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We typically encounter more and more drain emergencies when it starts getting colder.

Fats, oils, and the effects of the elements start causing havoc. It's this period when blockages or new cracks in your tenants' drains are most common and you'll often need to call in someone to restore service. The period after Christmas is especially bad because overflowing bins and intermittent refuse collections can lead renters to seek "alternative" methods of waste disposal.

Thankfully most of these issues can be prevented by taking proper care of what you put into your drains. We've produced a free guide to print out for your tenants to educated and inform.

Download our free poster guide for your tenants!

It explains how to prevent common drainage issues. Click here to download this helpful advice! (PDF)


Some Bonus Prevention Tips

Drains are designed to carry water from your plug hole to the sewers. Under normal conditions they can handle the normal bits and pieces that get flushed away when you have a wash, do the dishes or have a bath or shower. That means a few hairs, some soap, food fragments and general dirt and silt. Toilets have their own design that works pretty well under normal conditions. Other types of blockage can be attributed to a single event or rapidly escalating chain of events that develop because of bad drainage practice.

Blockages From Fats and Oils

Unblock Your Kitchen Sink Quickly

One of the chief causes of blockages in the kitchen drainage system is the fats, oils and greases that we put down the sink. The worst culprits are hot oils, because as soon as they hit the cold water in the U-bend they’ll turn solid, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that it floats. It’s not impossible for the fat from a particularly oily or buttery meal to cause a blockage.

Small amounts of grease will flush away with the water, but habitually pouring oils down the drain could cause a problem. Scrape as much of your cooking and tableware waste into the bin or food waste caddy, and use plenty of detergent to break the fats down.

Solution: Ask your tenants to scrape as much of their cooking and tableware waste into the bin or food waste caddy, and use plenty of detergent to break the fats down.

» Read our guide to unblocking kitchen sinks.

Hair Blockages

unblock remove and dissolve hair from your drains

Hair is another problem for drains. It has a natural tendency to knot and twist, which can cause blockages to build up quickly. If your tenants encounter this issue frequently, it might be impolite to ask them to give their hair a brush or comb before showering or bathing, just to minimise the potential for blockage!

Solution: You can get little cages or nets to put over the drain that catch a fair amount of hair. Your tenants will need to remember to clean them out after every bath or shower. We'd recommend installing similar strainers in your kitchens too.

» Read our guide to dealing with hair blockages.

External drains

The drains outside the home carry surface water from your pathways and run-off water from the roof gutters as well as grey water from baths, showers, washing machines, sinks and dishwashers. Typically, these will have a grid on the top to stop leaves and litter from entering the drain, but these can corrode or get knocked off, so make sure they’re intact and in place, especially when autumn is on its way.

Solution: For areas with a particular leaf problem, you might want to invest in a plastic leaf guard. It fits over the drain grid and is an extra line of defence. All DIY stores sell them.

Soil can be a problem in these outdoor run-offs. It doesn’t dissolve and can cause a build-up that can lead to a blockage. Take care when working on your borders, and try not to leave too much soil on the pathway – it’ll get washed into the drain next time it rains.

potholes

The subject of adopted and unadopted roads is quite complex, so it naturally follows that problems with the drains and sewers are similarly tricky to negotiate.

The vast majority of roads in the UK are public highways. However private roads exist within the bounds of private property, be it a home, a factory, a farm or any other type of commercial or non-commercial land. There do exist public highways that run through private land; these are often public rights of way that have been in existence since before the land was made private.

What are unadopted roads?

In between the public roads and the purely private roads lies a grey area: unadopted roads. The word “unadopted” comes from the fact that they have not been adopted by the local authorities. They are generally the responsibility of the owners of the adjacent properties to maintain, although some unadopted roads are privately owned by parties other than the property owners.

Many, if not most, unadopted roads are not actually private. They are necessary access routes to all sorts of properties, and are deemed publicly accessible.

How common are they?

directgov1_000According to a 2010 government Standard Note (SN/BT/402), there are around 40,000 unadopted roads in the UK, totalling 4000 miles (making their average length about 160 metres). The same study reckoned that to make them all public and pass the maintenance costs to the authorities would cost in the region of £3bn – so it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon.

To find out about road adoption by the council, visit Directgov Local.

Am I responsible for maintaining unadopted roads and sewers?

Just as maintenance of the roads is the responsibility of householders, so is the upkeep of the sewers. And if the authorities deem an unadopted road (or its sewers) dangerous or unfit for purpose they can force the property owners to pay for it, or even forcibly do it themselves and bill the property owners. It’s not hard to see how a damaged sewer could represent a public health issue, so a damaged sewer on a road whose residents refuse to pay up could well elicit such a response.

Note that this applies to the owners of the properties that face the affected road (who are known as frontagers), not tenants of rented accommodation. i.e. this is an issue for your landlord or housing association.

Residents of unadopted but public roads can understandably feel aggrieved that they should have to pay for damage caused by non-residents using the road. However, this is an unfortunate drawback of living on such a semi-private road. Some councils might have a sympathetic ear for residents (who are Council Tax payers, after all) and offer to pay for some degree of maintenance, especially on routes that affect the local economy, but there’s no guarantee.

CABLogoFrontagers on unadopted roads can apply to have their roads adopted by the authorities. If successful, the costs of maintenance will be borne by the public purse. Similarly, they can apply to the local sewerage company to have their sewers adopted. The sewerage company will almost certainly require that the sewer is brought up to a modern standard before they consider adopting it, although if they see an advantage in owning the sewer (for example if improving it would improve flow in the locality), they might be swayed to bear the cost themselves. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a useful page on this subject.

People living on unadopted roads with unadopted sewers are occupying a twilight zone between public and private ownership. Sadly, the frontagers on many unadopted roads are not minded to collectively maintain their roads and underground works, and they are often potholed and in poor states of repair. Often it takes a disaster such as a sewer collapse or blockage for them to take action, and even then, downstream residents might claim not to owe anything to the kitty.

