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Everything you need to know about sewer line clogs

Your sewer line carries wastewater away from the sinks, toilets, and showers of your home. It travels underneath your yard to the street, where it connects to the municipal sewer. Most homeowners don’t give their sewer line much thought: beyond the fact that the entire operation of waste disposal is a bit unsavory to think about, the sewer line also fulfills its important function without much issue.

However, when problems do occur, the results can be disastrous. A sewer line clog can lead to sewage and wastewater backing up into your home. Known as a sewer backup, this event is a homeowner’s worst nightmare.

In this article, we’ll provide a complete guide to sewer lines, the issues they can encounter, and how you can prevent a sewer backup in your own home.

We’re your sewer line experts

At ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing, our team specializes in sewer line inspection and repair. Our team of plumbing professionals has the tools and expertise needed to quickly diagnose issues with the sewer line and then recommend the right fix. We also fix storm drain issues.

Since 1953, homeowners in Hayward and the Bay Area have trusted our team with all their home service needs, and we’re proud to continue that tradition of great service into the present day.

Need a sewer inspection or repair here in Hayward, San Leandro, Union City, or surrounding areas? Fill out the form to schedule service with our team.

Common causes of a sewer line clog

Tree Roots

Many sewer line clogs have their roots in, well, roots. The sewer line runs from your home to the street, often passing under a front or side yard. Any nearby trees, bushes, or shrubs are a potential danger to the line. Over time, their thirsty, moisture-seeking roots will burrow down to the line, where they either enter it through an existing crack or put enough pressure on the line’s exterior to crack it open.

As the roots attempt to take in more and more moisture, they eventually grow into the line, partially—and then fully—obstructing it. This leads to a sewer line blockage and the high risk of a sewer backup.

If you have trees in your front yard, you should be aware of the threat they may pose to your home's sewer line.

If you have trees in your front yard, you should be aware of the threat they may pose to your home’s sewer line.

What types of trees pose the biggest threat?

Any tree within 10 feet of the line is a potential threat. Some tree species have faster-growing roots than others, making them more dangerous to the sewer line than others:

Less Dangerous

These trees have slow-growing, less aggressive root structures, and can be planted 10 feet away from the sewer line.

  • Maple species
  • Dogwood species
  • Crabapple trees
  • Ginkgo trees
  • Smoke trees

More Dangerous

These trees have fast-growing, aggressive root structures, and should not be planted near sewer lines.

  • Ash species
  • Poplar species
  • Cottonwood species
  • Oak species
  • Sycamore species

How can tree root incursion be prevented?

  • Plant all new trees, bushes, and shrubs at least 10 feet away from the sewer line on all sides.
  • If you have existing trees near the sewer line, consider having them moved to another part of your yard as a preventative measure.
  • When planting a slow-growing tree, plan on replacing or moving the tree in the next 15-20 years.
  • If you are planting a fast-growing tree, plan on replacing or moving the tree in the next 8-10 years. Depending on the species, this is typically representative of how long it takes its roots to expand the distance to the sewer line.

Grease & Waste

Many homeowners don’t give much thought to how they use their garbage disposal, or what they put down it. However, just how you dispose of kitchen waste can have a big impact on your home’s sewer line.

In general, the most dangerous thing to put down the sink is anything that is a liquid while hot but solidifies upon cooling.

An ABC plumber cleans out a sewer line clog at a local home.Grease

Grease is the most famous example of this. The homeowner pours hot cooking grease down the drain. As the grease travels through pipes, it begins to cool. By the time it reaches the sewer line, it may be much cooler than it originally was, and begins to solidify with the temperature change. This partially solidified grease sticks to the interior of the line. Time after time, disposing of grease in this way adds to the building blockage in the line. Eventually, it’s enough for a clog to start to form.

Food Waste

It’s not just grease that’s a problem. Here is some food waste that you should never dispose of down the sink drain:

  • Coffee Grounds: Besides grease, coffee grounds are the number one cause of sewer line blockages. These grounds can become stuck in pipes when they adhere to other materials deep inside of the line.
  • Eggshells: As the shells fracture in the garbage disposal, tiny pieces of shell shrapnel travel down the lines and become stuck in the sewer line.
  • Oil & Butter: This is essentially the same story as grease: fats and oils can coat the inside of the line and congeal deep inside of it. While it is a kitchen staple, coconut oil is especially dangerous, since it solidifies at room temperature.
  • Rice & Pasta: Anything that physically expands upon continued contact with water is bad news once in your sewer line. A half-cup of uncooked rice can bloat to a sewer line-blocking mess once exposed to water.
  • Flour: When combined with water, most flours become sticky and adhesive. This is not something you want inside of your sewer line.

