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Power Rodding and Hydro Jetting: How These Methods Are Used to Clean Pipes

Power rodding and hydro jetting are relatively new weapons in a plumber’s arsenal to deal with drain blockages and sludge accumulation in pipes. While methods of clearing blockages near the top of the drainage system in a home — the typical hair-and-foreign-object clogs within a few feet of the drain opening — are still limited to the tried-and-true such as a common drain snake, power rodding and hydro jetting are important options for clearing out deeper obstructions in the system. These problems are particularly prevalent in homes built in the 1980s and earlier, where deep-pipe blocks in household plumbing or the sewer line are more common due to greater accumulation of sludge, which often is the precursor to an obstruction. The inception of both power rodding and hydro jetting offers a much more cost-effective and pipe-friendly method of clearing blockages than heavy-duty snakes or use of corrosive chemicals.

To the homeowner standing ankle-deep in soapy water that fails to drain during a morning shower, a plumbing clog is a sudden event arriving out of the blue. In most cases, however, the conditions that prepared the way for it have been brewing for some time. From small beginnings, sludge from grease, soap and other residue gradually coats the interior walls of a drain pipe and sewer line, incrementally reducing the diameter of the pipe and constricting the free flow of wastewater. It’s only a matter of time before that process completely obstructs the pipe or narrows it to the point where even the smallest object disposed in drain water no longer slides harmlessly through the pipe but instead forms the clog that finally terminates all flow. The shortcomings of conventional, “old school” methods of opening a clogged pipe, like a common drain snake, are threefold:

  • These techniques simply punch a hole in the existing obstruction without doing much to address issues that will cause the next clog, probably at the same spot or close by.
  • Snakes are not very effective in the removal of the accumulation of sludge inside pipes that is the precursor to most blockages.
  • Some mechanical devices can be hard on plumbing and carry the risk of damaging pipes, particularly older pipes such as the clay sewer lines utilized in pre-1980s residential construction.

While the desired result is the same, power rodding and hydro jetting are very different drain opening technologies and one may be more appropriate to particular situations than the other. Here’s a brief description of how they work:

Power rodding

This method is older than hydro jetting but still represented a great advance over traditional drain-opening procedures when it was introduced. Prior to power rodding, if more crude mechanical methods failed, the only alternative was locating the clogged pipe segment in the walls of the home or underground and physically opening the pipe to remove the blockage. Developed as an alternative to snakes, a power rodding system utilizes a flexible metal cable that threads into drain systems and around bends and joints. A cleaning head with very sharp teeth is installed at the leading end of the cable. This cleaning attachment is sized to the diameter of the pipe being treated. An electric motor rotates the cable, causing the sharp cleaning head to turn at a high rate of speed. This action obliterates the obstruction blocking the pipe, shears off any protrusions such as tree roots and shaves away years of sludge buildup. The high-speed cutting tool shreds the obstructive material blocking the pipe into small fragments that are easily flushed away when the flow of water is introduced into the pipe.

Hydro jetting

The newest revolution in drain opening, this technology utilizes extremely high-pressure jets of water to blast away pipe clogs, decimate sludge accumulation and even slice and dice infiltrating tree roots. Hydro jetting equipment utilizes a thin, high-pressure line capped with a nozzle that disperses multiple jets of water in all directions. The pressure of the water — anywhere from 3,500 to 4,500 psi — is sufficient to not only blast away the central blockage but also cut tree roots and reduce them to small fragments as well as scour the pipe walls of sludge and grease accumulation. Simultaneously, the influx of high-pressure water in the pipes flushes the debris away from the point of obstruction and out of the residence. Despite the pressures involved, clearing blockages with hydro jetting causes the least trauma to the interior of the pipes because there is no heavy-duty snake or metal cable involved as with other methods. Hydro jetting systems are now successfully used to clear and clean drains ranging all the way from 1-inch home drains to large municipal sewer lines.

Septic applications

Like household plumbing, septic tank systems are also vulnerable to blockages. These obstructions are usually the result of inadequate attention to septic maintenance, particularly the routine pumping out of solid waste matter that should be performed every three to five years. When the tank is not pumped according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule, solid waste matter may overflow the tank and infiltrate the outlet line leading to the drain field. This line is designed to carry liquids only and solid waste may accumulate and plug the main outlet line or the perforated lines that allow wastewater to percolate into the ground.  The result is usually an overflowing septic tank or the backup of wastewater into the home.

Hydro jetting can now be utilized to clear blockages not only in the main septic outlet line but also in the smaller, buried perforated lines. This option avoids costly and disruptive excavation of your property to pinpoint the location and eliminate blockages.

Preventive action

Certain measures can be taken to prevent the conditions that encourage accumulation of sludge and/or the associated blockages. Your plumbing professional can recommend products that may help you avoid the necessity of power rodding and hydro jetting in the future. These commonly utilize advanced biotechnology to keep pipes clean. Introduced into your drain system, harmless bacterial organisms consume the sludge and slime in pipes including fats, oil and grease. The action starts immediately and continues as the bacteria cling to the film of sludge inside the pipe. Regular re-treatment by the homeowner is required to maintain the protective action of the bacteria.

Tree roots that invade the buried sewer line in your yard are another common source of blockages that may ultimately require power rodding and hydro jetting. Tree roots are looking for water and nutrients and find both inside your sewer line. Once feeder roots have sensed the presence of moisture in a buried pipe, the attempts to infiltrate the pipe will be relentless, particularly with fast-growing trees that require lots of nutrients. Selecting slow-growing tree species with less aggressive root patterns and planting them away from the path of the sewer line is the first line of defense. For existing trees, creating a zone of fertilization and ample water in the immediate proximity of the tree, along with regular feeding and watering, may discourage wide expansion of the root pattern and invasion of sewer pipes. If these methods fail, however, power rodding and hydro jetting are the best alternative for clearing the pipe.

Black Diamond Plumbing & Mechanical is your established local provider of advanced plumbing technology. There’s never a convenient time to find out you have a drain clog or sewer obstruction. We’re here for you with the proven techniques of power rodding and hydro jetting to restore full function to your household plumbing

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