Underground Drain Lines: A Potential Hidden Problem

There are different ways that you can channel the water in your gutters away from your home. Some houses use downspouts that direct the flow of water downhill or down a slanted driveway. Others have vertical pipes that either connect to a drain or run directly into the ground itself. In this latter case, the water then travels away from the home through one or more underground drain pipes.

Both of these systems are perfectly adequate to prevent water damage to a home – assuming they are working correctly. If external downspouts aren’t doing the job, they can be redirected or extended, or the adjacent earth can be graded to slope downward away from the foundation. But if there is a problem with the underground drain pipes, the fix may be a bit more complex.

First: Check the Vertical Pipe

If you are experiencing water displacement near your downspouts, the first step is to make sure that the vertical pipe itself is not clogged with debris. This can be done by running water from a hose down into the pipe from the point where it meets the gutter. If the water backs up into the gutter, there is a blockage in the pipe. Spraying high-velocity water from a hose, blowing high-pressure air from a pump or vacuum, or using a pipe snake can often clear it.

Second: Check the Outflow Opening

If the vertical pipe is clear, the next thing to check is the termination point of your drainage system, or the opening from which the water drains into the sewer, a drywell, or elsewhere on the property. If this opening is clogged with leaves or other debris, removing it may often solve the problem.

Third: Check for Underground Clogs

If you’re still seeing water backing up, then the blockage is probably somewhere in the underground pipe. Sometimes, clogged debris can be the culprit; if this is the case, attempting to clear the clog like you would with a vertical pipe may very well do the trick.

Fourth: Dig Up the Problem Pipe

But sometimes, the pipe itself can be crushed or buckled to the point where it is restricting or stopping the flow of water through it. Tree roots, shifting earth, or even vehicles driving over the ground above the pipe (like during remodeling or construction, for example) can compromise the structure of the pipe.

In these cases, your best bet is to first determine precisely where the pipe problem is using a metal snake (and perhaps a metal detector to find the snake’s end), and then carefully dig up the earth around the area. Once you lay eyes on the problem, you can replace the crumpled or broken pipe with a new section. Be sure to use the appropriate pipe fastener or cement to create a watertight seal, and recover the pipe with gravel and/or cloth before reburying it underground.

Certainly, there are contractors you can call which have the expertise and equipment to identify the types and locations of underground drain pipe clogs. Just be sure to get a cost estimate in writing before the job starts, and know what recourse you have if the contractor happens to create additional damage (by hitting an underground cable, natural gas line, or plumbing pipe, for instance).

Whatever you don’t, do simply ignore the problem thinking it will go away; because the longer you procrastinate, the more likely that backed-up water can cause landscaping erosion, basement flooding, and even foundation damage.

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Written by Del Thebaud

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