Most unfortunate are those who are sole frontagers on a lengthy road that’s publicly accessible but unadopted. They could well have to foot large bills alone if the worst happens.

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Not many house-hunters ask who owns the road when they put in their offers on their dream homes. However, if the road looks like it’s in a poor state of repair, it could be a giveaway sign that the road is not under the control of the local authorities and that it could end up being their responsibility (or partial responsibility) to have it maintained.

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Photo Credit: sub-urban.com cc

Like all forms of waste disposal, when it’s working well we don’t give a second though to where our water goes after it has been sent swirling down the plug hole, toilet or rainwater drain. But we’ve just sent it on a journey through a series of transportation and treatment processes that will eventually see it good enough to drink. We thought we’d take a little journey alongside it to see how complex – and yet somehow simple – the process is.

So hold your noses ... we’re going in!

A Mercifully Brief History of Sewers

Many of us think the Romans were pioneers in the use of underground sewage systems, along with their masterful feats of water supply engineering, under-floor central heating, concrete and highways. But to say they invented sewerage systems wouldn’t be true. There’s evidence of one being built by the Minoans on Crete almost 4000 years ago in their capital Knossos (near modern-day Heraklion); the Greeks developed more complex systems; and on the other side of the Atlantic the Ancient Mayans even had a system that predates Rome (although it’s a fair guess that they used different contractors).

By modern standards, these were all pretty basic, running off into rivers and seas with no real thought for treatment, but compared to the sanitary status quo of Britain’s Medieval period (think buckets and windows), they were in the space age. Indeed, we had to wait for the Victorians to arrive before anything approaching a modern system started to appear under the streets of British towns and cities. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases were common.

Two Different Types of Waste Water

There are two separate types of sewer. First is the foul water sewage, which contains the waste from toilets, baths, wash basins, kitchen sinks, dishwashers, showers etc. Second, there are surface water sewers, which carry essentially harmless rainwater away to rivers and soakaways. These can also course rainwater directly from roofs (via guttering).

There are also combined sewers, where both types are mixed together underground and sent for treatment. The problem with this type is that it leads to unnecessary treatment and can cause overflow during rain storms, meaning raw sewage from homes can spill onto streets. New developments tend to keep the two types separate, but some towns and cities still have combined systems.

Water for washing often goes into the same exposed outdoor drains that carry away roof and surface water, but the waste from the toilet is entirely sealed, with no access to the air until it reaches the sewage plant.

Keeping the Smells Away from the Nose

With so much waste water in the drains, they would send pretty dreadful stinks right into our homes were it not for measures designed to cause a seal in the pipe. The simplest and cleverest solution is to use the water itself. By placing a section of pipe in a U-shape (a trap, or U-bend), there’s always an amount of water filling the bottom. This acts as a seal for unpleasant-smelling and harmful gases from the drain pipes. And because they are replenished every time you flush or drain a sink, they don’t have time to become particularly stagnant or smelly themselves.

Along a drain, water will pass through several traps. There’s one right underneath the toilet and sink, and there will be traps in the underground pipework outside.

Whose Responsibility is a Drainage or Sewage Pipe?

The owner of the property is responsible for all drainage pipework from plug holes and toilets and that beneath their property’s boundaries, right up to the point where it has a junction with another property’s pipework. At this point it becomes the responsibility of the local water company. In the UK there are twelve regional water companies, serving the following regions:

  • Scotland – Scottish Water
  • Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Water
  • North East England – Northumbrian Water
  • North West England – United Utilities
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – Yorkshire Water
  • Wales – Dwr Cymru Welsh Water
  • Midlands – Severn Trent Water
  • East of England – Anglian Water
  • Greater London and Thames Valley – Thames Water
  • South West England – South West Water
  • South West England – Wessex Water
  • South East England – Southern Water

Note that unadopted roads often have different regulations; even if there are multiple properties on the road, sewers might be the joint responsibility of some or all of the properties.

Into the Main Sewer

Sewage flows into the main sewer, which is usually found underneath roads (much to the consternation of motorists, who will experience roadworks when it needs to be repaired). The general story from now on is that sewers get larger and larger as they join with others and take the wastewater of more properties. Sometimes sewage will need to pass through a pumping station to cope with capacity or raise the elevation.

Eventually the sewage will reach the treatment plant.

Screening of Raw Sewage

The first stage of the sewage treatment process is the removal of large objects. This is done by letting the sewage run through what is effectively a large sieve. All those things that you shouldn’t have put down the drain in the first place (nappies, paper, etc.) get trapped by the screening process. Because they would quickly clog up, mechanical draggers pull up all the trapped waste every few minutes for disposal in landfill.

After the large-object screening, grit and smaller objects are removed in a similar process.

Settlement Tanks

If you’ve ever driven past a sewage works you’ll recognise the large circles that sit outside them. Check out a satellite image of most towns and you’ll see dozens of them on the outskirts. They are settlement tanks, where the mixture of water and excrement is allowed to sit relatively motionless so that the solids sink to the bottom. Scrapers move very slowly around the tanks, pushing the collected sludge into an outlet in the middle where it can be taken away and used as fertiliser, composted or sent to anaerobic digestion tanks, which creates enough methane to fire a power station – and many of them do.

The water flows over the top and moves on to the next stage of the process.

Secondary Treatment – Aeration

Although by now most of the solid matter will have been removed, the water that emerges from the settlement tanks is far from being safe to drink as it still contains potentially dangerous microorganisms. The next part of the treatment involves sending the water into aeration tanks, where oxygen is pumped into the water to encourage the “friendly” microorganisms to thrive and eat the dangerous ones. It’s a remarkably successful process, which kills most of the dangerous organisms.

The water is then sent to another settlement process, where the dead bacteria sink to the bottom to form a sludge, which can be sent into the first sludge process.

Many sewage works have one final stage, which involves letting the water trickle through sand in an artificial emulation of the way water filters itself in nature.

