We tend to take our drains for granted until something goes wrong. If it does, there are things you can do before calling in the experts. Our guide will help you tackle any problem you come up against, so you can get things back to normal again.
What are the Signs?
There are several tell-tale signs you might spot if you have a problem with your drains. These can occur both inside and outside your property.
For example, in terms of signs in your bathroom or kitchen, you might find your sink or bath starts to drain away very slowly when you let the plug out. If you have a shower you may suddenly find you are standing in a pool of water where it should be going down the plughole. If you see any of these signs it is time to investigate further to see what the problem could be.
Signs outside your property might entail water flooding around a manhole cover. If the problem is serious you might also spot more problematic issues. Serious leaks that occur over time can lead to subsidence. This can be evidenced by cracks in walls and driveways, as well as sunken areas of ground. If you suspect a problem like this it is vital to call in the professionals as soon as possible.
Problems with Drainage Inside the House
Many blockages occur inside the house and can be solved by the homeowner. The most common ones occur in the traps and plumbing of baths and showers, although sinks can also be affected.
Very often the culprit can be hair. If you undo the trap in the relevant place you may find a knot of hair is stuck to the underside of it. It doesn’t look or smell good if it’s been there for a while and you might want to wear gloves while removing it. If you do find a large amount of hair there, clear it out and replace the trap. Once this is done, run water through the pipework to see what happens. It should clear quickly if you have solved the problem.
In the case of a kitchen sink, hair will usually not be the issue. It’s more likely to be grease instead. You can try a liquid cleaner especially designed for clearing kitchen sinks, or go down the eco-friendly route and try a mix of baking soda and vinegar instead.
How can you Prevent These Types of Problems in the Future?
In terms of hair, make sure you clean out the plughole after every bath or shower so it doesn’t get a chance to build up. You can buy a cheap trap to sit in there that lets the water out but catches everything else. All you have to do then is pick up the trap and clean it after every bath or shower. Problem solved ahead of time in the future!
In terms of grease building up in the kitchen, try and get out of the habit of pouring grease, fat or oil down your sink in the first place. Even if it is liquid when it is poured in there, it can very soon turn solid and cause you problems. Try and prevent any food from going down the sink either. If small pieces of food get caught in the U-bend or other part of the plumbing, they can congeal together with fat poured down there and cause a blockage before too long – not to mention those nasty smells.
What About Blocked Toilets?
The usual signs of a blocked toilet are the same as those for a sink, bath or shower. The water level generally stays about the same, even when you flush. When a toilet gets blocked you will see the water level rise as the cistern adds more water to try and facilitate the flushing mechanism. Bad blockages might even lead you to think the water will flow over the sides of the toilet – and that’s not what you want. If the blockage is mild and not total, the water level will eventually go back down again as the water flows past the blockage.
The first stage solution to try is a plunger. Make sure the head of the plunger (the rubber part) makes a good seal with the porcelain when you put it into the toilet bowl. You might want to have some towels around the toilet just in case you get any splashes. Try plunging a few times and then flush. Very often this is all it takes to solve the problem.
If it doesn’t work you can try a plumbing snake. This is a long thin piece of wire coil, and you feed it through the system until it stops. This means you’ve hit the blockage. You then turn it to screw through the blockage and rid yourself of the problem.
What Should you do if the Blockage is Still There After Trying a DIY Solution?
If you still have a blockage – wherever it might be – after trying these solutions, you need to call in a plumber. They have access to special equipment that will help find the problem so they can solve it.
In many cases it will still be a blockage that is to blame. However in some cases cracked pipes can lead to soil leaking into the pipe and blocking it, along with all the usual detritus that disappears down the plughole. If there is a tree nearby there is also the chance a root could have damaged the drain by pushing through a join between pipe sections.
How can They Ascertain what the Problem is and Find it Fast?
There are a number of ways this can be done. A drainage company has access to equipment such as cameras that can be guided down the drain to locate the problem when it can’t be seen by eye. Another option is to plug the end of the drain by lifting a manhole cover. Water is then sent down the pipes and the plug is removed to see whether it all comes through. This will highlight a broken pipe, because some of the water will have drained away before it gets to the plug in the section covered by the manhole.
Are you Responsible for Repairs?
It depends on where the problem is. If a public sewer is found to be the issue, your local water company will be responsible for fixing it. If the problem is located in the drain that feeds waste water from your property to the public sewer, you will be responsible for it. Private sewers are now the responsibility of UK water companies. This has been the case since late 2011. This is good for the home owner as you aren’t responsible for this pipework anymore. However there may still be shorter sections of pipework that run from your property out to the private sewer. If the problems occur in this section you will need to sort them out yourself. If in doubt, check with your local water company to find out more about your particular situation.
What Happens Next to Solve the Problem?
If you need new pipes and your water company is responsible for laying them, you should contact them to deal with the problem. If you are responsible for the area concerned, you will have to pay a drainage company to lay new pipes for you. Sometimes this can be done without digging up the surrounding area, by feeding a new pipe through the old one.
However in most cases the problem won’t be cracked or broken pipework but blocked pipework. If this is the case a drainage company will resort to a high pressure hose to clear out the blockage. They also have drainage rods – much like the small ones homeowners can get but bigger and more robust. Depending on the situation and which solution looks best, they will assess the blockage and decide on the best way to shift it.
Preventing Further Problems from Being Created in Future
If you do get professionals in to clear your drains for you, make sure you keep your drains clean from that point on. By using hair traps in your bathroom shower and bath and fat traps in your kitchen sink, you can reduce the amount of things that go down there in the first place. Prevention is always better than getting a blockage to begin with.
The good news is you now know some practical first-step solutions to dealing with blockages and problems with your drainage and sewers. However you also know what to do if your own efforts don’t meet with success. If this is the case you should always call out a professional to explore further and to use equipment you don’t have access to. The vast majority of drainage problems are caused by blockages and with the right equipment they can quickly be removed, leaving you to enjoy proper drainage once more.