Warning Signs of a Main Sewer Line Clog

Leave a Comment - 77



Subject: Constently backed up

I have a very unique situation. When I wash cloths where the utility tub is, the hose that goes into ground, water is pouring out at my feet every two weeks. The city has dug up my front yard twice, the city comes out and snakes me every two weeks, the city has ran a camera 9 times after they unclog me, usually using 40 feet of snake, the camera shows nothing. The city says they can't snake me from where they dug up because the snake can't make this weird turn that goes from my kitchen sink. So they come in every two weeks and snake by drain pipe downstairs, not utility tub where hose is, they have tried that before, didn't unclog. Please help with any suggestions. I notice upstairs toilet starts to not flush well when laundry room acts up, that's it no other signs, I can't wash cloths like normal people. Help!


Subject: Experienced a secondary line clog


We experienced a secondary line clog in our basement bathroom. At first, only the toilet seemed to be, but wastewater quickly started to come up the shower drain. We woke up the next morning with water everywhere on the floor, the toilet wax seal was leaking. Our shower drain being higher from the ground than the seal, they acted like communicating vessels. A total mess.

*** I strongly recommend to let professionals do the job. I am not a professional, and I would not qualify myself as one. My knowledge of plumbing is close to nothing, if not completely null.

Anyway, I decided to do it myself. Here is what I did and what I should have done earlier if that was to happen again, hoping someone could learn from my experience.

1. The sink, the toilet and the shower were always slow to drain. I always thought that was not related to one another. While overlooked back then, that should have sent a clear signal that something was going wrong further down the line.

2. The next day, I used a shopvac to suck up the excess water straight from the shower drain. I was able to remove 7-8 liters (~2 gal.) of water.** Be sure to seal the drain opening the best you can AND the bathtub plug.
- IMPORTANT : I SHOULD have done that the first day to relieve the pressure off the toilet seal!!

3. My third mistake : I bough a 25' manual plumber snake at the hardware store. While the length was OK, the wire was TOO THIN. It felt like I was caressing the clog. Don't even try to get something done with that tool on a secondary line, the pipe is too wide. Go straight for a heavy duty snake, the one on a stand, the biggest they have at the rental store. Make sure to get the huge coil tip, and the cutter one just in case. The biggest coil worked for me.

- As a side note, I tried to get the small snake all the way through the toilet seat. Waste of valuable time... Get a new wax seal and remove that thing straight away. The heavy duty snake will not fit through anyway.

4. That may seems straightforward but I might be wrong there, please correct me if I am! That's what I did anyway:
- When I felt a resistance down the line with the snake, I started to turn clockwise while pushing to dig in the clog with the coil. I tried to retrieve the materials up the line instead of pushing them further down. I didn't want to end up with a main line clog instead. - As soon as the water flowed back through the line, I rushed to get the maximum water flow again : sink, shower, even the toilet intake straight in the pipe, hoping the remaining debris would wash down as quick as possible out of my lines forever.

IMPORTANT : A professional plumber told me that most of the time in the basement, there is a trap to prevent water back in the secondary line (different from the one at the end of the main line that stop the water from the public sewage). Most of the time this is where the clog lies. If you have such a trap, the easiest way is to open it and remove the debris in situ. I wasn't sure if my house had one, but I was sure I couldn't access it without cutting through my hardwood floor, That was the easy part, to locate it was another game... Be warned, he told me that using a snake would have a high probability to break it, leading to bigger problems. My neighbor have the same house model and did major renovations in the basement, including the bathroom and the plumbing. He said that his house didn't have such a trap. I went with the assumption I didn't either.

I will conclude with a simple question : Should I fear the dislodged debris might eventually clog my main line and Should I ask for a professional to inspect the drain pipes with a camera?



Subject: Stoped up sewer line.

I recently paid $6700.00 for a sewer blockage that was right at the edge of my property and the street.Could you tell me what the responsibility of the city is in a situation like is.I live Mecklenburg county.


Subject: Sewage coming out of water meter hole

I have a house I inherited with my aunts, uncle, and 2 sisters. The house was built in 1901 and belonged to my grandfather. Right after my grandfather passed away 1 of my aunts and my uncle were living in the house and turned the water on illegally so many times they took the meter out and severed the water rights to the house. That happened in 2004. I am currently buying out the other family member's shares because of their lack in upkeep to the house and their illegal activities, basically I got tired of paying the taxes while they tore up the house. Because I do not have the 5000.00 to get the water rights back I installed my own water system using a 1500 gallon water storage tank, shallow well jet pump, and a pressure tank hooked into the main line under my house. Every time it has rained heavy even before I put in my water system the yard has smelled like pee. This is a very rural area my community is 10 or so houses and are not required to follow any county or city codes so I do not have a clean out pipe nor does anything run to a main line in the middle of the street like what I seen when googling. Today my son came inside while I was washing dishes and informed me that there was a bunch of water flowing out of where the water meter was. I went outside lifted the cap and it is filled with water but it had stopped overflowing. I had him go inside and turn the kitchen sink on for a few seconds and the water rose in the hole. I then had him go flush the toilet and it began overflowing out of the water meter hole. I do not know if this is my problem, the water provider's problem, or what to do about any of it.


