Understanding Home Drain & Sewer Systems

Having your sewer or drain pipe clogged, needing repaired or replaced is a disruption in your daily life as a homeowner in Salem County. But, how can you prevent clogged sewer and drains? In this guide we will explain sewer pipes and drains so you can prevent having to unclog a drain, call a plumber to do a sewer repair or replacement ever again. 


This article explains the drains in your house and how they “Flow” out into the municipal wastewater pipes under the roads. They then lead to the wastewater treatment plants of your town. We won’t get too much into septic systems, but the septic sewer line process is the same, with the exception of where the waste goes when it leaves your house.

Household Plumbing Drains

The main drains almost every home has are the kitchen sink, bathroom vanity, bathtub and/or shower drains, washing machine drain and the biggest drain is normally the toilet. Even the smallest of homes has 4 or 5 drains that take waste water out of your home and on its way to the treatment plant.


The two drains that clog the most are sink drains (hair & food) and yes, the big one, the toilet sewer pipe (Hygiene items). Many times in a bathroom, the vanity drain pipe (1 ¼” to 1 ½”) and the tub/shower drain (1 ½” to 2”) run to the toilet drain line which is normally (3”-4”).  If your clogged drain is not right at the trap and is further down the pipeline, many plumbers will unclog your bathroom drains from the toilet pipe. 


With today’s technology, plumbers can video record inside your drain pipes to see what is clogging the pipe and where the blockage is.  This saves time and gets the drain pipe unclogged faster and with less chance of opening up walls or ceilings to get to the backed up section of pipe.


Most Common Cause of Drain Clogs

  • Hair
  • Grease, fat and oil
  • Soap
  • Food waste
  • Dirt
  • Hygiene products (baby wipes and female napkins)
  • Toilet paper build-up
  • Small objects
  • Mineral build-up (Think hard water)


Best Way To Keep Drains Clean


The best way to keep drains clear is to watch what you put in them.

  • Keep food, coffee grounds and grease out of kitchen drains.
  • Put leftover food in the trash or compost heap, not the garbage disposal.
  • Pour liquid grease into a sealable container. 
  • Keep hair and soap scum out of bathroom drains.
  • Don’t flush hygiene items.

Check out the Salem County Home Community Forum.

You Might Like Article: Types of Toilets Guide.

pvc fittings for water pipes on a white background
PVC sewer pipe fittings

Types of Sewer and Drain Pipes

If you have a new home in Salem County, New Jersey, your plumbing pipes for waste are probably PVC or ABS pipe. But with older homes, it could be galvanized pipe, cast iron or even terra cotta/clay pipe. 


Basic Sewer Pipe Types

  • PVC: White plastic
  • ABS: Black plastic
  • Cast-Iron: Thick metal, often corroded
  • Clay: Ceramic, similar material to a flower pot
  • Orangeburg: Wood-fiber conduit; rare but still sometimes found


Common Sewer Pipes Newer Homes

  • PVC pipe
  • ABS pipe


Common Sewer Pipes in Older Homes

  • Clay or Terra Cotta pipe
  • Cast-iron pipe


In older homes built before the 1950s, you might find terra cotta pipe, cast-iron pipe, or a fiber conduit pipe called Orangeburg. Old houses might have newer PVC or ABS sewer or drain pipe. As the years go by, sewer systems deteriorate. When pipes are replaced, it typically will happen with plastic PVC pipe.


Since about the 1970’s most homes have had plastic pipe for a sewer line. Even remodeled older homes may have PVC or ABS pipe for the drain and sewer lines that you can see. These may extend out from your home and connect to an older cast iron or clay pipe with a FernCo fitting, which is a flexible rubber sewer line coupling.

clogged sewer pipe
Sewer line replacements in Salem County, New Jersey

Common Sewer Problems

A sewer line is one of the most important parts to your plumbing system. It’s responsible for carrying your wastewater away in a safe and sanitary fashion. However, while they may be nothing more than pipes, they aren’t immune to damage.

