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I just recently moved into my first house this morning and when I went outside I noticed this:

wider view close up

What happened? What should I do? I have no idea what that pipe even is. I don't believe there is a septic tank on my property because we use city utilities?

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3 Answers 3

My guess, and it's only a guess, is that that pipe is where the downspout used to attach to the sewer system. Until very recently, downspouts used to connect directly to the sewage system. Many municipalities have passed laws mandating the removal of these connections because the treatment plant would often overflow during a storm, leading to the dumping of untreated sewage into natural waterways.

So what's happened, is there is a block downstream of the connection between this storm sewer and the household sewer. Typically, if the blockage occurs on the road side of the water supply cut off -- enter image description here

-- then the city is responsible. If it's inside, then the homeowner is responsible.
In my city, they'll run a camera down the pipe, and charge you $300 for the scoping if the blockage is on your side. I'm betting in the short term, you'd be better of to get a city licensed plumbing and drainage contractor to snake it out and absorb the cost. Not a DIY job, because the city will make you pay for anything that goes wrong.

The next issue is how to stop it from happening again. You'll probably have to dig down to the connection, remove the downspout and cap it off. Again, since you're playing with municipal systems, this is not a DIY job.

You might get lucky with calling the city, but then again, they might inspect certain systems and order you to fix them right away, at a cost you likely can't afford if you just bought the house.

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Capping the line might not be the best idea. If the sewer backs up again, the sewage could be released inside the house instead. Clean up the mess, snake the line, and be glad it happened outside and not in your bathroom. –  Tester101 Jul 30 '12 at 15:26
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Agreed with @Tester101, don't cap it - you are REALLY lucky this happened outside and not inside. Your sewer is blocked. It might also be a clean-out instead of a downspout –  Steven Jul 30 '12 at 15:51
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There should not be a pressure release point. The sewer should be fixed. And there certainly shouldn't be a vent spilling over right next to the house. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 30 '12 at 18:06
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I don't think that this pipe is a vent or an old downspout connection. The pipe is most likely a cleanout installed on the building sewer as it leaves the building, which depending on your local code will most likely be a requirement. Usually you would have a proper cleanout fitting installed but here there have used a non-glued cap. Have the line scoped and cleaned/repaired but do not disable the use of this pipe to act as the cleanout. –  pdd Jul 30 '12 at 18:55
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There are other English speaking places in the world that do not fall under any US State laws. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK are the largest, but there are others. Until OP declares his residency, don't assume he's American. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 31 '12 at 13:29

Whatever it is, it did it's job. Looks like the cap blew off (the white thing to the right) and the backed up sewage came out of the pipe instead of in your house! I am guessing they didn't use a screw on cap or glued on, for this reason. Maybe the sewer backing up happened often and the homeowner had this put in? Call a plumber to look into it more and fix the backup.

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It could also be a cleanout for the sewer line from the house to the city main. The cleanout is used for easy access tho the main sewer line to clear blockages with a drain cleaning cable (snake).

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