Together with a blocked toilet, a blocked drain has got to be up there as one of life’s true tests. Especially if your home or garden is flooded with water, or worse, raw sewage. Drainage piping can become blocked or damaged by any number of causes including toilet paper and tree roots.
First thing you need to do, and fast, is to find someone to clear it for you. But not just anyone can unblock a drain. Besides having all the right equipment, you also need to know what you are doing. This is definitely not a time to DIY.
Who can unblock my drain?
You are going to need a licensed plumber or drainer. In some states, drainage is a separate class of licence or requires specific training.
For example, In NSW Fair Trading defines draining work as, “…the work of sanitary drainage being the construction, alteration, extension, disconnection, removal, maintenance, repair, renewal, ventilation, flushing or cleansing of any sanitary drain connecting, or intended to connect, directly or indirectly with a sewer. This includes work on a house drain connected to an onsite wastewater management system.” Plumbers in Victoria are licensed in eight separate classes, including drainage.
Hiring the right plumber for your job
Now you know who can do this type of work, you need to find the right plumber for your job. And that means getting at least three quotes, or more, before you hire. Why? Because you need to be sure that they are right for your job. Look to ask them these questions to give you an idea if they are the one:
- Are you licensed to do this work?
- Are you insured?
- Do you have references?
- Can you provide a written quote for my job?
You can also tell a lot about a business by your initial contact with them. Did they get in touch promptly? Were they polite? Did they keep their first appointment? If they don’t make you feel comfortable it is probably not a good idea to hire them.
How do plumbers fix blocked drains?
Plumbers today have a number of sophisticated devices they use to unblock drains, but first, they often have to locate and identify the problem. In the past, if there were no visible signs of leakage, this could be a huge and very costly job. Today, plumbers use CCTV cameras (sometimes called sewer drain cameras) that allow them to see what’s inside the pipes and pinpoint the location of the blockage.
Majority of cases, tree roots are the cause of blocked drains at a distance from the house. Other causes may be:
- Solid grease buildup. The grease also traps hair and other material
- Hygiene products that have been flushed down the toilet
- Children’s toys
- Toilet paper can block a drain, particularly on sites where sewerage pipes do not have sufficient fall to allow the paper to be expelled
Once the problem has been identified, the plumber can usually quickly unblock the drain using the appropriate tools. One time-tested piece of equipment most plumbers still use for routine jobs is the “electric eel.” Eels are long flexible steel rods with cutters protruding from the ends that are capable of cutting through tree roots.
There are some drawbacks to electric eels. For one thing, they can sometimes damage pipes. For another, they have limited reach. For these reasons, plumbers today often use powerful hydro-jet devices that use water under high pressure to unblock drains. Hydro-jets are even powerful enough to clear tree roots. They are so much safer and more effective than electric eels, many plumbers now use them routinely to remove all kinds of blockages.
If tree roots have damaged your drainage pipes, you may need to have these replaced. Depending on the scale of the problem should only be a section.
The cost of hiring a plumber to clear blocked drains
How is a plumber or drainer going to cost you? Some plumbers or drainers may charge a call-out fee, which is an additional fee to their hourly rate. A call-out fee might range from $60 to $100, with hourly rates anywhere from $100 – $150 depending on where you live. Expect to pay an emergency call out fee if you need a plumber over a weekend or after hours. The cost of this varies, with some plumbers charging their usual hourly rates, though most will charge extra for call-outs at odd hours.
The fee your plumber charges will depend on where you live and may vary according to the plumber’s skill level. For example, a Master Plumber is likely to charge more for their services.
Depending on where you live, expect to pay the following for a range of drainage jobs:
- $80 to $120 to unblock a simple toilet or kitchen drain
- $300 to $500 to clear a short stretch of a blocked drain
- $1000 to $3000 to replace a portion of your drainage piping
- $5,000 to $20,000 to replace your entire drainage system, depending on the scale of the job.
* All the costs and prices quoted were sourced at the time this article was written. They are indicative, may vary locally, are subject to market forces and should only be used as a guide.