Tackling Drain Backup Challenges: Understanding Causes and Solutions

San Rafael

(415) 942-6565

Santa Rosa

(707) 452-3464

Dealing with sewer backup woes can be distressing for homeowners and property managers alike. When drains clog and backup occurs, it disrupts daily routines and poses potential health hazards and property damage risks. Understanding the root causes behind drain backups is crucial for implementing practical solutions that prevent recurrence and minimize the associated inconveniences. From common culprits like grease buildup and foreign objects to more complex issues such as tree root infiltration and pipe damage, a comprehensive grasp of the problem is essential. In this guide, we delve into the causes behind drain backups and explore practical solutions to mitigate their impact and restore seamless functionality to plumbing systems.

What is a Drain or Sewer Backup?

A sewer backup can be incredibly problematic for your home plumbing. It means wastewater is flooding back into your drains rather than the main sewer lines. Drain pipes could get blocked up from any massive backup and cause mold growth, slow drains, flooding water damage, and more. If a sewer line problem happens, it could pose a severe health hazard to your home since the dirty water and harmful bacteria from underground pipes can flood back into your drains and even out into your house.

This article will review the warning signs, leading causes, solutions, and prevention techniques of drain and sewer backups.

Early Signs of a Possible Sewer Line Backup

A few telling occurrences could warn you about a possible drain blockage within your plumbing system. If some occur, you could get ahead of the problem before it grows. Whether it is the main sewer line or your home’s sewer line, these are the warning signs to look out for that could tell you there is a problem.

Slow drains If the water in sinks, toilets, showers, and other plumbing appliances is taking far longer than usual, it could mean that your drains are having problems due to a backed-up sewer, especially if it is not just happening in one drain.

Waste backing into other pipes – If, for instance, you are hearing gurgling noises in the shower after flushing the toilet, this could indicate a backup in the sewer pipes since the water is trying to find other drains to go to.

Bubbles near drains – Bubbles in the toilet, sink, and shower drains could be due to air trapped within a clogged drain from water trying to move past the blockage. Be extra cautious if this happens in multiple drains, not just in a single drain.

Wastewater flooding from drains – In extreme cases, the sewage backup can start flooding from sink, shower, toilet, and floor drains. This is an emergency where you should take proper precautions, like sanitizing anything that came into contact with the raw sewage and then calling for a professional plumber.

Causes of Backups in Drains and Sewer Pipes

When it comes to the causes of your sewer backup, there is a mixture of things that may not be in your control and within your power to watch out for and prevent. But for the most part, you can ultimately control things like what goes into your sewer line and what sort of pipes you have, which can be a significant factor in whether you will experience sewer backup. These are the main things most likely causing the backup in your drains.

Pipe Blockages

Drains can get backed up due to a build-up of things like hair and grease in the sewer lines. A build-up of non-flushable materials flushed down the toilet could also be the reason for a massive blockage in the sewer system and could even cause damage to the sewer line.

Age and/or Design

Older pipes made up of cast iron or clay pipes can wear down over time and be highly likely to crack. It could also be possible that the sewer system has a poor design where sewage is not getting where it is supposed to from your lines, or rainwater is getting mixed in with the sewage line.

Tree Roots

Tree roots are attracted to the moisture and nutrients from sewage and can grow into the pipes, especially within old sewer lines. Tree roots will create a significant blockage that will send backed-up sewer waste into your home drains and cause considerable damage to your pipes.

Rain/Soil Movement/Flooding

An onslaught of rain can cause a backup in the main sewer line and your own. Excess water or flooding can easily lead to sewage being backed into your home’s plumbing, especially if the sewer system merges with stormwater drains. Heavy rainfall can also cause shifting soil around your pipes that could cause drain lines to lose their support and collapse, leading to a severe blockage.

Clogs in the Main Sewer Line

Though uncommon, the municipal sewer system can also clog and create a blockage in individual sewage systems. In this case, you must contact the city sewer department to inquire how to solve the problem.

What To Do With A Sewer Backup

But what happens when you find yourself in an emergency sewage backup situation? A sewer backup could still occur even if you do your best to prevent or get ahead of the problem. In that case, you will need the correct procedures to follow since sewage backups can be extremely hazardous when something like contaminated water and material or human waste creates a backflood into things like your toilet, sink, or floor drains and consequently into your home. Here are the steps to follow if you have a sewage backup emergency.

1) Plunge out the clog if you can: Things like liquid drain cleaners are not recommended, but plunging the clog out could be done before the blockage escalates out of hand. If the blockage has not grown significantly and is close enough to the drain, you can try to remove it with the proper tools to prevent sewer backups.

2) Shut off water and electricity: Do not use any plumbing fixtures in your home if you are experiencing a severe sewage backup. Turn off electricity in the entire house, or if you can, the electrical outlets near the sewage backup areas.