Back to Nature

The remaining water is now clean enough to be sent to the river or ocean, where it becomes part of the ecosystem. Eventually it’ll form clouds, fall as rain and some of it will find its way to a waterworks where it will be treated and end up in somebody’s cup of tea.

And now we all know what will happen to it next!

Cosmetics companies are very good at promoting their products as wholesome and natural, going to great lengths to make claims as to the exotic origins of the ingredients. Kelp from the southern oceans. Salts from desiccated seas. Oils extracts from Peruvian leaves. Tiny plastic beads that get ingested by marine life. OK, they don’t usually mention that one, but they do like to talk about the beads, which are there to offer a little abrasiveness to facial scrubs and assist exfoliation. You might have tried such a product yourself.

Consumers are largely unaware that these beads are made of plastic. You might assume they were some kind of sand or crushed seed, especially given the marketing that surrounds the products. But for presumably economic reasons, plastic is the most viable option.

And because these products are generally used over the bathroom sink or in the bath or shower, there’s only one place they’re going – down the drain and into the water system. At 0.01–0.5 mm in size, they can get through initial sewage treatment and make it out into the rivers and oceans.

There has been a campaign for several years to ban microbeads, but things have come to head with the Attorney General of New York State suggesting that he would be pushing for an all-out ban of the product after huge concentrations were discovered in the Great Lakes.

Pressure is now being placed on cosmetics manufacturers to change the materials they use for microbeads. However the noises coming from the industry is that they don’t see it as an urgent problem but will have a look at more environmentally friendly alternatives. If awareness of the issue grows, however, change might not be in their hands; boycotts by consumers or retailers would give them the hurry-up.

As a drainage consultancy we often advise people on what not to pour down the drain, but sometimes the problems aren’t immediately obvious. It’s probably only a matter of time before plastic microbeads go the way of CFCs in aerosol bottles. And we seem to have managed perfectly well without those.

Working in the drain cleaning game, we naturally come across all sorts of peculiar things down drains – often because they are blocking them. We’ll quite often come across toys put down there by curious children, and it’s not unusual to find false teeth, phones, tools, paint brushes and ... things we can’t mention on a family website.

Dead animals aren’t that unusual either. They’re usually squirrels, rodents, birds, goldfish and the odd cat. But we’ve never been (un)lucky enough to find anything as terrifying as a piranha in our travels. Apparently one was found in Telford this April after locals complained about a fishy smell. Luckily the creature was dead, and we probably shouldn’t be too worried about being taken over by mutant killer fish (which are native to South American rivers, of course) because it had apparently been flushed down the toilet by an aquarium owner.

Another imported species popped up in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire in 2013. The Mexican black kingsnake started to emerge from some homeowners’ drain cover and appears to have been a pet that escaped. It was caught first on video and then by a local reptile dealer. The species is not venomous but it is a constrictor, so next time you see one, it would be wise to call the emergency services and to definitely to avoid being constricted.

Our American friends have their own problem that’s definitely not imported. The alligator has been there much longer than humans have, and lives in modern-day Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Florida. And they don’t mind reminding us that it’s technically humans that are the unwelcome visitors. This 9-foot-long beast was found by maintenance workers in Sarasota, Florida, for example; and those lucky enough to own a swimming pool often find one of its cousins taking a splash.

What do Australians do when Paul Hogan is out of town and a friendly crocodile decides to make an appearance from out of the drains? They call in the wisecracking croc squad to see if they can do anything about it. Turns out they can – but luckily safety is at the forefront of their minds, as you’ll discover if you watch the video to then end.

And finally we go back to the States, in Cameron Village, North Carolina, where a CCTV drain inspection stumbled upon this otherworldly specimen in 2009. They took to YouTube to try and get an identification and the mystery now seems to have been solved. The pulsating beast is apparently not one but hundreds of beasts, probably some kind of worm. We hope you’re not eating when you watch the video.

Summer is nearly upon us, so many of us will be heading out to the garden to do a spot of titivating. It’s also a time when drain cleaners see a small peak in the number of drains blocked by soil.

Part of the problem comes during dry weather, when topsoil can turn to dust and get blown around on the breezes. Much of the soil dust that lands on the concrete of patios and paths will get washed down the drains when it rains. The small amounts will be carried away by the water and in some circumstances, especially when there’s only light rain for prolonged periods, the soil can settle as silt in the interceptor traps or areas with slow flow. This is how the blockages start. Even large municipal storm drains can get blocked during dry spells as there’s no regular flow to prevent build-ups.

Take care as well if you’re venturing out back for the first time since last autumn. You might want to give paths, yards and patios a good brush, but make sure you put any detritus in the bin or return it to the soil – it certainly shouldn’t be brushed into the surface water drain!

Another time you need to take care is when you’re hosing your borders. You can cause a large amount of splashing, and these dirty, clumpy soil particles full of roots, leaves, sand, pebbles and dust can quickly turn into a blockage in your drain, especially if they have been partially blocked by autumn leaves. A hose head with multiple settings can help here. Use a spray setting, not a soak or jet setting – this will minimise splash. If you have borders around a lawn, making sure there’s a drop of about 10–15 cm (4–6 inches) between the lawn edge and the soil. This will help keep run-off topsoil within the borders. Physical barriers can be bought to make sure there’s no collapse of the lawn edges.

Drain covers can be a useful way of keeping most of the soil, leaves and other detritus out of your surface water drains while allowing water through. They can be bought from all DIY stores for a few pounds, which is a sound investment in our book.

 

Last week a Hull schoolboy became yet another victim of a global crime spree. Joshua Star-Harris never met his assailant, but the scars, the broken nose and the lost tooth point to the seriousness of the incident. The crime? Drain cover theft. Joshua was happily riding his scooter near his home when he came to an abrupt stop after his front wheel dropped into the coverless drain.

