At one time or another, we’ve all seen a black, grey or white pipe sticking up about 2-4 inches from the ground in our yard or that of a neighbor. What you’re seeing is a sewer cleanout, and it’s the only visible part of your building’s main sewer line.
Kids tend to notice them more often. So consider yourself lucky if you’ve never tripped over one while enjoying a game of backyard soccer or blissfully running through your sprinkler in the summer. Adults, unless they’re doing yard work, generally pay them no mind. But if you look closer, you’ll realize they’re located on front and back lawns throughout the country.
What Is A Sewer Cleanout?
Few homeowners seem to really understand exactly what the sewer cleanout does or how important it is. But this lowly, often-ignored pipe that is capped and buried in your yard could very well save you tens of thousands of dollars in water damage.
You see, these standing outdoor pipes have one really great reason for existing. They help prevent your home from flooding with sewage while giving your plumber access to the main sewer line that’s backed up or broken.
Where Is My Sewer Cleanout?
Sewer cleanouts are located most often in one of two places outside of your home. One is about 12-18 inches from your home’s foundation wall. Just walk around the perimenter of your home’s foundation until you come across it. Generally, start near a wall outside one of your bathrooms as that’s the most likely location.
The other locations is generally in the easement out by your front road. Essentially, you’ll find the cleanout at either end of what’s called your building main sewer line.
If you don’t easily find it, don’t worry. It’s likely hidden under bushes, leaves, or other yard waste and debris. Maybe even under a patio deck or new soil and grass that was accidentally dumped over it. But trust us, it’s there somewhere in your yard.
What is the building sewer?
The building sewer is the pipe that runs between your house and the sewer main in the street. That’s why it’s often called a sewer pipe, sewer main, or main line. No matter its name, it’s responsible for getting your waste — from all the other pipes in your house — out to the city’s sewer line. So if you have a problem with this pipe, it can affect your entire house.
Fortunately, most problems that occur with your home’s plumbing and pipes can be found quickly and easily. For example, the visible pipes in your basement or the easy-to-see drain system beneath your bathroom sink. Even a pipe hidden behind an interior wall will leave a visible wet spot, giving you a no-doubt clue as to where the problem is located.
But the building’s sewer line buried in your yard is totally concealed. Even worse, a backup in this pipe could flood your home with sewage (waste with fecal matter) and grey water (water from bathing, showering or doing laundry). This is every homeowner’s worst nightmare. By the time you even realize it’s having problems, it’s too late.
Causes Of A Sewer Line Backup
We could list for days the many different reasons we’ve seen for backed up sewer lines. Here are some of the more common culprits we’ve seen:
- Improperly installed sewer lines develop separations between sections of the sewer pipe
- Items that shouldn’t be flushed — feminine hygiene products, toys — clog the sewer line
- The sewer line might have sagged or dipped from moving soil
- The sewer line might be broken (this is especially true with lines made from older materials)
- Tree roots may be entered the line and blocked the flow of sewage leaving your home
- Grease, especially grease that comes from meat or cooking starchy foods leave a residue that builds up on the inside of the sewer line
How Does a Sewer Line Cleanout Help?
When blockages of any kind occur, the eventual result is that nothing flushed or drained can leave your home. Pressure builds up and it all comes flooding back inside, causing a major disaster. This can create potentially severe consequences to your pocketbook and health.
Fortunately that’s why you have a cleanout. It provides the quick access to your sewer line that’s needed to identify, fix, and prevent major backups. Qualified plumbers like 1-Tom-Plumber use your cleanout to determine the health of your sewer pipe and fix whatever problem they find.
Because most sewer line clogs are from dark waste matter, a camera won’t do much good in seeing the issue. In addition, a camera can’t see “past” the blockage or underneath the blockage, two areas that are often culprits in the backed up line.
Instead, your drain technician will use a sewer or rooter machine (often simply called a rooter) to see if the clog can be opened. They will also run water through the lines to ensure they cut through the blockage. For the most difficult sewer line tasks, a hydro-jetting service may be required.
Will Scoping the Sewer Line Via The Cleanout Help?
A camera for scoping the sewer line can be placed down the cleanout and into the main sewer line after a clog has been cleared. This is to make sure the rooter did its job well. It can now tell us if the inside of the line is fairly clean with no obvious dips, pooling (or standing) water, weak connections, or build-up of paper, waste, and sediments.
Your plumber’s drain technician should also pay attention to the type of sewer line pipe as they have different advantages and disadvantages. For example, an old clay pipe is easily broken. Old cast iron pipes are strong but they can rust and deteriorate over time, leading to clogging. And PVC pipes are easy to install but can be more brittle. All of these are taken into consideration with how to fix a backed-up sewer line and the resulting price.
Don’t Bury Your Cleanouts
Older houses and properties may not have cleanouts because they weren’t mandated by code until the late 1970s. And some cleanouts may have been buried and hidden over time. Some homeowners bury them because they can be unsightly.
This is a big mistake. Because when a backup happens, with sewage of all things, it’s critical that you’re plumber diagnose the problem as quickly as possible using your cleanout. A buried cleanout will just lead to more costs in what might be an already very expensive situation.
How To Maintain Your Cleanouts And Sewer Line
So, we now that we know how important that little white pipe is, is there anything you can do to make sure it’s well maintained in case of a backup emergency? So glad you asked!
Don’t wait for problems to form before getting your sewer line scoped.
It will likely be too late. We recommend scoping your sewer line about every two years. If you’re renting a house to tenants, consider scoping more frequently. Let’s face it, a sewage backup in a rental property can cause even more extensive damage to multiple residents.
Get the sewer scoped before you buy.
If you’re looking to buy a house or commercial building, get the sewer scoped before you purchase. Although it’s not normally included in a routine home inspection, there’s no other way to know your sewer line’s condition.
Hire a plumber with drain experience and equipment.
Finally, make sure your plumber has the necessary sewer drain experience, video inspection services and equipment, and even excavation capabilities to assess and solve your issue quickly. Maintaining your cleanout and sewer main line with a drain specialist is an investment. But it’s one that can easily save you tens of thousands of dollars.
If you need more help, don’t hesitate to contact us or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237). We immediately handle any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning and drain clearing, and water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines.