6 Early Warning Signs of Water or Sewer Backup

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Plumbing pipes (Photo: @carbonem via Twenty20)
For a homeowner, few things are worse than sewer or water backup into your home. If you have a septic system, a backup is when the water and sewage in your septic tank flows in the wrong direction—out of your drains and back into your house.
Fortunately, there are often warning signs that a backup might be coming. And if you keep an eye out for them (and regularly service your septic tank), you can easily prevent an avoidable disaster. Here are six warning signs to be aware of.

1. A sewage stench emanating from the drains

This is often the first sign that you’re about to experience a water or sewer backup. Ideally, you should never have bad smells coming from your drains. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
If you notice a foul odor emanating from your drains, it could be a sign of water or sewer backup. Of course, sometimes it’s just a foul smell from something stuck in the drain, so there are two things you should pay attention to.
First, what is the smell? If it’s a result of water or sewer backup, then it will likely smell like sewage, which certainly isn’t fun. Second, are you smelling it at every drain? If your water or sewer is backing up, you’ll likely smell the sewage stench at every drain in your home, which means every sink and every shower. If you’re only smelling it from one drain, it might just be an issue with something stuck in that drain.

2. Numerous clogged drains

It’s not uncommon to find that one of the drains in your home is clogged. This can happen for many reasons, from grease buildup to a ball of hair. But if you notice that multiple drains in your home are clogged at the same time, you likely have water or sewer backing up through your system.

3. Running one sink or shower backs up a different drain

Here’s a surefire sign of water or sewer backing up through your drains: if you run water through one drain, and it causes a backup in a different drain. This means that there’s nowhere for the water to go, so it’s coming back up elsewhere.
So if you run the water in your bathroom sink and happen to notice that water is coming up through the shower drain, it’s time to call a plumber.

4. Slow flushing toilets

If you notice that your toilet is taking a lot longer than usual to flush, there’s a pretty good chance that you have a water or sewer backup that needs to be taken care of.

5. Bubbles rising through your toilet or drains

When you see bubbles coming up through your drains or your toilet, it’s a pretty solid sign that you’ve got a sewer or water backup that’s giving you issues. This is a pretty easy one to notice, because it’s a bit jarring to see bubbles come up through your toilet or from your drain when you’re running water.

6. Sewage is spilling out of your cleanout pipe

A sewage cleanout pipe has a direct line of access to your septic tank. Usually nothing comes out of it, but when your sewer or water is backing up, it might come out of your cleanout pipe instead of your drains (which, all things being equal, is definitely preferable). In most cases, the cleanout pipe is located in the basement or in the yard. So if you notice sewage water near your cleanout pipe, it’s safe to say you have a backup issue.