Watch out for drain
strain this winter
When winter does its worst, it’s time to issue a blockage warning. But as Richard Leigh, development
director at Lanes Group, explains drain maintenance is now an all-year-round priority
The beast is coming back. The Beast
from the East, that is. The latest
long-range weather forecast
predicts a tough winter from January
2020 onwards, with temperatures
plunging to Siberian levels.
For cleaning contractors and facilities
managers, if it happens, this presents
some big challenges. For drain
maintenance and cleaning, the
challenges can be particularly acute.
Extreme weather is not good for
drains and sewers. The problems that
occur in autumn and winter can begin in
the summer. Hotter, drier summers,
predicted by experts, can cause the soil
to shrink, leading to underground pipes
being displaced and cracked. This can
allow debris to snag on rough edges.
Meanwhile, lower water flows through
drains can result in debris building up.
When the heavy rains return, the
debris can form blockages. This
contributes to localised flooding,
blocking roads, covering car parks, and
swamping facilities like logistics park
aprons and retail parks.
Increased volatility of weather is
adding another dimension. Flooding can
now occur in the summer, as it did
across northern England in August 2019.
FOG – the festive menace
Drains are also, by their nature, hidden
assets. Many have been developed and
added to ad-hoc over decades, if not
centuries. Plans are often incomplete,
inaccurate or non-existent.
Even experienced drainage engineers
have difficulty diagnosing some drain
problems, while property managers can
under-estimate risks. For example, in
August, we were called out to a high-tech
manufacturing site in Lancashire.
Standing water was threatening to get
into a building. The FM team had called
us just in time. The flood had been
caused by a flap valve, not on the site
drainage map, that had become
Commercial premises face the same
drainage threats as domestic ones, if not
more so. Fats, oils and grease (FOG) are
a prime cause of blockages. FOG
combines with wipes and other items
wrongly flushed down toilets to create
major blockages, sometimes fatbergs.
From October onwards, as festive
nights out get underway, FOG can be
an even bigger menace. Ignorance of
the way drains work can exacerbate
In Manchester, we attended a flood
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at a fast-food restaurant. Cooking
grease had blocked the drain. Three
feet of filthy water rapidly filled the
The restaurant team had not realised
foul and surface water drains for several
businesses and residential properties
funnelled into one shared outfall. It was
a lesson learned the hard way.
You would think, then, that being
proactive is a good thing. But taking
matters into your own hands can
backfire. DIY drain rods lost down
drains is a perennial problem. Trying to
clear drains with various concoctions of
chemicals (we’ve found people putting
petrol down drains) can cause a
hazchem risk and is not likely to clear a
stubborn blockage. Regular blockages
and sewer flooding are often a sign of
failing drain management not poor
For example, leaf fall and silt debris
left in surface water gully pots, along
with winter grit washed down drains,
can contribute to localised flooding.
Many food outlets do not have grease
traps. In fact, most businesses do not
have effective planned and preventative
drainage maintenance (PPM) strategies
for their drains.
Trying to clear
and is not
likely to clear