Common Plumbing Questions

The following are the most common causes of damages to a sewer lateral:

  1. Tree Roots

    By far, tree roots are the most common cause of damage to sewer lines. Tree roots are in constant search for water and a sewer lateral is a perfect source, particularly if there is a leak in the line. The roots will wrap around and break into your lines, clogging, weakening, and breaking your pipes. Clay sewer pipes are the most susceptible to tree root intrusion.

  2. Corroded Pipes

    Calcium and magnesium build-up from normal wear and tear will eventually cause steel and cast iron pipes to corrode, and if left untreated, result in leaks and cracks.

Flooded or awful smelling yard, clogging of several draining areas in the home, or damaged drain lines that damage flooring or produce mold on the floor or walls are all signs of sewer line damage. If you notice any of the above or suspect you have a plumbing problem, you should call a professional plumber immediately.

A CCTV camera inspection performed by a professional plumber is the only real way of determining if your sewer lateral needs to be replaced. This will reveal if there are any problems with your line and the best course of action on how to replace either by pipe bursting or by the usual trench digging.

We don’t recommend that a homeowner try to do this on their own, but if that is the course you are willing to take, we can offer the following suggestions:

To start, you will need a permit from the City and you will need to follow certain government rules and regulations;

You will need to know exactly where the lateral is and how it runs and you will need to locate any utility lines;

Check to see if the City needs to inspect any of your work;

Once you start to dig, you might go 1.5 ft. to 6 ft. before you reach your pipe. Once you do, dig sideways to remove dirt from around the pipe. Be prepared that you may have to use a chainsaw to remove any tree roots. Make sure you have barriers around your trench to guard against anything falling in.

Now you are ready to cut and disconnect the pipe from the house and city sewer at the cleanouts near the house and property line. Remove the old pipe and install the new pipe and then reconnect to your plumbing system.

Once the city has approved your work, you can fill in the trench remembering to compact the soil as you go.

It’s a lot of work and you could save some money, but you really have to know what you are doing. To be on the safe side, we really recommend calling a professional plumber who can do the job correctly.

Many homeowners do not understand how the plumbing system works for their home. Typically, your home has two-inch drain pipes that carry wastewater from under sinks, bathtubs, showers and toilets into the home’s four-inch sewer lateral under the slab or raised foundation. This sewer lateral, which usually has two cleanouts, runs from the home out to the property line or to the street sewer line.

Sewer laterals can be either made from any of the following materials:

Cast Iron

One of the most commonly used materials, particularly for older homes (built prior to the 1980s), has a lifespan of 30 – 50 years. Over time rust and corrosion will eventually cause the pipe to deteriorate which will require the pipe to be replaced.

Vitrified clay

VC is a blend of clay and shale which has been subjected to high temperature (‘vitrification”) resulting in an hard, inert ceramic pipe with a typical lifespan of 50 – 60 years. It would not be uncommon to find VC pipe in homes built prior to 1940. While VC pipe is chemical resistant, It is difficult to install, is brittle and subject to cracking and joints are susceptible to water infiltration and root intrusion.

Orangeburg Pipe

This is a terrible type of pipe that was used from 1948 (following the housing boom after World War II into the 1970s. If you have an older home and your plumber tells you that you have this pipe, I recommend that you replace it with HDPE pipe as soon as possible.

Polyvinyl Chloride Pipe (PVC)

This pipe is one of the most versatile and more affordable sewer pipe options. Its lightweightedness and flexibility makes it easy to install and when glued properly, its joints are watertight and impervious to root intrusion. This is a good option when replacing old cast iron, orangeburg or VCP sewer pipes. Installation is by trenching so trenchless sewer replacement is not an option.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

Has similar characteristics to PVC as it is easy to work with, impervious to root intrusion and watertight if the joints are glued properly. One negative is that it is a bit more rigid and has less flexibility during installation.

