Residents get a rude awakening when they find out their backyard won't drain.
In Santa Clarita, our thoughts are often tuned to the emergencies that affect us most: wildfires, earthquakes, and transit-related disasters. However this week, some residents woke to the startling reality that flooding can occur too, if the conditions are right.
Lately it's been all about El Nino, with the southland at the tail end of a week-long deluge. During that time, John Murray Plumbing  has been busy at local homes where the yard drainage has failed.
"This whole week we've been dealing with the surface area drains, everything around the house," said John Murray.
Since flooding is not generally a concern, Murray says most residents neglect to maintain their outdoor drains, and roots invade the pipes and block water conveyance.
"Usually what they do is put the drain line down, then landscape, hardscape, and plant trees," said Murray. "10 years later they're just full of roots."
For many homeowners, the drains are their only recourse because their homes are built on a level slab and walled on all sides. If the drain isn't functioning properly, the yard can fill up during a major storm and send water into the home.
Furthermore, when the flooding does occur there are times when no plumber on earth can get the drain working again. Murray says that his crews were able to restore water flow to about half of the homes they were called to. The others need to replace the entire drain, which consists of removing the concrete and/or landscape and running new pipe. The cost of a full replacement might be a bit hard to handle at first; however it can be much less expensive than repairing water damage in a home.
"If you know you have an issue, dig it up," he said. "When it comes in the house, all of a sudden you went from a couple thousand dollars to...some of what we saw had 50,000 to $100,000 in damage."
One of the reasons the pipes are so difficult to clear, is that many were installed to minimum required standards.
"You want to make sure that it's done correctly. What we recommend is the PVC that you glue together, because the roots have a very difficult time with that," explains Murray. "Most of the time what Code calls for is what we call DF pipe, where you just push it together and it doesn't even require gluing. The fittings are all straight so when we put our snake down we have no idea where we're going."
There are a few measures homeowners can take to help lessen the burden on their drains. Drilling a 3 to 4-inch hole in select places along the bottom of perimeter walls will give water a place to escape the yard. Sandbags can also be used to block water flow toward the home, and are most often needed around sliding glass doors. Pumps can help too, if you can find one during a storm.
If you do need the assistance of a plumber, Murray recommends taking a picture of the flooding at its worst. That will help a plumber diagnose the problem more quickly since they will be able to see where the water pools.
If drains are working properly, Murray recommends devising a maintenance strategy to keep them that way. Running water from a hose down the pipe regularly will push out common debris, however sometimes a professional snake will be needed to clear out larger obstructions.