Most homeowners are familiar with the tried and true plumbing snake for handling small blockages. It’s a long metal tube, sometimes with a claw or a camera on the end. You can push it into a pipe and force a blockage apart to clear the line. The problem is, this only really works for small pipes and some blockages. What do you use when you’re up against a bigger problem?
The Snake’s Flaw
The plumbing snake will push through a blockage, but it doesn’t necessarily clean up the line. Even after you’ve pushed a snake through the pipes, all it’ll do is move one obstacle. If there’s waste build up inside the pipe, there will still be reduced flow. It even gets a bit worse: the snake can only relay so much force into the clog.
For most significant issues, a plumbing snake is a tool to quickly and temporarily resolve a bigger problem. Waste is building up inside the pipe, similar to how hard water build up can block off the water supply pipes. The snake isn’t as big as the pipe, it only creates a narrow channel or at best pushes a big obstruction apart. The rest of the pipe remains nearly clogged, waiting on a small blockage to seal it up again.
In some cases, this issue can be fought chemically, using de-cloggers to break down the blockage. That’s not especially friendly, it’s not fast, and it’s not as bulletproof as other solutions. Of course, there’s always the nuclear option: replace the pipes, but that’s expensive too. There needs to be a better way to just dig out the blockage or even regularly clear up the pipes.
The Power of Water
Luckily the laws of physics provide a very handy solution to this problem. We need to put a lot of force into the pipe, almost like a very powerful drill or cutting blade. We can achieve that sort of power with water. Generally speaking, fluids don’t compress. If you push on a steel cube, you can turn it into a smaller steel cube. If you push on water, the water will push out in all directions with the same force.
It’s possible to put a lot of pressure on the water, and then push that pressure into the blockage. Even better, the water can be shaped into tight jets, concentrating the force to cut and slice into the blockage. With enough pressure, water is capable of slicing through rock and metal with ease, so cutting through waste in a sewer line is a simple task.
This is a double edged sword. If the sewer pipes are aged or not in good condition, the pressure of the water could cause the pipe to crack and leak. Before you can put this much pressure into the plumbing, the pipes all need to be inspected to ensure they’re able to take the force being put on them. You wouldn’t put a forty ton air conditioner on the roof before checking if the building could take that weight. The same is true of piping: don’t pressurize something until you know it’ll take it. Even then, always have buckets handy and keep your customers away from the clog-site.
We call this process Water Jetting. It’s similar to the pressure washer you might use to clean a concrete floor or your car. The key difference is that it requires some specialized equipment for the plumbing. There’s typically a special nozzle and rigid hosing used. The nozzles are designed to blast jets of water in specific areas around the pipe. Designs like this allow them to fully clean the pipe rather than only cover a small portion of it.
The cleaning is a special advantage with this technology: you can’t do preventative cleaning with a typical plumbing snake. You can however preemptively clean out a pipe. It’s already a waste water pipe, so pushing more water through it doesn’t generally pose any threat. This means that you can schedule regular cleanings with a water jet and remove any build up inside the pipes.
Frequent cleaning won’t stop all clogs. A sufficiently stubborn vandal can probably work out the necessary combination of golfballs, tape, and toilet paper to make one heck of a sewer obstruction, but it will make it all the harder for such a clog to develop and reduce the chances of a regular blockage occurring.
Is This Feasible?
For an industrial-scale facility, such as hotels, restaurants, malls, and factories, an ounce of prevention is far cheaper than the customer outrage when they find brown ooze seeping up into their bathtub from a clog down the line. Regular inspections of a facility’s equipment, including the condition of its waste water piping will prevent unexpected repair bills and keep things running smoothly.