How to Troubleshoot Sewer Line Problems


Even if you haven’t noticed any issues, undiagnosed sewer line problems have the potential to cause extensive damage to your home if not remediated in the early stages of malfunction. Sewer line symptoms like clogs, backups, or oder are warning signs that should alert homeowners to possible sewer line damage. If you identify any of these sewer line problem warning signs in your home, call a professional and schedule a video inspection right away.

These are the things you should look for when you think there may be a break, blockage, or other problem with your sewage line. 

What Are Symptoms of Sewer Line Problems?

  1. Slowly draining sinks and other backups – Water backing up in fixtures is one of the most common symptoms of sewer lateral issues. Even if the backup is only occurring in certain fixtures – e.g. the bathtub is backing up and the toilet works fine – there may still be an issue with a secondary sewer line as opposed to the main line. Your plumbing system has multiple branches, similar to a tree, and problems may occur in one or all of them.
  2. Using one fixture causes a backup somewhere else – If flushing the toilet causes water to backup in the bathtub, for example, it may be because the water is being forced upward due to a clog in your sewer line. These backups may appear in multiple places like sinks or basement drains.
  3. Backups in multiple fixtures – When water is backing up in many places – laundry, sink, toilet, etc. – this is a strong indication that there is some kind of blockage in your home’s main sewer pipe. Household snake cleaners won’t do the job in these situations. It’s time to call a trustworthy professional to inspect your lines.
  4. Sediment in backups – Pay close attention when the water that backs up is dirty. The appearance of sediment indicates that water has backed up from the actual sewer line, not just in your home’s internal plumbing. The sediment will appear dirt- or mud-like in appearance.
  5. Unpleasant odor – When no sewer line problems are present, your pipes should be airtight. Blockages can lead to cracks and other openings, which will release the foul smell of sewage into your home or yard. If you begin to notice a gassy stench in or near your home, there is some kind of problem with your drains.
  6. Large trees in the yard – Believe it or not, tree roots are one of the most common causes of sewer line problems. Root structures can reach far beyond the above-ground footprint visible to the naked eye, and over time they will crush water pipes and other drains buried underground. If you have large, old trees anywhere in your yard, it may be the cause of your problems.
  7. Water backups when it rains – This may indicate that you need to install a backflow prevention device on your sewer line, so that water is only permitted to run out of your home but not into it. (Foundation issues and other problems could also be the culprit in this case however.) 
  8. Mold on walls or ceilings – If a sewer pipe breaks inside a wall, the residual humidity will quickly result in dangerous mold growth. You may also notice a foul or musty odor.
  9. Lush patches of grass in your yard – When sewage leaks into your yard, it may have the ironic effect of feeding and fertilizing the plants in that area. An extra green appearance in one area of your grass could mean there is a broken sewer line beneath it.
  10. Plunging and clearing the J-trap doesn’t solve the problem – If you’ve tried all the common strategies for dealing with clogs, like using a plunger and pouring in an eco-friendly drain cleaner, but nothing has solved the issue: it’s time to call a professional plumber.

What Should You Do if You Think You Have a Sewer Line Problem?

If you are experiencing any of the issues above, take steps to address the sewer line problem as soon as possible.

1. Turn off the main water valve. If you’ve reached the point where water is or may soon be causing extensive damage, locate the shut-off valve where the water pipeline from the water meter enters the house and turn the “gate valve” to the “closed” or “off” position.

2. Schedule a video inspection. Plumbing professionals can best diagnose sewer pipe problems when they can actually the interior condition of the pipes. When a sewer video inspection is conducted, a camera that shows the condition of the pipe is inserted into the sewer line. Identifying the precise location of pipe failures also allows your sewer repair or replacement team to fix your sewer drain issue more efficiently, which saves everyone time and money.

At Pipe Spy, we credit the cost of your sewer camera inspection toward the cost of a sewer lateral replacement, should a replacement be necessary.

Choose a Licensed Professional in the East Bay, California

The sewer line repair and replacement technicians at Pipe Spy will treat you and your home with the respect and professionalism you deserve. As licensed and certified sewer line experts, we’ve been providing the best advice and services to homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1998.

Contact us  for a free consultation.