“Hodgepodge”—Unconventional Solutions for Drainage Problems
By: Patrick Hooper
Mainline Inspection Services strives to cover all the bases by consulting on all feasible remediation options for sewer, sanitary infrastructure, storm and all other water management and drainage problems. In addition to the more common fixes, there are also other, lesser known options that sometimes come up during a consultation. Some of these tend to fall more into the category of “patch work”, rather than permanent fixes—so, they aren’t normally in the forefront of consideration. However, if the more conventional methods of remediation are prohibitive due to cost, physical barriers, or any other number of reasons, there are other alternatives that may be explored. So, we thought we would share a few.
A Sewage Back-flow Valve prevents flowing liquid, as sewage, from reversing its direction and backing up into the building. Simply put, it is a one-way valve that is placed within the main sewer line by exposing, cutting and replacing a section of pipe with a back-flow valve assembly. Reverse flow can result from a sewer lateral that has “flattened” due to ground shifting, the settling of the building foundation, the city mainline backing up into the lateral, downspouts that tie into the main outside the house, or any number of reasons other than blockages. A back-flow valve (or back-flow preventer) is designed to automatically shut off access into the building when flow reverses. They may be installed most anywhere in the lateral line—some models are even designed to be installed in the foundation on the inside of the house. Below are some links to a couple different designs, as well as a video.
Advantages: Costing about $1500 – $3000 installed (depending), this may be a very cost effective alternative to a replacement—especially if the line has gone flat due to the settling of the building, in which the buildings foundation has sunk to a level that makes the beginning and ending depth of the mainline nearly even. Replacing a flat line could require installing a lift-station in the yard or converting to a hung sewer with a grinder pump on the inside of the building in order to re-establish adequate fall in line. In addition to a whole new line, remediating a flat line could run as much as $10,000 – $20,000, or more.
Disadvantages: When you introduce a moving part to what is normally a “static” piece of equipment, you may run the risk of that mechanism failing. Back-flow valves have been known to jam or break due to a number of issues, including debris and waste in the line. Additionally, this is not a fix—rather, a method of managing/preventing reverse flow. Should there be further settling or flattening of the line—the back-flow valve may be rendered completely useless.
A Drain Cleaning Bladder is a very simple and ingenious device that uses nothing more than water pressure to clear a line and is a great alternative to a plunger, augur/snake or chemicals. In our experience, this is a very effective little “miracle” tool that we highly recommend. Drain bladders come in various sizes, accommodating pipe up to 6 inches in diameter.
The bladder is attached to a conventional garden hose and then placed inside the blocked line (normally a trap is removed to gain access). When the water is turned on the bladder inflates, creating a water-tight seal. The water then shoots out of the other end in a powerful stream, filling the pipe with water. Once filled, water pressure continues to build between the bladder and blockage until the obstruction is “blown out” of the line with about 50 -70 P.S.I., the typical incoming water pressure of a home or building.
You can pick one up at your local hardware store for less than $20.00 and it can be used over and over again. There is one “caveat”—these devices are designed to clear soft material that builds up in the line, such as food, hair, grease, etc. They are not as effective on roots or large, heavy objects/obstructions caught in the line. There isn’t much video available on YouTube, but the video link below demonstrates its effectiveness on a pool drain–just jump to 2:50.
Advantages: Very effective at clearing most soft clogs, inexpensive, reusable.
Disadvantages: Not as effective on severe clogs/obstructions such as roots.
Wedge Gutter Foam Inserts are simple, do-it-yourself gutter guards designed to keep leaves and debris from building up while allowing water to continue to flow through the system. Lightweight and flexible, these inserts are specially shaped to fit snugly inside gutters, reducing (not eliminating) the need to clear gutters. As an actual user of this product, we can say that after more than a year, these inserts have proved themselves to be an effective and inexpensive method of keeping our gutters from clogging and overflowing. We first bought just 1 box from Sam’s Club, installing only about 60 feet just to see how well it worked. Worked pretty well, so earlier this spring we did the rest of our gutters and so far, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results–all for less than $200. I’m excited about not having to get on my ladder this fall. Given the price point, we definitely think this is worth checking out. Here is what it looks like installed.