In some ways, perhaps, Joshua can count himself lucky. The crime of drain cover theft is so widespread that there have inevitably been a significant number of deaths over the past decade. There’s one tragic story from Bogota, Colombia, of a two-year old falling down a drain while chasing birds – her body was found a mile downstream. There are reports of vans in Colombia being equipped with heavy lifting equipment and having a hole cut in the floor, so they merely have to stop over a cover, lift it off and drive away, a procedure that can be completed in moments. It’s a highly organised crime, and just like those in Hull, the criminals don’t care much for the potential victims who are suffering death, injury and damage to their vehicles as a result of their actions.

In China, where there is also an epidemic, the maximum penalty for manhole cover theft is the death sentence. In the build-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, there were reports that more than 30 manhole covers were being stolen every day – when each one could collect £100, it’s no wonder.

Stealing drain and manhole covers isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has undergone a huge increase since the mid-00s when the price of ferrous scrap metals started to rise. To a criminal mind, manhole and grid covers are just like cash lying around, and as long as there are uninquisitive or collaborating scrap dealers, there has been an outlet for their ill-gotten drain covers. Ferrous metals have therefore become the new lead, which has been stolen from roofs for decades. While there could be legitimate reasons for selling scrap lead – builders putting a new roof on a house, for example – to sell grid and manhole covers can only be a criminal act, unless it’s a local authority or the Highways Agency doing the selling.

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was an attempt to legislate the problem away. It included measures such as the requirement that scrap dealers do not pay for their goods in cash to make transactions more traceable, and that records are kept of all transactions and the names and addresses of sellers. While this might have put some criminals off, the story from Hull – and countless others around the country – proves that some people will still try their luck.

One solution has been to make manhole covers out of materials that have little or no scrap value, such as non-recyclable plastics. But this is not always an appropriate solution, particularly when the covers are for busy roads; it’s usual for covers on such hhighways to be group 4 (which can withstand 40 tonnes) or group 5 (60 tonnes). Another way of preventing theft is to use anti-theft covers, although nothing is truly immune to the actions of a determined thief.

As long as ferrous metal is valuable enough to risk a spell behind bars, and as long as there are unscrupulous scrap metal merchants willing to buy it, this crime will probably continue to exist. The best defence for the motorist is vigilance and timely reporting of missing covers – and alerting road users and pedestrians to the danger as soon as possible.

We’ve all done it – tried to fish our mobile phones out of storm drain inlets on public streets and then become viral sensations when we got stuck. To be fair to the hapless Ella Birchenough, she seems to have laughed off her close encounter with Dover’s sewerage system. The 16-year-old has already done a few interviews with the press and has even been on Daybreak to talk about her experience.

Fortunately she has the support of her family. In a touching statement on the ordeal, her mother said, “I was really worried. My face went white and I was in a panic. I was scared she might sink. I ran out the house, turned the corner - but as soon as I saw her I burst out laughing.” Thanks, mum.

If you’ve not seen the story and are wondering how she ended up waist deep in a drain, Ella had figured that the best way to retrieve her phone would be to lower herself down and grab the stricken phone with her feet, then un-lower herself out again, dab any water off the phone then go back to school. A career in the Cirque du Soleil would have awaited Ms Birchenough had she pulled that stunt off.

As for the phone, well, it was a write off. Whether it was a written-off BlackBerry or a written-off iPhone depends on which paper you read, but she ended up with a brand new iPhone anyway courtesy of the lovely people at ITV. So after she’s sold the old one on eBay, it’ll turn out to have been a good day at the office for Ella.

So what is the best thing to do when you drop something valuable down a storm drain? Well, first, do a quick visual. Can you see the item or is it submerged (or too dark to see)? If it’s a phone, time is of the essence as every second of seepage increases the likelihood of the phone – and most importantly all its data – being lost. If it’s something really valuable like jewellery, it’s probably best calling for help and standing watch over the drain in case someone else’s prying eyes have seen the whole thing happening. If it’s a valueless but irreplaceable item of sentimental importance, then you’ll have to make a judgement call on getting professional help in.

The overriding rule is SAFETY FIRST. Don’t step out onto a main road and don’t remove grid covers unsupervised. Side streets are safer, but don’t lift a grille and leave it off – that’s dangerous.

You might be able to reach down with your hand and retrieve objects – drains aren’t always as deep as you might think, and often have traps in them too. A child’s fishing net or a hook taped to a cane might be enough to lift it out.

If this all fails and you really want the item back, get in touch with you local authority in the area and see if they can help. It’s possible they won’t be able to or will charge for their services, in which case you could try local domestic drainage companies. Obviously, the amount you’re willing to pay will depend on how deep your pockets are and how much you want the thing, but they will have the tools to do the job.

That’s what the average person should do, anyway; but the average person won’t get on Celebrity Big Brother. It’s your call

The local press has been in something of a fever over the past week or two about the perils of pouring cooking oil down the drain. And when we say local, we mean all those free local newspapers that pop through British people’s doors – and their related websites. They all refer to a YouGov report (which we’ve not been able to track down) that says something along the lines of: “X per cent of [insert local town] residents pour their cooking oil down the drain and Y per cent don’t know that they will have to pay for damage.” Here are a few examples for your delectation, from as far afield as Blackpool and Gloucestershire.

While we suspect this might be more of a PR exercise than actual news (there are plenty of mentions of one particular company, let’s just say), at the core of the story is a truth that we in the drain cleaning industry have long known: people do dispose of too much fat down the drains.

Now let’s get one thing clear – it’s impossible to never let any oil go down the drain. Every time you wash a frying pan or a plate that’s had food on it, it’s inevitable that oil and grease will be washed away. Householders and businesses might mitigate the effects by using detergents that break the oils down, and the amounts are often rather small too, but even if we think we’re being careful, it’s not impossible for a build-up to start.

We all know that butter, sandwich spread and lard are solids when they’re in the fridge, but melt at quite low temperatures – and that many oils and fats will return to solid form when they cool down to room temperature after being heated up. Well that’s exactly what happens to oils when we put them down the sink, where they can go from being liquid on the pan or plate to solid as soon as they hit the cool waste water underground. While we need to be mindful, under normal circumstances this won’t be a problem, largely thanks to the washing-up liquids and dishwasher tablets we use.