Tree Roots in Pipe

Tree root intrusion is a tremendous problem for sewer lines. Older sewer lines and older trees with larger root networks are a clog sewer main waiting to happen. As trees grow, they require water, and that means their roots will continue to expand to search for more water they can absorb. It’s not uncommon for these hair-sized roots to find the smallest of cracks or gaps in sewer lines, which they penetrate and find water. 


The water and other substances in your drain act like a fertilizing catalyst. This causes the root to grow even larger until it eventually completely blocks off your sewer line. When this happens, it backs up every drain and toilet in your house.


Sewer Pipe Corrosion

Pipe corrosion is one of the most common issues with sewer lines. The metal in your sewer line reacts with the wastewater that travels through them. Causing your cast-iron or galvanized pipe to corrode. 


How do you know if pipe corrosion is affecting your sewer line? A camera inspection is the easiest way. Camera inspections of your sewer line allow you to see the inside of your sewer line for yourself. Today, most plumbers have a sewer line inspection camera when they are called to make a sewer line repair or unclog a drain.


Years and years of service may eat away at the bottom of your sewer pipe, creating gaps or holes which could be spilling sewage into your property.


Pipe Shifting or Settling

Foundation shifting, sinkholes, or an excess of rain water can cause the soil substrate that your pipe is buried under to sink, buckle, belly, or shift. This is a common reason we have potholes in the streets as well. 


NOTE: Be careful driving vehicles or equipment over your sewer lines or water supply lines where they run underground in your yard.


When pipes settle or shift it changes the slope of the pipe. It may cause cracks or leaks at pipe fittings or joints, resulting in leaks and possible dirt or root intrusion into your sewer lines. The bad part is: there’s almost nothing you or your plumber can do to prevent it. 


The best thing you can do is have your sewer line inspected every few years to make sure none of these major problems happened, and if it has, that you act quickly to fix your sewer line.


Close up on dirty clogging kitchen sink drain
Clogged kitchen drain.

Signs of Backed Up Sewer Line

What happens when the sewer line backs up? 

When your sewer line backs up, act quickly. An issue with your sewer line is hazardous to your health. A backed up sewer could have feces and other nasty fluids backing up in your sink, washing, machine and bathtub. If you don’t immediately clean those surfaces, you could be exposed to bacteria. 


Another risk comes as toxic sewer gas. If there’s a break or blockage in your sewer line, toxic gas can escape. This could cause harm to you or your family with air quality..


When your sewer line backs up, call a plumber.

How do you know if your sewer line is backed up?

Signs your sewer is clogged. 

  • Gurgling or bubbling sounds coming from the toilet.
  • Slow-running drains in your home 
  • Water coming out of the tub and sink drains when using the washing machine.
  • Foul odors coming from your drains.
  • Sewage coming back up through drains.


How much does it cost to unclog a main sewer line?

The average cost to unclog a main sewer line in Salem County, New Jersey is between $350 and $750, with most people paying around $450 to clean a sewer line clog by hydro jetting the main sewer pipe between the home and municipal main line.


Hydro Jetting

Hydro jetting costs more than other methods of unclogging a sewer line, but can help you save long term.


Watch this Hydro Jetting Video



While snaking a sink, tub or toilet drain usually only costs $100 to $250 for an average drain cleaning. There may be other issues that your plumber can fix to help prevent further clogged drains.


Camera Inspections

A camera inspection of your sewer line is a good thing to have done when you have the plumber there. It will show the inside of your sewer and drain pipes, and any issues that could cause further drain blockage can be fixed. Camera inspection of your drain and sewer lines vary, but expect to pay between $200-400. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a sewer pipe inspection by video may save you thousands on a sewer repair.


Understanding how your drains a sewer system work is important for you as a homeowner. It will keep the drain cloggers out of your pipes and if a sewer repair is in your future, at least you will know the pipes, and common reasons for sewer line problems.

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