What is a sewer belly?

A sewer belly is a dip, or belly, in a sewer line is a common problem in underground sewers. In addition to “sewer belly,” you might also hear it called a “dip” or “low spot” in the line.

To understand how a sewer belly can be a problem for you, you have to first understand the basic design of your sewer system.

All sewer lines have to be set at a grade, which means that the pipes are always sloping downhill. Similar to an amusement park slide, the pipe has a top high point (your house) and a bottom (the street or the public sewer underneath the street). This setup allows gravity to ensure that the sewers constantly flow in the right direction.

Like the amusement park slide, proper assembly is important. A sewer pipe with a belly is the same as a slide assembled with a pool halfway down: the ride down will be smooth until you hit the pool. To continue to the bottom, you must swim across the pool, and then continue the slide to the bottom. This seems like no problem if you can swim, right? Wrong.

With waste water, a pool located in the middle of the pipe simply creates an area for solid waste to settle and build up, eventually creating a clog. As a result, bellies must be repaired as soon as the issue is discovered.

What causes clogged drains?

Clogged drains occur because:

  • Grease
  • Paper towels
  • Hand/baby wipes
  • Large quantities of food
  • Feminine hygiene products

While this is merely a small list, the similarity between all of the above items is that they don’t break down easily or at all.

We recommend following the below guidelines for properly using your sanitary sewer system:

  • Only flush human waste and single-ply toilet paper.
  • Scrape all leftover food into a trash can and dispose of oils in a bottle or other container. Use hot water to flush only crumbs into the garbage disposal.
  • Use Bio-Clean on a monthly basis to perform regular maintenance on all tubs, sinks, and showers. Use Root-X to treat your main sanitary sewer line at least 1 time per year (minimum).
  • Never use any kind of acid drain openers. These products will destroy sewer integrity in the long run. And if those destroyed sewers are underground, it will be quite expensive to repair the damage. When your drain stops up, try to resolve the problem either manually or mechanically.

Following these simple tips decreases the likelihood of having to deal with future sewer clogs for a long time. This, in turn, saves you a ton of money, stress, and headache.

Should I be worried about Orangeburg piping?

Orangeburg is a type of piping commonly installed in homes between 1945 and 1965. If your home was built between those dates and located in Northern VA, your home likely uses Orangeburg.

Orangeburg was installed as a low-cost alternative to metal sewer lines, but was not designed for durability. Because it frequently fails, Orangeburg should be removed entirely instead of simply repaired. Most installations take place from the curb near the street up to at least 5′ from the front foundation of the house.

Common signs of failed Orangeburg piping include:

  • Recurrent, frequent clogging of the main sanitary sewer line
  • Turf indentations in the lawn that match the location of the sanitary sewer
  • Your neighbors undergoing excavation work in their lawns. If your neighbor has Orangeburg, you probably do, as well.

The most reliable way to discern whether or not your home uses Orangeburg pipe is to conduct a sewer video inspection of your sanitary sewer. This inspection confirms the presence of Orangeburg pipe, its location, and the condition of the piping.

Are roots the source of my drain problems?

A little known fact about roots is that they will travel long distances when water is scarce, such as during droughts and in winter months. When shrubs and trees get thirsty, they follow moisture vapors that escape through small cracks or poorly-sealed joints in sewer and water lines, penetrating the pipe.

Plant root systems are comprised of large, permanent roots used to support and stabilize, and smaller, temporary feeder roots. These smaller roots are what absorbs water and nutrients. Most roots sits in the top 6-18 inches of soil, where they can access the nutrients, oxygen, and water needed for the plant to grow. How quickly the plant grows depends on factors such as soil depth, aeration, water supply, temperature, and mineral supply.

To reliably calculate how far out a root system stretches, you can estimate that roots typically extend two to three times the height of the tree, though they can reach as far as seven times the tree’s height. Larger, more mature trees may have up to thousands of feet of root system. Roots are usually more far reaching in well-drained or sandy soils than in clay soils.

If left unchecked, the roots can fill the pipe entirely in hair-like masses at each entry point. These root masses then trap grease, toilet tissue, and other debris flowing from homes and businesses down to the main sewer. The end result: slowed drains and reduced sewer flow. If the roots are not removed and their growth is left unchecked, a complete blockage can occur.

Once roots have made their way into the pipe, they grow and expand, which puts pressure on and widens their entry point. This often results in the breaking of the pipe and can result in the total collapse, which then must be fixed or replaced entirely.

Some pipe materials are more accessible than others for root intrusion. Clay tile pipe is easily invaded and damaged by tree roots. Concrete piping and PVC pipe may also be penetrable, but are sturdier than clay pipe. PVC often has fewer joints, and the tight-fitting nature of its joints makes it less likely to leak.

What is causing the foul odor in my home?

Smoke Testing can help with obnoxious odors. The most complicated part is usually locating the source of the odors. People often assume that the odor problems are coming from the sewer, but that’s not always the case.

Foul odors can arise when trash is not properly disposed of, a dirty kitchen-sink-garbage disposal, poor quality plumbing installation, poor property maintenance, animals being trapped in the ventilation system, sewer traps without water, cracks in the pipes and/ or foundation, etc.

AAJDS can help you determine whether or not the obnoxious odors you smell are sewer-related. If they are, in most cases we are able to identify the general location of the problem through smoke testing.

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