Unfortunately you may not realize you have a problem with your sewer line until your tub or sink doesn’t drain or a toilet overflows onto the bathroom floor. You may be able to predict a sewer line issue if your sink or tub drains seems slow or you hear a gurgling sound when the water is running. This might indicate a partial blockage that hasn’t yet reached the critical stage.
Handheld augers are handy for clearing a drain pipe near a sink trap or adjacent to a toilet without a lot of trouble – in many cases you don’t even have to pull the toilet. However, for a big job where the blockage is further down the sewer line, the best tools are a plumbing snake or power auger and both are normally available at your local tool rental store.
Most homes have an exterior sewer cleanout adjacent to or in front of the house which provides an access point for the snake or auger into the sewer line. If you take the cap off of the exterior cleanout and see a buildup of waste in the pipe, it is a good indication that the problem is in the main sewer line between your home and the street. If that’s the case, use the auger or snake in that direction to loosen any blockage.
An exterior sewer line blockage may be due to normal waste, but there is also a possibility that there could be an issue with tree roots infiltrating the line or possibly even a yard landscaping project damaging the pipe. You may be able to clear the current blockage, but these types of problems will normally allow a recurrence of the backup.
The one sure method for discovering the condition of your exterior sewer line is to have a plumbing contractor camera the pipe to determine if there is any damage or other issues that are causing the blockage. A small camera on a cable is lowered into the pipe and allows every inch of the line to be inspected on an above ground video screen. You then know exactly what damage you may have and where it’s located.