Common Questions, and Answers


My sewer lateral is plugged up and there is sewage running out of the vent pipe all over the ground! What do I do?

The first thing to check is the clean-out at the property line, where the house lateral connects to our main lateral. If the clean-out is dry, then the problem is between those two points on your property and a sewer-cleaning contractor needs to be called (frequently, lint or debris has plugged the trap). If the clean-out is full, call us and we will dispatch personnel to determine the cause. If the problem is in our section of pipe from the main to the property line or in the main itself, we will do what is necessary to relieve the blockage. If there is no property line clean-out for you to check, call us and we will check the mainline. If the mainline is operating properly, (usually more than one home is affected if it is not) you will be told. At that point, you should call a sewer-cleaning contractor. If he determines through his work that the blockage is off property, then he will call us and then we will have to dig up the pipe and find out what the problem is and fix it. A clean-out will then be installed for access.

Clean-outs are important. Please do NOT bury or make them inaccessible.

 

My yard is sinking where the house lateral is located. What do I do?

Call the Authority and explain the problem. We will send out personnel with a small camera to inspect the inside of the pipe (at no charge) to see if it is the cause of the subsidence.

 

My sewer lateral has been cleaned out and I have been told that the cause of the problem is tree roots from a big tree in the yard. What needs to be done?

There are two solutions for this situation. One, is to remove the tree which is causing the problem. The other, is to dig up and replace the old sewer pipe with new PVC pipe. This pipe will not allow root intrusion because of it’s glued joint construction. Old clay pipe is not resistant to roots because the joints are not sealed. Cast Iron pipe is usually root resistant because of it’s joint construction, but occasionally we have seen where shoddy initial construction has had to be repaired or replaced. Note: work of this nature requires a permit from our office.

 

My house is being built and I want to know if the sewer clean-out pipes must stick up in the yard once the landscaping is completed?

No. Many people assume that those pipes must be left untouched after the sewer contractor has completed the work. For purposes of aesthetics and mowing, the clean-out pipes should be cut off even with the final yard grade and a flush-type of cap installed. Most are left with a cap that has a large square nut on top. Many times the nut gets cut off by mowers, which can allow debris to enter the pipe and cause a blockage. The ONLY pipe which must be left (12" to 18") above the ground surface is the vent pipe with a breather cap on top, which is the first pipe outside of the house.

 

May I put grease down the sink if I run hot water with it?

Under NO circumstances should you ever put grease down a drain, even with hot water. After the grease travels through the pipes it cools off and sticks to the side-walls of the pipe, which diminishes the diameter and soon becomes plugged. This causes you and us problems and is expensive to remove.

 

May I put coffee grounds and or egg shells through my kitchen grinder?

This practice is definitely one that should NOT be used. What happens in reality is that these materials settle in the trap and build up to the point of causing a restriction which will result in a blockage.

 

All of the drains in the house are slow and sluggish. What do I do?

Drain speed is a function of ventilation. Often we have seen where the vent pipe exiting the roof has become restricted with things like leaves, squirrel nests, bird nests, even spider webs that have caught debris. You should make sure that the flow of air into the plumbing system is good and remains constant. A wire cage made to fit into the end of a vent pipe removes most of these annoyances. These are readily available at most building supply businesses.

 

The breather cap is gone from the vent pipe outside the house. Do I really need to replace it?

Yes, you should replace this cap with one that is designed for that purpose. If your vent is left uncovered it can easily become plugged up with debris and not function properly. This is also true of the clean-out caps in the yard.You should also check the vent pipe in winter to make sure that snow has not covered the top, which makes the vent useless.

 

The toilet does not flush properly but the sink and tub work fine. What can be the problem?

This is a fairly common problem believe it or not. Frequently the trap in the toilet has something lodged in it and must be plungered. Sometimes foreign articles like combs, toothbrushes, toys, etc. can become lodged, which may make it necessary to remove the toilet from the seal and physically remove the object.

 

May I connect the roof drains of the house or a basement sump pump into the sewer lateral?

NO. There is a great deal of water that comes off a roof. If this were allowed to enter the sewer system, it would soon fill up the pipes and cause overloading, which results in basements becoming flooded. Sump pumps have the same affect and should be discharged to the ground outside, where it can run away.

 

During new building construction I noticed that the painters cleaned out their brushes, rollers and equipment in the bath tub and washed everything down the drain. Is this harmful or dangerous to those who live nearby?