High Density Polyethylene Pipe (HDPE)

This is the most common type of pipe used for sewer lateral replacement, particularly for trenchless sewer replacement. It is strong, somewhat flexible and has no glued joints which prevents root intrusion.

For trenchless sewer replacement, two pits are dug at each end of the lateral and a new one piece of HDPE pipe is pulled through behind a bursting head which shatters the old lateral installing the new HDPE as the replacement sewer lateral.

There are several  issues that cause a toilet to keep running and they are all fairly simple to resolve.

The most common cause of a running toilet is a faulty flapper which is located at the bottom of your toilet bowl.  If your flapper is more than five years old, it is probably time to replace it.

Another common problem has to do with the fill-valve losing it’s ability to regulate the water level in the tank which requires it’s replacement.

And lastly, the fill tube assembly could be leaking which would require it’s replacement.

There are many reasons why you may have a sewer gas smell in your home, but the most common causes are: 

  1. Improperly installed plumbing systems;
  2. Dried traps due  to infrequently used drains in your home. Under most drains there is a “P” trap that is supposed to contain water that forms a seal to prevent sewer gases from escaping.  If the water in this trap leaks or evaporates, the seal is lost and you will get a sewer gas odor. It is a good idea to run water down any drains that are infrequently used, particularly in the winter months;
  3. Other causes could be a faulty wax seal around your toilet, or a vent line could be broken or clogged up.

If you have investigated all of the areas above and you still are experiencing a sewer gas odor, it is time to call a professional plumber who has specialized leak detection equipment to help you diagnnose the problem and properly fix it.

Assuming there is no problem with the water supply to your home, the absence of hot water is indicative of a problem with your hot water heater.

For a gas hot water heater, the problem could be a disruption of your gas supply or possibly a gas leak.

Another culprit could be too many people taking showere before the tank has time to fill up and heat the water,

If you have an electric hot water heater, the issue could be a faulty thermostat, or a tripped circuit breaker.

With proper annual maintenance, your hot water heater could last ten years or longer. Included in this maintenance is the removal of sediment (aka calcium carbonate) that builds up over time. This mineral  that is present in water, turns into a solid as water is heated and settles to the bottom of your tank which leads to a number of annoying issues.

This sediment forms a layer of insulation  between the gas burner and the water which slows down the heat transfer which leads to overheating the bottom of the tank. This overheating weakens the steel and damages the glass lining.

For electric hot water heater, this sediment could bury the heating element and cause it to burn out. It could move into the recirculation lines, jam check valves and cause the recirculation pump to burn out

By flushing your water heater, you can extend the life of your water heater while saving money.  To perform a  full tank drain and flush, do the following:

  • Turn off the valve of the cold inlet side of your water heater;  
  • For a gas heater, turn the temperature setting to Pilot
  • For an electric water heater, flip the circuit breaker to off
  • Now, connect a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the heater making sure the hot water is not draining into your yard or flower bed
  • Open the temperature and pressure valve near the top of your water heater by lifting the lever to allow air into the tank
  • Once the  water heater has been fully drained, open the water valve on the inlet side to flush out any remaining sediment
  • Close the drain valve and the temperature and pressure valve
  • For a gas water heater, turn the temperature setting from Pilot to its original setting
  • For an electric water heater, turn the circuit breaker back on

To prolong the life of your hot water heater and to ensure your water heater is operating as efficiently as possible, thus saving your money, we recommend that you flush your water  heater at least once a year.

If you suspect that you may have a leak, we do not recommend your trying to fix this on your own, but rather calling a professional plumber with good reviews  to come out to diagnose and fix the leak.

Gas hot water heaters can be very dangerous as we have seen some bad things happen when people try to make repairs themselves when they are not properly trained.

Instead of watching a How To You Tube video, play it safe and call a professional plumber.

Every home owner needs to know where their main water shut-off valve is in case of an emergency.

Your water shut-off valve is on the main water line serving your house close to an exterior wall.

There is also a separate valve that controls the hot water piping in the house at your hot water heater.