The real danger comes when people pour used oil straight down the sink, for example when they have been sautéing or doing a Sunday roast. We might even forget just how much oil or butter there is in gravy or béchamel sauce and pour any excess down the sink. But worst of all are those who will empty their deep-fat fryers straight down the kitchen sink. It’s only a matter of time before this practice will result in a blockage.

The “report” is also correct to point out that blockages are not always the responsibility of the local authorities or water companies –quite often it’s the householder who has to foot the bill. Landlords are particularly susceptible to unexpected unblocking bills because they might own several properties and with a high turnover of tenants in each, it would be difficult (and unfair) to pin the blame for a blockage on the current resident. At the very least, landlords should include a line about disposing of oil in their contracts. They might also consider installing grease traps, too.

So we say to the good people of Blackpool, Halifax, Gloucestershire, Hucknall, Swindon ... “Stop and think – not down the sink” (the official mantra, apparently). It’s much better to get an old cooking oil bottle and a funnel and use it to keep your used oils. Many local authority recycling yards will now take it, and it can be burnt as a clean source of energy, so you’ll not only be avoiding blocked drains – you’ll be helping the planet too.

If you have a problem with the drain that services your home or business, do you know who is responsible for paying to restore the flow to the drainage system?

In 2011 the law changed regarding who is responsible for the different sections of the drainage system that services your home or business.

Prior to this time, the owner of the premises was responsible for the drain system up to and including the connection to the main public sewer (normally located in the public highway), so if there was an issue with your drain at any point between your property and the main sewer it would be your responsibility to pay for. This is not necessarily the case anymore.

This guide should give you a clear understanding of the section of the drainage system that you as a home or business owner are responsible for.

What is the difference between a drain and a sewer?

  • Drain - A pipe that drains waste and water from a property or group of properties that falls within the boundary of the property
  • Sewer - Carries water and waste from a number of properties

As a property owner it is important to know which elements of the sewers and drains near your property are your responsibility and which fall under the care of the local water company.

In a bid to improve sewer maintenance and bring about greater transparency, the Government changed the law and transferred ownership of certain aspects of the sewage system from private property owners to the water companies.

Since October 2011, property owners have only been responsible for waste outlets designated as their own private drains. Anything else – classified as public sewers – falls under the responsibility of the water companies serving the area.

Residential Property

In the case of detached, semi-detached, terraced building or flats / apartments, the owners are only responsible for sections of pipework that are not shared with a neighbour and fall within the property boundary (including any garden or yard space).  If the drainage system is shared or is beyond the boundary of the property, it is the responsibility of the local water company.

Residential Property

Businesses

The law change has also affected businesses.  The drains that are within the grounds of a business remain the sole responsibility of the property owner (provided they are not shared), and once the drain reaches the site boundary the responsibility is transferred to the water company.

Business or Retail

Schools and Universities

The same applies for school and universities:

School and Universities

 In essence, you are only responsible as a home or business owner if the drain is in your private boundary and it does not serve any other properties.

What are the rules if my business is on a Retail Park?

If your business is on a Retail Park, this is usually slightly different. Although the drains are shared on a Retail Park they are not the responsibility of the water company as they are usually all owned by the landlord of the Retail Park, up to the Retail Park boundary. In this case it is therefore the responsibility of the landlord to have the drains cleared and/or repaired if they fall within the boundary of the Retail Park.

What about septic tanks, private treatment systems and cesspits?

Currently, when such systems are privately owned, their care and maintenance is the sole responsibility of the property owner. If a septic tank or treatment system serves more than one home or business, it is the responsibility of all the buildings it serves.

What should I do if I think I have a drainage problem?

Firstly, you need to find out if the problem is centralised to your own property’s system or if there is an issue with a nearby section of the public sewer. Speak to people in nearby homes / businesses and see if they are experiencing similar problems. If they are, it would suggest that the problem lies with the public sewer system and should therefore be reported to the local water company.  However, if not then it could just be your own property – in which case, you need to get in touch with a reliable drainage specialist.

If there is an issue, it is essential that you get it resolved as soon as possible. For business owners, besides posing health risks for customers and those in the immediate area, untended blockages and other sewage issues can lead to prosecution. Laws state that property owners must have essential maintenance and repair work carried out when necessary.

My property is served by a private pumping station – how am I affected?

In the case of some buildings – particularly more remote properties, or housing developments and business parks – a pumping station serves as a connector to the main sewage system. Private pumping stations were not transferred over to sewerage companies in 2011 – but the Government does have plans to move them over by 2016. Until then, pumping stations are the responsibility of their owners.

Regardless of how individuals and businesses have been affected by the transfer of certain system elements to sewerage companies, good has come from the changes. Now, ownership of each section of drain is clearly defined, which means lengthy disputes over maintenance can easily be avoided and repairs can be made more swiftly.

By calling in reputable drainage specialists, you can ensure that maintenance and repairs will be carried out to the highest standard, and work will comply with current laws and legislation. Using a combination of industry experience and expertise, together with the latest in CCTV technology and other services, professionals can work to solve any drain-related issue.

If you have a commercial drainage system that serves your business and you require investigation, rehabilitation or maintenance work please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0845 226 5060.

The last blog post focused on what to do when you suspect there may be an issue with the drainage. There may or may not be telltale signs that the system is being blocked up, but we will go through a few of the ones you might be able to spot.

Although many flooding situations strike unannounced, a property owner might find that the toilet water level is not as it should be. If it seems much lower than normal, it is recommended you get a second opinion from the drainage specialists. Or maybe your sink is not draining like it usually does; this is another hint that all is not quite right.

By calling out a drainage contractor, you will hopefully be able to have the situation addressed before it gets much worse, like the flooding problems described in the previous article.

Such scenarios involving wastewater flooding can be avoided if the blockage is removed in time. You can certainly rely on the drain engineers to tackle the problem effectively.