Subject: Broken drain

Sounds like your drain to the street is broken or you have a septic tank and it needs serviced.


Subject: gulpping sounds

Hi when we use any sink or shower in are house when we drain it.. It makes like a gulpping sound what could it be.

Jack Zaraya

Subject: toilet backup

The plumber who snaked the sewer cleanout line and determined that the problem was caused by the roots of our tree suggested we pour a gallon of bleach down this line every two months. My house is 30 years old.


Subject: Back up issue

My husband I just bought our house less than a month ago, and yesterday the toilet in the main part of the house started leaking after a gurgling sound came from our kitchen sink. All the water in the bowl emptied on the floor. We just assumed that it was the wax seal around the bottom of the toilet. My sinks have always been slow to drain, and this morning while plunging the kitchen sink, my grand daughter noticed a poopy smell. I thought she was crazy until I walked into the main bathroom and noticed the empty toilet full of waste. So I scooped it out with a pitcher, hoping to alleviate the smell, and went about my business. Used my dishwasher only to find the same result once again in the toilet. Any ideas or suggestions on what is causing it? Thanks.


Subject: Possible sewer line break?

When I run the washing machine and it drains, the water comes up in our bathroom sinks. I have had 2 plumbers out and they have rooterd it, hydro jetted it and camerad it. They said their camera won't get from our main cleanout to the bathrooms because it is too far and the bends in the internal pipes are too much for the camera. They said they cannot camera through the toilet because there are too many twists and turns which leads us to demoing both of our bathrooms. My question is, is there a plumber that has cameras that are flexible enough to go through the toilet system?

pete reynolds

Subject: Camera flexibility

Its the flexibility in the cable that the camera attaches to on the end. There are no such cables with that kind of flexibility. What you want doesn't exist. They hand feed those cables into the pipes from one end and they can only bend so far before they would get stuck. those flexible lines aren't designed to bend around multiple turns and bends. There's just no way you can push a cable with a camera on the end down an "S" shaped curve of a toilet or multiple turns in a pipe. It is physically not possible to run a camera through an entire "toilet system". It would be far easier to just remove the toilet anyways and scope the drain.

James Butler

Subject: Underhouse and patio getting soap and sewer

My neighbor had a line issue had there back yard dug up pipes changed now I have a back up and dripping from big black pipe under house sewer smell throughout while house patio has it coming up from pipe and floor in there as well lots of soap bubles and sewer water is it the main

Laura Thorpe

Subject: Dirt smell

I occasionally smell fresh, wet dirt coming from our kitchen sink drain. It never backs up, we have a pretty strong garbage disposal, and all goes down when using that. I'm just wondering and a bit worried at why I'd be smelling dirt. We have a basement- no back-ups. The bathtub drains a bit slow and the bathroom sink sometimes gurgles but again- no backups. Just wondering what kind of clue this is.... Thanks!


Subject: Pipe with the cap is overflowing and one toilet isn't working ri

We have the issue of the pipe with the cap overflowing beside our house I snaked it with a 50 ft snake nothing happened still clogged and the one toilet as we have two is overflowing when flushed but drains so slow it takes a few hours I've pulled the toilet snaked it as well and the drain it hasn't done a thing so having the city come out to look on their end but I'm uncertain if I should try something else before then please comment if you can help thanks


Subject: effects a blocked drain as on pets?

My drains outside are blocked, n I Av toilet waste over flowing, my pet as been outside, but iv only just noticed it, now my dog is not himself, I want to know what are signs I should b looking for, if he I infected?


Subject: Same issue - just looking for a little clarification

2 years ago shower and other drains backed up into the house. Roto Rooter snaked main line and all was well. This time, no warning gurgles as I had first time. Opened sewer clean out pipes in front yard - water came out as well as toilet paper. Have had them open all day - no water down there any more and everything is working fine now in house. If there is no water in the sewer clean out pipes does that mean the clog must be somewhere within the piping of the house?


Subject: bleach down the drain?

I just had my plumber come and snake my drain, full of hair and other gunk. I asked if there were any preventative measures i could take for the future, he said every two weeks pour a cup of bleach down the drain and let it sit overnight. Can anyone else corroborate this?


