Plumbing Storm Preparedness Tips for Northern California’s Unexpectedly Rainy Winter Season

About mid-way through this winter, I figured the storms weren’t stopping anytime soon. I mean, last year at this time California was so bone dry that 97 percent of our state was in a drought. After all of this year’s rain, the news is reporting that number has dropped to 58; all of Northern California, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Oregon border, is out of its severe drought. That’s a lot of rain in a short amount of time, so I used one of our rare dry days to guard my house against what may still be to come. I stocked up on bottled water, bought extra batteries and a new flashlight, and trimmed the branches on the trees in my yard. Now, no matter how hard the wind blows, nothing will come crashing through my windows or onto my car—but I still need to prep my pipes.

I ended up chatting with my neighbor, who happened to be doing the same thing. But I was shocked to learn that his home’s plumbing wasn’t on his storm preparedness checklist; he was completely unconcerned about his pipes and sewer lines being damaged by heavy rains. I told him to brace himself, because I had some surprising news for him.

His pipes, maybe more so than any other part of his home, were facing a massively increased risk of damage. If he ignored this threat, it would lead to worse problems down the line, pun intended. It’s with my neighbor in mind that I’d like to talk about what can happen to your plumbing following heavy rainstorms, especially in a place like Northern California not adapted to such intense rainfall. Next time we get drenched, I want you to know how to prepare your pipes, or, heaven forbid, how to spot signs of an impending plumbing catastrophe. You can’t predict the rain, but you can control how hard it hits your home.

Rainy Season Plumbing Perils

Yes, your plumbing is made to handle water, but not a sudden deluge of it. The biggest threat to your plumbing during heavy rains is the ground, or, more specifically, items like rocks and roots that are in the ground. When the earth gets wet and soggy, the natural materials inside it can shift around, sliding into pipes and causing them to break and rupture. Eventually, if left unchecked, this can lead to gushing leaks that flood your yard and raise your water bill.

plumbing winter storm preparedness tips

The other problem your plumbing faces during storms is clogs. Storms can cause municipal sewers, drains, and even the streets to flood. While not all floods are massive disasters—some just create standing water for an hour or two—even large puddles send debris like sticks, branches, and mud flowing into your plumbing where it then clogs up pipes. Clogs in your home’s sewer lines lead to unpleasantness in your home, things like bubbling in your toilet, faucets that stop working, and even sewer backups. If that sounds bad, just wait, there are more severe troubles to come.

Signs of Strife, Strain, and Struggle in the Sink

A break or clog in your pipes is, of course, something you want to avoid. Imagine thousands of gallons spilling beneath the ground in your backyard, all of which will be on next month’s water bill. Or, imagine raw sewage backing up into your tub. Those, fortunately, are worst case scenarios, and can be avoided with some diligence. Let’s look at warning signs of pipe problems to be vigilant for after winter and spring storms:

  • Sewer gas odor: Does your bathroom smell like a sewer even though it’s clean? That odor may be sewer gas. For a sewer to remove waste from your home, it needs to be sealed airtight. A break or clog in the pipes disrupts this, preventing sewage from exiting. The result is that noxious gas is pushed back into your house.
  • Slow drains: If your sinks or bathtub take forever to drain, you may have a deep clog or break somewhere in your lines. Slow draining often means a clog has started and is slowly getting worse, eventually leading to a sewage backup.
  • Extra lush or green patches of grass: Does part of your yard seem to be thriving, growing healthy and strong, while other patches nearby struggle? There may be water leaking from a break in a pipe underground.

How to Prepare Your Pipes for a Downpour

While there is no sure-fire way to prepare pipes ahead of heavy storms since they can be difficult to access underground, you can work to limit how much excess water flows into your pipes, ensuring only safe amounts of water go down the drain.

  • Clear storm drains: Take time to clear debris away from your storm drains, so it doesn’t wash into your pipes and create a clog.
  • Clear gutters and outdoor pipes: Cleaning gutters ensures rain will flow where it’s supposed to, instead of building up in your yard, making it so soggy that rocks and roots can move and break your pipes.
  • Schedule a sewer inspection: A professional plumber can provide a video inspection to determine if your sewers are functioning properly, or if you’re a stormy day away from a sewage backup.

My general advice is that if anything funny seems to be happening with your plumbing, call an expert to check for clogs or breaks right away. In the middle of a long rainy season, a professional plumber can check your home for potential trouble spots in the pipes, and fix them before they become serious. In other words, a plumber may be the only one who can offer an umbrella of hope against that sewer odor coming from your toilet or bathtub turning into actual raw sewage reversing course and ending up back in your home.

Stop wondering and worrying about what damage storms may have done to your pipes. Contact the professionals at Bell Brothers to have your plumbing checked out today.  

Photo via Gabe Rodriguez / Unsplash