D.C. plumbing experts explain vent stacks

D.C. plumbing experts explain vent stacks

How important are vent stacks, and what is their purpose?
- Angie's List member Mike Shadoan

Without vent stacks your home's plumbing system wouldn't work properly, according to Scott Via, an estimator for highly rated Woodbridge Plumbing, which services Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties.

"It's like a straw and soda," Via says. "When you hold your finger over the top hole and lift it up, you have soda in the straw. But as soon as you lift the finger, it vents that straw and lets the water come out. Vent stacks give it airflow and allow pipes to drain." The vent stack allows air to enter and sewer gases to exit the system through your roof.

The vent stack itself doesn't have any water in it because it's the highest portion of the vent system, says Billy Silk, owner of highly rated Master Plumbing & Mechanical Inc., which services Montgomery and Prince George's counties and portions of D.C. But the vent stack plays an important role in draining, because if the stacks become blocked the gas won't escape and the water won't drain properly.

Despite their importance, both plumbers say vent stacks don't require any maintenance and that clogged or broken vent stacks are uncommon. However, occasionally things, such as birds or nests, do fall into and obstruct the pipes. That can be indicated by a foul odor, slow drains, or gulping or gurgling in the pipes. The cost to fix this will vary depending on where the problem is and how hard it is to reach or clear.

"If a vent starts to go bad, you'll know it," Silk says, "You'll start to get a stinky smell in your house."

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