How often do we need drain cleaning? Ask an Expert

Have you always had a question about drain cleaning but been afraid to ask? You aren't alone. Today's Ask an Expert topic has you covered:

Dear Rob, 

How often should your main drains be cleaned? Is it something you can do yourself or do we need R&B?


Can Lay-people Easily Auger Roots?  


Main storm sewer drainage only requires annual maintenance if they have been problematic.  If you’ve had frequent backups or past floods, that’s an indication that your drains need yearly inspection and drain cleaning.  Properties that are heavily treed or have mature landscaping often have issues with drainage because those trees drop leaves, cones, and needles that float their way inside the pipe on the water runoff.  Additionally, established root systems love the wet, dark, easy to fill space that drainage pipes provide.  Other detriments to drainage systems include age, and ground instability. For these situations, even if nothing has developed so far, annual drain cleaning maintenance can still be a wise plan.  

How Often?

How often can sometimes be hard to determine. In general, the fewer of those factors (trees/ roots/ ground instability / age) are in place, the less often drain cleaning is needed.  Properties that need it less or even infrequently will likely have landscaping that does not produce roots to any significant depth.   You may only want to camera those drains every few years, just to be sure, or take action on an as needed basis when there is cause for concern.  Remember that even if your lot is all gravel, your neighbour or the city may have trees with roots that may encroach on your drainage.  

In a perfect world drain cleaning would never be needed.  A properly installed drainage system with no pipe sagging or collapse, no roots, or foreign debris would theoretically never need to be cleaned.  Unfortunately given our lush park like city, most people will have to consider this maintenance at some point in their home ownership.  

Is Drain Cleaning DIY?

While DIY drain cleaning is not always possible due to the equipment required, there are several things that homeowners can do to reduce the frequency and even the cost.

  • Keep drain grates clear so debris doesn’t wash down into pipes.  
  • Know where your clean-outs are. Clean-outs are access points that can be opened to allow for an auger or other machine to clear the lines.  They are usually black (although they can be white or painted) and have a large square nut on a plastic cap.  They can be located under sinks, in cupboards, in basements, in walls, closets in various sizes depending on their use.  The ones for your storm sewer when present will usually be located outside.    An informed homeowner can save time and money by directing technicians the clean-outs.  
  • Avoid or even consider moving plantings with deep roots that are over the drain lines.   
  • If you’re a keener, you can read more about what to expect, on our drain cleaning page.

Why you need R&B:  

While drain cleaning is a fairly non-technical task, homeowners do not typically have all the necessary equipment on hand.   Drain cleaning equipment usually consists of:

  • Large sectional auger that can extend up to 200 feet; it has different end fittings for root grinding or debris clearing.  
  • Video diagnostic camera, that can show us what the issues are, 
  • A line locator to pinpoint the location of something like a collapsed pipe
  • Water Jetter machine, which is similar in theory to a domestic pressure washer but has significantly more pressure and hose length from 100-200 feet.  

Any of these pieces would be a large investment for a homeowner, therefore it is much more cost efficient to have an R&B professional complete this maintenance. 

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, don’t wait. If you suspect your drain is slow or backing up, contact R&B immediately.  

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