Subject: bleach down the drain?

Applying bleach on the drain is not good for the drain caulking.The easy way is keep a strainer on the sink and try to learn how to remove the drain plug so you can have access to the hairs and gunk.the access in removing the sink plug is located below the sink.hope this will help.again don't use bleach.

Carroll Daugherty

Subject: Finished basement drain clog

At first the toilet would not flush even with nothing in it. I snaked it all the way through and waste water came up in the bath. I snaked the drain there and fed all 20' of my snake with no effect. The water just sits. I poured commercial drain cleaner down with no effect. I suspect a septic tank issue but all the other plumbing in the house works fine. Any suggestions?


Subject: Sink clogged then down to washer sink

We just moved into our home and the sink clogged up. We ran a small snake and then punched water through with the hose. The clog now moved down the pipe it seems to the washer machine and now that sink got clocked. We opened the pipe downstairs and found so so much grease inside, like clay paste. We then tried to run the small snake and water but no help. Are next step is to try a bigger snake from Home Depot. We will run the larger snake into both lines. Should we run it into the main as well. ? I mean the pipe is clogged with thick grease gunk.

Each time I run the dishwasher the water does not drain. The water is also slow to drain from the kitchen sink. Is the caused by a main sewer line clog


Subject: Rent a heavy duty 50ft snake from Home Depot $40

I just did this. My kitchen sink . I tried to use a little 25 foot snake but it wasn't long enough. I was able to access the clean out under the kitchen in our crawl space and run the 50 foot snake. There was some serious gunk in there that the snake had to push through. It took a lot of effort to push the snake into it and break through. The motor also overheated twice and tripped the breaker. Good luck


Subject: block

At our house the toilets have backed up and the tubs do the same they drain into the other tubs when plunged but over night they seem to seep down then flush fine a couple time in the morning and at night they do the same thing what could be my problem


Subject: clog and back-ups

My toilets flush fine and the kitchen dishwasher and sink drain o.k. it's just when I take a shower up stairs it backs up in the downstairs shower pan and the floor drain. It also backs up when I use the washing machine. Why does it only back up when I use these certain appliances.

James P.Koch (Jim.)

Subject: water backup

This morning there is water backing up in the drain in the basement floor. We turned off the water and the water drained away, turned it on and it filled up again. Now it is off and drained....any ideas???

Charlie Ogle

Subject: Water Backing Up


When you shut off the water main, is the meter still spinning or registering any movement? If so, looks as if you may have a main line leak or break occurring. Again, check the meter when you shut off the water....if no leaks are present the meter should not be spinning.


Subject: slow toilet flush

Vent pipe is clear.all sinks have great flow. main and basement toilets slow flush or sometimes won"t flush.

tom p.

Subject: toilet backing up

We have two toilets on the main floor. Occasionally the spare bedroom toilet, which does get used, will have a mass of human waste and toilet paper in it. It flushes just fine. There is no gurgling anywhere in the system and all the drains seem to be working great. Just that once in a while I'll open the lid of this commode and it has a giant load in it that is all churned up. Only two of us here and I'm sure that ghosts don't use the facilities. Could this be coming back up the pipes? I'm fairly certain this isn't the main sewer line or we would be experiencing lots of other symptoms. This is kind of creepy. Who can help?


Subject: bad smell from toilet

second floor there are three toilets,in one toilet which is not used regulary after 3/4 weeks we find there is very little water and the in side the there mould.second whenever we use there smell like sewerage


Subject: plumbing back up

Just noticed last week that while running the dishwasher and washing machine there was water that had come up through the,drain in the basement. Just bought the house and been in it almost 3 weeks. The water went down shortly after. Same thing happened again, when using the,plumber, looked like and was slippery like grease. Waiting for the water to go down again. Any suggestions?

dennis byas

Subject: plumbing backup

the main drain in the basement is clogged. whenever we use the toilets, washer, shower, or anything that drains down, the drain in the basement overflows.


