Everything You Ever Need to Know About Sewers and Sewer Rodding

sewers construction by group of men

UPDATED: April 9, 2018

We’ve done several pieces about sewers, sewer blockages and sewer rodding but mostly situational stories. This piece will be different, we will give you all the different types of sewer piping and how they relate to one another. We will share with you all the different types of drain cleaning equipment and how they are used, we will also go into detail about rodding techniques and how different heads are used. Lastly, we will show you some of the diagnostic tools plumbing professionals use to service the sewer lines. Pull up a chair you’re going to be here awhile. We intend to be as thorough as possible.

As a side note, it’s funny how consumers search for plumbing terms. For us plumbers sewer rodding has always been just that. You see it on the side of plumbers trucks and vans, on advertisements in phone books etc. However, people search for information online using the term sewer snake thousands of times more per month than sewer rodding. The two terms are completely interchangeable.

Sewer Rodding, Sewer Snake and Drain Cleaning Equipment

Rodders

A rodder is any kind of semi-rigid cable that when inserted in a sewer line either pushes a blockage out of the pipe or the blockage gets caught in the rod and it is pulled out. Below we are going to describe the different types of rods and how they are used.

Tape Rod or Flat Snake

A tape rod is the most basic of rods. It is a coil of semi-rigid flat steel with a ball or plug on the end. It is used by pushing its length through the blocked sewer line, pushing and breaking up the stoppage. These rods come in various lengths up to 100ft. Some of the limitations of tape rods are as follows:

Tape Rod or Flat Snake

  • Only useful on straight runs. Because they are very rigid they do not make corners very well.
  • They do not turn so they are limited as to the types of blockages they can clear.
  • They are only equipped with one type of head so it is again limited to the type of blockages they can remove.

Closet Auger

Closet Auger

The closet auger is probably one of the most useful plumbing tools a homeowner can buy for their home. It consists of a spring cable ending in a self-feed auger head, at the other end is a handle. When the cable is inserted into the toilet the handle can be turned causing the end of the cable to break up a stoppage.  It comes in two sizes ½” x 3 ½ ft. and ½” x 6ft.  Buy the 6ft if you can afford it, the extra 2 ½”really comes in handy and can usually push the blockage to the main. Some of the limitations faced when using a closet auger are as follows:

  • The auger is used to clear stoppages in the toilet, because the longest auger is only 6ft if your blockage is farther away the closet auger is useless.
  • The spring cable is fairly flexible so there may be some blockages it can’t work through.
  • You cannot change the head size or type.
  • Because a closet auger is manually turned your torque is limited by the person turning it. It isn’t meant for really tricky stoppages.

Kinetic Water Ram

Kinetic Water Ram

The Kinetic water ram uses compressed air to jar loose any clog you may have. It is an essential tool when it comes to real life trouble shooting around the household. You literally pull back handle and pull a trigger. You can use it on toilets, bathtubs, showers, lavatories, kitchen sinks, laundry tubs and floor drains. The only warning we can give is to read the directions before using. The force of the compressed air that leaves the device is pretty intense and it’s possible to break a fixture while using.

Sink Auger (Canister Auger, Drum Auger, Hand Spinners)

It is a flexible cable that is coiled inside a canister with a self-feeding auger bit on the end. The canister is usually connected to a handle and the canister has a knob to turn the rod. The rod is manually pulled out, a set screw is tightened around the cable and the cable is inserted into the clogged line; the rod is turned to break-up the blockage. This tool is very easy to use and is great for clearing blockages in kitchen sinks, lavatories and tub drain that aren’t too far from the fixture drain. The limitations of the sink auger are as follows:

  • The diameter of the rod is small so the diameter of piping it should be used in should also be small. 2” diameter is the largest diameter pipe recommended.
  • The drum only holds a limited amount of rod, usually 25ft maximum. So if you have a blockage beyond 25ft the tool is useless.
  • The flexible spring cable is not rigid enough to take care of tough blockages.
  • Only a self-feed auger bit is available for these types of rodders.
  • This rodder is not meant to be used on toilet blockages. The cable isn’t big enough or rigid enough to take care of toilet problem.

Grappler Hook

Grappler Hook

This is a neat little specialty drain cleaning tool used for retrieving tools or solid debris i.e. rocks, cans, bottles. This tool is especially useful on roof drains, roof drains can and do get a ton of debris. Quite a few roofs have stone and rock on them, along with anything else that may be thrown or left on the roof.

Power Sink Auger

Sink Auger (Canister Auger, Drum Auger, Hand Spinners)

There are a few different types of models to choose from here. The most basic is a hand sink auger with an attachment that allows it to be connected to a standard variable speed drill. The fancier handhelds are self-power and can be bought with manual or auto feed cables. These types of rodders also allow for some flexibility with regards to cables size and head types for different types of blockages and larger size piping. Even with the different heads and cable sizes this is still a specialty piece of sewer rodding equipment and should not be used for rodding drain lines over 2” in diameter.

Compact Sectional Power Rod

Compact Sectional Power Rod

Again there are several models to choose from in this category. Some Examples are the Ridgid K-50, Spartan Tool Model 502 and the MyTana Workhorse M500. Each has slightly different specs but they are designed for the most part to take care of medium blockage in the pipe from 1 ¼” to 3”. The Ridgid K-50 is a bit different in that it can be used with a drum with a preset length of cable or can be used without so that additional lengths of cable can be attached to reach blockages that farther from the point of entry. These machines are all very rugged and are available with changeable heads to tackle different types of blockages.

Heavy Duty Sectional Power Rod

This section is a bit crowded and all of the above companies make their version to tackle the tough stoppages. Ridgid’s K-1500 is probably the most popular and is considered the workhorse of the group. It hasn’t changed a whole lot since is was introduced and it doesn’t need to becuase its a beast.

Heavy Duty Sectional Power Rod

It is a torpedo style much like its smaller counterpart the K-50. It is much larger, handles larger cable and can safely remove blockages in drain pipes from 3” to 8” pipe. The MyTana Workhorse M888 and Spartan 2001 are drum type drain cleaners and can safely remove blockages from 3” to 10” pipe at lengths of up to 300ft. The biggest difference between the Ridgid and the MyTana/Spartan models is that the Ridgid is not self-feeding. The MyTana/Spartan will feed the cable into the drain line mechanically where the Ridgid is a manual feed.

Some of you might say well I’d rather have the machine do it because it is easier for the technician but that is not necessarily the case. More than a few plumbing technicians like to feel blockages to make sure the cable isn’t binding up leading to lost and broken cable. If you let the machine feed the line into the sewer you lose that tactile feel. Again more often than not this is a personal preference.

Hydro Jetting Equipment

Again there are a variety of different types of jetter equipment but for the most part, they are categorized in the following ways.

Compact Upright Jetter

Compact Upright Jetter

These jetters can be bought to handle pipes sizes from 1 ½” to 10” piping. They all have one thing in common, they are hooked up to an outside water source and can be brought to a cleanout or opening within a home or building. These units are designed to deliver a high-pressure low volume nozzle into a sewer line to scour the inside of the pipe to rid it of tree roots, grease, sludge etc.

Commercial Tow behind Jetter

Commercial Tow behind Jetter

Although having adequate water pressure is a huge factor in how effectively a waste line can be cleaned another important factor is water volume. Most of the upright jetter deliver magnificent pressure however they do not deliver enough water to effectively clean the piping out once the debris is dislodged or cut. In fact, sometimes with older piping extreme pressure can actually damage the piping material. Expert Plumbing Services, Inc. recommends and has a tow behind jetter for most applications over three inches in diameter, in fact our custom jetter truck allows us to hook up an attachment that gives us the ability to bring an upright jetter into a home to clean smaller lines.

