things continue to flow the way they should.
As for tree roots, consider having front yard trees that are either directly over or near the sewer line removed or moved elsewhere in your yard. Consult with professional, licensed plumbers in your area about whether nearby landscaping or foliage threatens the sewer line. The plumber will also be able to give you more information about the state of the line based on the age of your home or the year the line was replaced. Around 37% of sewer line leaks are caused by the line material failing.
5. Consider insurance coverage. West Bend’s Underground Service Line Coverage Endorsement would provide up to $15,000 for repair expenses, as well as potential expedite fees, tree removal, landscaping repairs, excavation costs, line replacement, etc. Be sure to talk to your local agent about the exposures of the underground service lines that provide many necessary services to your home. The minimal additional premium you’d pay would be well worth it if it saves you thousands of dollars in unexpected and devastating expenses!
For more sewer line maintenance tips—as well as tips for protecting a septic system and its lines—check out this informative infographic created by the team at King Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Frankfort, Illinois.
This article is intended for general educational and illustrative purposes only and should not be construed to communicate legal or professional advice. Further, this article is not an offer to sell insurance. Please consult with your licensed insurance agent for specific coverage details and your insurance eligibility. All policies are subject to the terms, conditions, limitations, definitions, and exclusions contained therein.