Subject: We had water/waste come up

We had water/waste come up through our drain in the basement also. Had a plumber come and snake the drain. The ran a camera through and found roots. Have it snakes ASAP before you have an expensive cleaner bill to remove biological waste. Snaking will be around 200 and include a camera inspection after. Regular snaking should be a part of your annual household check list


Subject: Water standing in main sewer line

We just had a bathroom addition but when the inspector came for the plumbing inspection he ran a camera to see if the new plumbing is connected to the sewer line but he saw the water standing in there he said we need to fix it or it will cause problem in future we snaked it but after few days used a camera to see it its still there. We have some toilet clogged up problems in past 6-9 months it's probably because of that too. We want to fix this problem but we have no idea how much does it cost. Can someone give us an estimate and a suggestion what should we do


Subject: House drains back up into basement sink

I have a house built in 1938. My wife washed some muddy clothes in the washing machine, and the basement utility sink where the washing machine drains into backed up with water. I assumed it was just because of the mud that washed off the clothes, so I used a wet vac to drain the water and took apart the drain pipes below to clean them out. I snaked out the thick drain pipe going into the main drain of the house, reassembled everything, and the water began to drain again. Minutes later, I asked my wife to flush the downstairs toilet and when she did, water flowed up into the sink from the drain pipe and never went back down. Now every time water is used anywhere in the house (shower, upstairs and downstairs toilets and sinks, etc...) the water backs up into the basement sink and sits there. I can visibly see the water flowing in reverse. It's brown and filled with debris like lint, toilet paper, and God knows what else. Thankfully there's no septic smell though. Each time we run water it fills up more and more until it overflows and floods the basement. I'm starting to believe that a main drain line is clogged, but I can't confirm. Has anyone seen or had this problem before? What should I do?


Subject: Everything is stopped up

My Mother , Husband , Daughter & I just moved into this house two weeks ago . The first night we moved in I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and after I was done with my bussiness I went to flush and my toilet started to over flow so I took the plunger and plunged it down . Then after a couple of day I was noticing I started getting black like grung type backwash coming from the shower so I went to clean it out and the water turned black as the night sky . Then I woke the next morning to a puddle of water in the kitchen floor from my dish washer it keeps filling up with water and won't drain on its own . Everytime I used one sink or the toilet , washer or tube it stops up something else making it almost over flow . Every time I turn the shower on my toilet makes a sound like its brewing coffee along with my bathroom sink . In my laundry water leaks on to the floor . We have called the landlord he has yet to call back and last night we tried to snake it and put drano down it . Nothing is working any suggestion on what it could be ?


Subject: Everything is stopped up

Depending on what state you live in the Landlord is responsible for repairs. Unless caused by tenant/s. Go to or call all your counties tenant rights (Department of housing) and explain your situation and they can give you a better way to go to be able to get this problem fixed.


Subject: Everything stopped up.

Hey, I would hope somebody already answered you about your water problems at your house.
I figured I would as well just in case, I am a tradesman that does housing and I have seen all types of problems, from what your saying my guess would have to be that your main sewer line is clogged or broken, this would cause every toilet, sink, tub, and water based appliance in your house to back up or overflow, a single secondary clog would just affect what it runs to, one toilet, a sink, ect.
If using the shower makes your toilet and sink make noises and the dishwasher doesn't drain it must be the main line.
Get a plumber to try to clear it ASAP, if a plumber can't fix it, it could be as bad as digging up your property where it runs and getting the line replaced to where it meets up with the cities main line, in this case most cities cover the expense on city property, but anything on your property is at your cost to get done and to fix your yard after, some insurance policies cover this, unless they find something that shouldn't have been flushed or something, with only being there two weeks hopefully they would cover it as it was clearly the previous tenant.
I hope that helped and that it isn't a worst case scenario, but if it isn't fixed your main could back up flooding your basement or wherever sewer enters the house with water and anything else in the sewer causing more money in damage than paying to have it replaced would cost, especially when that still needs to be done.

Good luck, hope it all goes well for you.


Subject: Constant sewage backup

My fiance and I just closed on our first home 7/1/15, since that night we've been experiencing back up into our basement. We've had a snake down it and even a plumber come out. We were told there's no tree roots 35 feet out (they put a camera down the drain). It backs up every time we do laundry and sometimes when we take a shower. I've noticed it comes out of the basement toilet as well. Any ideas? Our realtor has tried calling the city for two weeks now and they never call her back.


Subject: First I would ask your

First I would ask your plumber if they ran the snake and camera all the way to the city main. If not I would suggest that be done. You need to make sure the problem is not on your property. If your line is clear and in good shape all the way to the city main then I would be calling your city (not just the clerk that answer the phone, but the director of public works also) at least once a day until the problem is fixed.

Don , Hudson Fl

Subject: intermintent backups

I have been having a problem every so often with backup coming up in various drains in the house. I have had the all the lines cleaned and viewed with a camera inside and outside the house. but the problem does come back. any ideas?


Subject: backed up drains

take into consideration how old your home is. 20 years +. what has been done to update the sewer lines. some times if you have done all you can it is time for a professional. find out who your waste water district is and call them for a referal and or advise on how to proceed. some times they will come out and check the cities sewer main to make sure there is no blockage in the lines they are supposed to maintian. If you can get the line drained. a video inspection is a way to see what is going on with the lateral. from the house to the sewer main. get referals for who ever you hire from someone you trust.

