The Dirty Truth About Your Sewer Lines: The Importance of This Underground Network

Man Digging Out Clogged Sewer Line Closeup

It’s not often the topic of conversation, but when given a moment of consideration, the vast network of pipes and sewer lines that most modern cities have devised is a true marvel of civilization. Most people don’t have to think about it. We go on with our lives as a pre-established system functions beneath our feet. 

As a plumber, however, it is our job to think about it. And we find the history pretty amazing. 

Let’s dive into some of the details.

When the Pipes Come a Calling

As we say here in the business, tearing up the ground to take a look at your sewer pipes is not a weekend activity. It’s not something families do in lieu of a baseball game or family movie night. It’s the kind of thing that’s forced upon homeowners or property owners. When wastewater is not leaving the premises as expected, it’s time to do some investigating. 

Most sewage systems across the country are a network of pipes, pumps, and/or mains for collecting wastewater. Municipalities will usually divide sewage systems into industrial or residential. This vast network of pipes protects residents and members of the community but also the animals and the environment. This is why proper maintenance and installation of new piping is essential to protect everyone. 

The Main Parts of the Sewage System 

Most sewer systems are composed of several main components. Each component works together to get the wastewater and sewage to where it needs to go. The function of this system involves some pretty strategic thinking.  They might vary by area and whether the area is connected to a municipal water treatment plant.

These include: 

  • Pipes: The pipes are the main transfer of the pipes. 
  • Sewer main: This is where pipes from homes or buildings flow into that takes them to the water treatment plant. 
  • Dry well lift station: These pumping stations may be present in areas where the water treatment plant is above the level of where the sewage is coming from. They do the work that gravity would otherwise do and pressurize the sewage so it travels up towards the plant. 
  • Septic Tank:  Some more rural or remote areas will have septic tanks near each property. These are made out of fiberglass, concrete, or polythene and are buried underground, where they collect and sift out the sewage. 
  • Drain field: As the water flows out of the septic tank it goes into the drain field. 
  • Soil: In some instances, soil can be used to treat wastewater, as it contains the needed bacteria and microbes to begin the treatment.

Piping Material: Old vs New Homes

When it comes to sewage systems, engineers have found ways to improve the function and longevity of the infrastructure. One way to do this is not only through better design and ample use of gravity and elevation but also through the materials used in the piping. 

In homes built before the 1950s, the materials used for sewer pipes and sewer lines were quite different. Here’s a rundown of the difference. 

Before the 1950s: Homes built before the 1950s and still a few years after that, one might find clay pipe, cast-iron pipe, Orangeburg, and plastic sewer pipe. 

The 1970s and onwards: Newer homes will likely have PVC pipes and ABS pipes. 

A Little Bit of History of Sewage 

Since mankind began building cities and living in large compounds, questions about how to deal with and treat wastewater quickly became a top priority. As early as the Roman Empire, early iterations of sewage systems were evident. The Romans had cut-stone sewers and developed circular led pipes for water. 

Once the Dark Ages hit, both personal hygiene and community sewage systems were put on hold (as was much everything else). As time went on, more condensed cities realized that it was in their best interest to do something about this. Paris, France was one of the first cities that finally settled on the idea of installing a sewer system of some kind. They were inspired by ideas from ancient civilizations but incorporated new concepts such as low flow channels, sidewalks for workers, sewer-cleaning devices, and more. 

London, England was another city that realized it needed to do something and also began installing sewer systems. These ideas would spread quickly throughout Europe in the 1800s and make their way into the United States. After the Civil War, the U.S. began looking to the Europeans for ideas on how to solve the waste problem and the first generation of civil engineers would get to work in American cities like Memphis, Tennessee. 

There was some trial and error in these early sewage systems, but the basic concept has carried on. Gravity plays a major role in getting wastewater where it needs to go, and both modern and old engineers figured that out pretty quickly. 

Get Your Pipes Straightened Out With Genevie Plumbing Services

There’s a lot that can go wrong with your pipes. Burst pipes and clogs are common culprits of headaches for the modern homeowner. The good news is that there are people out there that know how to fix it and do so in the most efficient way possible. If you are a homeowner within a municipality, your home is likely tied to a sewer system. 

Having trouble with your pipes? Need answers for a plumbing question. Call Genevie Plumbing today. 


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