Types of Rodding Heads and Their Uses

C or Knife Cutters

C or Knife Cutters

These particular rod heads are used to cut through grease and sludge. Grease and sludge can be a funny blockage. Sometimes when you use a common spade cutter the cutter cuts right through. However, when you pull the rod back the blockage closes back in the hole and a technician can do this and never get anywhere. A cutter rotates, cutting the grease or sludge but keeps the debris in suspension so water can whisk it away. A knife cutter has two tines that are bent like a propeller to create more turbulence.

Spade or Spear Cutter

Spade or Spear Cutter

These rod heads are used to cut through hardened deposits like lime or scale. It can also cut through grease but it may not clear it out properly.

Drop Head Auger

Drop Head Auger

This is a head that looks like spring ball but it rotates freely. It is used so the rod drops down in a certain direction. If you place a rod in a sewer line and it comes to a fitting, especially in a vertical application, but it won’t go in the direction you want it to go a drop head can help. There are other ways to manipulate a rod head but we will get into that later.

Spiral Cutter

This head is used primarily to cut through tree roots. It can be used to cut through leaves, cloth etc.. Traditionally when dealing with tree roots you would use a small cutter to cut a hole through the roots so you can get the drain moving, then you attach a bigger cutter to open a bigger hole and so on. Knowing what we know about tree roots leads us to lean against using rodding of any kind to tackle the tree root issue. More about that later in the article.

Funnel Auger

This is a head used as a second step to break up organic material left behind after using a traditional auger head.

Retrieval Auger

This head looks almost identical to the one above which one above,  however, the metal spiral is not as tightly spun and its sole use is to retrieve cable or heads that are stuck in a drain line.

Saw Tooth Cutter

This head is the heavy duty version of the spiral cutter but what makes it unique is the fact that it is tapered toward the back which allows it to be pulled back through tree root pulp.

Cork Screw Auger

This is used to break up debris in a similar fashion to the funnel auger however it is primarily used to bring back a sample of what is the cause of a backup or blockage.

Grease Cutter

This head looks very similar to a spade cutter however the blades are angled a bit differently to promote agitation and turbulence so grease can be rinsed away.

Hydro Jetter Heads and Their Uses

Jetter heads or nozzles can be bought with different jet configurations for different applications. Below are the most common however there are multiple configurations in each category.

Rear Flushing Nozzles

These heads have jets that are placed in the back of the nozzle. They should be used after a blockage or obstruction is removed as they provide maximum pulling power and maximum vacuum.

Penetrator Nozzles

Picture of a Mongoose Radial Vortex

Penetrator nozzles are milled with multiple forward facing jets to cut through or knock out pipe obstructions. Once the obstruction is removed and flow is reestablished the penetrator nozzle should be changed to a rear flushing nozzle to pull debris out of the pipe. You do not push the blockage, you pull the blockage.

Spinning Rotary Nozzles

These nozzles are used primarily to cut through tree roots, grease, and even some hard mineral deposits. There are some rotary nozzles used to literally bored through and obstruction like a drill

Chain Flail Nozzles

Picture of a chain flail nozzle head

Water powered chain knockers or scrapers are used for removing hard mineral scale, hard grease and rust build-up. The chains bang the inside of the pipe and the deposits fall and are swept away. Just a bit of caution when using chain nozzles, the condition of the piping must be taken into consideration when using. If the waste piping is in bad shape chain flails can and will destroy the piping.

Sewer Video Cameras

Video inspection cameras are used to determine the condition of a sewer or drain line. They help in seeing where a problem is occurring or where there may be a problem waiting to happen. There are many different camera manufacturers and they all have different features and benefits however they are all based on this common principle: a sealed camera head is attached to a rigid fiber-optic line because it’s fairly rigid it can be pushed into a sewer line. 

Sewer Video Cameras

The camera head is outfitted with LED’s to give the camera a light source so “it” can see. As a side note, a sewer cannot see very well if a sewer is surcharged with water.Therefore, a sewer line should be opened via mechanical sewer rodding before the camera is introduced to the sewer line. There is usually a location transmitter that is either embedded in or placed on the head unit of the camera. This allows the technician to use a location device above ground to locate where a blockage has occurred. Please make note, location devices have come a long way in the last 20 years so if the technician is well trained in how to read the locating device it is pretty accurate.

Sewer Video Cameras

Consumer Tip: The average sewer video camera system costs around $8,500.00. This does not include the location device which can add anywhere between $1,000.00 to $2,500.00 to the cost. So when a plumbing contractor charges you for the service it isn’t to gouge, it’s an expensive diagnostic tool that they purchased to give you better information.

Different Types of Sewer Pipe Lines and Waste Receptacles in a Home or Commercial Building

We know drain lines are all the same, they all carry waste from our plumbing fixtures and drains out into the wasteland. To some degree that’s true, however, here is a list of the different drains lines you could have in your home or office building. We will give the common size of the piping and most frequent cause of a blockage.

Pipe Size

Blockage

Lavatory Waste Line

1 ¼” Pipe

Hair, toothpaste, shaving cream, soap residue

Shower Waste Line

2” Pipe

Hair, shaving cream, soap residue

Tub Waste Line

2” Pipe

(Please see above)

Toilet Waste Line

3” or 4” Pipe

Fecal matter, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, toys, diapers, you name it and we’ve probably seen it

Kitchen Waste Line

1 ½” Pipe

Grease, food waste, soap residue

Laundry Waste Line

1 ½” Pipe

Lint, soap/detergent residue

Floor Drain Waste Line

2”-4” Pipe, depending on your local codes and applications

Oil, grease, soap residue, gravel, dirt, cement, grout, paint, food waste, etc. This is another one where we have found just about everything

Storm Sewer Line

3”-10” Pipe, depending on local codes and applications

dirt, leaves, grass, roofing tar, gravel, rocks, vermin, and cats. I say that with the utmost respect to cat owners everywhere but, we have rodded out downspout piping and brought back a mummified cat on more than one occasion. You know what they say about curiosity

House Sewer

3” – ?? Pipe, this is entirely dependant on code and drainage fixture units (DFU)

Fecal matter, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, paper towel, food waste, dirt/mud, tree roots, pipe breakage, grease, sludge, etc.

Vent Lines/ Vent Stacks

The pipe size is based upon drainage fixture units (DFU) and by the size of the waste lines the vents are serving.

We know a vent shouldn’t be blocked with anything. However, that is simply not the case. A vent line can become blocked several different ways. The most common way is through a sewer backup. When a waste line becomes blocked the fluid level rises inside the pipe

As the fluid level rises it brings with it suspended solids. As the water level recedes the suspended solids can stick to the vent piping reducing the diameter of the vent and eventually clogging the vent entirely. Another common vent blockage is ice.

During the winter, the vent stacks remain fairly warm and create steam which freezes at the end of the pipe. Over the course of time layers of ice can form and completely close of the vent. Vents are normally sized to accommodate freezing however we see undersized vents on a weekly basis.

Specialty Drainage Fixtures

Catch Basins

Catch Basins

A catch basin is used in residential and commercial applications to catch floating solids (i.e. grease) so they don’t drain into the municipal sewer. Here’s the basic info on how they work. A large pit is constructed and the kitchen is piped to the pit (that is the inlet), the outlet is lower than the inlet. The waste water flows into the pit and the water level rises eventually making it’s way to the outlet. The outlet is usually outfitted with a basin ell or a baffle of some sort to strain out solids. The water goes to the sewer and the floating solids stay behind. Over the course of months or even years, depending on use, the catch basin fills up with grease, food, gross stuff and must be pumped out. Sometimes the inlet and or outlet piping needs to be rodded or jetted as well to maintain function.

