Common Sewer Line Problems and Their Causes

Amazing! Common Sewer Line Problems and Their Causes

Information about Common Sewer Line Problems and Their Causes

Phil Puccio

Your home’s sewer system is out of sight and all too often neglected – until there’s trouble! Our State-certified master plumber at Adam and Son plumbing know that homeowners are particularly concerned about any sewer problem. That’s why we’ve made this guide available to help you spot the signs of problems before they turn into full blown emergencies, and to educate you on the most common causes of problems – some of which can be avoided!

What exactly is a sewer pipe?

New (or relatively new) homeowners may not understand what a sewer is exactly. Given the name, many people mistakenly believe that the city or its utility company is responsible for sewer problems as sewerage is a municipal service.

Just to be clear about what this is referring to the part of the sewer that goes from your house to the main sewer, on the side under the street. The homeowner is responsible for repairs if this pipe becomes clogged, cracked, or broken. It is not to be confused with the communal sewer system, for the maintenance and repair of which the communal administration is responsible. In houses with a sewage treatment plant, the sewer pipe leads to the septic tank.

Common warning signs of a sewer problem

Due to the underground location of the sewer system, problems can often not be observed directly. Pay attention to that the following warning signs, provided by our colleagues at 3 mountains of plumbing from Portland OR:

  • Sewage stagnation and blockages – Sewage stagnation can occur every now and then, but if sewage backs up every time you flush the toilet, the problem could be your main sewer. All drains in your home rely on the main line to drain properly.
  • bad smells – Your plumbing should never stink. If you have an unpleasant odor, you should have your system examined.
  • Mold and mildew – These conditions pose health hazards and should be addressed immediately as they can spread quickly. A crack in your sewer pipe can cause water to leak and encourage its growth, so you should call a professional as soon as possible.
  • Slow drainage Slow drains are a common problem in plumbing, and most problems can be easily fixed. However, if these methods don’t work, it could mean you have a severe blockage deeper down your sewer line.
  • Random Lush Spots in Your Garden – Have you noticed particularly green and lush areas in your garden? If so, it could be due to a crack in your main line. Sewage is a great fertilizer, so there is likely a leak just below it.
  • Pests – Rodents and other living things can easily fit through cracks in your sewer pipe. From there, they can make it to the rest of your plumbing system and other areas of your home.
  • Foundation damage – Did you know that a problem with your pipe can lead to structural damage in your home? If the source of the leak is not corrected, leaking water can cause cracks and even holes in your foundation.

Changes in the Function of your sanitary fittings may also indicate a problem with the sewer. Be careful if:


  • Flushing the toilet will cause water to flow back out of your tub or shower.
  • Toilet water begins to bubble. If this happens, let water run into the sink next to the toilet for about a minute. If the water continues to bubble (or rise), there is a problem.
  • Hearing a gurgling sound when the toilet flushes or the water in your bathtub or shower drains. When you hear that call a plumber right away.

Washing machine

If the runoff from your washing machine is causing the toilet to overflow or backflowing into the bath or shower, it could mean that your sewer drain is having a problem. However, if the toilets flush as usual, the problem could be local and not your sewer.

Common causes of sewer problems

So what can go wrong with a sewer pipe? Some problems cannot be prevented, but others can! Here are the most common causes, provided by Len the plumber:

Severe pipe damage – When sewer pipes are broken or cracked, sewage cannot drain properly through the system, resulting in immediate and frequent backwater. Common causes of damage to sewer pipes are:

  • Sewer pipe burst due to soil displacement, subsidence, increased traffic in above-ground terrain or above-ground use of heavy construction equipment.
  • Corrosion of an older pipe causing the pipe to break or collapse.
  • Leaky connections where the seals between the pipe sections have broken, allowing water and sewage to escape.

A sagging sewer pipe – While this is beyond the control of the homeowner, sagging sewers will occur over time. This “bulbous” pipe occurs when a section of the pipe has sunk due to soil or ground conditions. The bottom point on the line begins to collect paper and waste, causing repeated clogs.

Tree root infiltration – Older sewers were sometimes built from clay or other porous materials. In addition, the connections between the pipe sections were not as tight as with today’s PVC pipes.

As Tree and bush roots grow, they look for water sources. When they hook onto a sewer pipe, they grow into the pipe to reach the water and nutrients in it. If the roots expand over time, it can cause the line to break. Our blog post – “Are there tree roots in your sewer?“- covers this topic in detail.

Flush dirt in the toilet – Knowing is important for the health of your plumbing system what you can and can’t flush down your toilet. Treating your toilet as a trash can can cause problems with the sewer. Additionally, never Rinse baby wipes! Even brands that claim to be flushable really aren’t. click here to see what baby wipes can do with a municipal sewer pipe. As we always say, only three things should be flushed in the toilet – one of them is toilet paper. The other two come from you!

Pour fat down the drain – Fats, fats, and oils are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to clogged pipes. Never Pour fat, oil, or other fats down the drain. Instead, pour hot fat into a coffee can or glass. Once it solidifies, you can throw it away. People mistakenly think that pouring fat down the drain when hot water helps wash it away. That’s not the case. Once the fat cools, it hardens and sticks to your pipes, causing clogging of the sewer line.

The fat that continues on its way eventually solidifies with fat from numerous other households and commercial sources and leads to the formation of mountains of fat in municipal sewers. Our blog post – “Are you still pouring grease in the sink? Do not do it!“- covers this topic in more detail and provides more information (and a photo) about Fatbergs.

The take-home message

Proper general care and maintenance of your plumbing can prevent many sewer problems. Our blog post – “The importance of a clean sewer system“- Provides practical advice on what steps to take and troubleshooting tips.

If you notice any of the symptoms discussed here, please contact Adam and Son plumbing. Our family business has been serving homes and businesses in Central Florida with reliable, dedicated service for over 60 years. Contact us to get the plumbing of your home in top repair – and keep it going.

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