Not only do they have all the equipment and know-how required to solve the blockage issue, but they can really help you out with a cost effective solution too.

In these tough economic times it is quite common for householders to leave seemingly small maintenance problems alone until it is imperative that they get sorted. While this is understandable from a money point of view, when it comes to drainage it could end up in an expensive mess.

This warning should certainly be heeded as most people do not really feel they need to understand about or tend to the drainage pipes servicing their properties until it is too late.

While most drain pipes seem to take care of themselves, if clogging has been allowed to build up over time, it will eventually get to a point when it becomes more noticeable that a blockage is forming.

Sometimes, however, there is no warning at all and so homeowners are left with an unhygienic situation. Sewage can not only affect the home itself but also the garden too. The backflow of wastewater can cause untold damage to a home and so it is always advisable to heed any signs.

Alternatively, you could ensure total peace of mind and have a drainage contractor perform regular drainage maintenance on the system. In the next article we will think about some common signs that your drains need checking out.

In the not too distant past, should a drainage pipe be damaged and in need of repair, excavation was the general method used by engineers for replacement works to go ahead. This was not only time consuming, it would also lead to quite a bit of disruption in the vicinity of the pipework.

Thankfully, there is now another, more effective, solution within the drainage contractor’s arsenal. Trenchless technology can be used to get to the heart of the matter without having to dig up the area around the pipes.

Drain lining work can be done within a much shorter time frame, and without all the turmoil usually experienced when using the previous ways of working.

The modern liner repair service is just as sturdy and reliable a technique of repairing the pipe than the old method was. In fact, it can really save money for the organisation having to pay for the work to be carried out.

Whatever has caused the pipe to be damaged in the first place, be it subsidence, pressure or root infiltration, trenchless technology can be utilised to provide an efficient form of drain repair.

Speak to your local drainage contractor about the various services they can offer when it comes to drain lining and repairs.

Consumer group Which? has revealed that many customers are unaware that when they sign up for water pipe insurance that it only covers basic servicing, which could leave them open to expensive sewer drainage issues further down the line.

It is costing consumers £100million a year in “unnecessary” cover when free pipe repair schemes are often available from these water companies.

The repair work is not altogether thorough either, according to the CEO at Drain Claim, David Hayes, who said:

“On a daily basis we are seeing the home insurance industry wriggling out of countless drainage insurance claims by using the term ‘serviceable’, a term that we have yet to find a definition for in any home insurance policy documents.

“As far as the innocent insurance customer is concerned the word ‘serviceable’ does not exist when they take out their policies and yet it is being wielded more and more by insurers to convince customers that serious drainage problems can be resolved with a cheap sticking plaster style repair.

“This risky solution leaves customers vulnerable to even greater sewage problems in the future.”

When it comes to sewer problems, it is always worth speaking to the specialists as a reputable drainage contractor will be able to tell you exactly what solution is needed, and perform the right level of repair to prevent any costly situations in the near future.

If you ever require the services of a drainage contractor to maintain the drains connecting your home or work premises with the sewerage network this may be a routine job or to fix a stubborn blockage in the pipes.

Depending on the nature of the callout the engineers may decide to carry out a drain inspection first. This usually involves the use of CCTV surveys, a really cost effective practice which can easily identify any problem within the pipes.

Even if there is no immediate issue to deal with, it may be decided that this is the most appropriate cause of action before the actual cleaning work gets underway.

When it comes to the cleaning of the drains, this can be carried out quickly and effectively. Although it is advised that this is done on a regular basis to ensure the smooth flow of water through the system, once it has been completed this should mean you are not going to experience any immediate drainage problems.

High pressure water jetting is the method commonly used to flush through the drainage system and power through any clogging which happens to be there. The force of the water is normally enough to remove even the most stubborn of blockages.

Local firms in West Didsbury can now get on with their trading again after regional water company United Utilities announced the end of large scale drainage maintenance works as part of their River Mersey improvements scheme.

Since the start of January Burton Road had been closed to allow for the building of a new sewer overflow chamber. Last Wednesday the road was made accessible again, meaning relief for those using the busy junction with Lapwing Lane and Cavendish Road.

The water company has made a point of praising local traders for their understanding while the £1.4 million project was being carried out by the drainage engineers.

Project manager at United Utilities, Gary Marsh, said:

“It’s great news for everyone in West Didsbury that we’ve got Burton Road open again, in time for the Easter weekend.

“We had to overcome some hurdles, including redesigning parts of our work to avoid gas pipes and telephone cables. But the team have really pulled out all the stops, working weekends, to make sure we finished on time.

“We know the work has been disruptive, and I’d like to say a big thank you to local people for their patience.”

It is true that many people never really think about their drains until something happens to their property. Should such an unfortunate incident occur you will realise just how serious a problem it can be.

If there is a blocked drain this can end up causing health and environmental issues. So, once the wastewater makes its way back to the surface, you will have to call a drainage contractor in to deal with the situation.

This is because these engineers will be able to come round to your home and inspect the drains for themselves. They can repair any damage to the drains and look at rectifying the situation so it is not allowed to happen again in the near future.

CCTV surveys are one method the professionals often use as this helps them to get a better picture of what is going on within the drainage system. The survey can locate the cause of the blockage and work to remove it.

When a drain does get blocked like this it can sometimes prove costly, especially if flooding has occurred within your home. So, it is always advised to have drainage maintenance carried out on a more regular basis as a precautionary measure.

Despite the government enforcing changes to the ownership of drains in this country back in October 2011, many people are still unsure as to where the responsibility lies when a drainage issue rears its head.

In this article, we will be looking briefly at this issue to hopefully clarify a few things so that should you ever have a need to call out a specialist drainage contractor you understand where you stand from the outset.

Before the new rules were introduced, homeowners had to take responsibility for the drainage of wastewater from their property until it entered the sewerage system. This may have even involved pipes which were outside the boundary of your home.