Janie Kin

Subject: constant back-up

In the last 5 years I have had the plumber out over 15 times. They have replaced pipes and a drain out. It works for about five months and then it begins to back up. If you take a shower the toilets in both bathrooms starts to make noises. We have switched to one-ply toilet paper no one uses any feminine products which is what they claimed the first time. No paper towels, baby wipes, none of that applies and I am coming to a wits end any recommendations.


Subject: Sounds like tree roots

Sounds like tree roots getting into the lines somewhere and the plumber clears them out or replaces a section, then they regrow. It doesn't have to be a big tree, either - fast-growing trees like willow can do it. Especially consider this if you have an older home where pipes are iron or clay, the joints between pipe sections can gap and allow root entry. A little crack is all it takes - consider that inside the pipe, they're growing in fertilizer!

Daniel Leyland

Subject: A clogged sewer line blockage

A clogged sewer line blockage is major problem, for every home owner. Your post list out valid warning signs of sewer line blockage and gives useful tips on it. Find your post very interesting and helpful.

Medlock Tony

Subject: sewage back ups

I've had black sewage coming into my home, and under my home since 1999. I've contacted the water department and have been treated poorly. The last time I hired a former worker from the water department to advocate for me. My sewage line runs across my neighbors backyard and my backyard equaling about 100 yards. I'm told that the city cannot help me find how much I'm responsible for. My neighbor told me not to dig his yard as well. The soil under my house is a concern. My house was built in 1968 in Vanburen Ar. The soil under my house is a concern. My house was built in 1968. The neighborhood around me is all new. Do I need an attorney ?

Robin Presson

Subject: clog

I too live in Van Buren, AR same problem Tony. Three weeks ago had plumber out at said the clog was at the street but wished me luck getting the city to own up to it. The problem today is back again today I did a load of laundry and it backed up in tub and toilet overflowed. I built here in 85 but most of the houses are newer. I want to cry


Subject: stinky house

my sewer lines are always stopping up, now I have this stinky smell of waste coming through my house. When a/c comes on it smell like its pulling it in. My house stink of raw sewer. Do I need to replace my whole sewer system to get rid of da smell? My wash room reaps of da smell, my commodes stops up constantly, please give me some advice.
Thank u,


Subject: Clogged main... Again!

We were charged $350 just one month ago to have our main drain line snaked.. And just two weeks later our half bath sink started gurgling, and now we're completely backed up again. The sewer guy said its common for the pipes to clog again but I have been a stickler for what goes down the toilet, down to limiting how much toilet paper my loved ones wipe with! The sewer man wants to charge me another $350 to snake the line again. Does this sound right? Can main drain lines clog that quickly? He also went through our toilet drain pipe to snake the lines, and when he put the toilet back on he did not put on a new beeswax ring.. So when the toilet backs up it flows out of the base of the toilet- all over the bathroom floor! How frustrating.


Subject: Sewage

When I flushthe toilet up stairs it comes out of the toilet in the basement


Subject: main clog

Everything drains for a couple minutes, then burps back thru the sinks n toilet. I let it sit about 10 minutes and its like a vacvuum just sucks all the water out of the lines. I can then flush and everything again a few times and samething backs up give it 10-15 minutes and all water in drain is gone again. It drains super fast after a few minutes of sitting...


Subject: toilet flushing and draining slow

The city has been doing alot ofwork on main sewer lines on my street, ever since they have been doing this my toilet drains very slow and does not have alot of pressure to flush. What do i do to fix this ?

Dawn Yates

Subject: plumbing problems

Ive had many problems with my basement backing up, after many plumers came out I replaced my main line. that was about 4months ago. my toilet in the basement has backed up again, I called the company that fixed my problem they said the problem was father than they expected and say I have to dig up the street now. is this my responsibility or the citys?does this problem make sence to you?

kevin cameron

Subject: Property Descriptions

In almost all cities, the entire sewer line is the responsibility of the homeowner.

The WYE connection (the final connection before your private sewer ties onto the city sewer) is the only exception to this rule.

This problem does make sense. There are a lot of plumbers out there who know these rules, but do not want to bother with tearing up streets or sidewalks. (as they are public property)

When dealing with the unknown (underground infrastructure) it is always best to obtain many references.


Subject: My sewer drainage clog and

My sewer drainage clog and overflow come from under my toilet and bubble up inside the toilet as we'll , this happen downstairs in my bi level home in the bathroom y is that ?

advice needed

Subject: back up?

