What Causes a Broken Sewer Line?

Every pipe and plumbing fixture in your home connects to the most important piece of plumbing – the main sewer line.  The sewer line is often neglected and forgotten until you have a problem. With improper use of drains and outside forces, the main sewer line can take a serious beating. There are multiple problems that can lead to a broken sewer line. No sewer lasts for ever, but not all breaks warrant an immediate repair or replacement.

Broken Sewer Line Due To Pipe Settlement

One of the most common problems causing a broken sewer line is ground settlement.   When the ground around the pipe has settled, the pipe can sink and create a downhill slope in the wrong direction, or back-pitch. Waste and water that should flow downward away from your home will stop in the sunken area or flow back towards your home. Over time, waste will accumulate in the settled pipe causing a blockage. The only solution to a back-pitched pipe is to dig and repair the slope of the broken sewer line. 

Improper Sewer Line Installation

A sewer line works based on the principle of gravity.  The water and waste need to run downhill. Improper installation can lead to settling and back-pitched pipes. With a proper installation, a broken sewer line caused by a low area should be unlikely. Most plumbing code requires sewers to have a slope of 1/4-inch per foot. Plumbing code may require the plumber to place gravel underneath the entire run of pipe. If the main sewer line is not installed with proper fall or proper support, the pipes can settle and break.

  Sewer Pipe Root Infiltration

sewer repair tree roots
Tree roots damaging a sewer line

Another common cause of a sewer line break or damage is tree roots. Tree roots grow towards sources of water so they are naturally attracted to the sewer lines. Once the roots make contact with the sewer pipe, they will begin to wrap around and break into the pipes.  Over time, the pipes will become weakened leading to cracks. Roots will grow through the cracks and continue growing inside the pipes, eventually leading to clogs.  An experienced drain cleaner may use a hydrojet to clear out roots but over time, you may need to hire a plumber to dig up and replace in the compromised areas.  A camera inspection can locate exactly where the breaks are to indicate if a spot repair or full sewer line replacement is recommended.

 Sewer Pipe Deterioration

Many people turn to chemical treatments when they have a backed up drain.  Frequent treatments with chemicals will inevitably cause corrosion.  If your water is discolored, there is low water pressure, or you are finding signs of leaks, you may have failing pipes due to pipe corrosion.

How to Protect Your Sewer Lines

Not all sewer damage can be prevented but there are a few things you can do to help protect the life of your main sewer line.  A licensed plumber can provide a sewer camera inspection of your drains.  The camera will show exactly where any breaks or blocks are located so that you can be proactive in preventing further damage. Be on the lookout for trees along your sewer path. If a tree is damaging your sewer line, you should remove the tree before the sewer problem worsens.  Remember to always use your sewer line properly.  Only dispose of human waste and toilet paper in the sewer lines.  Any other materials that enter the system can cause blockages.

1 Tom Plumber has an entire team dedicated to protecting your drains!  They focus solely on how drains work and how to clean and repair them. 

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