Dear Angie: How often should a sewer drain be cleaned? Is this something that should be part of regular maintenance or as needed? A local plumber who has unclogged our main lines in the past mentioned he was running a "special" of 50 percent off the sewer drain cleanout service, using a 3,000-pound pressure hose, for $200. It seems a small price to pay, considering we've never done this in eight years of home ownership, but a high price to pay if it's not necessary. Should we do it? — Pat C., Oceanside, NY.
Dear Pat: Typically, sewer drain cleaning on an "as-needed" basis will work for most homeowners, assuming the cleaning is done before a clog causes a drain backup that spills raw sewage into the home and creates costly cleanup and repair.
A clogged sewer line usually will offer clues before it backs up. The most common signs of a clogged line are gurgling sounds from drains and toilets; water backing up out of, or pooling around, drains or toilets; or the smell of raw sewage coming from drains.
Most companies can clear a clogged line quickly and for less than $150 before it becomes a major issue.
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If, however, you've had a history of your plumbing lines clogging, draining slowly, tree roots penetrating the lines or you live in an older home, then having the main line cleaned out by a professional using high-pressure water techniques might be worth that investment.
High-pressure water jetters — when used by properly trained plumbing professionals — can remove residue that builds in your lines, including grease, mineral deposits, hair, food and other blockages.
High-pressure cleaning can be more effective than using a drain auger, also known as a cable or snake, because it actually cleans the lines, rather than just clearing an obstruction.
For a high-pressure water jet cleaning, $200 seems like a good deal. I've seen reports on Angie's List of members paying up to $900 for a cleaning, depending on their situation. If you decide to go with a sewer drain cleanout, be sure to call at least two other companies to compare prices and service levels, so you can get an apples-to-apples comparison of what this company is offering. Also, check that the plumber is properly licensed to service your area, is insured and has a good history with his or her customers.