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Plumbing 101: Is Your Plumbing Vent Clogged? (Signs to Look for)

January 15, 2021

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Curious about how to tell if plumbing vent is clogged? This is a vital question, as ignoring even a seemingly minor plumbing repair can lead to more costly fixes down the road. Homeowners also rely on their home’s plumbing every day, and damaged vents can lead to clogged, unusable toilets and drains!

To better understand if a plumbing vent is clogged in your home, it’s helpful to review a few basic details about plumbing itself, including what vents are and why they’re needed in the first place. You can then note some signs of a clogged vent and other common plumbing issues, and know when to call a plumber near you!

How to Tell if Plumbing Vent is Clogged

What happens if vent pipe is clogged? First, consider why plumbing fixtures have vents and what they do, and then some signs that they’re clogged or damaged, so you can call a plumber at the first sign of needed plumbing repairs! We will go over how to identify a clogged vent pipe, sewer line, toilet vent pipe, and other plumbing system problems.

plumber checking the vent

What is a plumbing vent and what does it do?

A plumbing vent and attached pipe or plumbing stack help regulate air pressure in the home’s plumbing fixtures. This stack consists of pipes that help move gas and air from the plumbing system, where it is then vented to the outside of the home. Venting air in this way also helps to maintain pressure in the plumbing system, so that air doesn’t build up in pipes and cause cracks and leaks.

Vent stacks are vertical pipes that typically run along an exterior wall, although they can be installed along inside walls as well. Plumbing pipes might connect to each other before being connected to that main stack. Plumbing vents at the end of plumbing stacks are often found on the home’s roof or along an upper area of an exterior wall.

Fresh air coming in through the vent stacks helps move water along every time you flush a toilet or use a sink or shower drain. Those vents also block sewer gases from backing up into the home, venting them out the stack and away from the home. A vent stack also traps wastewater odors and vents those outside the home as well.

What happens when a vent is blocked or damaged?

If a plumbing stack or vent is clogged or damaged, air pressure builds up in the home’s plumbing pipes. This negative pressure doesn’t allow drains to empty as they should, so you might notice low water pressure in the home’s toilets, standing water in sinks and showers, and slow sink and shower drains. This negative pressure buildup and the inability of toilets and other fixtures to drain as they should will also lead to clogs and backups. Those clogs and backups are dangerous, and they emit a clogged vent pipe smell that can be unbareable.

Unfortunately, too many homeowners try to address clogs themselves and, if they’re able to unclog a toilet or drain, assume that the problem is fixed! However, that negative air pressure can mean cracks and other damage, as said, while persistent clogs often lead to sediment buildup inside plumbing pipes and hefty repair bills! Unclog plumbing vent without getting on roof by calling in the pros. If your home’s plumbing stacks or vents are clogged or otherwise damaged, it’s vital you address these needed repairs so as to avoid future clogs and damage to pipes and connectors, as well as unpleasant sewer odors in the home.

How Do I Know If My Vent Pipe Is Clogged?

Now that you know a bit about the purpose of plumbing stacks and vents, you might note some signs that these are clogged or otherwise damaged and need repairs.

  • Trapped air in plumbing vents and stacks often means gurgling sounds coming from drains and toilets when these are in use.
  • Air coming from damaged stacks and vents also means water bubbles forming in toilets as they flush, or in sink and shower drains as they empty.
  • If you flush the toilet or use a sink or shower in the home and hear pipes banging around behind the walls, this can indicate added air pressure in the pipes due to damaged stacks or vents.
  • Since vents allow sewer odors to escape from the home, if you notice unpleasant odors in the home and especially coming from an empty toilet or drain, this can indicate a blocked or clogged vent.
  • While a toilet or drain might clog on occasion simply from overuse, hair in a shower drain, and other common causes, persistent clogs often indicate blocked sewer stacks and vents. Rather than constantly clearing those clogs and assuming the problem is fixed, have the stacks and vents checked for needed repairs!

If you suspect a clogged plumbing vent in your home, it’s vital you address this right away, to avoid added repair costs and ensure dangerous gases don’t back up into the house. You also want to avoid a burst pipe and overflowing toilets!

How to Unclog Sewer Vent - Answers From the Pros

Now that you know some signs of a clogged plumbing vent and how vital it is to address this issue quickly, consider a few tips for clearing that vent, and note that you’ll need an assistant for this task. If your wondering is a clogged vent pipe dangerous, the answer is yes. Also, remember that most plumbing vents are on a home’s roof; if you can’t access or scale the roof safely, call a professional plumber instead of tackling this job yourself.

master plumber

Check the vent itself for obstructions and ensure it’s clear. Next, have your assistant flush a toilet in the home while you hold your hand over the vent. If you feel suction from the vent, it’s probably clear. If you don’t feel any suction from the vent, there is probably a clog further down the line or stack.

To clear that stack, use what is called electrician’s fish tape, similar to a plumbing snake only smaller, and feed this tape through the vent and into the plumbing stack. Try the toilet flush test again and note if this clears the clog. If not, use a garden hose in the vent to push the clog through the pipes. If it’s still not clear, it’s time to call a plumber and have him or her locate the clog and clear it or even replace that pipe section as needed.

