While most homeowners know how to fix your standard toilet clog, blocked up sink drain, or other issues that can be fixed with a little drain cleaner and your standard plastic drain clog removers, not many have ever heard the term “sewer clean-out” or know much about how to deal with issues further down the pipe. Blockages near where your house line flushes out into the main sewer line can be just as problematic, if not more so, than immediate clogs in your house piping, so it’s important to have a basic idea of where those lines are and how to access them if you need to.
What and Where Is a Sewer Clean-out?
A sewer clean-out is a small capped pipe attached to the water line running out of your home. It’s usually nearby or attached to the junction where your outflow line joins with the lateral sewer line, the pipe that runs your sewage from your house out to join the main sewer line. If it’s not at the junction, it’s usually somewhere along the lateral sewer line. It’s usually either a J- or U-shaped pipe and can have one or two capped ends, both sticking upwards. It’s also usually white, in contrast to the brown or greyish lateral sewer line. The exact location might vary depending on the location of your home; for example, in San Jose, CA, they tend to be outside near the foundation of the home.
Most landlords should know where the sewer clean-out is, and if you’re a homeowner and don’t know where yours is, don’t worry. It’s usually pretty easy to track down. It’s always going to be outside your home and fairly close to the foundation. If your house uses a septic tank, the clean-out is usually near the septic tank as well. The top of the sewer clean-out pipe will always be above ground in order to keep debris and dirt from getting in and causing clogs, so you won’t need to go digging around your yard for it.
If you can’t find it near your home, you can also find the nearest sewer cover on the street and work back from there. Generally, there will be an “S” stamped on the curb to mark where the sewer line is, so once you find that, the sewer clean-out line shouldn’t be too far off.
Also, check near any bathrooms around the foundation of your house. Since most bathrooms form a main line running directly out of the house, oftentimes, the sewer clean-out is right near where the bathroom is. Keep your eyes peeled for a white or black cap on a pipe sticking out of the ground. Since it’s usually near the foundation, be sure the check under mulch or potted plants too. It’s the only pipe like it, so you’ll know when you do find it.
How It’s Used
As the name suggests, a sewer clean-out is used to clean out the sewer line leading away from your house to meet up with the main line. This is usually done professionally with either high-grade drain cleaning solutions, high-powered water jets, or a sewer augur, or “snake,” to help break up and flush out any debris or blockages backing up the line. Your plumber will usually start by uncapping the sewer clean-out line and getting a better look at what’s going on using a video feed that they’ll insert and feed through the pipe until they find the blockage. It’s kind of like a colonoscopy but for your house.
Why It’s Important
The lateral sewer line runs from the main conjoining line of your outflow pipes all the way out to the main sewer line. It’s essentially the one bottleneck that every outflow pipe in your house eventually feeds into. Since it’s the only way out to the sewer line, there are no detours or ways for your line to circumvent a blockage here. If you get a lateral sewer line clog, your whole plumbing system can be out of commission until you get it fixed. Having sewage backed up in your home is a terrible experience, so it’s important to know when and how to have your lateral sewer line and sewer clean-out checked from time to time to make sure everything is running smoothly.
How to Tell If Your Lateral Line Is Blocked
There are a few telltale signs that will give you a clue if your lateral sewer line is having problems. They’re all pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. Since the lateral sewer line connects to your entire outflow system, it makes sense that most of the problems a blocked lateral sewer line can cause will affect all of your drainage, not just one sink, toilet, or drain. When it comes to diagnosing a lateral sewer line clog, there are a few specific things to look out for:
- Gurgling or sputtering sounds from a drain that drains slowly
- Multiple clogs or backed up drains at the same time
- Drains that clog or get backed up when other drains are in use
- Permeating odors coming from multiple drains
- Backflow into multiple drains or sinks
If you have any of these issues, it’s highly likely that the problem is in the lateral line. A backup in the lateral line can cause a shift in pressure in the individual lines that it’s connected to. This change in pressure as well as stagnant debris and drain water can not only prevent other drains from operating properly but can also lead to more blockages throughout your home’s entire plumbing system. If the problem goes left unchecked for long enough, you can even have sewage from the lateral sewer line start backing up into your main system, leading to odors, leaks, and in some cases backflow into the home through sink and tub drains, the toilet, dishwasher, or any entry point into your drainage system.
Do All Homes Have Sewer Clean-outs?
While almost all homes with PVC piping systems have sewer clean-out lines in place, some older cast-iron systems won’t have one installed. If you have a cast-iron system, don’t worry about getting a clean-out installed. It’s likely that the whole system will eventually need to be replaced, and the sewer clean-out can be installed when the system is updated.
How to Get the Clean-out Fixed
If you suspect that you have a lateral sewer line problem, it’s best to call a plumber to handle the issue. Most homeowners don’t have the tools or equipment needed to clear out a lateral sewer line clog since the line runs all the way from the house to the main sewer line. Your typical plastic clog removal tool or household wire snake isn’t going to have nearly enough distance or force to get the job done. A professional plumber’s pipe augur or water jet, on the other hand, is just the tool for the job.
The plumbers at Plumbtree Plumbing & Rooter specialize in sewer clean-out services in the San Jose, CA area. If your plumbing issue does stem from your lateral sewer line, they’ll be able to clear it out quickly and efficiently. If it’s not a problem with the lateral line, they still have you covered. They offer services in drain cleaning, maintenance, and repair of plumbing fixtures, valve and leak repairs, water heater services, and even gas services. If you think your lateral sewer line is having problems or if you just want a routine check to make sure everything is running smoothly, set up an appointment with the plumbers at Plumbtree Plumbing & Rooter so can get everything back to flowing the way that it should be.