Residential Drainage Systems 101
It’s easy to take for granted that when you turn on the tap or dishwasher, an unlimited supply of clean water will flow, and down the drain it will disappear. What’s out of sight in the pipes is out of mind – until there’s a problem somewhere down the line.
All drains within city limits connect to Abilene’s sewer system. When drains and pipes get clogged and the wastewater backs up, not only do you have a mess on your hands, repairs can be difficult and costly. Many victims of a DRAINWRECK are surprised to find it is their responsibility. Specifically from the Water Meter outside to the interior and from the Main Sewer line to the home’s connection. Any break that happens to this line is the responsibility of the homeowner, not the City of Abilene or your home insurance company. You may not be the only one who suffers the consequences – your neighbors can experience backups and unpleasant smells as well.
Thankfully, it’s also easy for homeowners and tenants to learn simple, everyday habits that will keep their drains – and the pipes below – clean and clear.
- Never Pour Grease Down the Drain
- Pour it into a can or directly into the trash.
- Don't Put Greasy Dishes in the Dishwasher
- Wipe greasy dishes with a paper towel beforehand.
- Don't Put Fatty Foods into Your Garbage Disposal
- Instead, put it into the trash. Besides, it will smell bad anyways.
- Refrain from Putting Disposable Wipes in the Toilet
- They do NOT disintegrate.
Residential Drains FAQs
If your grandma kept a can of bacon grease under her sink, she was on to something. Allowing grease to go down the drain – either in liquid form or in fatty foods thrown down the garbage disposal – can create big problems down the line. Unfortunately, many people learn this lesson the hard way: after a big mess and a hefty bill from the plumber.
Taking good care of your drains and plumbing can prevent costly, inconvenient plumbing problems. But when it comes to everyday drain maintenance, conventional wisdom isn’t always wise. Here are a few common misconceptions about what can and can’t go down the drain:
MYTH: Washing Grease Down with Soap and Hot Water is Enough to Prevent a Clog
Fact: While rinsing with soap and hot water may make your drain shine, it doesn’t eliminate grease from your plumbing system. Just as cholesterol clogs human arteries slowly over time, leading to a heart attack, any grease you’re washing down the drain doesn’t simply disappear – no matter how much soap you chase it with. Eventually, it cools down and the grease separates from the soap and water, coating the inside of your pipes as it hardens. Over time, that coating grows thicker and thicker, until one day no water can pass through. Then, it backs up into your home, or, if the clog is further down the line, into your neighbor’s house.
MYTH: Garbage Disposals Chop Up Greasy Foods into Such Small Pieces, They Won't Cause Any Problems.
Fact: The smaller the pieces, the likelier a clog. Think of it this way: If you’ve got a wide pipe full of golf balls, you can still run water through them. But pack that pipe with sand, and you’ve got yourself a clogged pipe. When you chop greasy food into small pieces with a garbage disposal, the food will decompose more quickly, releasing grease faster to coat the inside of your pipes. This is why it’s best to throw fatty foods into the trash can, pour hot grease into a can or the trash – never down the drain – and wipe greasy dishes with a paper towel before washing them in the sink or dishwasher.
Apartment and Condominium Drains
Food preparation in a complex of apartments, townhome and condo units creates a grease problem. Multiple kitchens, sinks and drains are in close proximity. All that grease hits a bottleneck when it connects the building’s plumbing to city pipes.
Some renters may think, “It’s not my house, so it’s not my problem” – but it becomes their problem when wastewater overflows into their apartment. Personal property can be destroyed and their home becomes temporarily uninhabitable. When clogs and overflows happen, repairs can’t be made without shutting off water to the entire building or area, causing headaches for every resident.
If every resident in a large complex were to allow just a teaspoon of grease to enter the pipes each week, it would all add up to a very serious problem.
Drain Clogs are Worse for Multifamily Units
For tenants, plumbing backups aren’t just inconvenient – they can also cause flooding that can destroy personal possessions in your own apartment and your neighbors’. Multiple floors for condo and apartment buildings are common even in a city as flat as Abilene.
Many residents are surprised to find that a drain clog is their responsibility, even damage that happens in neighboring units. If your condo or apartment is the source for a clogged drain that floods the entire floor below, you are liable for the damage.
Renter’s insurance and condo insurance policies typically exclude damage caused by sewer overflow and drain backups.
How the Sewer System Works
The sewer system – it’s as unpleasant as it sounds, but serves an important function. Even though the sewer works way better today than in the past, it’s not foolproof. Both residents, the city and businesses contribute to the health and longevity of a sewer in order for it to function properly.