Grease Trap or Interceptor

Grease Trap or Interceptor

The grease trap works using a concept similar to the Catch Basin, however they are much smaller. Their main function is to slow the incoming water down to allow grease to separate. Waste water enters the interceptor and the water runs through a series of baffles which slows the water down and the suspended solids rise to the top and the waste water flows out. Again, this is basic function. Grease traps are designed to hold a predetermined amount of solid waste, when the trap is full it must be cleaned out. If a grease trap is not maintained the waste line can become fouled and become completely clogged not to mention it can be pretty nasty smelling.

Flood Control Devices

Flood Control Devices

When we speak of flood control devices we are speaking mostly about backwater valves. A backwater valve serves as a last line of defense in the event that a city sewer is backing up or running to 100% capacity. If city sewer is running full, water has nowhere to go and it backs up into the homes and businesses that are tied to it. A backwater valve is a large check valve that closes in the event of a sewer main backup occurs. Once again this piece of equipment needs to be maintained. Over time the check valve can be fouled by toilet paper, solids, etc. and should be cleaned. If the valve becomes fouled it can get stuck in the open or closed position resulting in a sewer back-up.

Fun Fact: The Chicago River is the only river in the world that flows backward, which was done in 1990 through a series of canal locks in order to divert sewage away from Lake Michigan’s water supply.

Here Is an In-Depth Look at a Sewer Back-Up

Roots, Roots, and More Roots

Problem

Tree roots are the biggest reason for clogged sewer lines in a residential application. In fact, tree root infestation is a recurring issue that can be controlled to some degree but never addressed permanently unless you either remove the trees or shrubs or epoxy lining the sewer line.

Before we explain the solution we must first understand the problem. Tree roots become a problem over time. As trees grow their roots dive deeper into the ground to look for water. When they find the sewer they’ve hit the holy grail of water supply and nutrients. Most older sewer lines in the US are cast iron or clay tile and in between each piece of pipe or fitting, there is a connection point or hub. Over time these connection points separate. This is the first place tree roots go to make their way into a house sewer line. Another common entry point is a break in the line. We see sewers on a weekly basis that have small cracks in the line and that is where the roots take hold.

Temporary Solution

The common solution to having roots in the sewer line is to rod the sewer. Usually, this is completed by putting a small root cutter head in the rodding machine to attempt to poke a small hole in the tree root infestation. If a hole can be made, the technician then increases the size of the root cutter, creating a larger opening until the line is sufficiently cleared to once again be used.

There is a problem with this concept though. A rodding machine will never remove all of the roots or even enough of them so that the problem won’t return in a fairly short period of time. If there is adequate access to the sewer line, professional jetting is the only way to responsibly maintain a sewer infested with tree roots. Think of the high-pressure nozzles as a straight razor slicing the roots where they come into the line. We essentially give your sewer line a close shave using high-pressure water. We then apply Root X to the sewer line killing off any filaments left behind. If chemical treatment is used every 6 months the tree roots should be kept at bay. This maintenance will not keep the exterior roots and or shifting ground from weakening the piping.

Better Solution

A more permanent solution would be to dig up the sewer and replace the piping. However, this repair is costly and intrusive. Depending on the amount and depth of the piping, your sewer could be down for a few days. Any lawn, landscaping, concrete, asphalt or brick paver repair would also need to be done after the repair is complete.

Best Solution

CIPP (Cured In Place Pipe Lining) is the ultimate solution when it comes to damaged or tree root stoppages. There are several different techniques when doing epoxy pipe lining

The Ever Famous Grease Blockage in the Waste Line

Grease Blockage

A plumbing contractor cannot control how much grease a homeowner introduces into their sewer system. There are several ways grease can be flushed down a sewer line, the kitchen sink, the disposal, and the dishwasher are the most common. Grease can be a difficult problem to conquer because it’s impossible to see just how much grease is packed inside of waste line especially in a 2” waste line. We can camera the sewer line to get a better idea of the situation but that will still not prevent grease from falling down from the sides or the top of the pipe right after we punch a hole through the existing blockage. On many occasions, we can rod and open up a sewer only to have it close behind the rod as we remove it from the sewer line.

Solution

If simple sewer rodding isn’t getting the job done hydro jetting is the best way to scour waste piping. There are instances where the grease is so old and packed that even a high-pressure industrial jetter won’t clean the piping, in this case, the affected piping would need to be cut out and replaced. If the home or business has a serious recurring grease issue, installation of a grease separator is the final and ultimate option. The grease trap collects the grease and that trap must be maintained to ensure proper flow.

Garbage Disposal

A plumbing contractor cannot control the improper use of a garbage disposal in a home. The majority of people that have garbage disposals do not use them properly. That are not meant to handle bones, potato peels, meat scraps, etc. The single biggest reason waste lines back up from garbage disposal use is from not using enough water to flush the waste line.

Solution

This one is simple, don’t put waste down the disposal that isn’t recommended, use water, use water, use water and the last one is a bit dramatic but it is a solution, don’t have one installed.

Dirt, Mud, Leaves & Stones

A plumbing contractor cannot control how much mud, leaves, etc. enter your sewer lines. These things enter your sewer lines from a number of sources, gutters, storm drainage and area drains are a few of the ways.

Solution

Keep gutters and drains free of debris and periodic sewer rodding or hydro jetting should keep things flowing freely.

Feminine Hygiene Products / Paper Towels

We know that most say they are flushable but the fact is that they do not break down in water. If they get hung up inside of a sewer line they catch other things going by and you eventually have a blockage. You have no idea how many times we’ve had irate customers call us after having their sewer rodded complaining that their sewer is blocked again within days. We head out to rod again only to find that the sewer is blocked with feminine hygiene products and or paper towels. If your sewer line is connected to an ejector pump system these products can get bound in the impellers of the ejector pump and cause the pumps to burn up.

Solution

Do not flush feminine hygiene products or paper towels down the toilet.

Broken Sewer Cleaning Equipment

There are occasions when a rod or camera or jetter head can get stuck inside the sewer line, most times it’s the severity of the blockage or line break that causes this to occur.

Solution

There are tools available to retrieve some of these objects however many times the sewer line must be dug up and repaired.

Collapsed Sewer Line

Over time, because of ground settling, freeze-thaw cycles, tree roots or just plain wearing of the sewer piping materials a sewer line can shear at the foundation wall or collapse. You can maintain your sewer impeccably and still not avoid it at some point. If the sewer line shears at or near the foundation the piping usually drop so you essentially have a step or ledge where waste collects. No amount of sewer rodding or hydro-jetting will permanently solve the issue. The plumbing contractor can neither be responsible for a collapsed pipe nor the sewage that hangs up at the point of collapse or fracture.

Solution

There is only one way to fix the issue and that is to dig up the sewer and repair it with a new piece of pipe. You may be able to rod the line to get it open for awhile but it is a very short-lived fix.

Plumbing Traps

Figure #6 Important Part of a P-Trap

All About Plumbing Traps

Plumbers always talk about plumbing traps. It seems grease traps, p-traps, s-traps, drum traps, etc. come up in almost every discussion among professionals. How many times has a plumbing tech stopped to explain what a plumbing trap actually does? Are the installation, products, and supplies a secret of the trade? Well, it certainly shouldn’t remain a mystery.

