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Drains or Toilets Clogged? Check the Roof Vent

man fixing toilet
It's easy to forget about your rooftop sewage or septic vents—in fact, if you’ve never had plumbing problems before, you might not even know what or where they are.
These vents hang dutifully above the house, letting enough fresh air flow down into your waste system to make up for the vacuum created as toilets and drains empty. Plumbing vents also send gas from your waste pipes away from your home with each gusty California breeze.
When sewage vents fail, property owners often blame the wrong part of the plumbing for the issues that develop in their sewage or septic lines. It takes a trial-and-error approach to figure out if a clogged toilet is due to a blockage in the toilet itself or a blockage or failure of the plumbing vent.
If you suspect your plumbing vent may be the source of your waste flow issues, read our blog below to learn more about this crucial part of your plumbing system.

What Is a Roof Plumbing Vent?

Normally, your roof vent extends away from the roof in what's called a plumbing stack. This is a long tube attached to the plumbing lines below. Most roof stacks measure between 1.5 and 6 inches high and extend well above the roof surface.
Problems develop in the roof stack if a strong wind breaks or bends the pipe. If the cap or wire mesh over the vent cap is blown away or chewed off by a rodent, leaves and other debris can also fall in the roof stack and block the pipe. Bird and rodent nests may also clog the stack.
Some roof-vent openings were originally designed to be flush with the roof surface so they'd be less noticeable. In very old homes, roofers sometimes lay shingles over a flush plumbing vent without realizing that they’ve done so. This inhibits the air flow you need in your septic or sewer waste lines. You'll need a qualified plumber to help you locate and open your vent stack in this case.

How Do You Know Your Vent Is Clogged?

One of the first symptoms property owners notice when vents fail is a gurgling noise from the toilet. This sound comes from waste water trying to leave the system and being forced back. At the same time, your shower, tub or sinks drain slowly or not at all.
The most unpleasant sign of a failing vent is a gassy or sewer smell in the home. In some cases, the smell causes people to feel sick to their stomachs, feel faint or have terrible headaches. This gas contains methane and carbon monoxide, so it's important to protect your health by fixing the vent blockage right away.
Another sign to look for is any damage or displacement of the vent stack itself. If DIY drain cleaners and snakes haven't cleared up the issues in slow or clogged drains, take a quick look at the vent stack (if possible) to see if it looks damaged from the ground before examining it up close.

How Do Professionals Clean the Vent?

Unless you have experience working on a roof, it's wise to let a qualified plumbing specialist tackle this job.
To take care of the problem, the plumber first locates the vent pipe and removes any cap or covering. He or she can look through the stack using a tool called a snake. The snake is fitted with lights and cameras to look all the way into the vent pipe to determine where any blockage has occurred. The plumbing snake/camera also spots cracks, gaps and other damage to the interior of the vent stack.
Finally, the plumber can loosen and dislodge the blockage and repair other damage that could have caused the problem in the first place.
If you’re dealing with a clogged vent, call in the professionals at Roto-Rooter to help you get things flowing the right way again. We'll show you all of the ways to protect, improve and maintain your plumbing vents.