Sewer Clog Alert System


[miketysklar] noticed that a local business was having trouble with their sewage lines. People kept flushing tampons down toilets and it ended up clogging the pump. They had already installed a set of lights and horns to go off when it clogged, but they were hoping for SMS capability so they would know wherever they were. The new system piggybacks off the flashing lights by powering an XBee when they are activated. The signal it sends is recieved by another XBee attached to a computer running a python script. The script then sends a SMS via email to the poor fellow who has to fix it.

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34 thoughts on “Sewer Clog Alert System

  1. That’s both cool and awful at the same time. Could have used something similar to this at my wife’s old office building. The sewer line wasn’t tilted enough so by the time anything made it to the main “stuff” would just stop about a foot away. Then it’d freeze. Rinse and repeat a few times and it would start to overflow.

  2. This is great. It would be nice if you combined this with a webcam OUTSIDE the bathroom. This way it’s not illegal and you can see who goes in there, see when it got clogged and go have a “talk” with that person. Maybe you could have one in each stall so you know exactly which one went off and who did what.

  3. Yeah… A more cost-effective setup would’ve been made entirely of cardboard, or even just regular paper.

    A sign above each and every toilet allocated to females, saying: “Do NOT put tampons in the toilet.”

  4. @onaka
    They never work, you always get three or four women thinking “one won’t hurt” every day. Same as any other “Don’t ever do X” situation, it will be assumed that one more won’t hurt anybody, so long as nobody finds out.

  5. @Cynic –
    Definately true. At my first job, I worked at a fast food restaurant. At the end of the night, I was one of the people who had to clean the restrooms. You wouldn’t believe how many times we had to take a plunger to the toilets in the ladies room, yet never a single problem in the mens.

  6. And the Xbee can be easily replaced with $6.95 of cat5 wire making the whole project non special. Most places that have real automation have integration with all alarms in the building.

    Honestly, using the zigbee stuff for the sake of it is silly, run a wire or give a real use for zigbee comms with a moving object.

  7. Upgrade to the paper sign: One tampon WILL clog the toilet, and alert our staff, who will want a word with you. You can either pay for sewage cleanup or do it yourself.

    Then make sure you can follow up on your thread with the webcam solution in combination with the alert. One example should be all you need.

  8. @hackius: I actually wrote a daemon in python that interfaces with a GPRS modem through telnet to deliver SMS messages. If you’re at all curious, source is on google code here: (fyi: not a programmer by trade, was actually my first attempt at coding python)

    If I were to do it again, I’d ditch the all-in-one approach I took and have a daemon watching a spool directory that would have outgoing sms messages queued to it by whatever sort of interface you need (ie httpd). Works well as is though and has happily delivered over 4000 messages since I put it in production

  9. @nick…

    Good catch!

    I was involved with a project where the grinder pump can supposedly take a pair of shorts being flushed. With that said… is seems that certain “flush-ables” still can cause problem if they build up.


  10. @adam even better then a grinder is a bar screen before the grinder….it requires allot of cleaning but it stops the evil things like flushable wipes and other fibrous things from cloging the cutter.

  11. how does it know its clogged? at my plant we have to take amp readings off the grinders, the only alarms are low and high water levels, waiting for those can lead to a burnt pump and a big bill.

  12. But really, where are women supposed to throw the tampons? They won’t carry their “handiwork” to the bin for others to see. So a garbage bin in a stall might work.

  13. The ONLY way to keep women from flushing tampons down the toilet is to provide an easy, clean discreet disposal system! Signs are totally ineffective because in most restrooms there is no hygienic alternative. Disposal receptacles mounted to the stall are disgusting–a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and possible blood borne pathogens!

    Check out new single-use feminine care disposal bags dispensed from refillable units. The bags are biodegradable plastic, tie handled closure, pink on pink, scented and embedded with an antimicrobial additive. Products are thrown in the trash-not down the toilet.

    Perfect solution to plumbing problems being used in facilities (and homes) across the USA!

  14. Yeah it’s so much more discreet if a maintenance guy has to pull the tampon out of the drainage together with anything people did on top.
    It’s simple physics, the thing is designed to absorb, put in in a drainage pipe and it’ll swell up and block it, that’s NOT discreet.

  15. Tampons are a notorious problem for wastewater transport and treatment systems. They bind together to form large plugs which clog pumps, valves and other treatment equipment. Grinder pumps help, but the little buggers reform and cause more problems unless removed from the system.

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