Improperly Sized or Pitched Pipe

We’ve come a long way from a sanitary engineering standpoint. Many sewer lines in old cities are undersized and have an improper pitch. If the size of your sewer line is undersized it’s prone to backing up. The next part of this is pitch and pitch can be a funny thing. Logic would say that more pitch would be better. The faster things move along the piping the better right? Not so with waste piping. We have a saying “a lazy sewer is a good sewer” When a sewer line has too much pitch the water runs down the pipe quickly often leaving behind what it is supposed to carry out of the sewer. When waste piping is properly pitched the water moves and keeps the waste in suspension carrying it down the waste piping and into the city main.

Solution

There is only one real solution and it’s never a pleasant one for the home or building owner. Rip out the back pitched or improperly pitched pipe and replace with new. It’s that simple and it’s the only way a plumbing contractor can be held responsible for future backups.

Improper Piping and or Fittings

This ties in closely with the above, sewer piping layouts and fittings have improved over the years and some fittings that were used 50 years ago aren’t manufactured. Why you ask? Mostly because they didn’t work very well and were/are a source of sewer backups or they proved to be unsanitary. Examples of some fittings that aren’t made or are illegal are an S-Trap, Low Heel Inlet Closet Bend, Sanitary Cross and a Saddle Tee.

Solution

Please see above. Tear it out.

Sagging or a Dip in Sewer Piping

Many places around the US have four seasons which means every year the ground freezes and thaws, so it continuously expands and contracts. Your sewer line is unfortunately subject to those same conditions and over time can develop a sag or a dip in the piping. This low spot is a perfect place for debris and waste to collect and eventually cause a blockage. Quite often some debris will sit in this low spot and decompose as other wastes pass by. This eventually turns to sludge which is an even bigger problem to remove because of its consistency.

Solution

You can rod or hydrojet to remove the debris but it will keep backing up. As with the above, the best and permanent solution is to remove the piping and replace with new. Keep in mind that the backfill used for the repair is of great importance. If your plumbing contractor uses uncompacted existing spoils, you run the risk of the ground settling and having the same thing happen. If you use pea gravel or some sort of self-compacting fill it’s a much better installation. These are all things to keep in mind when choosing a plumbing contractor as well.

City Sewer Back-Up

During a heavy downpour or extremely heavy usage a city sewer main may run full or surcharged. In the event of a fully charged sewer, the waste and debris have nowhere else to go but back up into the branches connected to it which can be your house and the rest of the houses on the block. It is not uncommon for city sewers to back up to the point of flooding basements.

Solution

Have a backwater valve installed or have your gravity sewer moved overhead. You are essentially divorcing your basement waste piping from the house sewer. If you have a basement bathroom the waste must be pumped to the overhead sewer. There are some home center products that fit into basement floor drains that act like check valves but they are cheap and don’t work very well.

Disclaimer

Here it comes right? Quite often where there is smoke there is fire. If there is one problem with the sewer there maybe others as well. 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. Sewer rodding cannot cure sewer lines that are broken, sheared, sagging, infested with roots or are piped improperly.

How Plumbers Diagnose and Rod a Sewer Line

We are aware that sewer rodding line may seem like a piece of cake and sometimes it is, however a significant part of the time it takes more diagnostic work than just throwing a rod in the sewer running it for awhile and leaving. Here is a step by step guide to how a professional plumber should tackle a sewer line blockage.  The first step is the most obvious and we won’t include it as a step but we have to find the fixture, cleanout or floor drain that is being affected:

If a fixture is blocked, check to see if the other plumbing fixtures in the room are also blocked.  Check by running water into the other fixtures. If none of the other fixtures are blocked you know that the obstruction is localized to the fixture or to the drain line servicing that fixture. If the other fixtures are also backing up then you know it is at least the drainage piping serving that bathroom, kitchen or laundry room.

You then move to the next closest fixtures or floor drain to see if they drain. If they do you know you’ve isolated the blockage. If they do not drain you know the blockage is further down the sewer line and may even be a blockage in the house sewer line.

Quick Tip

Here is a tip that will save you some time. If you have a blockage in a second-floor bath or laundry room and the rest of the house is functioning you’ve just eliminated the main sewer as the culprit.

If it is a local blockage you have to determine where you’ll rod from. In case the blockage is on the second floor there may not be clean out so you’re the only alternative will be to pull the toilet and rod from there or to rod from the shower or lavatory drain. It doesn’t happen often but there are times when a line cannot be opened using the fixture drain. In this circumstance, a wall may need to be opened and a cleanout installed to assure proper drain cleaning.

If it is determined that the sewer main is backed up it is important to find the cleanouts along the run of sewer main, especially if the sewer is over head. If the sewer is gravity and runs beneath the basement or first-floor slab there may only be one clean out just inside the house. We have seen on many occasions, especially in older homes where there isn’t clean out. The toilet is meant to be pulled and used as the cleanout. Unfortunately, on many of these occasions, an exterior cleanout must be installed to assure proper cleaning.

The next thing that needs to be determined is safety. Safety? Yes, rodding in confined spaces like crawl spaces or ceilings can be dangerous. Also if a blockage is a far distance from the sewer opening the cable can be quite heavy. In these cases, a second person is required to properly rod the drain line.

When you’ve finally punched through the blockage use water continuously to flush away the debris. When you pull back the rod, make note of the type of debris being brought back. It can help determine future maintenance plans or repairs. As stated in the above there are many types of drain cleaning equipment, the technician must determine the best one for the job. A small power rodder can be used for small fixture drains and a larger power rod can be used for main sewer lines and the house sewer.

Pro Tip

This one is for the consumer and professional alike. We’ve seen many old time skilled plumber make this mistake. When you are using an electric power rod let the rod do the work. The blockage doesn’t break up any faster by forcing the rod into the drain line. The only thing that usually happens is the rod kinks or breaks ruining the rod. If you’re a plumber you know rod sections can be expensive. So extend the rod and engage the forward clutch and let the rod work it’s way into the line, pull some more rod out and engage the forward clutch. Work the rod slowly through the blockage. There will be some you can’t break through but forcing the rod in the line will only produce bad results.

Guarantees for Sewer Line Cleaning, Sewer Rodding or Sewer Jetting

It is our opinion that a video camera be used in all nonlocal drain blockages. Let us explain when most people call a professional plumbing company, they expect some sort of guarantee that what was rodded will stay clear for awhile. Now no plumber can guarantee that a customer won’t drop something down the sewer or that there won’t be a catastrophic failure in the drainage system however there is a real easy way to guarantee that the stoppage that was there has been removed and there is a real easy way to see the condition of the piping and the distance at which the blockage or blockages occurred.

Guarantee

Use a video camera! There are some that think this is gouging because the customer has to pay for it but it eliminates so many variables. It gives the customer a clear picture of the condition of the piping after you’ve completed your work, it allows you to reference the video if you have to go back for a warranty call or for a call to do future work. It also allows you to see if the line may be prone to future or recurring blockages. You give yourself the ammunition you need to protect your company and the customer.

Contractor Tip

So it is our suggestion to a contractor that if you are going to give a customer a warranty on a drain line go the extra step to see it’s condition.

Consumer Tip

Have the contractor give you options on how they can fix the problem. There is almost always another way to fix a problem. Maybe there is a short-term solution or a long-term solution. I think contractors get in trouble when they don’t explain the problem in its entirety because they are too afraid to let the customer know “this maybe real expensive but here are your options.”

Sewer Pipe Collapse, Pipe Shearing, or Sewer Pipe Deterioration and the Dig

No homeowner wants to hear the words, “we have to dig up your sewer line to repair” but the fact remains that sometimes it’s the only way to fix. Here are the common reasons for having to dig up and repair your sewer line.

