With a heatwave forecast for today and tomorrow across much of the UK, being the kind of water person I am, my first thought was not to plan a barbecue but rather to check our drains!

Why so? Well, our sewers here are a kind of condominial design. Being sited at the end of a cul-de-sac, we’ve got four houses in one direction ‘feeding’ into the pipes under our property, plus another nine from another direction. Instead of each house feeding out to the mains sewer, shorter lengths of sewer connect each house, along a line, eventually to ours. (It’s not strictly condominial, in that we don’t have a community agreement about ownership and/or maintenance of the pipes; fortunately that’s taken care of by the water utility after the private sewers transfer back in 2011, not long after we first moved in.)

13 households is a lot of users and a lot of sewer pipe potentially to get blocked and, if the temperatures are high enough for a long period, and there’s perhaps lower flow too, to create some unpleasantness that I’d rather avoid! So before things heat up I took a quick look under the covers at our surprisingly deep underground pipework:

Photo: Shot of our drains, showing clear flowing channels deep below.
Photo: Shot of our drains, thankfully now showing clear flowing channels deep below.
Photo: It's difficult to capture how far the drains go down, but it's at least 2-3 metres!
Photo: It’s difficult to capture just how far the drains go down, but it’s at least 2-3 metres.

These are ‘after’ shots, once I’d jetted a handful (ew!) of ‘obstructions’ in the ‘system’ away with some well-targeted watering-can shots using our stored rainwater. I can report there was evidence of grease, fat, toilet paper, baby wipes, large ‘deposits’ that I’d rather not name here, and even a few large pieces of toilet roll cardboard (how did they get there, I wonder?).

All seems well now,there are no arising offensive smells or ’emissions’, and I’m glad I did this little bit of maintenance. At the same time I’m aware I’m a bit paranoid on this issue because (i) I viewed – and realised the implications of – the drain plans before we bought this house and (ii) because of my line of work!

Most people don’t check or maintain their drains and sadly the first thing they tend to notice is sewage bubbling into their house or garden that has to be addressed by their water utility, as the BBC’s Watermen: A Dirty Business amply demonstrated when it aired last year. I can’t imagine it’s realistic – without some serious remote monitoring innovations – for water utilities to proactively preempt these kinds of blockages, so it would be good to see some education and support for homeowners and residents in keeping their pipework – especially if, as is typically the case now, it flows on to others’ – in good, working order…

Duncan Thomas

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