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How to Clean & Unclog Roof Drains

Roof drains are out of sight and, too often, out of mind. These drains are used on flat roofs to let water drain off the roof and into the outlet pipe. Although flat roofs are made with a slight slope, it is usually designed to direct water towards the drains. The problem is that roof debris tends to go in the same direction as the water! This design makes it easy to get clogged. When the debris finds its way inside the building, it causes clogs in the interior plumbing.

roof drains

Why Flat Roofs Are Common on Commercial Buildings

The majority of flat roofs are found on commercial buildings and in multi-unit housing. You might think that builders would steer clear of flat roofs, considering the potential problems they cause. However, a number of advantages make them popular including low-cost installation and more efficient use of space. In fact, many homeowners of new builds are opting for flat roofs because they are more energy-efficient.

Both homeowners and businesses like the architectural style of many flat roofs today. They like the looks of modern flat roofs in addition to numerous benefits.

The use of innovative insulation methods has a lot to do with a flat roof’s superb energy-efficiency. Many builders implement a membrane system, using sheets of rigid insulation. This differs greatly from pitched roofs with cavity insulation systems. The membrane system creates a consistent R-value across the roof without breaks in coverage.

Flat roofs have less surface area, making them easier and less expensive to install. They are easier to maintain than a pitched roof because you can access and walk around them more easily. Even roof replacement is faster and easier when it’s time for a new one!

Businesses often put the space on the roof to good use. Some place their air conditioning units here to prevent damage or vandalism. Others use the space for rooftop gardens, solar panels, or even swimming pools. Of course, the roofs must be built by professionals who know the recommendations and requirements for making the structure sturdy.

In comparison to all these advantages, the only disadvantage to a flat roof is the potential clogging of roof drains. Now that you realize the potential for clogs and blockages, you can take the steps needed to keep your drains clear.

Unclog Roof Drains

Take a Proactive Approach

Never assume that your roof drains are clear and operating normally, even if there aren’t any trees around your building. First of all, leaves can blow long distances and end up in the very spot they aren’t wanted. Second, leaves aren’t the only source of clogs in your drains. It’s up to you to monitor your roof to catch problems as soon as they get started.

Inspect your roof drain every three months in the spring and summer. This is the time when animals are more likely to build their nests there. You need to inspect it even more often in the fall and winter months. Trees lose their leaves during the fall, often making their way inside the roof drains and gutters. During the winter, ice and snow can block the drains. Make it a part of your overall plumbing maintenance plan.

Once the drains become blocked or clogged, rainwater or melted snow is left to pool on top of the roof. This leads to more problems including damage to the roof. It also creates an ideal environment for insects, mold, and moss growth. Not sure if you have a roof drain? If you have a flat roof, you do! Depending on the size and design of your roof, you might have several.

Start with an Inspection

The first step is to inspect the roof drain and clear any visible debris away. Unscrew the cover and shine a light inside to look for any obvious problems. Bird nests, weeds, or other debris might be causing the blockage. If there are animals nesting inside, you’ll need to call a professional to remove them.

Use a Plumber’s Snake

A plumber’s snake can reach farther into the drain than you can see. If the blockage isn’t at the surface, the snake may be able to loosen it. Feed the snake into the drain slowly. You may need to repeat the process several times before the clog comes out the outlet pipe.

Apply Water Pressure

If you don’t have a plumber’s snake, the water pressure from a water hose will work too. One advantage to working with roof drains is that you don’t have to worry about flooding your kitchen floor. Feed the water hose into the drain until it stops at the clog. Turn the hose on at full power. It will take some time for the pressure of the water to loosen the clog. Initially, water will back out of the drain because it has nowhere else to go. You can speed up the process by pushing forward with the hose. Once the clog breaks free, it will run out the outlet pipe along with the water.

Try a Pipe Brush

You use a pipe brush in much the same way you would use a water hose. The difference is that it uses stiff bristles to clean out the clog instead of pressure. There’s also no water to clean up once you finish.

Cleaning the Roof Drains

Once you have all the debris out of the way, it’s time to clean the roof drains. The simplest way to do this is by running water from the water hose through the drains. Check to make sure the water is going through each one and that it’s flowing freely. Use the pipe brush to remove any lingering debris. Repeat one more time for every drain to make sure they are all clean and flowing smoothly.

When to Replace the Roof Drains

Now you know what an important role your roof drains play in keeping your plumbing and your roof secure. Even the best drains will eventually need to be replaced. With the heavy weather exposure and wear-and-tear they endure, rust and cracks or breaks can make them less effective. Buying replacement parts for a drain is a lot like buying parts to fix your car. You need to know the make and model to get a good fit. If the old one is too damaged to read, you can go by the drain’s color and dimensions. Each major manufacturer uses a unique color for their products. If the damage is that severe, replacing the entire drain is probably the best option.

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When to Call a Professional

When everything goes smoothly, taking a DIY approach to cleaning and unclogging roof drains can save time and money. When you run into issues you don’t know how to handle, it’s safer for you and your building to call the professionals.

  • Never try to remove any kind of wild animal by yourself. Call a professional animal removal service. They will remove them humanely and keep you and your family safe.
  • If you’re experiencing pipe leaks indoors, don’t wait to call a plumber. The next step could be a burst pipe and a lot of water pouring in!
  • If you follow all the steps to unclog the drain without getting results, it might not be a clog at all. Call a plumber to find the source of weak water pressure or slow drainage. The answer could be a cracked pipe.
  • When water pools on your roof without dissipating for 48 hours, there’s reason for concern. If you make a rare visit to find a pond with plants growing in the middle, it’s closer to an emergency. Pooling water can cause damage to the structure. The longer the water sits there, the more damage it causes. If you’ve already gotten leaks inside, you may already need a new roof. If you don’t address the problem now, it could spread to the interior.

Water pipes, drainage pipes, and sewage systems make up a big part of our lives at home and at work. Each part of your plumbing system affects the other ones. Sometimes it’s difficult to spot the source of a problem. Funny sounds, odd odors, or small leaks can all be signs of something major going on out-of-sight.

Cleaning and unclogging roof drains is one of those things you can often identify and fix yourself. When you aren’t able to find the source of the problem, don’t let the problem grow into a much larger one. Contact the professionals with the skills and the tools to find the source of your plumbing problem. No matter what it is, putting off a repair will only give it time to get worse. Something that starts as a small clog in the roof drains could end up as a flood inside your home or office!

If you need dependable maintenance or fast, efficient plumbing services, contact San Diego Pipelining. We offer 24/7 service at no extra charge.

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(855) 269-7473