How well have you been maintaining the waste stacks in your Chicago building? Waste stacks are part of your building’s drainage system. They are responsible for removing the wastewater from your sinks, bathtubs, and showers, but not your toilets. The drain pipes that are connected to your toilet are called soil stacks, and they contain human waste, which is considered a biohazard, due to the amount of bacteria and viruses that could be present. Another difference between waste stacks and soil stacks is that the internal diameter of the soil stack is often larger than that of a waste stack because it has to be able to remove solids from the system. Let’s take a look at why it’s critical that you perform regular maintenance and inspections on your Chicago building’s waste stacks and what could go wrong if you neglect your waste stacks.

What’s the purpose of a waste stack?

Waste stacks funnel dirty water from showers, bathtubs, and sinks. When you take a shower, the water becomes contaminated with soap, dirt, and dead skin cells. When you make food in your kitchen, the sink collects all the food particles and soap and they are sent down the drain. Water that contains soap, food scraps, and dirt is known as graywater. When waste stacks are properly installed alongside vent stacks, the water, soap, and filth drain easily down the pipe into your sewer line, where it is funneled into the city’s municipal treatment system.

What are some signs of waste stack problems?

While waste stacks tend to have long lifespans, they are not immune to plumbing problems, especially as your pipes get older. After all, most waste stacks and drain lines are designed to last for between 75 and 100 years. However, waste stacks can show signs of deterioration much sooner. This means that you need to make sure that your maintenance team and other staff members are on the lookout for possible signs of plumbing trouble.

  • Pipe Gurgling – If your pipes make noise as water drains into them, this could indicate a problem with the drain or the vent stack.
  • Slow Drain Flow – If your waste stacks are developing clogs, you may notice that some sinks and showers drain slower than normal.
  • Nasty Smells – Wastewater contains odors. If you notice a foul smell in your building near a drain opening, it could be due to a clog or a bad vent stack.
  • Wastewater Spilling Out From the Drains – If a drain stack develops a full clog or has an air blockage, it can lead to dirty water spilling out of the pipe. If you’re lucky, the overflow happens at a bathtub or deep sink where some of the nasty water may be contained, but it could also overflow at a floor drain, creating a hazardous mess.

What causes waste stack problems?

Waste stacks are part of your Chicago building’s plumbing system. In order for wastewater to drain effectively, the pipes must be clear of clogs, angled correctly, and have the appropriate vent stacks.


Like your toilet pipe and sewer line, your waste stack must be free of clogs. Waste stack pipes can be clogged with hair, soap scum, meat scraps, or forbidden objects. Therefore, it’s recommended to only put small food bits down your kitchen sink and use hair catchers in any bathtubs or showers in the building. If your building has residents or tenants, it’s always a good idea to supply them with information on how to properly use their drains and how to prevent clogs.

Cracks and Breaks

Waste stacks, like other types of plumbing pipes, can experience cracks and breaks. This can be caused by age, excessive wear and tear, and even accidents. For example, imagine a contractor working on a section of wall or floor that contains a waste stack. Inadvertently, he or she hits the pipe or drives a long nail through it. If this damage isn’t noticed right away, the pipe can start to leak, leading to water damage and terrible odors.

Properly Angled Pipes

Waste stack pipes can consist of vertical and horizontal runs. In order to function properly, the horizontal runs must be installed at a slight angle in order to help the water flow down the pipe via gravity. If the angles on the pipes aren’t correct, water and debris could get trapped along the bottom of the pipe. This can lead to partial and complete clogs.

Bad Vent Stacks

Vent stacks are another integral part of your plumbing system. When they’re connected to your waste stacks or any other type of drainage pipe, they help balance the pressure in the system. Properly installed and functioning vent stacks allow air to enter and exit the system as water flows down the drains. When the vent stacks aren’t working as intended, you may experience slow drains and notice the smell of sewage. If you’re confused about this concept, you might want to think about how a straw works. Have you ever put your finger over the top end of the straw in your drink and pulled it out? When you do that, you’ll notice that the straw does not release the liquid. This is because air cannot enter the straw to replace the liquid flowing out the other end, or in more simple terms, the straw has an air blockage. Once you release the end of the straw, the liquid escapes and air fills the tube. The same thing can happen with your waste stacks. When there’s no air to fill the waste stack, the used water can’t leave.

What are the potential problems with unmaintained waste stacks?

Unmaintained waste stacks can cause numerous issues in your building.

Slow Draining and No Draining

If you have a clog in one of your waste stacks, you may notice that sinks and showers don’t drain efficiently or at all. If this is happening at one drain or in one room, it’s quite likely that you have a clog in your waste stack. If every drain is slow, it’s probably the sewer line.

Drain Line Backups

If a waste stack experiences a complete clog, wastewater will flow to the point of the clog and stop. Once the pipe fills up with water, it will start to back up into other fixtures, like your shower or bathtub.

Nasty Odors

If you notice a terrible smell in your building, it could be due to sewer gas escaping into your building or organic material sitting in your drain lines.

Damage from Wastewater

Wastewater is typically full of organic matter that can quickly rot and attract pests. If this leaks out of the waste stack, you may notice water spots on ceilings and walls, and mold could develop. You may even notice an increase in bugs and rodents in your building.

How to Prevent Waste Stack Problems

Preventing waste stack problems is as easy as ensuring that you have regular plumbing maintenance performed.

Get Regular Inspections

The first step to preventing waste stack problems is to schedule regular plumbing pipe inspections for your Chicago building. Plumbing inspections can help uncover problems that don’t yet have any noticeable symptoms. This is because plumbers can send cameras down your plumbing pipes in order to determine if there’s any excessive wear and tear and/or clogs. If any issues are found, you can work with your plumber to create a repair or replacement plan.

Pay Attention to Your Waste Stacks

Remind your staff and residents to be on the lookout for potential waste stack problems. Have them alert you if they notice any slow drains, unusual smells, or water spots. This can help you get timely plumbing repair services before large, expensive catastrophes occur.

Consider Epoxy Pipelining

If you’re concerned about cracks, holes, and waste stack deterioration, you may want to consider having your waste stacks lined with epoxy. Epoxy pipeliners can help rehabilitate your plumbing pipes by sealing cracks and stopping current and future leaks.

Epoxy Pipelining with NuFlow, Serving Chicago

Epoxy pipelining is an effective way to rehabilitate your waste stacks and extend their useful lives. Waste stack pipe lining involves the use of a pipe liner and epoxy. The liner combined with the epoxy seals cracks and stops leaks while extending the useful lives of your existing pipes by as much as 50 years. It’s also an environmentally friendly solution that doesn’t contribute to landfill waste or excessive carbon emissions. Not to mention, the entire process is minimally disruptive, and it’s fast. We can often line a run of pipe and return it to service in just a day or two.

If you’re ready to stop current leaks and prevent future leaks in your waste stacks with epoxy pipelining, contact us!