Bathroom Waste

Inorganic bathroom waste is a major cause of sewer line issues. Just because something can be flushed down the toilet doesn’t mean that it should be. Avoid putting non-biodegradable items down the toilet drain. A few common examples include human hair, sanitary products, plastics, baby wipes, or flushable wipes. That latter one is a common misunderstanding: despite what their marketing says, ‘flushable’ wipes are not actually flushable and can cause a clog.

Sagging Sewer Line

Your sewer line does not use electricity or gas to move wastewater from one place (your home) to another (the municipal sewer). Instead, it accomplishes this by using gravity. The sewer line is slightly sloped diagonally so that the end at your home is several inches higher than the end at the street. This helps facilitate the movement of water from one location to another. In most cases, this gradient is very gradual: about a one-fourth of an inch drop for every foot of pipe length.

The Sewer Line “Belly”

No matter how perfectly installed the sewer line was originally, there are some potential problems that can crop up as time goes by. First, the movement of soil around the line. Throughout the year, soil can shift and move due to changes in moisture and local topographic factors. As it does, the line moves, too. If a certain patch of soil sinks, the line also sinks. This can cause a “u” shape to start to form, disrupting the gravity-assisted flow of water out of the system.

This is often known as a sewer line “belly,” and it can cause several issues. First, it creates a place in the line where wastewater gets perpetually stuck and pools. This can lead to foul odors as not all the waste is being discharged from the line. Second, if the wastewater can no longer “climb” back up the other side of the “u,” it may eventually start to back up the line and back into the house.

Dealing with a sagging sewer line

Generally speaking, there are two ways to fix a sagging sewer line. The first is relatively self-explanatory: the plumber digs up the sewer line and fixes the sag, either by replacing that section of line or by restoring it to its original position. However, this requires digging a trench in your yard to get to the line, and may not be practical for every home. Plumbers have two other options in such cases:

  • Guidance Method: Using this method, the plumber pushes the old pipe out using the new pipes and compacts the soil around it as they go, maintaining the slope.
  • Sliplining: The plumber inserts a smaller sewer line into the current one, and then pulls away the old line. The only downside of this method is that the smaller diameter of the new sewer line may be easier to clog in the future.

Schedule a camera inspection

The best way to diagnose sewer line clogs, leaks, and other issues is by using a sewer line camera tool. Most plumbing professionals—including ours here at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing—have specialized snake tools that allow us to feed a small camera down the drain and into the line. As the camera moves through the line, we can see any points of trouble and any partially formed clogs.

If you have reason to believe that your sewer line is experiencing issues, a sewer line inspection is the next step. Talk to your local plumbing professional about scheduling a camera inspection.

Warning signs of a sewer line blockage

There are many potential warning signs of a sewer line clog or leak. Here are the two that you need to be on the lookout for in your home:

Simultaneous clogging

When a single drain pipe in your home is clogged, you’ll notice that the sink is backing up, the toilet won’t flush, or the shower basin is starting to flood. This is a pretty regular occurrence, and—in most cases—the problem can be solved locally by running the garbage disposal, plunging the toilet, or cleaning out the shower drain.

However, if all the drains and toilets in your home are clogged at the same time, this is almost as sure a sign as any that something is wrong deep inside of the sewer line. You should immediately turn the water off and call a plumber for service.

Slow-moving drains

Not every sewer line clog starts as a complete and total blockage. In most cases, sewer line clogs are first noticed when they only partially block the line. You’ll start to see your drains draining more and more slowly as this happens.

Call ABC for help clearing a sewer line clog

The above are the most common reasons for a residential sewer line clog. You should contact the licensed and certified plumbers at ABC to come and diagnose the exact reason for a clog. After assessing the reason for, and the location of, the clog, our plumber will use professional tools to efficiently get your sewer system working again.

In case you reside in San Jose, Hayward, or the surrounding locations in much of the Bay Area, you should contact our team for expert help for sewer line clogs. Our professional plumbers will quickly diagnose the problem and resolve any issues with your home plumbing.

4 benefits of heat pumps (and why you should consider one for your home)

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient alternative to traditional air conditioners and furnaces. They offer both heating and cooling, and are perfect for homes in mild climates like ours. In this blog, we’re going to run through some of the benefits of heat pumps and discuss why you should consider one for your home.

