What a topic for my first blog post – but in the past couple weeks I’ve had calls from three of my clients telling me that their floor drains backed up, resulting in smelly, filthy sewer water in their basements. And last fall after being in their home less than a week one of my clients had to call a drain pipe cleaning company. What the heck is going on?!?!
In your basement is a floor drain. It’s usually in the utility area, near the water heater or furnace or washing machine. It should have a cover on it and from the top it’ll look something like this:
This is what your floor drain looks like under the basement floor. You can see there’s a P-trap that holds water that forms a seal to keep sewer gases out of your basement. That longer pipe going off to the right is the 1.5-inch drain pipe that connects to the 4-inch main drain pipe under your basement floor.
This is what your floor drain looks like inside (with the cover off). There’s a clean-out plug that can be removed so you can access the drain pipe if necessary.
Your floor drain gives you a peek into your home’s drain system and if you’re observant you might see signs of ensuing problems. This gives you a critical opportunity to take preemptive action before a huge, messy, smelly, unhealthy, and expensive problem develops.
All the drains in your home connect to the main drain pipe. Toilets, showers, sinks, washing machine – all waste and water drains to the main drain pipe. Everything that goes down toilets goes to the main drain. Your shower drain funnels soap and hair to the main drain pipe. All the waste (let’s just call it “crud”) that you put down your sinks goes to the main drain – soap, grease, food scraps, coffee grounds. Normally, all this crud makes its way through the main drain pipe and out to the sewer line in the street. But sometimes it doesn’t make it all the way through the main drain pipe and it gets caught inside the pipe. This often happens after several years, like when the home is 20 or 40 years old. But it can also happen when you send stuff down your drain that you shouldn’t, such as flushing anything other than toilet paper down your toilet. When some crud gets caught in the main drain pipe, as more crud goes down the pipe it also gets caught and crud starts building up until the drain pipe is completely plugged.
As the crud in the main drain pipe builds up, before the pipe is completely plugged, waste water will move through the pipe, but slowly. You might notice water moving out of your sink and shower drains slower than it used to. Your toilets may not be flushing as quickly as they used to. And, if you check your floor drain while waste water is running into the main drain pipe, you might see water starting to back up into the floor drain or even starting to come out onto the basement floor around the floor drain. This is when you need to TAKE ACTION!
This is what’s going on: your basement floor drain is the lowest drain in your home. When water backs up in the main drain pipe, it will ultimately come out of the lowest drain in your home – that’s the floor drain in your basement.
A main drain pipe doesn’t just plug up all of a sudden. It’s the result of a slow build-up of crud. As the crud builds up in the drain pipe, waste water flows slower. If a lot of water is trying to get through the drain pipe, such as when someone is taking a shower or when the washing machine is draining, you’ll likely see it back up around the floor drain. The water will ultimately drain on down, and next time a lot of water tries to go through the main drain pipe you’ll see waste water backing up at the floor drain again. So when you see this, it’s sending you a message. The message is: Clean Your Drain NOW!!
The crud build-up does not go away. The crud keeps building up until the drain pipe is completely plugged, and then waste water – and waste – will back up to your floor drain. And then out onto your basement floor. If you have carpet or rugs on your basement floor, they’ll get soaked with sewer water. Your furniture will get wet. Sewer water! We’re talking major clean up. So if you see any water backing up to your floor drain, have your drain pipes cleaned IMMEDIATELY!!
This is not the time for chemicals. Chemicals are for maintaining a clean drain system. If you have waste water backing up in your drain pipe, it’s time for action which means calling a professional drain cleaner. Roto-Rooter is the most popular of the professional drain cleaning companies, and they’re the most expensive. Several independent operators offer drain cleaning services for a much lower cost. One guy I’ve called on a couple times is Bob Heller at 651-307-6872. Bob is reliable and more affordable than the franchised services. Depending on who you hire, it’s going to cost you $160 to $300 or more to have your main drain pipe cleaned.
Why is this happening in my clients’ homes? Here’s the commonality among the homes: all the homes sat vacant for two or more months before my clients moved in. During extended vacant periods, there’s no water going down the drains and through the main drain pipe. The crud build-up that was in the pipe dries out and gets hard. Then when someone moves in and starts sending normal amounts of waste and water down the drains, the hardened crud catches more new crud and the crud build-up continues. With two of the homes that my clients purchased, the previous owners were elderly single people. So even though they were living in the homes, they weren’t using much water and as such the drain pipe wasn’t getting flushed out very well.
From here on out, if any of my clients purchase a vacant home we’re going to have the main drain pipe cleaned before they move in.
What happens if you ignore this problem? Guess what? It doesn’t fix itself! If you see even the slightest evidence of waste water not flowing out of your drains and through the main drain pipe quickly, CLEAN YOUR DRAIN PIPE NOW!!
The other day a client called me. I showed up at her home to find an inch of sewer water in her utility room (fortunately just a cement floor, no carpet) with feces (poop) floating in the water. Very disgusting. She confessed she first noticed water backing up at the floor drain about a week earlier. So she called a friend who removed the floor drain lid and poured some chemicals down the drain – but he didn’t put the lid back. The chemicals didn’t clear the crud out of the drain pipe and it ultimately plugged up. When more waste and water came down from the toilets, and ultimately backed up to the floor drain, the brown water and the poop floated out onto the floor. What a mess! Here’s your chance to learn from her mistakes. If you see water backing up at your floor drain, don’t delay, take action immediately!