A few months ago i noticed bath tub 1 was slow at draining. A few weeks ago I noticed that toilet 1 wasnt flushing correctly (wouldnt flush all the way at times) a few days ago i took a shower in bathtub 2 and then my husband took a shower right after. I heard some gurgling noises and noticed that toilet 1 hardly had any water in it. I flushed toilet 1 to see what it would do. It filled all the way to the brim of the bowl, but just sat there. I then left for the day. That night i did a load of laundry and noticed that a bunch of water and nasty black stuff came up out of the drains of bath tub 1&2. My husband then went outside and took the cap off of the clean out line and he said the water shot out like it would a volcano. What do i have going on here?

Stacy Henson

Subject: Backed up sewer line.

Every time I do laundry, my tub and toilet make a gurgling noise, my tub is very slow to drain and my toliet doesn't want to flush and usually has to be plunged. I read where another couple were experiencing the same problem. Her husband went outside and took the cap off the clean out line and hot water shot out of it like a volcano. I am a single mother of three so money is definitely an issue, however, the biggest issue is our health. Our kitchen sink has recently started gurgling and draining slow as well. I took some pipes apart underneath the sink to see if I could find the problem. They were disgusting, slimy, smelly, and full of brown goo! Starting to think now that raw sewage is backing up in there. I have absolutely no idea where to start, or what to do, any suggestions would be much appreciated.


Subject: water coming out trough the clean out

my house inside doesn't clog but my clean out outside my house does I already put the snake thru out into the street it uncloged it.But 2 weeks later it happen again what should I do help please


Subject: my bathroom sinks backs up in the tub

I noticed every time I used my sink it backs up in my tub. I bought a snake but it is still happening .. I noticed it rained 2 days ago.. What should I do? Please help me..... Thanks

James Figy
James Figy

Subject: Clogged drains

Semone— Unfortunately, you've done everything right, but it's probably time to bring in a professional plumber or drain clearing service. Your recurring problem indicates something wrong further in your home's plumbing. It may be a clogged vent or a clog that's been pushed too far in for your drain snake to reach. The Angie's List Guide to Household Sewer Drains is a good place to start (https://www.angieslist.com/plumbing/main-drains.htm). A plumber might try to find a clog with a larger snake or send a camera through your drain to spot the problem. For more information and questions to ask before hiring a plumber, check out the Angie's List Guide to Hiring a Plumber (https://www.angieslist.com/plumbing/plumbers.htm). To talk to someone in real time, please call us: 1-888-944-5478. Sincerely, James F.  |  Staff writer, Angie's List Magazine

Tommy Ritenour

Subject: Sewer line maybe

I'm having a problem in my basement. I've had 4 plumbers to my home. My basement floods when I run the shower, the washing machine or anything to do with water it gushes from the base of my toilet in the basement bathroom I don't know what to do with this anymore

Derek Jones

Subject: Sewer line maybe

Had the same problem myself. What I eventually found was there was a clog in the basement toilet line possibly caused by toilet paper from the upstairs bathroom not properly going all the way down the line. What I eventually did was ran a snake down the basement toilet line and this unclogged what may have come from upstairs. Haven't had a problem since.

Bradley Johnson

Subject: water overflowing in basement

Twice after hard rains We have water leak at the bottom of our stairs to our basement along the wall and then the cleanout drain in basement also overflows. The stiars and cleanout are about 2 ft apart. It was snaked and now we do not know where the clog would be and so do we dig or break down a wall. We need help...Also if we do a lot of laundry the drain will fill. We do have a septic and grayline. Thank you!


Subject: Main Drain clogs

Landscaping can play a part in the risk of having roots clog a main drain over a period of years. In the front yard, most sewer drains connect to the municipality's sewer line. As it was written, trees are notorious for clogging main sewer lines when their roots seek out moisture. Keeping a tree's height down to around 10 to 15 feet can reduce the risk of the main line getting clogged. The taller the tree, the deeper the roots must grow to keep it from falling over. Thus, a tree can end up growing its roots toward the sewer line, eventually cracking it and clogging the main line. Keep your trees topped to reduce the risk of clogging your main line, not to mention reducing the risk of the tree falling over in a moderate to severe windstorm as well.

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First - NOT full septic tank - if that was the case you would be getting backup of sewage into the lowest drains in the house, and possible very slow flushing or refusal to drain out of the bowl - the opposite of your case.

Second - I assume you are the owner. If a renter or on a lease, this type of problem may be the responsibility of your landlord, depending on the terms of your lease or rental agreement.

