What are sewer cleanouts and why do you need them?
Many things can cause a blockage in your sewer line. Tree roots, damaged or defective pipes, sanitary and personal items, toilet paper, paper hand towels, plastic toilet cleaners, wet wipes, grease, and other foreign objects, to name a few, can make their way into your sewer system causing blockages. Unblocking the drain is easier, faster, and less stressful for both you and the Plumber if your home has drain or sewer cleanouts.
From our experience about 80% of Sydney homes we visit have one or more accessible sewer cleanouts somewhere on the property that will be suitable for us to use to clear the blocked drain they are experiencing.
What is a sewer cleanout?
Cleanouts provide direct clearing and inspection access to your underground sewer line in the event you have a sewer blockage. If you have one or more cleanouts they are normally located outside of your home in the front or back yard or can be at the side of the house outside a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry. Cleanouts typically go unnoticed until there is a problem.
It is important not to confuse a “Gully” with a cleanout as not all gully types are suitable for drain clearing and inspection purposes.
Having proper access to your underground sewer pipes is the most important consideration for a Plumber dealing with a blocked drain
How to tell the difference between a cleanout and a gully
Identifying a sewer cleanout (CO)
A sewer cleanout (CO) provides unhindered access via a direct access shaft to the sewer line underground. Depending on the design and location of the cleanout, the shaft will provide access to either one, two or three directions within the sewer line - upstream, downstream, branch drain.
Unlike a gully which has a loose plastic or metal grate on top, cleanouts will always have a sealed plastic or metal lid secured by either screws, bolts, or a screw on or bayonet cap.
As cleanouts are a direct access point to the sewer line, they must be sealed to stop sewer gases from escaping into the environment.
Identifying a sewer gully (ORG)
A sewer gully or ORG (Overflow Relief Gully) has only one purpose and that is to provide an overflow point on the property in case of a Sydney Water main line sewer blockage. This provides an overflow relief point, so sewage does not backup inside the house.
Unlike a cleanout which has a sealed plastic or metal lid or screw on cap, gullies will always have a loose plastic or metal grate on top. The grate will float off during overflow events allowing free flow of wastewater onto the ground.
Gullies do not need to be sealed because they have a 'P' trap water seal at the bottom of the shaft which prevents sewer gases from escaping into the environment.
Examples of suitable cleanouts used to clear and inspect blocked sewer lines
Cleanouts are designed specifically for drain clearing and pipe inspection purposes and the use of drain clearing equipment and tools such as high pressure water jets, electric eels, and CCTV drain cameras.
Watch this drain clearing video to see us working through a sewer cleanout.
PVC Bolted Trap Screw
Cast Iron Bayonet Lid
PVC Stack Gate
PVC Inspection Point
Not all homes have cleanouts!
Not all cleanouts are suitable!
Not all cleanouts are accessible!
But what if I don't have a cleanout?
If you do not have drain Cleanouts (CO), sewer blockages can still be cleared but it can sometimes be more challenging and time consuming. Once it has been established that suitable cleanout access is not available the Plumber will need to gain access to the underground sewer line by other means such as excavating down to the sewer line to access a sewer Inspection Opening (IO) or to cut into the existing pipework to create an access point, dismantling or cutting into vents or removing internal fixtures such as toilets, basins or laundry tubs, however, clearing blocked sewer lines from inside the house or by removing plumbing fixtures should always be considered a last resort!
Why would a cleanout not be suitable?
A sewer system is a network of internal pipes running under your house (Internal Branch Drains) that connect to a network of external pipes running around the outside of the building (External Main Drains). A cleanout installed on a branch drain will only give access to that branch drain and possibly a section of the main drain but not to the entire sewer network and cleanouts installed on the main drain usually only give access to the main drain and not the branch drains.
As sewer systems are unique to each property there are many different variations to the above however sometimes although there are existing cleanouts available the blockage can be located in a section of the sewer network that is not serviced by those existing cleanouts. If this turns out to be the case, then other work will need to be carried out or another cleanout installed to gain access to that part of the sewer line.
You can't find any cleanouts?
Many homes can have one or more cleanouts but unfortunately, they can be difficult to find. Sewer cleanouts need to be installed in such a way as to be exposed at or above ground level and always kept clear so they can be found by the homeowner or a Plumber when they are needed however over time existing cleanouts can become concealed or hidden in one way or another.
Buried by landscaping works
Concealed under hot water heaters and air conditioner units
Covered over by concrete paths, driveways, paved areas, or wooden decks
Built over by garden sheds, retaining walls, tennis courts, swimming pools or home extensions
Hidden in garden beds under leaves, dirt, plants, hedges, trees or simply covered by grass or a pot plant
The best way to look for and find sewer cleanouts on your property is to follow the path of the sewer line using the official Sewerage Service Diagram (SSD). An SSD is a plan of your sewer system. All properties have a Sewerage Service Diagram, if you do not have one you can get one online from Sydney Water or we can get one for you. Having your homes Sewerage Service Diagram available when your Plumber arrives to unblock your drain is always a good thing, and he will thank you for that!
Cast iron cleanout hidden in the garden under a shrub and leaves and covered by a sandstone rock.
Homeowner has lived in the property for 25 years and had no idea this cleanout existed!
What Is A Sewer Inspection Opening (IO)?
If no Cleanouts (CO) can be found your Sewerage Service Diagram will also show where the sewer Inspection Openings (IO) are located. Sewer Inspection Openings are sealed earthenware or PVC access points on the sewer line underground that are also used for drain clearing and inspection purposes however Inspection Openings are not accessible at ground level like cleanouts, they are located directly on top of the sewer pipe underground so they will need to be excavated and exposed to gain access into the sewer line. All homes will have a number of sewer Inspection Openings as Australian Standards AS/NZS 3500 requires Inspection openings to be installed in specific locations on all sewer lines. Older earthenware Inspection Openings will consist of an oval shaped earthenware cap with a cement seal on top, while more recent earthenware Inspection Openings consist of a round earthenware plug with a black rubber ring seal held in place with a metal clip exactly like in the example below, and PVC Inspection Openings simply have a threaded PVC cap.
1. Excavation to expose sewer inspection opening to access drains under bathroom
2. Inspection opening exposed with cap, rubber ring seal and metal clip in place
3. Inspection opening exposed with cap, rubber ring seal and metal clip removed
To recap: A Cleanout (CO) is a ground level access point giving quick and easy access to the sewer line and an Inspection Opening (IO) is a buried access point to the sewer line that will need to be excavated to access.
Need more information on sewer cleanouts? Just Google, "what is a sewer cleanout?"
If you do not have any cleanouts, we can install one or more for you
Single cleanout installation on shallow PVC sewer line
Single cleanout installation on shallow earthenware sewer line
Double cleanout installation on deep earthenware sewer line
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