terra cotta underground pipes

dustynightApril 7, 2011

My home is a three story end of group townhouse that was built in 1915. It also has a gable roof.

I have a downspout that empties into an underground terracotta pipe that is nonfunctioning. Does anyone know how these pipes were installed? For example, where do they normally lead to -- my sewerline made of the same material that lies even deeper below? or simply into the yard somewhere? If so, how far into the yard and how deep into the ground do they run?

What materials do you suggest to replace this pipe? I cannot run piping over ground because it has to cross where a sidewalk and cement steps leading to the basement exists.


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How deep is the pipe now?

Where do you live--in a city or small town? It might be different depending on which location you are in. The pipe could lead to your sewer line, but it could also lead to a dry well, or tie into a storm drain.

My downspout leads into a shallow pipe I replaced with pvc, and comes out next to my sidewalk. A lot of houses in my area have them the same way, some even come out through a gap in the kerbstone below the sidewalk!

PVC is a common replacement material, and cheap--where you run it depends on your available space; if you have sufficient yard space, I'd run it into a dry well at least ten feet from the house...if you don't have enough area to do that, divert the water into a rain barrel to use for landscape watering.

You might try using a hose to try clearing the pipe--run it as far in as you can, then turn the water on, moving the house back and forth to try to free the blockage. If that doesn't work, you could get someone to inspect it with a camera to see how bad the blockage is--most likely it's tree roots, or the pipe might have collapsed.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 5:37AM
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Underground terra cotta - in my area, the entire run is typically made up of 2 ft long pieces that fit together in a male/female type of connection. The depth is dictated by the frost line - ours are about 4 ft deep.

When problems arise, as columbusguy said, the cause is usually one of 2 things - tree roots or disintegrated/broken pipe. As trees grow, the roots work their way into the male/female connection of the pipe pieces and create blocks in the pipes. Or, the pipe pieces break and collapse into themselves.

If you are in an urban area, the terra cotta runs from the house to the city sewer system. The terra cotta system includes both the pipe you mention as well as the sewage outflow that typically is under the basement floor of the house. They link up underground. If the city sewer, which starts out near the street, has been modernized, it could be a galvanized system or pvc, depending on when the modernization was done.

A good plumbing company can run that camera into the pipe and run it all the way to the city sewer - last summer we became the proud owners of a video showing the 90 ft underground journey.

My community used to run downspouts into pipes underground (the storm sewer system), but that was outlawed some number of years ago. Our downspouts now are connected to above ground gutter extensions that run out into our yards and then stop at least 10 ft away from the foundation. The terra cotta opening right at the foundation is not used. We still have terra cotta running under the house to the street.

You're going to need to identify the cause of your blockage.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 6:28AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

As lesterd posted above, running downspouts to the storm sewer system was outlawed, and even if it is allowed in your area, it could be outlawed in the future.

They were outlawed in a town where a friend lives and she had to cap hers off above ground. I'd suggest talking to your water/sewer municipality before proceeding and wrapping up a lot of $$$ that 'may' be useless sometime in the not too far off future.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 8:21AM
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Thank you all for the info. It's very helpful in resolving this issue.

Last week, I did put a hose with a spray nozzle down the terra cotta pipe opening and ran it at full force to see if I could clean it it out. Instead water ended up coming into the basement. So I figure I must change the pipe.

I am in an urban area and what I am gathering from your comments is that this pipe probably originally tied into the sewer line. I can accsss my sewer line from my basement.

Tying the pipe into the sewer sounds expensive. It would entail digging down to the sewer line to connect the two pipes. I believe a former tree in the backyard may have caused the problem. I also just removed another tree whose tree roots were getting into the sewer line.

Running PVC pipe to a dry well seems like a cheaper alternative. However, I'm not sure exactly what it is or how involved it would be. My backyard is about 34 feet long.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:18PM
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Much better than a drywell I find is to run buried drainlines a few inches below grade and terminating in popup emitters. If you're allowed to drain to the street, you terminate the line near there. If not, terminate somewhere on your property and use perforated lines.

The trouble with a drywell is that it channels all the water to one spot and in severe downpours it can overflow. Spreading the water over 20-40 ft. is more effective. It also provides water to your lawn/plantings. Use solid pipe, not corrugated flexible pipe. That way it can be snaked out if blockages develop. Also, it helps to put in a cleanout, if possible, where the line meets the downspout to make snaking out easier.

NDS is a major supplier of the odds and ends you'll need.

Here is a link that might be useful: Installing Downspout Drain Lines

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 8:21PM
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Did you ever resolve this problem? Did you ever consider an overground downspout extension/rain garden solution?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 4:11PM
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"running downspouts to the storm sewer system was outlawed"

Running downspouts into sanitary sewers is often restricted now.
Running them into storm water systems (where street gutters drain)is still allowed in many places.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 10:12AM
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