Questions about Drain & Sewer

Q: What is a main line?
A: The main line is the one and only pipe that carries waste water out of the home or building. All drains inside the home or building empty into the main line, where the waste water is transported to the waste water treatment system.

Q: What is preventive maintenance on a main line?
A: Preventive maintenance is having your main line cleaned by a professional on an annual or biannual basis BEFORE a backup.

Q: Why should I do preventive maintenance on my main line?
A: Not only does a main line cleaning prevent sewage from backing up in your basement,it also increases the longevity of your main sewer pipe. At first, roots penetrate the wall of the pipe through tiny fractures. As the roots grow thicker, they turn the fractures into larger cracks. When you cut the roots out of the pipe, you prevent them from growing any thicker, thus slowing down the deterioration of your main line. If you let the roots grow uninhibited, they force themselves through the pipe wall destroying the structure of the main line, and toilet paper and other debris get caught on the root s blocking the water from draining out of the house.

Q: What does it mean to run a blade/cutter/razor?
A:The blade is the part attached to the end of a drain cleaning cable which cuts through the blockage in the drain pipe. Some people also refer to the blade as the cutter or razor.

Q: When cleaning the main line, why should you use a 6” blade if the opening (the clean-out) to the drain pipe is only 4” in diameter?
A: For most homes, the main sewer line starts out as 4” in diameter, but goes into a 6” line just outside the foundation all the way to the city connection in the street (or septic tank in some cases). Therefore, in order to assure complete and proper cleaning of the entire main sewer line, it is necessary to use a 6” blade.

Q: Should I get my main line cleaned if I have never had a backup?
A: Answer the following:
1. Was your home built in the 1980’s or earlier?
2. Do you have, or have you had in the past, trees or large shrubs or bushes in your front yard?
3. Do you dislike having sewage backed up in your basement?

If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to all of the preceding questions, you should have your main line cleaned or inspected with a video camer a to determine the condition of the pipe.
However, if your entire main sewer line is made of PVC plastic, then a preventive maintenance is usually not necessary.

Q: Do I still need to do preventive main tenance on my main line if I’ve had my sewer line repaired?
A: Unless you had the entire line replaced with PVC plastic, it is a good idea to have preventive maintenance done. Many times, a ‘spot repair’ will be done on a line.

Q: What is a ‘spot repair’?
A: This is the replacement of only one or more sections of the pipe. When a spot repair is done, new PVC plastic replaces the broken area and is connected to the viable portion of the preexisting pipe. As time passes, the part of the pipe that is not plastic becomes susceptible to the same conditions that caused the original destruction (usually tree roots.)

Q: Should I have preventive maintenance done on any other drains in my house?
A: Usually, the repercussions of a backed-up sink or slow draining bathtub are far less severe than a sewer line back-up, so most often it is not necessary to do maintenance on these secondary drains. However, if you are planning a party, or are having a large number of people over, and you know you are not very good at keeping grease, noodles, rice, stringy foods (like celery), and other no-no’s down your kitchen sink drain, it may be a good idea to make a preemptive strike against the inevitable morning-before-the-guests-arrive-back-up.

Q: What can I do to prevent buildup in my kitchen sink line?
A: Avoid pouring grease down the drain. So me people find bottle chemicals fairly effective in reducing the accumulation of buildup.

Q: What should I look for in a bottle of drain cleaning chemical?
A: You should use a product that is NOT an acid, but instead contains enzymes that aid in the decomposition of the waste.

Q: Why shouldn’t I use an acid?
A: Because it deteriorates your plumbing causing weak spots, holes, and cracks.

Q: Is it okay to have standing water in my floor drain in the basement?
A: Yes, that is normal. The water prevents sewer gas from seeping back up the pipe into your house.

Q: What are some common causes of sewer smell in a basement?
A: After the odor has been verified not to be natural gas, some of the common causes of sewer smell are caused by dried up floor drains or broken or missing clean-out covers.

Both cases are easily remedied. Simply pour some water into the floor drain if it has dried out. If the clean-out cover needs to be replaced, you can find them in most hardware stores and plumbing supply houses.

Questions about Private Drains and Sewers

Q: Why have I received a Notice to unblock or repair a drain or private sewer?
A: Because your property is, or is believed to be,one of those drained by it. The owners or occupiers of other affected properties will have received similar Notices.

Q: But my drains are alright so it can’t be my problem can it?
A: The responsibility is shared between all the houses connected to the sewer upstream of the blockage or disrepair. Others have areas of their property flooded by sewage.