OK - two possible situations here - low water in BOWL, or low water in TANK. I am assuming your toilet flushes OK, with adequate water to clean out the bowl, and that it is a typical type toilet with a tank sitting on the back of the bowl. If this is not the case and it is a designer toilet or looks like those at public restrooms (no tank), then the BOWL answers still apply if it is initially refilling OK, but if not enough refill water coming in at all then call a plumber.

First, low water in the toilet BOWL case. If the water in the toilet BOWL is low after flushing, I see four likely causes, in order of most likelihood -

1) the fill valve is not putting enough water into the toilet bowl. If you take the top off the tank, you will see a small hose (typically black plastic) coming from the fill valve (a vertical mechanism, usually at left side of tank, that the incoming water tube or flex hose connects to the bottom of on the bottom side of the tank). While the tank is refilling after a flush, a steady but not large flow of water flows through this fill tube and down into a vertical pipe or tube (usually brass or plastic and about 3/4 inch diameter, which stands almost full height of tank). The small tube puts water into this pipe, from where it flows into and refills the toilet bowl. This is also the overflow tube, which keeps the tank from overflowing if the fill valve fails to shut off. If the fill valve has a problem or the fill tube has a blockage, it may not be letting enough water into the bowl. Also, check the tube is actually pointed down into the overflow tube - if the clip came loose, rusted away or broke, then it may just be filling the toilet tank rather than the bowl. Check that a steady flow (will not be a real foreceful jet) of water is flowing out of this tube into the overflow pipe while the toilet tank is refilling. You should also see the bowl filling up at this time. If it come in but does not fill high enough because it does not run long enough, some fill valves have an adjustment - check fill valve manufacturer website for instructions. Others just have to be replaced - doable if you are handy at home repairs (see web videos on how to do it), or call a plumber for probably about $150-200 to replace fill valve (have him replace the flapper valve at same time if you get this done).

2) there is something like a rag or string caught in the trap (the waste passage within the toilet body itself) which is slowly wicking the bowl water down the drain - would be solved by a good snaking. If this is the case, the bowl will fill fully after flushing, but then slowly (typically many minutes to hours) drain down to just filling the start of the oval or round drain passageway where the waste passage starts to curve up into the toilet body.

3) blocked sewer vent pipe (which vents sewer gas and lets air into the sewer system so when you flush the traps in drains and toilets and such do not get sucked dry by the vacumn caused by the exiting flow. If this is the problem, then several drains in your house may have the same problem, or drain slowly. When you flush, the water will drain totally down the pipe and almost all the water in the bowl and trap will go down the drain too, typically with a gurgling sound for a few seconds at the end as the air seal is broken in the trap, then a small amount of water will flow back from the trap into the bowl, leaving you with water in the entrance curve to the trap but nowhere near normal height in the bowl - maybe not even enough to fill the entrance of the drain passage.

4) a crack in the toilet, letting water gradually leak out of the bowl onto the floor or into the subfloor. If this has been going on for long at all you should see water on the floor, or water coming out in the ceiling downstairs, or in the basement or crawl space under the toilet.

Case 2 - the problem is low water in the toilet TANK - since this is a sudden problem, two likely causes:

1)  the float arm has corroded or the float setting has moved. Look in tank for any broken part. You may have a black ball on the end of a metal or plastic arm connected to the fill valve (which is the part, normally at the left side of the tank, that the flexible or copper tubing comes into at the bottom of the tank), or it may be a sliding cylindrical float that slides up and down on the fill valve (typically all plastic) - see if it is broken or loose or alll corroded up (for the arm type). When you flush, this float hangs down (if lever type) or slides down the fill valve (cylinder type), opening the fill valve so fresh water comes in to fill the tank and bowl. As the tank fills it lifts this float, till at the proper elevation the bouyancy of the float shuts off the fill valve. If the setting on this float has changed then it will either cause the toilet to "run" continually because it is trying to overfill the tank (float shuts off at too high a level, so water is continuously flowing down into the overflow tube and into the bowl); or it will shut off too soon, causing only a partial tank fill. There are adjustments to adjust the float shutoff setting - typically an adjustment xxxx on the arm-type, and a slider stop clip on a small rod for the sliding type. See web videos on how to adjust this, or call a plumber.

2) your flapper valve (in bottom of tank, the part a chain or cord or rod connects to the flush handle, which opens it when you flush the toilet, leaks. If it leaks AND the fill valve is working, the tank level drops till the fill valve opens, then the tank refills. This repeats at intervals, with the tank refilling periodically even though it has not been flushed. May need new flapper valve or just a good wiping of the sealing surface to remove grit that is causin it to leak. If this is the problem you will have a slight flow of water into the bowl continually, and will probably see a slight ripple in the toilet bowl.