We should point out that the few negative reviews we identified on-line appeared to be from those who understood these inserts to be maintenance free. Leaves and debris on top of the guards will likely still need to be cleared, which may be done from the ground with a telescoping water hose extension/sprayer. Below is a link to a review of these foam guards, comparing two different brands.
Advantages: Cost effective, simple to install, makes cleaning of gutters easier and safer.
Disadvantages: Doesn’t eliminate the need to clean gutters, foam material may be susceptible to ultraviolet light and may need to be replaced within 5 – 15 years, depending.
Pop-Up Drainage Emitters are used to daylight downspout lines with vertical discharge points. They have valves that open and close automatically using hydrostatic pressure. If installed near a road, the pop-up emitter can release water to flow over the curb, eliminating the need to cut or drill through it. When closed/not in use, they lie flush with the ground, so they don’t interfere with lawnmowers.
When consulting a client on their downspouts, pop-up emitters usually come up in conversation when there is not enough slope from the house to the curb or back yard to maintain proper grade and flow all the way to the discharge point. They can also decrease the cost of replacing downspout lines—reducing the amount of necessary labor and materials, especially with larger yards. However, the emitters themselves can cost $30.00 – $60.00 each, so that additional expense always needs to be accounted for when considering them as an option. Additionally, they may also be beneficial when the soil in the yard doesn’t drain adequately enough or if the current gutter design drains too much water into one area.
As with the previously mentioned back-flow valve—pop-up emitters introduce a moving part to what is normally a “static” horizontal drain line. As with any moving part, there is always a risk of mechanical failure. And in cold climates with freezing temperatures, ice and snow may form over the valves and create problems in the late winter/early spring months—requiring additional attention and maintenance.
Advantages: Yards with inadequate fall to discharge points, may cut down on cost of replacing downspout lines, may help with poorly draining soil or uneven storm water distribution.
Disadvantages: Additional expense of emitters, risk of moving parts jamming or freezing in cold weather.
Finally, to close this blog entry out, I thought I would include a little something about a product that one of my customers brought to my attention. A hydro jet is a high capacity/pressure water compressor with a long hose and various cutting and clearing nozzles designed to clear drain lines of roots, grease, mud and other debris. High-end commercial machines, costing as much as $50,000, can range from 2500 to 4000 P.S.I. with hoses measuring up to 1 inch in diameter–that is a tremendous amount of pressure.
This product converts your gas or electric high-pressure washer into a small hydro jet with a hose and nozzle adapter. I’ve never seen one of these in action, so I can’t say much about them. Based on the links/videos provided below–given it’s size and power, I don’t see how it can possibly “stack up” to it’s much more powerful commercial-grade counterparts. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a practical application for this product. I think it may be capable of doing a decent job on grease, food, paper, waste and many other forms of soft material build up. And it would probably be most effective in pipe 3 inches or smaller. Below are a couple brands we found online.
For minor clogs and blockages–this may even rival the effectiveness of an augur. But as mentioned above, I’d give a drain cleaning bladder a go before making the investment in this–strictly for economical reasons. Why spend the money if you don’t have to?
Though I still have no first-hand experience with either of these hydro jetting products–I have a repeat customer who owns/uses the “Clog Hog” for his rental properties. During the last inspection I recently performed for him, I was able to get his opinion on the effectiveness of the product.
To my surprise, he uses the “Clog Hog” primarily for sewer waste and lateral lines. He says that he is extremely pleased with the effectiveness of the product. Apparently, the company makes at least two versions of hydro jets. The version for electric-powered pressure washers are effective for pipes up to 4 inches in diameter–and the versions for gas-powered pressure washers can clean pipe up to 6 inches in diameter.
As mentioned above in the original post, these smaller hydro jets are not sufficiently powered or equipped to cut through thick or even minor root infiltration—something that can sometimes be a challenge for even the commercial-grade machines. However, for grease, food, paper, waste and many other forms of “soft clogs”, this can be very effective tool–and at about $140, extremely cost-effective as well.