Q: Shouldn’t it be the Water Company’s responsibility?
A: No.The Water Company maintains the public sewers. Your situation may be your private sewer.

Q: So what do I pay sewerage charges for?
A: Sewerage charges are paid to the Water Company to provide and maintain the public sewers and run the sewage treatment works.

Q: Shouldn’t it be the Council’s responsibility then?
A: The Council doesn’t own any sewers except those that drain its own buildings. It does,however, have a duty to ensure that blocked or defective private drains and sewers are unblocked or repaired.

Q: So what do I pay Council Tax for?
A: To pay a contribution to the funding of the Council’s many functions. This includes administering drainage law, but does not pay for the repairs to private property,which includes private drains and sewers. About 82% of Council Tax goes to the County Council to pay for education, social services, high ways, police, fire and other services and an average of 5% goes to Parish Councils. The leaflet enclosed with your Council Tax bill gives.

Q: But I haven’t done anything that could block or damage the sewer so it can’t be my fault, can it?
A: It is not a question of fault but of liability.All owners are equally responsible for maintenance of the private sewer.

Q: Why don’t my deeds mention any liability for sewers?
A: Deeds normally mention the liability to share the cost of maintaining and repairing shared services. Whether they do or not, the relevant legislation (principally the Public Health Act 1961, Building Act 1984 and Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976) makes the liability clear.

Q: When I bought the house, why didn’t the search or survey reveal that it was connected to a private sewer?
A: Perhaps your solicitor did not seek that information or perhaps it was not part of your surveyor’s brief. A standard search of the Local Land Charge Register should reveal whether or not a house is connected to a public sewer, but not specifically whether this connection is direct or via a private sewer. Sewer plans show the public sewers but not usually private sewers and drains.

Q: How can you be sure that my house is connected to this particular sewer?
A: This can be ascertained by testing and tracing after any blockage has been cleared.
(Usually by using water dyed in various colours). I f there is any doubt the Council will serve a Notice on all the houses that could be connected and tested later to ascertain whether or not they are connected.

Q: Can’t you check the original house plans?
A: Plans (when available) can be a very good point of reference but may be unreliable because they show proposals rather than the actual routes of any pipes or sewers. Many alterations can be, and often are, made between the first drawing and the final layout of the pipe work. It is generally quicker and more reliable to examine the drains on site.

Q: Shouldn’t the cost be paid by whoever caused the blockage or damage?
A: Only if the cause can be identified and blamed on somebody. As explained earlier, this is not usually possible. If it can be proved that a neighbor has caused the damage by, say,driving a fence post through a pipe, he/she could be held liable. The Council could recover all costs it incurs from that person it does the work in default. Similarly you could claim from that person any costs that you incur. The Council cannot, however, how provide private legal assistance on your behalf.

Q: What could have caused the blockage or damage?
A: It is often not possible to find out. Sometimes things may be found in the pipe work that may have aggravated a blockage, for example disposable nappies or excessive quantities of congealed grease, but it is seldom possible to prove that they were the primary cause. A blockage can be caused by something as small as a cotton bud, razor blade or matchstick getting lodged in a joint and trapping other material behind it. Sometimes more serious foreign objects such as pieces of wood, brick or cement may be found and must be removed to prevent them causing further blockages. Some pipe work has inherent faults, which predispose it to blocking up but may be impossible to repair economically, for example,inadequate falls causing sluggish flows or minor settlement of some of the pipes causing small steps at the joints, which obstruct the flow.

Few drains remain in perfect condition – open joints and slightly displaced pipes are common but do not necessarily cause problems. Many older drains have interceptor traps, usually in the last inspection chamber before reaching the public sewer, and these are liable to become blocked. On sloping sites there may be vertical drop shafts (also known as backdrops) at changes of level. These are rather susceptible to damage or displacement due to minor settlement of the ground, and leading to blockages.

Tree roots are attracted to leaking drains and can cause blockages and serious damage.Some trees and shrubs are worse than others for finding the smallest gaps in pipe joints. In the worst cases they can force open a crack and break up a pipe. If the damage is not too bad the roots can be cut away and removed from the inside, avoiding the need to dig up and replace the pipes. The roots will grow back in time,however, unless the tree is killed. Since the owners of the pipe are responsible for its condition and its protection from damage, the owner of the tree cannot normally be held liable for any damage its roots may cause. Each case, however, will depend on its individual circumstances. A totally watertight drain would be proof against penetration by roots, but most pipe work does not remain watertight indefinitely.