Sewer Pipe Deterioration and / or Collapse

Whether you have cast iron or clay tile or PVC, they can all collapse over time and for different reasons. The first reason and they are no particular order is pipe deterioration. When cast iron or clay tile have been on the ground for long periods of time they are susceptible to the elements, heating and cooling cycles, moisture, acidic ground, organic debris and tree roots in the piping, etc. Over the years as the piping is exposed is begins to weaken and eventually collapses in a spot or in several and must be dug up and replaced.

Sewer Pipe Shearing

Pipe shearing can happen for a number of different reasons but the result is the same the pipe needs to be dug up and section needs to be replaced. Pipe shearing occurs most often right next to the outside foundation wall. The ground around the pipe settles and the piping cracks and moves leaving a ridge where debris can get caught eventually leading to a blockage. Pipe shearing can happen at any point in the sewer line but occurs most often at foundation walls, driveways, sidewalks etc.

Quick Comment on Drain Chemicals

There are only two chemicals we recommend be used on sewer lines and they are as follows:

Root-X

Picture of Root X Logo

According to the plumbing chemicals guide, here a few different root killers on the market but this is the first of it’s kind and there are still none better. It is considered a non-systemic root killer in that it kills the roots it touches but not the tree. It also foams when it hits water so it hits the roots hanging down from the top of the pipe. This is considered environmentally friendly. Do not use any root killer with copper sulphate. Copper Sulphate kills everything including bacteria and other live organisms that help our ecosystem work. Think about copper sulphate running off into a pond.

Bio-Clean

Bio-Clean

Bio-Clean – Bio-Clean is a brown powder consisting of natural bacteria and enzymes that literally eat organic waste, like soap scum, grease, hair, food, paper etc. The powder is mixed with warm water and poured into a drain line. Bio-Clean can also be safely used in septic systems, in fact we would recommend all homes on septic systems use Bio-Clean. The enzymes and bacteria keep a septic system running smoothly. The only warning I would give regarding Bio-Clean is that it is long term maintenance option. It will not work fast enough to open a clogged drain line now.

Final Sewer Rodding Questions and Answers

What is a cleanout?

A cleanout is an access point within a waste piping system that allows for sewer rodding or other equipment for drain maintenance. As we’ve mentioned before most homes have at least one as the sewer leaves the home. However we have seen homes with none.  Most homes built from 1980 to the present are required to have a cleanout installed outside the home. Most normal homes in our area have a 4″ diameter sewer line exiting the house which transitions to a 6″ diameter line outside underground.

I had rodding done outside and the technicians were done much quicker than when I had it done inside, is that normal?

Rodding and drain cleaning is not an exact science, each home can have different issues. We would say if the company that did the rodding in a confined space like a crawlspace or they took the time to make sure everything was neat and clean when they were done then it could take longer for sure.

We had one contractor do rodding with one person and another company use two people. Is it usually a two man job?

It really depends on the size of the pipe, the equipment being used and the area where the work is taking place. Some rodding and drain cleaning equipment is extremely heavy and cumbersome so for the safe of safety two people should perform the work.

A plumbing contractor came to my house to hydrojet. They started in the basement and ended up flooding the basement when they turned on the jetter. What happened because they just said we were 100% blocked.

Well they did tell you a partial truth. You were 100% blocked. But what they didn’t tell you is that you should never ever hydrojet in a basement when the sewer is surcharged (completely filled). Because most commercial hydrojetters put out a tremendous amount of water, the sewer has to be partially opened to give the water a place to go.

Do I really need a new sewer in my front lawn? I’ve had one plumbing contractor say they can just do periodic maintenance and another insist replacement is the way to go.

We would say that the contractor that gives you the pros and cons of each option or options is the person to go with. The plumbing contractor that wants to keep rodding your sewer is aiming for job security the one who insists on replacing is looking for a sale. Have them show you the condition of the piping, it should be fairly clear whether you are close to a collapse. Better yet ask them for the video and send it to us @ skavanaugh1@gmail.com. We will let you know the truth.

I’ve heard about getting my pipe relined, is it cheaper?

Good question, in our experience having a qualified contractor lining your pipe cost darned near having it dug up and replaced. The prep and manpower it takes to ready a drain line for lining is much more labor intensive than having a backhoe and a few technicians performing the repair.

A couple of thoughts on this, quality epoxy pipe lining leaves the pipe stronger than ductile iron and 17% smoother than new PVC so you are getting a real permanent fix. Also if you’ve spent a lot of hard earned dollars landscaping your yard, or the piping is under a sidewalk or driveway, lining is lot less intrusive. You won’t have to spend the extra money replacing sod, shrubs, concrete or asphalt.

The plumber I had out to my house broke a rod in my drain and now the company wants to charge me to dig up my front lawn to repair the sewer. I’ve had this line rodded many times in the past and this never happened.

The first thing we would urge you to do is, if you’ve had a licensed plumbing contractor out to your house many times in the past and they have done good work stick with what you know. There are times when a plumbing technician forces a rod into a blockage and the torque of the rod may get caught in an existing break. However, more often than not after years of maintenance the sewer finally collapsed and the rodding equipment is stuck through no fault of the plumbing technician.

Final Word

As a final comment, thank you so much for reading. This piece is not for a quick read. It is also a living document so feel free to post or email us to add content you think should be included. HAPPY RODDING!

*A big thank goes out to Jim Madden with Ridgid Tool Company for helping me get to those pictures and to Mongoose Jetters for allowing me to also use their fantastic pics.

*RIDGID® is a registered trademark of the Ridge Tool Company

*Also special thanks to Ashley Trueblood with Sewer Equipment Co. of America for the use of jetting equipment pictures.

Without your cooperation articles like these can’t be complete.

42 comments

  1. I run a high-rise building with a good deal of our drain system being 35 years old. We are seeing more and more buildup in the drains from our restroom sinks etc. Is it worth considering hydro-jetting the entire drain grid to clean out the pipes. Is this an effective approach.

    Thanks

    1. Hey Mike thanks for reaching out. Are the blockages on the horizontal waste lines serving the sinks? These aren’t local blockages at individual sinks? If the blockages are in horizontal waste piping and you have access to proper cleanouts hydro jetting is the way to go. I would suggest the plumber use a camera to check out the condition of the pipe before jetting. I’m assuming it’s cast iron, steel or copper. If the waste lines are really deteriorated jetting my damage the piping further. Again this is a worst case scenario but it should be done.

      Sean

  2. question
    my drain is blocked by a brick.. i need something like an acid or a cable or something to remove that blockage….. any one can guide me plz…..

    1. I think I’m getting punked I swear but I’ll bite. Calcisolve is the only product I know of that might help. I will say that I do not believe calcisolve will dissolve an entire brick. I’ve used it to dissolve tile grout and some cement that gets washed down a drain. You’ve much better off opening the sewer, removing the blockage and repairing.

      Sean K

  3. I have clogged bathtub drains. The tubs are connected to each other. I’ve had 3 companies come in and what happened is that the snakes just go back and forth between the tubs even with a drop head snake. the house is a ranch style do there’s no crawl space. The piping is under a 6 inch slab so the only access is from one one the tubs through a panel in the wall. The solution i’m thinking is to use high water pressure by putting hoses into each tub forcing out the clog. I am guessing that the connection between the tubs is a T connection since snaking will not work. So far I’ve spent 6 hundred dollars literally money down the drain. HELP!