The four benefits of heat pumps

ABC is your source for professional heat pump installation in Hayward and much of the Bay Area.

1. Heat pumps offer both cooling and heating

Heat pumps are capable of both heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. They’re ideal for temperate climates with mild winters and warm, but not hot summers. That sounds like the Bay Area’s perfect weather, if you ask us.

Of course, one of the advantages of a heat pump is that you only have to buy and install one system as opposed to two. You only have to maintain or repair one system, as well. This is one of the factors that make heat pumps extremely popular here in the West.

2. Consistent and even comfort

With heat pumps, you’ll worry less about uneven heating and cooling, which is a problem sometimes encountered with traditional HVAC systems. Since furnaces and air conditioners are often different makes and models and different ages, you can’t predict how well one will perform compared to the other.

The heat pump uses the same basic physics and mechanism to cool and heat your home. That means that it’s just as good at one as it is at the others. Of course, that means more consistent energy bills, too. Those bills will already be looking good, because…

3. Heat pumps are more energy-efficient

Heat pumps use less energy than typical air conditioners and furnaces. This is because they’re essentially moving air from one place to another instead of burning energy to warm or cool it. (By the way, this is the same mechanism your fridge uses to keep your food cool).

You’d be surprised at just how energy-efficient heat pumps can be. Of course, over the course of an entire year, those savings can really add up.

4. You’ll see greater cost savings with a new heat pump

Due to being highly energy-efficient, heat pumps can greatly reduce your monthly energy bills. Unlike with a traditional furnace or air conditioner—which can only save you money during the months its in use—an energy-efficient heat pump runs all year, and will save you money all year. Talk about a great deal!

For more about the benefits of heat pumps and installation, call ABC

Now that you know about the benefits of heat pumps, you’ll have an easier time making a decision about whether one is right for your home. If you reside in an area having a moderate climate, a heat pump will be the best solution for your heating and cooling needs.

ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing installs, maintains, and repairs heat pumps in much of the Bay Area, including Hayward, San Jose, and surrounding communities. For affordable and professional HVAC services, contact our team today.

Plumbing 101: Signs Of Sewer Line Clogs & Leaks

Okay, let’s be honest: your sewer line is probably one of those things in your home that you don’t really think much about… until something goes wrong. But, what does something going “wrong” even entail with a sewer line? What do you even look for?

In this blog post, we’ll break down both the causes of sewer line woes and the signs you need to look out for to indicate that you need plumbing repair.

If you suspect that your Bay Area home has sewer line issues, contact our team here at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing. We offer emergency line inspection and repair services in Hayward, San Jose, and Oakland.

To get started, give us a call at (510) 471-8181 or contact us online.


Read our other Plumbing 101 articles:

STORM DRAINS


Causes of sewer line issues

Here are three of the most common causes of sewer line problems:

  1. Your sewer line can clog if the line is obstructed by what’s popularly known as a “grease-berg”. This is a collection of grease, oils, fats, and other material—typically poured down the kitchen sink—that collects in a physical mass, until it eventually clogs the entire 6-inch line. (Read: Here’s an example of what this looks like on a larger scale!)
  2. Your sewer line can also clog if obstructed by trash. This is why it’s not recommended that you throw anything that isn’t biodegradable down the kitchen sink or toilet. We’ve seen q-tips form the basis for a major clog!
  3. Your sewer line can crack if a tree root—searching for water—breaks into the pipe and begins to fill it. More on this in a minute!

4 Signs Of Sewer Line Problems

Here are the four big signs of sewer line troubles:

Simultaneous drain clogging

Think of your home’s plumbing like a river that is fed by multiple smaller streams. If you were to dam one of those creeks, it might not impact the larger river all that much, and the river would continue to flow downstream.

Pictured: Sewer Line Repair

This is what removing and repairing a ceramic sewer line looks like.

However, if you dammed the large river, the water from the entire system would have nowhere to go, and would start to rise above the banks. What’s more, that water would get pushed back into the creeks, and they’d flood, too.

A single clogged sink or kitchen drain is like the stream in the analogy. You might need our drain cleaning services, but it probably doesn’t mean you have a sewer line clog.

A sewer line clog or blockage is the damming of the river, in that your entire home’s plumbing is going to backup. If your sewer line clogs, all of the drains in your home will clog simultaneously. That’s when you need to drop everything and give us a call for emergency plumbing repair.

