As a homeowner, you have the responsibility of ensuring that all your home systems are working properly—including your plumbing. Although your home plumbing has operated flawlessly for the past several years, you're now noticing symptoms of a cracked sewer line, such as foul odors, clogging, or sunken areas throughout your lawn. However, before you can arrange for repairs, you must determine the cause of the damage. Here are the three main issues that will cause severe damage to your sewer line:
Your sewer line is rigid and hollow. Although this is exactly how all sewer lines are designed, these characteristics increase the risk of damage to your line when the terrain surrounding your pipeline shifts.
Terrain shifts typically occur at very slow rates with large intervals between them. However, certain natural events, such as an earthquake or landslide, can significantly increase the rate of terrain shifting around your pipeline. In addition to these natural events, the terrain surrounding your sewer line will also shift at an increased rate if it's tasked with distributing the weight of a nearby busy road.
When the terrain surrounding your sewer line shifts, it can place an extreme amount of pressure against the sides of your hollow pipeline. Your PVC or metal sewer line can withstand a minimal amount of force, but after being exposed to months or years of steadily increasing pressure, it will crack.
There are certain ways that you can minimize the terrain movement around your sewer line. For example, if your home is built on a hill, slope, or cliff, you can minimize terrain movements by installing a retaining wall or planting vegetation. Although these precautions will not guarantee your pipeline's integrity, they will significantly minimize the risk of terrain damage.
Your tap water is filtered (to a certain extent) by your municipal water treatment facility. However, some corrosive minerals can remain in your water supply even after being sent through a treatment facility. In most homes, the majority of these corrosive minerals are neutralized or treated by water softeners or the anode rods inside of residential water heaters.
If your home doesn't have either of these water filtration devices (or if you simply haven't maintained them), then the corrosive minerals in your water supply can corrode the pipelines in your plumbing system. The rate at which corrosion occurs throughout your pipelines is typically very slow—but after slowly corroding for several years, large leaks can form throughout your plumbing system.
If your sewer line sustained corrosion damage, then other pipelines throughout your home will have developed leaks as well. To minimize future corrosion damage, you'll need to maintain your water softener and heater. Water softeners require regular brine tank cleanings and chloride replacements, and water heater anode rods should be replaced whenever they're coated in calcium bicarbonate (a white, powdery substance) or revealing their core.
If your lawn and street are covered in snow or ice at any point throughout the year, then it's necessary that your sewer line be buried below a certain depth. At a certain depth, referred to as the frost line, surface ice, snow, and frost can no longer lower the underground temperature. The earth's internal temperature keeps soil and objects beneath the frost line from falling below the freezing point.
If your sewer line was not built beneath your local frost line (which varies regionally), then water that flows through it can become frozen. As water continues to flow through your sewer line, additional layers of ice begin to form—and since water expands when it turns into ice, your sewer line can crack when it becomes overpowered by the internal pressure. To prevent this type of damage from occurring in the future, your sewer line will need to be reconstructed beneath the frost line.
If you aren't able to determine the cause of your sewer line damage, or if you aren't able to make the necessary repairs by yourself, then contact your local plumber for an estimate. A plumber will be able to assess and repair the damage to your sewer line more accurately and precisely than you'll be able to do on your own.
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