Why Your Bathtub Is Clogged: Natomas’ Status as the Boomtown on a Floodplain Could Be the Cause

why your bathtub is clogged NatomasMaybe you’ve heard Natomas referred to by its nickname, Boomtown on a Floodplain. For most of the past decade, there was a moratorium on new construction in the area because officials wanted to make sure the levees that protected Natomas were shored up, since, well, it’s on a floodplain. But, recently, this was lifted—and there’s been a lot of new homes built around the city.

A homeowner called me out to the area recently because he had a bathtub that wouldn’t drain, even though there didn’t seem to be any clogs. He’d used a snake, one of those drain cleaner tools that pull out any gunk from the pipes, and he’d also gone at the bathtub drain with a plunger until his arms got sore. Besides that, his home was relatively new, built during Natomas recent housing boom.

It turned out that amid all the new construction in Natomas, whoever had installed the pipe system connected to his tub had done somewhat of a rush job, particularly with the installation of a piece called the P-Trap. The homeowner told me he was about ready to just pour a really acidic drain cleaner down the tub drain, which I always warn folks can damage the pipes and isn’t a long-term solution anyway. That’s why what I want to talk about whether your tub has a simple clog, or a more complex problem that’s possibly related to the P-Trap. Natomas has had problems in the past with construction during building sprees, but if you know the signs, you can take care of any potential issues before they become plumbing nightmares.

So, What’s a P-Trap?

The P-Trap is the MVP of the plumbing system when it comes to stopping clogs and other potential hazards with your pipes. You have one underneath your kitchen sink, as well as anywhere water drains out of your bathroom. Why is it called a P-Trap? Well, simple. The two 90 degree joints and the one horizontal overflow pipe that make up the P-Trap unit form the shape of a letter “P.” Although, if they had asked my opinion, I think they actually look sort of like a letter “S.”

p-trap under a sink

A P-trap shown under a kitchen sink | Image courtesy flick’r user pauljoelhancock

It’s hard to picture, I know. If you really want to know what one looks like, just open the cabinet beneath your bathroom or kitchen sink. See the curved pipe? That’s a P-Trap. They’re either made from steel or PVC pipes (and the fact that PVC is often used for P-Traps that aren’t visible, like the one beneath a bathtub, means that you should avoid products like Drano because it can damage PVC piping materials). The P-Trap actually has two purposes, both of which are very important:

  • Prevent clogs: The first and most important job of the P-Trap is to catch debris and prevent it from creating harder to fix clogs much deeper inside your plumbing system. Think of it as the first line of defense for your pipes. Getting back to the floodplain idea, if debris is like the floodwaters from the Natomas Basin, the P-Trap would be the protective levee saving your home.
  • Stop sewer gas: The P-Trap actually functions as a protective guard in another way as well—it keeps sewer gas from moving out of the plumbing system and into your home. This is very important because sewer gas is, obviously, quite offensive to the nose, often having a rotten egg or sulfur smell. Also, at it’s worst, sewer gas can be poisonous—or even cause an explosion.

When it comes to new Natomas homes, I’d wager every single one of them has a bathtub with a P-Trap installed—there’s a code that requires it. But a problem I’ve seen, both in that area and others in Northern California going through housing booms, is that too many new houses are being built at once. And when this happens, the installation of the plumbing can sometimes be rushed.

P-Trap Problems in New Natomas Homes

Precision is key when plumbing is initially installed in a new house, especially when it comes to the P-Trap. That’s what makes problems with them somewhat common in brand new houses like the ones being built in Natomas. Also, it often takes a bit of use for these problems to become evident, because a bit of debris has to start falling into the bathtub drain and building up before you realize there’s an issue. Luckily, a good professional plumber can diagnose and fix P-Trap issues. You, as a homeowner, just need to know the signs, and, maybe even more importantly, you need to know when the problem is not something that you can easily fix on your own.

  • Sign #1: Wastewater. If wastewater is backing up into your bathtub, call a professional immediately. That means the P-Trap isn’t functioning properly, and a clog has likely formed somewhere very deep inside your plumbing system. All the Drano in the world, which, again, I advise against using at all, won’t fix this clog. Plus, as we’ve talked about in the past, wastewater can make you sick.
  • Sign #2: Tub drains slowly. This is a more common indication of a poorly installed P-Trap, especially in newer houses where the plumbing hasn’t been used all that much yet, like the ones that have been popping up all over Natomas. This could indicate a problem with the vent, which is a part of the P-trap that allows air to enter so there’s sufficient space for the water to easily drain. If no air is able to enter the pipes with the water, it won’t drain at all. Or, most commonly, if the vent isn’t letting in enough air, it will begin to drain slowly. Alternately, I’ve seen some cases of new houses where two traps have been installed in the same set of pipes that connect to a bathtub drain. I have no idea why this happens, but it’s unnecessary and will slow down the speed of a drain.  No matter the cause, slow draining that can’t be fixed by using a plunger or a snake is a reason to call a plumber.

Obviously, it’s not fun to move into a new house and then, six months later, have to figure out why the bathtub drains so slowly that you’re standing in 5 inches of water every time you take a shower. The shower is a place to relax, not be reminded that there’s a plumbing problem you need to fix. Plus, standing water in the bathtub leads to soap scum, and that’s no fun to clean.

Natomas is building more houses these days because the levees that protect it have been shored up. If you have one of those houses, why not go ahead and make sure the plumbing all throughout is just as solid as what’s holding back the water from sweeping the city? If you do, I suggest starting by making sure the P-trap has been installed properly. It should be a quick and easy fix for a professional plumber if it hasn’t, so you can focus on decorating your new home for the holidays, and the many happy years to come.

Don’t let your new Natomas house suffer from flooding in the bathtub. Contact the local plumbing professionals at Bell Brothers today to get your bathtub P-Trap shored up.