How can I unclog the main drain line that runs through our yard without the expense of hiring a plumber?

Q: How can I unclog the main drain line that runs through our yard without the expense of hiring a plumber? Roots seems to have grown into the sewer line, and smelly brown water is backing up to the house.

A: You might be able to clear the obstruction using an electrical plumbing snake. Available at rental outlets and the Home Depot, these machines are also called a Drain Pipe Auger or a Power Drain Cleaner. The machine has a coil of steel rope with a cutter-head on the end to drill out the blockage. The basic idea is to feed the rope manually into the drain through the clean-out plug until it hits resistance, and then activate the machine with a foot pedal to spin the auger. It might take multiple attempts to grind through the blockage, and you can retrieve the auger to measure its length and gauge your progress. Repeat the pro-cess until the water drains. In order to grind through the roots, use a larger 5/8-in. auger size rather than a 1/2-in. or smaller, which will be more likely to break against the roots.

Using a plumbing snake can get messy, so wear some rubber gloves that stretch up to your elbows, and beware of the high tension on the cable. When the auger tip hits resistance that prevents it from rotating, but  the machine is still spinning, it can place a great amount of tension on the auger rope, causing it to pull out the machine and coil up violently. If you’re fingers are on the metal rope when it coils, it can crush them. Wash off the machine after you’ve finished the job, or else the rental outlet is likely to slap you with a “cleanup fee.”

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