However, since the end of last year, all private sewers and lateral drains are now included as part of the public network of sewers. Therefore, if any of the drains within your property boundaries are used to service any other property, it is up to the regional water company to deal with it now instead. In addition to this, once the drain has left your land it is not your responsibility either.

In practice, this means that the water company will have a lot more drainage which comes within their remit and so only the drains solely used by your home need to be maintained at your own cost.

You may have read recently about how water company Yorkshire Water have been making use of an unusual method to take on the problems they have been having with sewer blockages in the region. We will now consider how this works in practice.

The bacillus bacteria, which can be found in the gut of humans, is organically grown to feed on the fat, greases and oils accumulating in the sewerage system. Before it is poured into the sewer, it is first mixed with non-chlorinated water.

These fat-busting bugs, as they have come to be known, were originally used in a trial by the water company but after a number of successes during the festive period, they have been deployed in a wider programme within the city of York.

A new approach to the growing issue of sewer blockages was required, with this solution now seeming to be working on an on-going basis.

Yorkshire Water’s stakeholder engagement manager, Simon Young, said:

“The deployment of fat-busting bugs in our sewer network is an example of this, with these ‘good’ bacteria literally feasting on solidified fat in our sewer. And because these bacteria constantly multiply in the right environment, we can leave them to get on with their job in our sewers, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without the need for regular dosing.”

Now that spring is here and the cold weather is starting to make way for a bit more sun, people are starting to head back into their gardens again.

Due to this prolonged period of absence from the garden, it is understandable that there will be plenty of things to do in order to get the place into a fit state once again. As you carry out this maintenance work, you may notice that there are plenty of fallen leaves which are clogging your drains.

If you want to avoid any expensive repair costs due to flooding later in the year it is advisable to ensure this leaf debris is removed from your gutters around your property. They also accumulate in the waste water gullies too.

This is when it is necessary to call in a drainage contractor to take a look at the situation and check that the drains are not blocked by leaves and other vegetation.

Drain jetting is just one of the techniques they can employ to clear the drains and see to it that everything is working as it should. While it may not seem like an immediate problem you wish to address, you’ll certainly be glad you did when you are told it could have lead to the flooding of your garden.

Yorkshire Water has revealed that in the past six months alone, their teams have had to take on over 100 sewer blockage jobs in the seaside resort of Bridlington.

This just goes to show the issue at a local level, with nearly 19,000 blockages having to be attended in the region last year. With 54,000 kilometres of sewer pipes to look after, this just goes to show that the water company certainly has its work cut out.

Their statistics show that around 38 per cent of these blockages were due to grease, oil and fat being poured sown the sink or nappies, sanitary items and baby wipes being flushed down the toilet.

As well as proving to be costly to remove the build up of these products from the sewers it can also cause inconvenience to householders too. Home flooding is just one result of this being allowed to happen.

However, in order to combat this growing problem, the water company has started rolling out an innovative new sewer clearing method of using fat-busting bugs in addition to common practices such as drain jetting.

Patrick Killgallon, pollution manager at Yorkshire Water, said:

“The deployment of fat-busting bugs in our sewer network is an example of this, with these ‘good’ bacteria literally feasting on solidified fat in our sewer. And because these bacteria constantly multiply in the right environment, we can leave them to get on with their job in our sewers, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without the need for regular dosing.

“Consequently, we’re confident their introduction will significantly help to reduce fat, oils and grease blockages in the region, ensuring waste water from local homes and businesses can flow freely to our sewage works where we can recycle it properly before returning it to the environment.”

Water company Yorkshire Water have taken the unusual step to deploy fat-busting bugs in the sewers of Bridlington to remove blockages from the system.

This treatment process is completely environmentally-friendly and involves trillions of the bacteria being mixed with non-chlorinated water before being allowed to feed on the grease, oils and fat in the sewer.

Well-known problem areas at Lancaster Road and South Marine Drive were the location for this innovative solution.

These blockages are caused by the fat reaching the sewer from private drains, normally through the kitchen sink as well as from appliances like the dishwasher. The flow capacity of pipes is severely reduced by this practice and often results in home flooding and pollution of the environment.

Pollution manager at the water company, Patrick Killgallon, said:

“Having your home filled with waste from your toilet is a very unpleasant experience which no one should ever have to suffer, which is why we work hard to encourage people to think twice before they pour left over fat down the plug hole or flush the odd make-up wipe down the toilet.

“This said, we’ve already carried out almost 700 jobs to remove blockages in our Hull sewers so far this year, which shows the sheer scale of the issue we all face.”

When you need to find a drainage contractor in an emergency situation, it is not always easy to locate one unless you have used one before. For commercial and industrial businesses in major cities within the UK, you may have to do some research to source a specialist that can assist you.

Depending on the nature of the problem, be it a blockage which is causing flooding or repair work to the drains servicing your premises, you will have to track down a drainage maintenance company with the resources to carry out the job.

By going to a dedicated drain specialist you can be sure that they will do all they can to fix the drains so that your business can continue as usual, with the minimum amount of disruption.

As drainage problems are a common occurrence in big cities, due to the fact that the drains are often working at capacity and may be in need of upgrade work, it is advisable to consider a contract with the specialist.

They can then be called upon at any time of the day or night and can ensure your drains are flowing as they should. And with regular drainage maintenance, you can avoid these emergency situations happening again in the future.

Major re-surfacing works and a drainage system upgrade are due to start in Bedford, the local borough council has revealed this week.

Traffic around Dame Alice Street will be affected by road closures for the seven-week project.

Bedford Borough Council has revealed that the signalling equipment was in desperate need of replacement, while drainage improvements were also necessary to ensure road safety in the area.

New cycleways will also be put in place as well as the resurfacing works and other improvements.

Businesses and local residents have been informed of the imminent disruptions while the work is being carried out. It has been organised so that it will all be completed in time for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations at the start of June.

Councillor Charles Royden, said:

“These are vital works which will significantly improve this important road to ensure it can continue to be used for many years to come.