Wet ground above the line

A cracked sewer line that leaks can be a major problem. Before we get started, think about the answers to the following:

  • When was your home built? If your home was built in the 1980s or later, it likely has a PVC sewer line. PVC can crack or collapse when put under pressure (more on that in a second), but with no outside duress, it should last for the lifetime of the home. Older materials—such as cast-iron or clay—are durable, but don’t have quite the lifespan of PVC.
  • Where does your sewer line run? Find your sewer cleanout lines and determine where the sewer line runs from your home to the municipal sewer. For many homes, the line runs to the street.
  • What’s above the sewer line? Now that you know where the line runs, what’s above it? Take note of any trees, bushes, or other yard foliage.

Trace the sewer line’s location and look for any abnormal “wet” spots on the ground, when there has been no rain and there’s no irrigation for water to pool there. If it’s right above the line, this may be a sign that your sewer line has a leak.

Trees or bushes above the line

If there’s a tree or bush right above or near the line, you should be extra wary. Over time, tree roots dig deep in search of water. Roots can destroy or block sewer lines even without a leak, but a sewer leak acts as a positive feedback loop for the tree. As they find water, the roots snarl around the line, breaking into it.

Tree roots are a common cause of sewer line clogs here in the Bay Area. Even a tree that’s feet away from the line can have roots that find their way to it.

Sewer odors outside and inside

If you step outside and your yard smells like a garbage heap, that’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. A cracked sewer line will emit sewer gases, which smell about as great as you might assume.

Sewer smells inside the home could indicate the same problem, or they could indicate that the sewer trap plugs aren’t doing their job. Either way, we recommend giving us a call. We’ll diagnose whether you need your traps fixed, or if the issue is more serious.

Schedule a sewer inspection

All of the signs above are good indicators that something is wrong with your sewer line. However, the only way to be 100% sure that’s there a blockage—and to know what exactly is causing it—is to schedule a sewer line inspection from our team here at ABC.

The best way to see a clog is to, well, actually see it. We have specialized cameras that we place on lines to go into your sewer line and identify the problem before digging things up. Depending on the type of clog, there may be a way to clear it without opening up the line.

For service in the Bay Area, turn to the experts at ABC

At ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing, we know our way around sewer lines and the problems homeowners face. Our experienced, expert plumbers are plumbing repair experts, and we offer emergency service in much of the Bay Area, including Hayward, San Jose, and Oakland.

If you need emergency service or you need a sewer camera inspection, give us a call at (510) 471-8181 or contact us online.

What are reasons to buy a tankless on-demand water heater?

The tankless on-demand water heater is becoming increasingly popular in Bay Area homes—and for good reason.

Often known as “on-demand” heaters, or just “tankless” water heaters, these systems have multiple advantages over standard water heaters.

In this blog, we’ll review some of the differences that set on-demand systems apart. For water heater installation, contact the pros here at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing.

An on-demand water heater can save you money

Yes, that’s right! Most people believe that since tankless water heaters make use of technology or a gas burner in order to heat water, they are probably not energy efficient. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Since an on-demand water heater heats water only when necessary and a tank of hot water is not filled constantly (as with standard water heaters), a lot less energy is used in supplying hot water using a tankless water heater.

As a result, up to 27% to 50% of the energy normally spent heating water can be saved with the use of a tankless water heater.

They have a longer lifespan

Most traditional water heaters may last between 8 and 12 years—more, if you’re lucky and you call a company like ABC for upkeep, maintenance, and repairs.

However, on-demand water heaters have much higher life expectancies. Most tankless water heaters last between 12 and 15 years. However, with proper maintenance, tankless water heaters can even last up to 20 years without any significant problems, and keep on going.

They are convenient and efficient

Convenience and efficiency are some of the most sought-after qualities in home appliances. Fortunately, tankless water heaters do not disappoint on either front. In addition to providing you with a constant supply of hot water, tankless water heaters are more efficient than traditional water heaters with tanks.

For example, standby heat loss is not a problem with tankless water heaters. In terms of convenience, they often take up much less space than traditional water heaters, which makes it easy for them to fit just about anywhere.

Since they do not require a large amount of space, it is even possible to install them closer to the most frequently expected points of use. This will result in even greater energy savings.

Another great advantage of tankless water heaters is that since they do not have a tank which needs to be filled with water, the possibility of flooding due to damaged tanks and other similar problems are minimized almost completely.

Call ABC for information about an on-demand water heater

If you’re convinced that a tankless water heater is right for you and your home, let our team of professionals install one in your home. Give us a call at (510) 471-8181 or contact us online.