The homeowners’ guide to underground drains, clogs, and snaking

A well-maintained home should function like a well-oiled machine. But, like anything else, your home is made up of a variety of systems that work to keep it safe and functional. One of those systems is your underground gutter drainage system. It may seem like a pointless mechanism; however, this system performs an important task, and we’ll explain why.

Underground drainage systems direct water away from the base of your home, which prevents standing water from collecting in certain areas. Without proper drainage, this water can lead to flooding, water damage, and even foundational or structural damage and decay. So, even though these systems are invisible, they are responsible for a very important job!

The best way to keep your underground drainage systems functioning properly is to stay on top of gutter system maintenance. With regular cleanings, the clogs shouldn’t even make their way underground. But, we know how it is. Sometimes, life gets in the way, and you don’t stay on top of your gutters like you should. Fortunately, you can always clean the underground systems to keep things running smoothly.

Keep reading to learn some helpful tricks and tips to take proper care of your underground drainage system. 

How Do I Know If My Drains are Clogged?

Since these systems are located underground, it can be hard to tell if they have become clogged. Here are some surefire ways to tell if your underground drains are clogged:

  • Water Pooling or Overflowing from Downspout Connection
    • Your underground drain systems should be connected to your gutter downspouts at some point. The adapter is there to create a seamless transition from the downspout to the drain system. If it isn’t properly attached, you’ll notice water leaking at the connection point, and you should have this fixed immediately. If it is properly attached, but you still see water gushing backward out of the underground drain, it could mean that the drain systems are clogged. You’ll want to check this connection point during a heavy rainfall for best results. Likewise, if water is pooling around the downspouts or you notice water stains, then you can assume your drainage system is clogged. Ultimately, water should flow freely and uninhibited from the gutters to the downspouts and out the underground drain system. 
  • Overflowing Gutters
    • If you’ve just cleaned your gutters and downspouts, you shouldn’t notice any standing or overflowing water in your gutters. If you do, it could be a sign of clogged underground drains. Again, water should flow freely through all pipes with obstruction. Any signs of overflow or standing water are a good way to know if you need to unclog your drainage system. 
  • Water Damage
    • Walk around the interior and exterior of your home to check for signs of water damage. Take notice of any water spots or signs of mold and mildew, especially in your basement and the lower levels of your home. If water damage is occurring, you might see large water spots forming, cracked foundation, or chipped paint.  Plus, if mold or mildew is present, you might see gray spots or notice a funny smell permeating your basement. If you see anything that doesn’t look right, it could mean your underground drains need some TLC. Plus, you might want to call in a contractor or mold removal specialist to fix the damage that’s already occurred. 
  • Clogged Exit Points
    • Some underground drainage systems flow directly into the sewer. In that case, you might not be able to do this step. However, if your drain systems flow out of a visible, aboveground exit point, take a look to make sure water is freely flowing out. If it’s slow-moving or no water is coming out at all, then it could mean your drains are clogged and preventing water from draining completely. 

How Do I Fix Clogged Drains?

If your gutters and downspouts are completely clean and free of debris and you’re still experiencing issues, then you might want to look into having your underground systems unclogged. You can try any of these methods yourself if you’re confident and have the right equipment; however, we recommend calling your local plumber or gutter maintenance professionals to get the job done effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, safely. 

There are several ways to unclog your underground drainage systems, including:

  • Cable Rodding
    • Rodding (also referred to as rootering, snaking, or augering) is when you push a metal cable through the drain pipe to break up clumps of dirt and debris. This will quickly eliminate the source of the clog and allow water to flow freely once again. 
  • Blow Bag
    • A blow bag, or a drain bladder, uses water pressure instead of metal to unclog blockages. The bag is connected to a water source on one side and the drain pipes on the other side. It fills with water and then releases a powerful stream of water through the drain pipe to eliminate blockage.
  • Hydro Jetting
    • Similar to the blow bag, hydro jetting uses pressurized water to clear any clogs. A hose is connected to the drain pipe and blasts water throughout the system to break up any stubborn clumps of dirt and debris. 
  • Picote Milling Machine
    • Like snaking, a Picote system breaks up blockages with force, but it has special heads at the end of its cable. This is especially helpful if there are tree roots or other tough sediment blocking your drainage pipes. 

How Do I Prevent Drains from Becoming Clogged?

Clogged underground drainage systems can lead to a myriad of troublesome problems, including overflowing gutters, flooding, leakage, structural damage, foundational cracking, mold, mildew, and unwanted pests. All of these challenges can worsen overtime and lead to a very pricey home repair bill you won’t want to receive! Rather than waiting for these issues to arise, you can take a few simple steps to prevent your underground drainage system from ever becoming clogged. 

  • Regularly Clean Your Gutters
    • This is the easiest and most effective way to proactively keep your drainage system operating efficiently. Your gutter systems should be cleaned at least twice per year, either by you or a professional gutter cleaning company. This will eliminate excessive amounts of foliage and dirt building up inside your gutters and downspouts, which will in turn reduce the amount of debris entering your underground systems in the first place. 
  • Install a Downspout Strainer and Filter
    • Another way to prevent excessive buildup is to install a downspout strainer and filter. Strainers are essentially metal wire frames that sit at the top of your downspouts to prevent debris from entering the downspout. These are quick, cheap solutions that can be quite effective. Keep in mind, though, you will need to routinely clean these strainers to maintain proper water flow and avoid overflowing gutters. Filter boxes perform the same exact function but along the downspout pipe rather than at the top. These are preferable for some people as they are easier to clean and maintain because you don’t have to climb your roof to reach them. 
  • Install Gutter Covers and Leaf Guards
    • Finally, try installing a gutter cover and leaf guard. These will help reduce the amount of debris that enters the gutters and travels into the underground drainage system. Again, these will need to be routinely cleaned and maintained to be effective and avoid overflowing gutters. 

All of these solutions are effective preventative measures to maintain a healthy and operational drainage system. However, routine gutter cleanings are the MOST important part because no matter how many filters you install, you’ll still need to remove the gunk from time to time. 

Be sure to keep an eye on your gutters and underground drainage systems. Clogs are pretty easy to spot but can be time-consuming and expensive to fix, especially if you have to call in the professionals to handle it. Avoid the damage and take some time to install preventative measures and conduct regular gutter cleanings.