“Surveys have also shown the drainage beneath Dame Alice Street is in serious need of repair and if left to deteriorate further it will affect the structure of the road.

“This work will also improve surface drainage from the road itself and prevent localised flooding. We are already working with Anglian Water to correct these issues as promptly as possible.”

The next stop for Yorkshire Water’s ‘Doing The Dirty’ tour was the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire. On Saturday local residents were given the chance to obtain free sink strainers from the water company as part of their campaign to highlight sewer issues.

Yorkshire Water organised the event to show the community that sewerage systems can be damaged by the simple act of pouring fat down the sink in the kitchen.

As well as the goodies on offer, the water company provided interested residents with free advice on how best to dispose of cooking fats and oils, instead of getting rid of it in this popular way.

People flocked to the Old Town Hall to see what the organisation had to say, with many surprised to hear how engineers from the company had to clear 18,000 blockages last year throughout the region. Even in Rotherham there were 143 blockages related to fat deposits, with 81 of them being avoidable.

Pollution manager at the water company, Patrick Killgallon, said:

“Having your home filled with waste from your toilet and indeed your sink is a very unpleasant experience, which is why we are encouraging people to think twice before they pour left over fat down the plug hole or flush the odd make-up wipe down the toilet.

“We hope that by taking our road show on tour around the region we can really show people what the consequences look like.”

The emergency repairs are underway into the unblocking of a sewer in Urmston, with the engineers from water company United Utilities making use of an uncommon tunnelling technique to dig their way in.

As the drainage team begin the work to replace a large pipe beneath Flixton Road which had been filled in with concrete, engineers have positioned wooden supports enabling them to dig beneath a labyrinth of important cables and pipes placed above the sewer pipe.

United Utilities wastewater manager, Ian Fullalove, said:

“This is an extremely delicate operation. We cannot risk damaging any of the essential water, gas, electricity and phone lines which are blocking our access to the sewer, so we are having to go underneath them.

“We have tried to remove the concrete from inside the sewer using a cutting device, but it’s such a tough material – filling more than 25m of the pipe – that progress was too slow. What we are doing now is like a cross between brain surgery and The Great Escape.”

The sewer, which is 7 metres in depth, will need to be taken out by each section and replaced.

It is expected that the repair work will continue well into April, with regular updates provided to residents and local businesses along the way.

The difference between sewers, drains and lateral drains is not something you usually come across at school, so you can quite easily be forgiven for not knowing which name refers to what.

When it comes to your property and its connecting drainage system, it is worth finding out what these terms actually mean and how they relate to you. Otherwise you may get them confused and speak about one when you really mean another.

Many people did not realise, but the ownership of drains and the responsibility for looking after certain types changed towards the end of last year and so it is important to understand how this applies to you and your home.

The following are explanations for some of the most common types:

  • The drain – this is a waste pipe serving just the one residence
  • Lateral drains – these relate to the drainage pipes sitting just outside of the boundary of your property
  • The sewer – finally, these are wastewater pipes serving a number of properties. With these systems, they can be privately as well as publicly owned.

To clarify, the homeowner is responsible for all private drains which are within the boundary of the property. So, if you ever have any issue with your drains, be sure to speak to the specialists.

Sheffield residents have been invited by regional water company Yorkshire Water to find out more about the benefits of the Blackburn Meadows sewage treatment works scheme.

The customer drop-in event is being held this Tuesday to let the local people know more about the £78 million plans to update the current system.

If you want to see what the water company have to say on the subject, and to air your own views, you can turn up at Tinsley Green Community Centre on Norborough Road.

As well as being informed about the work to reduce the flooding risk in Sheffield, you can learn more about how the environment will be affected too, with the scheme aiming to improve the quality of river water in addition to giving a boost to biodiversity.

The work is set to go ahead at the end of this month and will last until September 2014 as most of the treatment facilities at the plant will have to be replaced.

Yorkshire Water Project Manager, Kevin Smith, said:

“This iconic works is nestled right in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial waterfront, and like many works in the area, it has to move with the times. We are significantly changing the face of Blackburn Meadows to create a much cleaner, healthier environment for residents and riverlife alike.”

For commercial enterprises located in major cities and surrounding areas, drainage maintenance can often be an issue. This due to the fact that the sewer system has usually been in place for many years and as time has worn on, the drains can be damaged from blockages and general wear.

If the drains servicing your premises become blocked or are in need of repair work ,rather than having to keep calling out a drainage contractor every once in a while for something quite substantial, why not make use of an annual contract instead?

By tackling any problems before they are allowed to escalate, you can ensure that the drains around your building are constantly flowing and working as they should. You wouldn’t want anything to disrupt the work that you do and so a commercial contract with the drain specialists can really work out better in the long term.

This gives you peace of mind that sanitation in your commercial establishment will not become an issue and your facilities can continue to be used as they are at present, without any disruptions.

When you agree to this contract, you can expect a drain inspection to be carried out on a regular basis, with the pipework checked to see that everything is in full working order. They are also available at any time of the day or night for any type of drain emergency.

It has been reported recently that a 100-year-old sewerage system in the cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire has now been repaired, thanks to a £200,000 renovation project.

Almost 500 metres of pipework was either replaced or relined due to damage in certain areas. A drain inspection managed to highlight the problem with the CCTV survey showing that it was a serious enough issue that needed to be addressed.

In fact, Wessex Water’s Alex Aulds revealed that if no action had been taken to rectify the situation, the sewers were at risk of collapsing or bursting in the near future.

While the drain engineers were at work, a number of traffic diversions and road closures had to be put in place as temporary measures.

Mr Aulds added that now the problem had been addressed, they did not foresee any further issues when he said:

“The sewers now have an expected longevity of 100 years and the work will ensure that any future risk of collapse or damage is significantly reduced.”

Trenchless technology was used to ensure the work could be completed within the specific timeframe, with these techniques meaning the road did not have to be dug up so the workers could gain access to the sewer.