Before tackling a blockage or other problem with drains around your property, it’s very important to establish what drains and sewers are your responsibility. Some are down to you to maintain, others are down to your water company.
It’s also important to understand some of the basic terminology: for example, do you know the difference between a ‘drain’ and a ‘lateral drain?’
From 2011, more drains and sewers have become your water company’s responsibility after government legislation was passed to alleviate the confusion over shared pipes. Previously there was confusion over shared sewers – where more than one property shared a drain but it was situated within the boundaries of one or more properties.
Basically, your water company now has responsibility for most sewers whether ‘private’ (within property boundaries) along with public sewers (those situated away from private property boundaries).
The property owner is just responsible for the drain within their property boundary.
A drain is classed as a single pipe removing water and waste from a property and not shared with other properties (although it may serve other structures within the private boundary such as a garage with plumbing or other outbuilding).
A ‘lateral’ drain is where the pipe passes beyond the private property boundary before connecting with the public sewer. A lateral drain is your water company’s responsibility.
Therefore, you could have a blockage in your drain that would be your responsibility but not if the problem exists beyond your boundary even though it’s the same pipe.
A sewer is basically a pipe situated beyond the boundaries of respective properties that carries water and waste from more than one property. Individual drains connect to a sewer.
A private sewer is the same as the above but lies within the boundary of one or more properties. This is where confusion and disputes have arisen in the past, and now most of these are the responsibility of the water company concerned.
Checking your drain and sewer layout
Most water companies have a graphical explanation on their websites of what pipes are defined as yours and their responsibility such as the example here.
To find out where your drain is, you can try a simple water flow test by lifting the drain inspection cover nearest your property and see if water flows through. By running a tap or maybe flushing a toilet and adding a piece of tissue paper (don’t overdo it and risk causing a blockage), you’ll see when and if the water flows along.
You can check your deeds to see where pipe layouts are and your local water should have drains and sewer plans that you’re entitled to view. In particular, you may wish to clarify the position with private sewers that may apply to your property as discussed above.
Once you’ve established where the blockage is, then you obviously need to repair it if it’s your responsibility. If it isn’t and you’re sure it’s a pipe controlled by your water authority, then you should contact them and they’ll arrange to deal with the blockage at no expense to you.
Why drains block
There can be various reasons, but common ones are:
- Improper use – when an object or substance enters the drainage system such as too much paper, paint, food waste or concentrated levels of fat. Wipes are a common problem – although some are supposedly flushable they don’t break down easily and can block pipes.
- Accumulation of matter – after a while, substances like fat deposits collect to such a degree that blockages occur.
- Collapsing – a drain can collapse thus reducing its effective size and restricted flows and full-blown blockages can result.
- Vegetation ingress – tree and other big plant roots can work their way into the drain pipe and eventually cause a block. Moss, leaves and other debris can enter the sewers via water from gutters.
How to unblock
Here you have to be careful both in terms of your own personal safety and running the risk of using drain clearing substances such as chemicals that might cause an environmental issue.
If you think it may be a simple blockage then sometimes mixing up some baking soda and flushing it down the sink may work; see here for how to do this. Using a plunger might do the trick but only really if the blockage is near the sink and U-bend area.
You can try using drain rods to clear a blockage – these can be purchased from DIY stores. Before attempting any drain unblocking yourself, make sure you’re wearing sufficient protective clothing including goggles and gloves.
Unless the blockage is a simple one and you’re TOTALLY confident in your ability to tackle it, you should seek expert help. Professional drainage companies can quickly and efficiently find where a blockage is and clear it. You can also rest assured they’ll do it in an environmentally friendly way as possible.
Using drains professionals
Professional drainage companies have access to the latest in drain blockage techniques such as water jetting, mechanical (to remove tree roots and vegetation ingress), the environmentally safe use of unblocking substances, and efficient detection of where blockages are with water and dye tests and perhaps CCTV. Drain blockages are inconvenient and time consuming for the novice to deal with, whereas a professional will have your drains cleared in double quick time.
Fraser Ruthven is the Marketing Associate for London Drainage Facilities, one of London’s leading drainage companies. London Drainage provides a wide range of drainage diagnostic and repair services in and around London.