    1. Unfortunately you’re probably correct in that they used a double sanitary tee to connect the back to back tubs. If the clog is flush or almost flush with the outlet of the tee there is no room for the drop head to work it just bounces over the clog. I’m certain I understand your idea? Put two hoses in the overflows of each tub and turn in the water? I don’t think you’ll get enough pressure but you could try. Is it completely clogged 100%? If you try chemicals and nothing works you have a huge chemical mess. Unfortunately you may have to remove one tub, chip out the fitting and replace. I know thats not what you want to hear.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Sean K

  4. Need some advice in clearing a sewer main line clog. We had a plumber come out and he ran 2-3 different size snakes and heads through the vent line of the toilet, even seeing the snake in the outside cleanout. After trying for about 4 hours he was unable to clear the blockage. Each time he was able to punch through, as have I with my snake. He was pulling back what looked like toilet paper, I’m getting a black sludge. The toilets drain very slowly, takes about 1-2 hours for it to go down. The plumber suggested adding a cleanout that pointed toward the house versus away. This would entail a backhoe and a lots of digging. Any advice on what other ways may work? we have two toilets, two lavatory sinks and a kitchen sink that feed into this main sewer trunk.

    Thank you.

    1. There are a couple things going on but I want to clarify one thing. The plumber is going through the vent to rod the waste? How is he accessing the vent? From the roof? I will say that if that is the only access you have to maintain the waste line you should definitely think about putting in a yard cleanout. If you did have one installed insist upon it being a two-way cleanout so you can maintain it in both directions. I have no idea why a plumber would suggest a cleanout be installed with it’s branch turning to the house. I understand that your blockage is between the cleanout and the house but what happens in the event of a stoppage on the street side of the cleanout? The cleanout is useless. Let’s move on to the nature of the blockage. Many times when a sewer has fallen or there is a dip in the pipe, paper, sewage and grease lays there and a sludge is created. If it gets bad enough and it seems as though this would qualify the sludge blocks the entire pipe width. Sludge blockages are tricky things. They are soft so a rod can pass right through them and when you pull the rod back the opening closes right behind it. I would suggest that you have the sewer professionally hydro jetted provided you have access. If you don’t have access you have to create one. Without knowing how your waste line runs its hard for me to make a suggestion other than telling you a yard cleanout is wise.

      Sean Kavanaugh

  5. My son put a massive dog bone down the inspection pipe to the sewer in our backyard. It is 3 meters deep and we are very concern of a potential blockage. What is the best way to remove it?

    1. you can attempt to break up the bone with a powerful sewer rod. How solid is the bone in the pipe? A commercial hydro jetter might be able to cut through the bone as well. Calci-Solve my also work to dissolve the bone. If all else fails you’ll have to dig up, remove and replace.

      Sean K

  6. Live in a ranch home built on a concrete slab and the bathtub drain is very slow to drain but all the other drains are draining fine. Used a snake in bathtub drain and keep getting mud and very small gravel back in the end of the snake. Does it sound like there is a broken drain pipe underground? The snake only with advance about 6ft. HELP!!!

    1. For sure. You’re waste piping servicing the bathtub is broken somewhere. If it makes you feel any better I had a similar situation in the shower of my own house. The shower base was raised up about 6″ so we were able to break out the concrete in front of the shower base and find the deteriorated piping without pulling the entire shower.

      Sean K

  7. Thanks for the on-site info. I had 35 feet of CIPP epoxy lining installed 2 years ago in an under-slab 4 inch sanitary sewer. The thin inside lining in the diameter of the CIPP is delaminating from the solid epoxy reline in several spots. Installer has augured several pieces but some remain and it looks like this might be ongoing. The thin but rigid plastic-like interior lining pieces hang into the line causing stoppages.
    I’m in Los Angeles and am looking for a local company who might help with fixing failed CIPP liners. There might be a rotary grinder tool that can wear away the interior liner leaving the 3/16 inch epoxy liner in place. Any thoughts or referrals to pros in Los Angeles?? Thanks…!!

    1. I’ve never seen an epoxy liner fail like you are describing. I’ve seen them deflate during installation but never after they are cured. Most of the contractors I know guarantee the liner for the life of the person living in it.http://www.craftsmanpipelining.com This company seems to be the real deal.

      Sean K

  8. we are a municipality that is jet-rodding our main sewer line as we do each year but for some reason this year we are receiving several complaints that our jet-rodding is causing toilets to bubble up and over onto their floors….our main line is not blocked and the services are between manholes that are open. Could this be something caused by blocked vents our could it be on the service (customer) side? Everything is flowing normal in our system and we would like to give the customers an answer as to why. It seems that while we are rodding, air is pushing through the service line causing bubbling in the toilets and splashing onto floors, then as we are pulling back, we are creating a vacuum and sucking the water from the toilet…hoping you could help us figure out whether we should recommend backflow preventer on sewer lines to theses services.

    1. Hey Ray, thanks for reaching out. I have a few questions for you. As well as a comment or two.

      1.) Are you using the same subcontractor using the same equipment that they’ve used in the past? If they are doing the same work with the same equipment this is a very odd occurrence. The only thing that comes to mind is that they are using more water volume with a more powerful machine. It’s driving enough water through the the connected sewer leads to create back pressure cause the bubbling and then enough negative pressure to siphon the traps on the way past the connected sewers.
      2.) Are they video inspecting the sewer as they work? Are you able to see what they are doing? You may be able to pick up anomalies on the video.
      3.) Are they hydro jetting any portion of the leads to the homes connected to the city mains? I know some municipalities will do just the small portion of the house sewer at the connection point. It really depends on where the city takes responsibility.

      If this is a continuing problem you can advise the homeowners to install a backwater check valve like this Zurn model http://www.zurn.com/Pages/ProductDetails.aspx?NodeKey=376138

      Do you have combined city sewers?

      Anyway hope that helps. If you have any other information let me know.

      Sean Kavanaugh

      1. If only a few places are experiencing the problem of toilets overflowing into the building, it might very well be that their vent stacks are plugged and not letting any back pressure out of the system. If that’s the case, the only way for pressure in the system to be relieved is through water traps, such as the toilet, sinks, showers, tubs, etc. And the only solution is to make sure the vents are opened up so they can do their job.

  9. Live in LA–’50’s suburb. Have a good gravity flow sewer but want to add toilet to detached garage 30 feet away.

    So I’m 30 feet away from gravity flow sewer w no elevation or 100 feet from street. It’s a do-able 100 feet–but it’s 100 feet.!!!

    1. How far down is the sewer 30ft away?? You have to find out where your sewer drops down. They usually don’t drop right before the city main. If you have no elevation for pitch that would be the place to make your tie-in. It won’t be 100ft but it may be 50ft. You can always go with a composting toilet 🙂

      Sean K

      Sean K

  10. Thanks Sean Kavanaugh for your site and service. Just yesterday, I had a full blocked main floor toilet….my 5 year old granddaughter, confessed she has been dropping shells and stones from the tray on the top of the bowl. ( our mistake to have kept them there as decorative stones and shell). It wont flush…and slow water draining. I assumed the basement trap is clogged? My townhouse is 25 years old here in Bramalea…with a four inch white pipe down the floor with a gray cover…a provision to open with a special wrench> How can I clean and remove the stones myself? The drain is avout 6 ft from the Y 4 inch trap coming down from the main floor along the concrete wall. Thanks

    1. Thanks for reading the site. I appreciate it very much. Kids can wreak havoc on a sewer system especially when they decide to drop things down the toilet that don’t belong. Oh well it’s been happening since toilets were invented so I doubt it will end any time soon. As to your problem, while I’m assuming it’s probably your granddaughter’s sea shells and rocks I certainly can’t be sure. The only real way to see what is blocking the line and where is to video camera the sewer. I’m not sure what the plumbing code is in Ontario but you may not have a house trap. Check out that link to see what a house trap looks like. If you do have one and the blockage is at this location, you can open the cleanout and you should see the rocks and debris in the trap. Take a shop vacuum and suck out the rocks and seashells and you should be all set.