How to Keep a Plumbing Vent Clear

Caps and screens help keep leaves, twigs, and other debris as well as rodents and birds from getting into the home’s plumbing stack. However, it’s vital you check that cap and vent at least once per year, to ensure it’s also clean and clear and free of storm debris, nests, and the like.

If you have a cap or screen over your home’s plumbing vent and the stack still clogs, the cap might be too small or the wrong shape for that vent. The plumbing stack itself might also be too small to vent all gases and regulate air for all the drains in the home; a plumber can note if that stack needs replacing and if the vent itself is protected adequately.

Can a Clogged Vent Cause a Toilet to Overflow?

A home’s plumbing stack and connected vent allow air to escape. When that stack or vent is clogged or otherwise damaged, air in plumbing pipes has nowhere to go, so it typically then moves back to pipes and their connected drains and fixtures.

Air moving back up drains and fixtures can mean overflows. You might notice sludge or even sewer waste in the home’s bathtubs, food scraps and grease coming up from a kitchen sink, and overflowing toilets. If you’ve attempted to clear those clogs yourself and notice this problem repeating itself, call a plumber for plumbing stack and vent clearing and repair!

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How Much Does It Cost to Unclog a Vent Pipe?

As every plumber charges their clients differently and every plumbing repair is different, there is no “one size fits all” answer as to how much it costs to unclog a vent pipe. In most cases, it might cost some $200 or more to address this issue, depending on the size and location of the clog and work needed to clear it.

A homeowner might also note that other plumbing problems resulting from clogged stacks and vents only add to those costs! If you ignore a clogged vent or damaged stack for too long, and this results in cracked plumbing pipes or damaged plumbing connectors, your plumber will need to replace these pieces along with clearing the vent.

In some cases, you might also need to hire a water damage cleanup company to ensure your home is safe and hygienic after a plumbing backup, including an overflowing toilet. To avoid all these risks and costly repairs, check your home’s vent cap often and clear out that stack as needed.

Can You Pour Drain Cleaner Down a Vent Pipe?

Most plumbers will tell you to avoid drain cleaners when trying to address clogs and blockages. Drain cleaners are caustic and damage pipes easily, and don’t always work on every type of clog. Using a drain cleaner can then mean doing more damage than good!

Using drain cleaner for clogged toilets and drains also doesn’t address clogged vents or damaged plumbing stacks, so that you’ll only see more plumbing issues over time. Rather than trying to rely on this quick fix, clear out the plumbing stack or call a plumber as needed.

Other Causes of Clogs and Backups

how to tell if plumbing vent is clogged

While a clogged vent or plumbing stack can mean clogs and backups, there are other reasons why you might notice persistent toilet clogs, slow-moving drains, and similar issues. Knowing why your home might suffer from clogs and backups can help you avoid these problems as much as possible, keeping your plumbing repair costs low over the years!

Some plumbing clogs are caused, not by one particular item getting stuck in the pipes, but by a slow buildup of “gunk” and other debris, including food grease and oils, skin cells, hair, solid waste, toilet tissue residues, and the like. Regular plumbing pipe cleanouts help remove that debris before clogs can form, keeping drains and toilets in good condition.

Tree roots outside the home can wrap themselves around plumbing pipes, putting pressure on those pipes so that cracks form. Dirt and other sediment can then seep into pipes through those cracks, while water also seeps out. That dirt and debris, along with not enough water in the pipes, can stop solid waste from emptying so that clogs then form. Keep tree roots trimmed as needed to avoid this damage.

Putting items into toilets or down drains that don’t disintegrate easily also leads to clogs, as these items get trapped inside pipes or leave behind residues that create clogs. Avoid putting anything into toilets other than human waste and toilet paper; this includes cigarette butts, baby wipes, cat litter, and the like. In the kitchen, only put food waste down the drain; never use the sink to dispose of paper towels, cleaning wipes, and other such items.

How to Keep Your Home’s Plumbing in Good Condition

Other than keeping unnecessary items out of drains and toilets, a homeowner can keep their plumbing in good repair with annual or semi-annual cleaning; a plumber might use a sound blast or air pressure to push residues through pipes, keeping that debris from building up and causing clogs. Annual or semi-annual inspections also spot minor damage around pipes and connectors, so you can address these issues and schedule needed repairs before a plumbing disaster!

A homeowner would also do well to avoid DIY plumbing installation and repairs. Even a minor mistake can mean pipes that don’t drain as they should and resultant backups and clogs. Mixing metals, for instance, risks corrosion around pipe connectors which then leads to leaks or burst pipes. Installing pipes at too steep of an angle allows water to drain too quickly, so it doesn’t take waste material and clogs then form.

Princeton Plumbing Pros is proud to offer this information to your readers and we hope it helped answer the question, how to tell if plumbing vent is clogged? If you still have concerns about your home’s plumbing or need plumbing repairs in Princeton, give us a call! We provide a wide range of residential and commercial plumbing services, offer FREE quotes, and stand behind all our work with a customer service guarantee you can trust!

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