Over 650 Miles of Pipes Connect in Abilene's Sewer System
Before we discuss how to maintain our sewer system, let’s go over how it works. The water and sewer systems work similarly to our veins and arteries. Clean water comes from the water treatment plant through a pipe system. The pipes get smaller as they branch off to different areas of town and ultimately to individual homes and businesses. After the water is used, it is called wastewater. The wastewater drains into a separate pipe system called the sanitary sewer. As the sewer collects more and more wastewater, the pipes get larger as they transport the wastewater to the wastewater treatment plant.
A sanitary sewer overflow occurs whenever a sewer pipe gets clogged and sewage backs up through the path of least resistance. That could be outside from a manhole or it could burst through a weak spot in the pipe. It could also be inside through a bathtub, sink, dishwasher, etc. What most people don’t realize is that the sewer system doesn’t just carry away waste from the toilet, it carries away anything that goes down any drain in our homes and businesses. Sinks, floor drains, washing machines, dishwashers, showers – they all drain to the sanitary sewer. So if the sewer gets clogged, sewage could back up through any of these sources and create a huge mess.
Preventing Sewer Backups
In order to prevent sanitary sewer overflows, we need to do our part to take care of Abilene’s sewer system by not putting things down the drain that should go in the trash. The number one cause of sanitary sewer overflows in Abilene is grease, which coats the inside of pipes just like it does in a vein or artery. When the pipe eventually gets clogged, the sanitary sewer overflow is the equivalent of a heart attack.
Leftover grease and cooking oil should be cooled, poured or scraped into a disposable container and put in the trash, as well as greasy foods, not the garbage disposal. Just like your doctor cannot run the little balloon through every single one of your veins and arteries to unclog them, our sewer department cannot clean out every single pipe underneath our city. There are more than 650 miles of sewer pipe in Abilene! We have to do our part to maintain our sewer system!
Dishwasher and Garbage Disposal 101
Most modern homes in the US are now built with an in-sink garbage disposal and dishwasher. While this convenience certainly can make our lives easier, it’s one of the main causes of household and city plumbing problems.
Many people assume that hot water and detergent break up grease from pots, pans, and dishes, but the effect is only temporary. While your dishes may come out of your dishwasher sparkling like new, underground, the grease hardens and builds up causing wastewater pipes to slowly grow smaller and smaller inside.
Any kitchen grease that enters your plumbing system can eventually cause clogs, backups, and overflows. Household wastewater and sewer water can enter your home, and all the hot water and detergent in the world can’t stop it from happening. That’s because once grease and hot water enter the pipes, the hot water begins to cool, the grease begins to congeal, and all of it sticks to and builds up on the inside of the pipes that carry wastewater away from your home.
Disposals are equally dangerous for plumbing. Many people rinse food off their plates into the sink before washing them, then use the disposal and hot water to wash it down the drain. While out of sight may be out of mind, the grease from the food doesn’t just disappear – it takes up residence in pipes underground.
To prevent costly plumbing problems – put every drop of kitchen grease where it belongs: in the trash. Instead of feeding your garbage disposal, scrape leftover food directly into the trash can, then wipe dishes with a paper towel before putting them into the dishwasher.
Flushable Wipes – Not So Flushable
More and more, flushable wipes are becoming a staple in bathrooms – especially among seniors and families with young. New products like Dude Wipes are even trying to make flushable wipes mainstream with men. What many wipe users don’t realize is that flushing such a small product can have enormous consequences.
Although these wipes are designed to be biodegradable and break down when flushed, unfortunately that doesn’t happen fast enough. Many local residents have learned the hard way that wipes can clog their home’s toilets and plumbing. If they do exit your home’s plumbing and enter the city’s underground sewer system, they mix with household grease, creating large, immovable clogs that can stop the flow of waste water, clog up pipes, and cause sewers to back up into homes and overflow through manholes into the streets.
So far in 2016, there have been three major incidences involving flushable wipes in Abilene. The first, (see picture) produced 200 gallons of sewage that spewed out through a manhole. The second produced 800 gallons that again exited out a manhole and streamed down an alley, turned and went down two others. Although looking like a water leak, it came with a rank odor that one would expect from sewage. The third incident involved a private cleanout at a place of business. The clog was found in their service line that connects their building to the City sewer line. As a result, the business was responsible for the cleanout at a significant expense.
To prevent these problems and Keep Abilene Flowing, throw wipes in the trash and refrain from disposing them down the toilet. Only flush toilet paper down the toilet. Keep a small trashcan in the bathroom for everything else.