The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance.

The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it should be checked at least once a year and, if necessary, flushed through. Any persistent problems should be throughly investigated.

Drains carry foul wastewater or rainwater or sometimes a mixture of both. They get blocked for all sorts of reasons but the most common are tree roots growing into them and inappropriate items being flushed away.

The first signs of trouble can be an unpleasant smell, an overflowing inspection chamber or gully, or a lavatory that doesn’t empty. If problems become severe and drains are fractured, damp may occur in the fabric of the building or there may be subsidence.

Small blockages inside the house can often be cleared by using a plunger. If you don’t have a plunger, and it’s the sink or bath that’s blocked, try repeatedly cupping your hand over the waste outlet and pressing up and down to create suction. It helps first to stick a piece of duct tape over the overflow outlet. Another option is to unscrew and clean out the waste trap; if the blockage is further down the pipe try ‘rodding’ it using a length of old electrical cable.

Outside, gullies may need to be bailed out and cleared by hand or with a plunger. Blockages in underground drains are frequently cleared by using a set of rods and the various attachments that come with them. These can be bought from a builders’ merchant or hired.

Once an inspection chamber is open it’s usually relatively easy to insert the rods and gently feed them along the pipe until the blockage is reached, at which point a hard prod may be required to shift the obstruction.

More difficult is the inspection chamber nearest the public sewer. Here there’s likely to be an interceptor trap; the cleaning ‘eye’, above the trap, will be sealed with a stopper which will have to be dislodged before the drain can be rodded to the sewer. Once blockages have been cleared, flush the system through thoroughly to check the water is flowing freely.

There are a number of important points to bear in mind when clearing drains:

  • Wear gloves and other protective clothing
  • When using rods, always remember to turn them in the direction that they screw together. If you don’t, they’re likely to become detached within the drain and you risk a much bigger problem
  • Think how you’re going to clean up afterwards. Have buckets of clean water and preferably a hose to hand
  • If you suspect there may be more serious problems, consider calling in a specialist company to carry out a survey of your drains using a CCTV camera to pinpoint blockages or damage

Image: Drain rods ©Roger Hunt

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SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

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Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700

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If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

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The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

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Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

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New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

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Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

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Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

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Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

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This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading