Cooking Up Trouble: How to Avoid a Holiday Plumbing Disaster

It’s that time of year again! Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it’s a time of personal reflection on the past year and what we are thankful for – a time that is best spent with loved ones.

Not every family gathering is a picture print by Currier and Ives—some can be incredibly stressful! Uncle Hank has had too much to drink and this is the third photo album Aunt Erma has shown you of her cats in the last half hour. The holiday season may bring a special variety of stress to you, but Thanksgiving can be especially stressful for your household drains.

Mountains of turkey and mashed potatoes laden with butter means a lot of grease going down the pipes and into the sewers. For some cooks, the simplest way to get rid of fat from turkeys, bacon and roasts is down the kitchen drain; from there it congeals, clogging the pipe and trapping food scraps until the only solution is to call the plumber. Others may overload their garbage disposals with potato peelings, pumpkin pulp and other food waste while failing to use enough water to flush them down the pipes. Add the grease that we mentioned earlier and it is the perfect storm in your plumbing.

Cousin Anna (a young mother) sends disposable wipes down the toilet, and now her husband sends a handful of hair down the drain after a last-minute-pre-dinner shave (because his mother-in-law thought his Movember beard was unseemly). At some point, your grandmother’s 80 pound chocolate labrador, Bubba, gets into the cotton balls and half of those get flushed down the toilet. Does any of this sound familiar, or is this just me? Over the Holidays, your house has a sort of heart attack, and all of the extra activity is enough to push it over the edge.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2004 that grease is the No. 1 cause of blocked sewers, at 47 percent of stoppages. In New York, the nation's biggest city, grease causes 62 percent of blockages, according to a 2013 report by the city's environmental department.

Blockages cause sewers to overflow. The EPA report said that there were between 23,000 and 75,000 U.S. sanitary sewer overflows a year, discharging up to 10 billion gallons (38 billion liters) of raw sewage.

To avoid home drain problems, follow these tips for a [plumbing] disaster-free Thanksgiving:

- Clean up oil and grease with paper towels and discard them. Or pour off the grease into a container, let it congeal, and discard the container in the trash—empty Cool Whip containers are perfect for this (if your Grandmother doesn’t insist on keeping them for spare storage)

- Avoid putting stringy or fibrous waste down the disposal. If your sister botched her first pumpkin pie—sneak it into the trash can instead of the disposal. (Or, if there is no nutmeg, slide it under the table for Bubba).

- Do not wait until the disposal is full to turn it on. Use plenty of water, and let it run for 20 or 30 seconds until it is clear. (If you’ve lost track of how many cat photo albums you’ve seen, this can provide an easy break).

- If there are a lot of house guests, wait 10 minutes or so between showers so slow drains can clear. Your brother steamed up the entire bathroom, anyway, so you may as well let it air out.

- Do not flush wipes, cotton swabs or paper towels down the toilet.

- Take care of plumbing problems before the holidays.

If you have a slow drain, don’t wait until after it is too late and you have to call the plumber. We will always be there when you need us, but it will cut into your Thanksgiving festivities, and who really wants that? Even if your family is full of crazy characters, they are your crazy characters.

Feldkamp Enterprises, Inc. is very thankful for its customers. There is a reason that we call you our “Feldkamp Family”. We value your friendship and your business, and we wish you the very best this holiday season.