3) Put on safety gear before sanitizing the area: Goggles, face gear, boots, and gloves are needed before entering the house’s location contaminated by raw sewage. Use a shop vacuum to remove liquid and solid material adequately, then sanitize the affected area with disinfectant. Make sure to clean yourself and your clothes thoroughly after you have finished. Properly dispose of any damaged items.

4) Contact your insurance company: Many things within the affected area may have to be removed and/or replaced. Be sure to document all damage as it happens so that your insurance provider can help you restore anything damaged.

5) Get in touch with a professional plumber: You want the problem fixed as soon as possible, so reach out to an experienced plumber who can immediately figure out the causes of sewer backups and correctly repair any damaged sewer pipes or drains so that your home’s plumbing can get back to normal.

How You Can Prevent Drains and Sewer Lines Backing Up

You likely do not want to be in an emergency sewer backup situation. Now that you know the causes of sewer backups, how can you ensure they do not occur? How can you care for your drains so the sewer line remains unblocked? Below are some essential aspects to remember to ensure that your sewer drain does not experience a significant and damaging backup.

Things to keep out of drains – Do not pour grease, fat, or cooking oil down the sink. Those materials can harden over time and stick within the drain, causing blockages. Also, do not flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Paper towels, sanitary napkins, wet wipes, or any other item should not go down a toilet drain, even if said items claim to be flushable.

Hair – Have metal grates over shower drains to catch hair, and regularly clean these out. This can help stop hair clogs from building up in shower drains and sewer lines.

Consider your system – Consider the age of your pipes, and consider upgrading to newer piping material, such as modern plastic piping, if you still have cast iron or clay pipes. This can lessen the possibility of cracking or damage from tree roots. Also, be sure that your system is set up so that the stormwater drains are not flowing into the same line as the sewage drains.

Install a backwater valve – This device can help make sure that all sewage water is flowing away from your house and will shut automatically to prevent leaking in your plumbing appliances if sewer water begins to back up at any point.

Get a sump pump – Sump pumps can help prevent basement flooding by removing any standing water in your basement or crawlspace. This can help prevent further damage to your home in any flooding emergency, even outside of a sewer backup.

Get an inspection – Have a professional inspect your drains if you think there might be a problem. There are a few ways you could solve the problem yourself. Still, it is always better to have a knowledgeable technician come out and use the proper tools and techniques to ensure your sewer pipes are operating as they should and to get ahead of any possible sewer backups.

How John Owens Can Help With Your Drain Problem

Drain cleaning is one of our specialties here at John Owens Services, so if you need a professional to take care of any blockage in your system, we are the ones to call. We utilize various professional methods to ensure your drains go back to running smoothly. Among the techniques we employ are:

Video inspection to get an inside look at your sewer pipes and precisely locate the area of the sewage backup to target.

Hydrojetting uses a powerful blast of water to break down sewer backups within your drains. It also simultaneously cleans your drains whilst getting rid of the blockage.

Drain snake, which will utilize a long and flexible cable to break apart any blockage or pull it out of the drains.

Rooter services for tree root infiltration. This service will root out any tree root problems from the pipes so that they run smoothly once again.

A flex-shaft sewer machine, among the newer technologies for sewer cleaning, uses a rapidly spinning cable within a protected sheath to break apart blockages. This technique works more quickly and thoroughly than many other methods.

Call us today or online for any of the above services if you are dealing with a sewage backup. Our technicians have the knowledge and expertise to locate and take care of any sewer backups in your system. Whether it is slow-moving drains, tree roots, or flooding from one or multiple drains, you can rely on us to identify and eradicate the problem so your plumbing issues vanish!

Backups in your drains or sewer lines can cause multiple problems for your home’s plumbing. But now you know the signs to look out for, the potential causes of sewer backups, what to do in emergencies, and the steps to take to prevent sewer backups from happening in the future. Sewer backups can occur in everything from personal septic systems to central sewer lines, so be sure to keep your prevention steps in mind to do everything in your power to make sure your drains and sewers remain as unclogged as possible to keep your home’s plumbing safe and functional.

Need Help?

We’re open Monday – Friday 7:30am – 5:30pm, call today or schedule online now!

Serving Marin & Sonoma Counties

Good plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems are vital in every North California home. John Owens Services, Inc. is proud to be the expert plumbing company you can count on

The John Owens Way

Our philosophy is simple, we always want to maintain equipment to give it the longest life possible. Next, we want to focus on repairing when something goes wrong. Then only as the last choice, we replace equipment when needed. That’s the John Owens Way.

San Rafael
(415) 942-6565
Santa Rosa
(707) 452-3464



Regular maintenance keeps your home’s systems running well all year long. We’ll help you gain efficiency and save money.



When something breaks down, our team will get to you fast. We’ll find the problem and fix it to get you back to normal.



When it’s time to replace something in your home, we’ll help you get a top quality product that matches your specific needs.
San Rafael
(415) 942-6565
Santa Rosa
(707) 452-3464