      If you don’t have that access. You’ll have to use a sewer camera. If you can clearly see where the blockage is and the material you can rent a sewer jetter. However, in this case I would recommend using a professional plumbing service company. Jetting equipment is similar to a pressure washer but usually more powerful, if you don’t know how to use the machinery it can be dangerous.

      I certainly hope I helped.

      Sean Kavanaugh

  11. Hi, I just wanted some advice regarding a blocked sewer pipe and a plumber. The story is as follows:

    About 8 months ago I called a plumber to unblock my sewer pipe. After putting the camera down we saw there were tree roots. The plumber identified it was MY pipe by moving the camera past the tree roots and showing me the blockage was before the mains. All good so far. We agreed the best way to fix was to excavate and replace that section of pipe. The camera comes with an above ground locator so he showed me the exact location of where to excavate to repair the pipe. I decided to do this myself and did so successfully (or so I thought).

    Today the same pipe blocked up again and I called the same plumber to come out. The camera revealed that tree roots were again causing the blockage. We saw my repair on the camera but the tree roots were around 2 feet past my repair.

    My issue is this: I excavated and repaired the pipe at the precise location where he told me the tree roots were penetrating, in fact I replaced a 3 foot section of pipe, which went further along, to be sure. The first camera inspection revealed only one set of tree roots penetrating the pipe, not two, I know this because we went past the tree roots to the mains. He did not say there was a second set of roots nor did I see a second set of roots. Therefore, I can’t help but conclude that he told me the wrong location.

    OR, if there were 2 places where the roots were penetrating (as he claimed today), he did not advise me of the second location. On that day he simply told me to replace a short section of pipe, say 1 foot, at the location he specified.

    I don’t feel I should be liable for this second repair given the plumber either:

    1) did not identify the correct location OR
    2) did not alert me to the second set of roots (or other deficiencies) in the pipe, (ie cracks where tree roots could potentially penetrate in the future).

    He now wants to charge me $2000 to excavate and repair based on the fact that if he had of done the repair the first time, he would have seen the roots (no matter where they were) using the camera. Therefore, identifying the precise location of the roots would not be as important.

    I told him that I may be repairing myself, and as I do not have a camera, the precise location is paramount! I believe he failed in his duty to provide me with accurate information to allow me to repair the pipe. I have a right to repair by the means of my choosing and I believe the fact that I paid him to locate the blockage and he gave me either incomplete or inaccurate information, makes him liable for this repair.

    Your advice would be welcome, cheers

    W …

    1. I have to be honest this dilemma took me through myriad emotions. Anger for the contractor, relief that I’m not physically doing the work anymore and then finally empathy for you and the contractor. It’s why I didn’t respond right away and I apologize. Misinformation and distrust have plagued our industry for more than a century and it’s really why this site exists. So I will explain your situation as best that I can.

      1.) You’re very first sentence depicting the problem really tells me all I need to know but I will go into more detail for other readers who may experience the same issue but there may be a different reason for the same result. “About 8 months ago” 8 months is more than enough time for roots to grow and grow densely enough to block your piping after your repair. You yourself said you didn’t see any roots after the infestation to the main. It is highly likely they weren’t there. During the early spring and fall roots dig deep to find water sources and your sewer line is a perfect spot for water. I have hydrojetted sewer lines in the spring where the customer refused root maintenance; which we recommend, only to be back in the fall to hydrojet again. The pipe was as clean as a whistle when we left the first time. Obviously the 75.00 root treatments 2x to 3x per year beats replacing your sewer or having it hydrojetted for $750.00 2x per year. The clients never refuse root treatments again.

      2.) I think that probably explains most of it but I want to talk to you about the video camera and locating equipment. We use these tools for diagnostic purposes and as a guide to repair sewer lines if they are broken or misaligned. We do not use them to give exact locations to a homeowner. Even the operating manual says “depth and distance are approximate” This doesn’t take into account how well the technician knows how to read the equipment or if there is buried electricity or overhead electricity in the area which could throw off the location quite dramatically or something as simple as the batteries being low. No manufacturer, like Rigid or Spartan, or Mytana will guarantee the location of every sewer located. Can you imagine the liability?

      3.) We use the equipment to offer the homeowner an estimate on the cost for the repair. Once they excavate and reach the repair if it’s not in the exact place they excavate more until they reach the blockage at no additional cost to you. Most plumbers when performing this repair will place the sewer camera in both ends of the excavated pipe just to check it’s condition before performing the repair and backfilling.

      I apologize but your plumbing contractor has no liability for your current situation from several angles. Even if you signed a guarantee of location for the blockage, you yourself said it was present when you did the work yourself. You would have to be able to prove that there was willful negligence by the plumber and I just don’t believe that’s even remotely close to being the case.

      Sean K

  12. I have a blocked sewer vent that is making my kitchen drains back up and drain so slow.

    I called a plumber who snaked the kitchen drain 35 feet and then went to the downstairs clean out and snaked there another 35 feet. The clean out is a 2 inch line then goes to 4 inch before going into the concrete slab. There fore the plumber can only use a 2 inch auger…

    After snaking the lines, the kitchen drains back up and drain so slow. We opened the clean out and the water immediately drained. This tells me there is an air lock. So we determined the problem is the blocked sewer vent on the roof. He tried snaking the roof vent with no success. We took the garden hose and tried flushing the drain, water backed up in the vent… He wants to open the wall on the entire side of our kitchen behind the cabinets… and cut out and replace a section of the blocked pipe. I am hesitant as I paid tem $450 for three hours of work with no outcome… kitchen sink still backs up and drains extremely slow…

    Is there an enzyme or something that I can pour down the roof sewer vent? Or call another plumber or roto rooter type company specific to rodding and snaking blocked lines?

    Thank you for your site and advice…

    1. There are enzymatic drain cleaners out on the market like Bioclean but they don’t work immediately. It’s more of a maintenance product than a blockage removal product. I would say there is really no chemical product I would recommend you use in this particular situation. I love Glug Flakes for laundry tubs, showers and and lavatories but a 4″ sewer line, no way. I’m not certain why they couldn’t get through from the roof. Maybe there is a fitting at the end of the vent stack that the rodding head can’t navigate. I can’t say whether or not you have a good company at your house. If the line isn’t holding water meaning it’s slowly drained down I would have the plumbing company camera the vent to see if you can identify the blockage. If that company doesn’t have the equipment or doesn’t know how to use it hire someone else.

      Sean K

  13. Hello, just rodded our sewer line twice using a cutter style head with teeth. First time went out 50 ft, which is not all the way to road, (I was worried about getting line stuck in city’s line)when pulling the rod back, I brought out a good amount of tree roots. I sent the rod in again to almost 50 feet and this time when pulling the line back in I hit a really tough spot (line almost stuck) I think I drilled through more roots going out to the road and ended up compacting them when coming back in the house. Basement bathtub backing up a little and very slow to drain throughout house. I don’t think there is too many roots left In the main line but I think what is there is really compacted. I don’t want to run the line through again incase it does get stuck this time.Would root x or?? Work and work fast? Or time to call root router?
    Thanks

    1. Without a camera it’s tough to know how much damage you did to the roots in the line. Root X will take small filament like hairs and shrivel them up. However it sounds to me like you have plug of tree roots in there. Root X won’t help you there. It’s not like a blockage removal chemical. Find a plumber that does hydro jetting with a heavy duty jetter and follows it with a camera so you can see the line when they are done. Then do a root x treatment every 6 months and you should be good to go.