3) water is leaking out of the fittings or bolt holes on the bottom of the tank. If this is happening enough to make you notice low takn water level, the tank will refill periodically the same as if the flapper valve is leaking, plus you will have water on the floor and dripping off the bottom of the tank.


Fill valve and flapper valves each cost around $15 if you do it yourself (you can buy just replacement flapper for less if that is the problem and the matching seal is good, but that is rarely the case). A plumber call to replace both probably $150-200, ASSUMING your water shutoff valve (at the wall, under the tank, with a flex or copper tube coming fromit up to the toilet tank) will work.. If it will not shut off the flow of water, then add another $50-150 to replace that, depending on how it is plumbed and whether he has to cut into the wall to replace it (rarely required). If you do go and have a plumber do it, have both the fill valve and flapper valve (and flush handle, if aluminum or brass and corroded) replaced at the same time, as all tend to go out with age - every 10 years or so. You don't want to have to call the plumber to replace another part in just a year or two.


From the sounds of it, you have a clog between the floor drain and the connection to the city sewer (unless you have a septic tank).  The lower flow rates of sinks / showers / dishwashers probable don't cause a backup like the washing machine does.  A couple of suggestions.

1.  Snake the drain line with a spade tip snake, twisting the snake as you advance it.  This should clear the partial blockage.

 2.  If feasable, have your washing machine discharge into a utility sink and put a strainer on the drain to catch the clothing fibre (fibres and grease from the sink probably made the clog in the first place not to mention a garbage disposal).

3.  Replace your floor drain with one that has a backflow preventer (looks like there is a ping pong ball in it).

 Good Luck

It is not uncommon for a plumber to have to go get the parts necessary to repair and complete the job.  It is very hard to determine what the problem is over the phone and it is not until the repair process begins that the parts needed to resolve the problem is discovered.  It may also depend on if the plumber is using hourly rates or per job rates.  I would hope the time to get the parts would be minimal and the charge would be as well!

You have not said how old your house is, what normal water line life in your area is, whether it is leaking under the foundation or under the yard, etc. Cost depends a great deal on length of run, depth to dig to get below frost line, whether excavation will be through trees or other obstructions or open area, whether ground along route is too steep for a backhoe to work on, etc.

The first thing you really need to figure out is whether this is a spot repair issue, or a total line replacement issue. Your plumber should be able to help with that determination.  Very general rule of thumb - very old line from before 80's, if galvanized pipe, could be at its practical life and be ready for total replacement. Copper line generally last about 50-70 years UNLESS in a corrosive soil environment or if it has groundwater flowing actively past it, then can be 20-30 years. Plastic lines from the 60's to 80's vary a lot - from as little as 10 years to 50 plus dependingon brand. Plastic lines (PVC, HDPE, PE) from the 80's and later are expected to last 50-100 years - most have not failed yet, so no good handle on how long they will last.

An above-ground or under the slab line a plumber will do. Buried line outside he generally subcontracts to an excavator to dig and backfill the line, or asks you to get the excavation done.


If section needing replacement is under your floor slab or foundation, then a full replacement can be many thousands of $ depending on how many linear feet, and if interior flooring will have to be replaced or if you are on a bare concrete slab or bringing the new line in above-ground once you get through the foundation. A simple one-spot buried pipe repair (based on acoustic locating and precisely measuring the location of the problem) can be as little as $400 but probably more often $1000 or so - more if poor access like under a slab underneath stairs.

If the runs to be replaced are exposed in a crawl space or basement than it can run as little as $20/LF (probably $400 minimum job cost) to replace.


Outside line to the street can run from as little as $10/LF in areas where the pipe is shallow (no annual frost penetration) and in easy digging soil, to $250/LF or more if deeply buried, have to excavate through trees and heavy roots or boulders, steep topography, other utility interferences etc. Generally not more than $50/LF. Commonly, instead of digging up the old line, they select a new semi-parallel route from a good connection point for you existing interior water lines at the foundation (maybe not where it currently comes in, depoending on access) to the street main shutoff valve (called a "key box", taking a route between them that is easiest to get a backhoe into and minimizes destruction of valuable plantings or trees. A number of $50/LF is commonly tossed around as "normal" for this type of job, if exceeding 100 feet or so and digging and access conditions are normal.

If your connection is in the middle of the street rather than along your side in the yard, that can easily add $2-5,000 to the job, as the water utility usually has to do that part, and repair the street afterwards. In a major throughway street, even more because of traffic control, multi-agency permits, etc.


As always, find 2-3 responsible, well-recommended (Anglie's List ?) contractors, and then get bids. The route I would go is first go with your regular plumber to locate the leak (probably acoustically, by listening for the leak) and determine the scope of work needed, then if major, go for multiple bids.