Yes, it can be. This practice is not allowed in our Service Area, however it happens because it is very difficult for us to know when and where this might occur. Depending on the type of paint being used, certain fumes can be put into the sewer system which are harmful and if someone’s trap is not functioning properly those fumes can back-feed into the building, causing great discomfort to an unsuspecting victim. In areas that are dependent upon a Lift Station for their sewer service, it is important to note that paints and thinners are harmful to the pumps and may cause a failure, which could put that area at risk of basement flooding because the pumps can’t operate. If you observe this type of activity happening, please call us and we will dispatch someone to the site and take the appropriate action.

 

The other day as I was driving, I noticed someone lifting a manhole cover and emptying out a large container of fluid. Is this permitted?

NO. While the sewer might be a convenient place to discard fluids such as anti-freeze, oil, paint, or unused chemicals, it can also be the most dangerous. These items can be the cause of an explosive atmosphere being produced and MAJOR damage being the result. These items should be disposed of properly. Call the Centre County Solid Waste Authority for advice.

 

Is it permissible for me to empty an R.V. holding tank waste into a manhole?

NO. The only people who are authorized to open manholes are the Authority staff and people who are doing engineering or work relative to a sewer. This can be a hazardous activity and should not be attempted by anyone who has not had the proper training. Many people have installed a special clean-out right on their own property for this purpose. Presently there are no local septage dumping facilities, however that may be a consideration at some future point.

 

I want to build a shed in my yard and the only suitable location is right on top of my sewer lateral. Can or should I do this?

If you construct any permanent object or place a fence or plant trees and bushes over top of your sewer lateral you are asking for trouble. At some point it is con-ceivable that excavation of your lateral may be necessary for repair or replacement purposes. To expand on that question relative to mainline sewers, it should be noted that the Authority has an easement for those purposes and may at some point have to exercise the right to excavate or gain access with equipment for maintenance. The more obstacles there are to deal with, the more costly and bothersome the project becomes. Use your best judgement and try to err on the side of the conservative. (Murphy is always very near!)

 

If it is determined that there is a broken lateral who is responsible for the cost of the repair?

If upon excavation, it is determined that the pipe is broken anywhere from the property line in to the building, the cost and responsibility to arrange the repair belongs to the property owner. A repair permit must be secured from us first. If upon excavation, it is determined that the pipe is broken between the property line and the mainline sewer, then the cost and responsibility for the repair belongs to the Authority.

 

I have experienced a strong odor coming from the vent pipe sometimes but most of the time there is no odor. Why is this?

The weather, especially barometric pressure, can play a big role in the effectiveness of your ventilation system. Most of the time there is some sort of breeze and the air is usually light in nature. This allows the odors to escape from the vent pipe pretty much unnoticed. When the air is heavy and humid with little in the way of a breeze, those same odors cannot rise into the atmosphere as they would normally, so they tend to hang in an invisible cloud form near to the point of release from the vent. That is when they become more apparent and bothersome. There is really nothing wrong with your vent system, the odors simply are not allowed to escape and there is not any magic remedy for this problem, other than to try to mask the odor with chemicals which can be flushed through the system. This however is very short term, and does not really fix the problem.

 

When I arrived home from work today I noticed that bright green paint had been sprayed on the street and curb. What is this for?

When we receive a request to do a facility location, we are required by law to mark those locations with the designated color, normally within three working days of a planned excavation. This could be for either an installation or a repair for the utility or contractor that made the request. The location of the paint indicates where we have sewer mains or laterals. There are different colors for each type of utility. If you see paint markings, be aware that there will be some excavating work done soon. If you are going to be caused any inconvenience, you should talk with the project foreman when they come on site, to make any arrangements necessary.

 

When we have extended periods of rain I have noticed that the basement starts to smell musty and the walls become damp. Is this a sewer-related problem?

Not normally. In our experience we have seen more often than not that the home-owners roof drainage is not directed away from the house adequately. Usually the ground becomes saturated and pushes moisture through the walls. This problem can usually be addressed by putting extensions on the downspouts that are long enough to take the water away from the immediate area. In some cases it becomes necessary to construct a "French Drain" around the peri-meter of the building and send the water to a sump somewhere away from the foundation.

 

We have been away for a few weeks and just returned home. When we went to the basement to do laundry we found that there was a strong sewer smell coming from the bathroom area. Why is this and what do we do about it? 

This is not an uncommon problem. Usually what happens is that when those downstairs facilities are not used for a period of time the water tends to be drawn out of the trap, which allows the odors to back-feed into that area. The key to a well-working trap is activity or usage. If you are going to be absent for a period of time, you can expect the possibility of this occurrence, unless you have a house sitter who can flush the toilet occasionally to change the water and keep the trap full. Your remedy is simply to flush occasionally.

 

We will add to this section as more questions develop. If you have any questions not listed here, email us at uaja@uaja.com