      Sean K

  14. I just discovered your site. Really great!

    I recently had my main sewer line 4 flat bldg/100 ft. line) water jetted at a cost of $4500 for about 6 hours work (serious tree root problem).
    1) Was that price exhorbitant?
    2) Would RootX every 3 months be good maintenance? If so, how much for a 100ft line?
    3) Will RootX affect the roots coming in from the top of the 6″ pipes?

    Thanks.

    1. Hey Bob thanks for finding us and reading. I appreciate it very much.

      1) Was the price too much? I’ll be honest I’m very much in favor of skilled plumbing contractors making a healthy profit but without knowing more about the project I’d say that price was steep. Again I have no idea what kind of equipment they had, how many techs they had performing the labor etc. I will give you a high end estimate by noon today.

      2) Root X every three months will most certainly keep the roots at bay. 1 4lb jar will handle 100ft of 4″ and 75ft of 6″
      3) Root X hits the roots at the top of the piping because it foams and expands when it hits water. So you are getting the root killing chemical to the top of the pipe. It’s one of the reasons why I like the product so much.

      Sean K

  15. BRAND NEW BUILT 3 STORY TOWNHOUSE, OCCUPIED FOR 10 MONTHS. HOMEOWNERS ARE NOT HOME OFTEN AS THEY WORK ALOT, EAT OUT FOOD ALOT. WE NEVER USED THE DISHWASHER NOR DO WE USE THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL. WE COOK VERY RARELY AND WE KNOW NOT TO DUMP GREASE DOWN OUR SINKS. A TOWNHOUSE 2 DOORS DOWN WAS FLOODED FROM THEIR SEWAGE LINE THEY SAY DUE TO GREASE BUILD UP. THE COUNTY SEWAGE DEPT CHECKED MY LINE AND STATES THERE IS NO GREASE IN THE SWEEP BUT THE SWEEP IS BACKING UP. THE SWEEP IS NOT PUSHING WASTE AWAY FROM THE HOME INSTEAD ITS COLLECTING THERE. SO MY QUESTION IS :
    WHAT IS THE PROPER WAY TO FIX THE SWEEP THAT IS NOT PUSHING THE WASTE AWAY FROM THE HOME
    ALSO MY NEIGHBORS WHOS HOME FLOODED SWEARS THEY DONT USE GREESE WHAT WOULD BE A REASON FOR GREASE BLOCKAGE TO CAUSE A BACK UP TO THE EXTENT THAT THE HOME FLOODS.
    THE BUILDERS HAVE HAD MANY DIFFERENT ISSUES WITH THESE HOMES, WERE VERY RUSHED AND BUILT WITH ZERO QUALITY CONTROL I HAVE A LONG LIST OF MISHABS SINCE WE MOVED IN. PLEASE ANY ANSWERS TO THIS MESS WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

  16. Thanks for all the useful information. I need to have a cleanout installed so that the city can put me on their regular program for clearing tree roots in the sewer lines. So far, they have had to go through the downstairs toilet every couple of years, which (of course) they don’t like to do. I have to arrange to have the toilet removed first, and replaced afterwards. So…I am getting estimates for the installation of an exterior cleanout. The man from city engineering recommended a double cleanout, but no one has ever mentioned to me before that I should get a double cleanout and there is nothing on the city website that indicates this is necessary. One of the plumbing companies that gave me an estimate said I wouldn’t want that because if someone uncapped the wrong one (in instead of out) I could get sewage pouring into my house. Another plumber said it would be useful (as far as I understood) for getting access to the pipes running from the house to the cleanout. He hasn’t given me an estimate for the cost yet. I haven’t been able to find any information on the pros and cons of single or double cleanouts. or if there is a danger in having an in/out system. What do you think? Thanks.

    1. First of all thanks for reaching out. I believe just having a yard cleanout to be able to service tree roots and blockages is a great idea. Having a two way cleanout is even better. It allows for a plumber to rod both ways: from the cleanout back to the house and from the cleanout back to the street. I don’t understand the plumbers hesitancy to install a two-way. The opening closest to the house always goes out to the street and the one in front of it goes back to the house. Even if you flipped the cleanout in the wrong direction it wouldn’t change the direction of the openings. As far as sewage backing up into the house from rodding in the wrong direction, I don’t understand the statement. If a plumbing contractor hydro jets in the wrong direction you might run the risk of water coming up in the toilet and if the toilet is off it could be a mess. But again any plumbing tech worth a darned wouldn’t make the mistake in the first place. Here is a idea, paint the cap running away from the house.

      Sean K

  17. Hi. Our family of 6 lives in a bungalow with one bathroom up and down in a small town in Manitoba, Canada. Our main sewer and water lines were dug up and replaced to the street 1 year ago. In the last 3 months we’ve had to have plumbers out to unplug our sewer line 2 times. Is this uncommon? I wasn’t expecting anymore sewer ussues after having that line replaced….
    We don’t have a garbage disposal or little kids to flush odd things down the toilets….

    1. You’re right this shouldn’t be happening. You have to have a plumbing contractor come out and video camera the sewer line. It could be back pitched, it could have a belly in the piping where waste is accumulating, the piping could have dropped leaving a lip in the waste line. All of the waste is running by and getting caught, eventually you have a full blown blockage. Again having a video inspection is essential to diagnose and fix the issue.

      Sean K

  18. I’d like to do a home addition.
    I have a rambler built on slab in 2008
    I’d like to build a bathroom that butts up behind my existing laundry room – the pipes are on that side.
    There is a floor drain in my laundry room.
    Does that lead to the sewer?
    How can I tell if it’s big enough to have a toilet drain 3″-4″ connect in to it?
    Thx!

    1. The floor drain is probably 2″ and connects at some point to a 4″ sewer. Do you know where your sewer is located on the property? That would certainly help. If you don’t know that you’re going to have to find out by using a sewer camera and a locating device. This will show you where you have to tie into the sewer line. If this proves too difficult you can run sewer line independently and tie in outside the house. Again depending on how far the sewer is it could prove difficult.

      Sean K

  19. Got a 2″ root cutter bit sheared off 45′ into a 3″ iron sewer line under the slab. Things are flushing good, but I’m sure the TP will build up on it shortly. Suggestions? Retriever bit by hand? Some sort of magnet (again, iron pipe)? Torrential rain now, so I’ve got a day to think about it before I screw things up worse! Thanks.

    1. Do you have a Retrieval Head attachment? You can attempt to gently insert the rod and try to grab and pull back out. That is about the only thing you can try short of digging it up. Yes, it will backup sooner rather than later.

      Sean

  20. Regarding the RootX product…how often do you have to put the product in the sewer line? Do you put it in and let it sit for 24 hours? How do you know its getting to the top of the pipe and at 100 feet length?

    1. Our recommendation is to use it once every six months after a thorough jetting or rodding (preferably jetting). With regards to length of pipe and coverage here is their recommendation:

      A 2 lb. jar will treat approximately 50ft. of 4-inch pipe
      A 4 lb. jar will treat approximately 100ft. of 4-inch pipe, or 75ft. of 6-inch pipe

      Restrict water usage for approximately 4 to 6 hours. The product instantly foams that is how the chemical is delivered to the top of the water piping.

      Sean

  21. I have old clay pipes in my sewer line. Diameter of them is 4 inches. They have to be cleaned because of the obstruction by tree roots. Can I use 4 inches Spiral Saw Tooth Cutter? Can this tool damage clay pipes or I need to use smaller diameter of tool, for example, 3″ cutter?

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