I ran into an old friend of mine recently who was with his young son. When I asked how old he was, the kid got all shy and slowly held up four fingers. His dad told me, “Yeah, he’s so young this is the first time in his life he’s ever seen rain.” We had a good laugh about that, but it was true.
For the past five years, Northern California, like the rest of the state, has suffered a persistent drought, but recently we’ve gotten what seems like a decade’s worth of rain all at once. In fact, the Sierra Nevadas reached 163 percent of the historical precipitation average. My friend’s kid had honestly never seen rain like that before.
Now, I’m a bit older, so I’ve seen plenty of rain. Due to my line of work, I’ve also seen the plumbing problems that houses near the aforementioned Sierra Nevadas, in foothill towns like Newcastle, are now facing thanks to nearby flooding. And one of the most common problems is toilets starting to make a gurgling noise. This is almost certainly a sign of trouble, especially when unseasonal bouts of torrential rain are involved. A gurgling toilet is more than just a gross sound, though—it’s a problem homeowners need to address because there’s likely sewer gas involved.
Smaller Community + Slower Drainage = Gurgling Toilet
Newcastle is a quaint and somewhat small community, which means that its sewer and drainage system is smaller as well. This can lead to problems when the area gets hit by historic rains like the ones that recently soaked us. I’ve talked in the past about ways to prevent your home from flooding, but what I want to discuss today is ways to address this specific problem that pops up when a town’s sewers flood. Basically, there just isn’t enough space in the pipes to handle the normal sewage, as well as all of the rain.
All that water can lead to a stoppage or clog in the drain pipe that connects to your home. When this happens, water backs up and pushes any air in the pipes towards your toilet, creating that gurgling sound.
There’s actually a simple way to test for this. If you have a bathtub or a shower near the toilet, just fill one of those up with about two inches of water, and start to slowly drain it while flushing the toilet at the same time. If you get bubbles or a gurgling in the tub, you almost certainly have a clog in your line.
Now, to be clear, rain is not the only cause of this problem. You may have heard this gurgling during dry months as well. That’s because there are other potential clog culprits, including:
- Overgrown tree roots. These can wreak havoc on your pipes by extending underground, warping the pipes, and causing a clog.
- Debris. All sorts of clog-inducing debris can find its way into the pipes over time by being washed into the sewers.
- Inappropriate or odd items getting flushed down the toilet. This is especially relevant for families with kids.
It’s really important to pinpoint the cause of the gurgling noise because there’s a scenario in which it is actually dangerous because the sewer has another key function beyond removing waste and water from your home.
Your Sewer Does Double Duty
The plumbing and sewer system does more than take water in and out of your home: it also must vent the hazardous gas that builds up. Your home probably has something called a vent stack, which is piping that extends from its roof down to its plumbing. The only part that’s generally visible is a circular opening on the roof. As long as the top of this vent stack is clear, no problem. The gas is vented. But, in a place like Newcastle that’s been battered by storms, tree branches, birds nests, and all sorts of other debris often fall on the top of this thin pipe, preventing the gas from escaping.
That gas still has to go somewhere, and it could start to mingle with the air that’s causing the gurgling. What we’re talking about here is methane gas produced as a byproduct of waste, and it needs to be released from the pipes. But all this rain can cause serious havoc in your drainage capabilities, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to figure it out all by yourself.
What I’d suggest is having it analyzed and diagnosed by a plumbing expert. Your local sewer is definitely taxed right now. The sort of rain we’ve had this month is by no means normal, and, as a result, the pipes from your home may be suffering strain and unusual clogs. When one of the associated issues is a buildup of poisonous gas, well, you can’t take any chances with that. Methane is not something you want in your home—it’s combustible and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Who knows how long this rain will last. Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that the worst is over, but if you’re listening to conventional wisdom, you wouldn’t have expected the drought to come to such an abrupt and soggy end in the first place. So don’t take chances. A professional plumber can not only pinpoint the trouble spot, but he or she can also put a plan into motion to fix it. You’ve heard that expression, “When it rains, it pours,” and I’m sure you’ve heard it a lot around Newcastle lately. Well, don’t let that expression become, “When it rains, poisonous gas starts to build up under my house.”
Heavy rains in small Sierra Nevada foothill towns like Newcastle has really taxed local drainage and sewer systems. Call the professional plumbers at Bell Brothers today to make sure these problems don’t spill over into your house.