Understanding The Difference Between A Clog And A Backed Up Sewer Line

Posted on: 26 October 2019


A clogged drain isn't a fun problem to deal with, but it hardly compares to the nightmare of a complete sewer backup. While these two plumbing issues may seem similar on the surface, they can have drastically different causes and consequences. As a homeowner, it is important to understand the difference between a simple clog and a problem that extends beyond the drain lines in your home.

Sewers Simplified

It is helpful to have a clear picture of how your home's plumbing system functions before coming to grips with the underlying causes of sewer back-ups. In a typical residential home, each fixture has a drain line that carries water to a vertical wastewater stack. If your home has multiple fixtures spread across the upper levels, then you may have more than one stack. Each of these stacks then carries wastewater to the sewer lateral and the lateral transports wastewater to the municipal sewer main.

Even from this relatively simplified picture, it should be clear that there are several locations where issues can develop. Clogs tend to form in p-traps (specially designed pipes intended to prevent sewer gases from backing up) near drains, but problems can appear almost anywhere in the system. These clogs can create slow-running drains or water back-ups, but their effects pale in comparison to the havoc created by a sewer clog.

The Early Warning Signs of Sewer Trouble

Sewer backups rarely occur suddenly. Instead, there are often subtle signs that trouble is brewing beneath your home. One of the earliest symptoms that most homeowners notice is a foul smell from drains, usually beginning in fixtures located on the lower levels of the house. The p-traps mentioned above are specifically intended to prevent sewer gases from entering your home by forming a water seal in the pipe trough, so any odor indicates that a backup is already occurring. Multiple slow-running drains are also a good indication of trouble, although this may also be the result of a clog in one of your home's wastewater stacks.

In general, problems that are limited to only a single drain are probably not related to sewer trouble. That said, keep a clear mental picture of your home's plumbing layout in mind when confronting a clog. If a drain that is "upstream" from several other drains is running slowly while the "downstream" drains are okay, then it is likely that the problem is not in your sewer. When your sewer line is badly stopped up, drains on lower levels will often run slowly and begin to back up before drains above them are affected.

Causes and Remedies for Sewer Problems

Once you know you have an issue, dealing with it is simply a matter of contacting a plumber. Unfortunately, sewer clogs are not a problem that a do-it-yourselfer can easily tackle. In many cases, the core cause of a sewer clog may be root infiltration or large balls of accumulated grease. Over-the-counter drain cleaners and home tools are no match for clogs, and experts will often need to use heavy-duty drain snakes or even high-powered water jets to break them free. If you have discovered sewer trouble in your home, contact a plumbing service like First Class Plumbing of Florida Inc. like immediately before the line can back up and cause a costly and dangerous problem in your home.