An outside drain serves a unique purpose, different than other drain line components inside your building. A blocked outside drain can create havoc for if you are a homeowner. A typical plumbing drain system consists of a network of pipes. These pipes, which at the end of the run, connect to the city sewer system. All the water faucets, including in the bathrooms and kitchen, drive wastewater to your main house sewer line.
A house sewer usually runs beneath the garden, driveway, or lawn. The line or pipe delivers wastewater from your home into a city sewer. The city sewer then brings it to a treatment plant. It is at the treatment plant where everything will be chemically treated. It is then released again to the environment.
Apart from all water fixtures inside the house, a main sewer line is also frequently connected to outside drains. For example, area drains, roof drains, driveway drains, and more. Just like all water fixtures, these outside drains are not invulnerable to clogging. Leaves, dirt, and heavy rainstorms can be too much for the outside drains to take. Likewise, just like any drain pipe, an outside drain pipe can break or get root infested.
When a blocked outside drain is most likely to occur
While a blocked outside drain can happen any day of the year, it occurs most commonly during the Fall season. Fall is when leaves from garden shrubs and trees scatter all around the ground. Added to a large volume of water from Fall rainstorms, an accumulation of debris and leaves can easily cause a blocked outside drain. As a result, you have a pool of stagnate water which can become a breeding ground for insects, such as mosquitoes. A more urgent concern is that such a blockage can cause rainwater to flood your property, or your home itself. The good news is that a blocked outside drain is not too difficult to clear.
How to clear a blocked outside drain by hand
Not every clog requires specialty tools. Every outside area drain should have a grate to filter out debris and leaves. This would include anything from a large city catch basin, to a small area drain for a stairwell (which is similar to a floor drain inside a building). Besides cleaning the grate itself, other action is required.
Clearing out debris and sediment
Some small leaves, dirt, and debris, however, will find themselves into the sump of the drain. It can then accumulate to form a clog. To clear the drain, open the grate to see if there is an accumulation of debris directly beneath it. The area directly below the grate is called a sump; the area drain itself. Use a small shovel or your hands (with gloves) to take out the material causing the clog. Please remember that some drains can be multi-directional, so make sure you clean out each catch basin in every direction. This is not a glorious task indeed. However, a necessary thing to do every once in a while to keep the drain line clean and running properly.
It is better to get your hands dirty for an hour or less, rather than having the annoying and unhygienic water backup problems. Which left untreated, may call for expensive repair or professional drain cleaning down the road.
The importance of regular drain maintenance
Checking the drain piping for the drain outlet
Once you clear out the debris, check if the water runs properly through the pipes. Insert a garden hose into the drain piping itself and flush it. A clear pipeline should receive and dispose of water quickly. But if the water stops flowing, there are two possible reasons. Either there is clog down the line, or the pipe is damaged. Try using a more powerful flush and actually placing the hose inside the pipe. Water pressure can help push the clog, and free up the line. Pushing the hose back and forth may also help to break a clog loose.
When specialty tools are needed to clear a blocked outside drain
In some cases, a clog is too stubborn for cleaning by hand or using a garden hose to push the clog through. That is when you need to use more powerful equipment operated, typically by a professional drain cleaner. Some examples follow:
Rubber drain bladder (blow bag)
This tool, commonly called a blow bag, should be attached to the end of your hose. Since this rubber bag fills with water, and expands to fit tightly into the pipe, it helps hold the water from backing up. As a result, all the force and pressure from water only goes forward towards the clog. You can consider this the simple version of hydro-jet.
For a tougher clog that renders the drain bladder useless, you may want to consider using a drain machine. Unlike a hydro-jet, which simply flushes water through its nozzle, a drain machine is attached with a specialty blade at the end of the snake. Sometimes the clog is more than accumulation of leaves and debris. It can be that tree roots have found their way into your pipe. A small hole in the pipe could be the entry point. Once a small section of the root makes its way in, it continues to grow inside the drain and eventually causes a blockage. Attached with the right cutter of the right size, a drain machine will get rid of anything that blocks the flow of water. After such treatment, there can be debris left from the cutting process. It is a good idea to flush the pipe with a garden hose to clear out the remnants.
Water jetting takes advantage of high pressure water to clear out not only debris in the pipe, but also dirt on the inner surface of the pipe. A professional plumber has various nozzle types for different purposes. Some nozzles only push water in forward direction, while others can flush water forward as well as backward at the same time. A rotating nozzle is available, too. Using a hydro-jet will get rid of most clogging issues. This is a job best left to professional, as using high pressure water poses dangers in the wrong hands.
There are some easy ways to prevent future clogging
- Use a grate with a fine screen under the grate. It has to be fine enough to keep leaves and debris out, but not too fine that it restricts flow of water. The same thing applies for roof drain. make sure to clean the drain periodically, and especially before a heavy rainstorm.
- A blocked outside drain probably has something to do with soil permeability and yard topography. Water flows by the force of gravity so it will always end up at lower point. If your drain is installed at a high point of your property, chances are you have standing water after every rainstorm. You may have to relocate the drain, or install an additional drain.
When a professional should be contacted
If soil permeability and yard topography are the main problems, you may need professionals to redesign the entire garden or lawn. It is also helpful if you have a diagram or map that shows the location of pipeline connections. In more recent homes a plumbing plan should be available via your local Department Of Buildings. Big trees located near the pipe pose a serious risk of tree roots penetration, so a chemical treatment to the soil is probably necessary.
Because most piping for an outside drain is shallow, it is always best to use the best drain pipe material available (typically extra heavy cast iron pipe). When the area that is clogged is difficult to pinpoint, you need a professional plumber who can utilize a sewer inspection camera. This device can accurately find not only location of the clog, but also the depth of pipe. It can also determine the type of clog. When damage occurs due to tree root penetration, a sewer pipe replacement is a viable option. It will be an expensive home sewer repair job, it will involve excavation and inconvenience.