Drains aren’t something most of us like to think about – but having a blocked one is more than just an inconvenience. Unclogging a drain will cost you upwards of £100 with major damage setting you back around £850.

Some of these problems can be avoided by getting to know your drains and recognising the common signs of a problem. Most blockages are caused by material stuck in the pipe. This is normally due to a build-up of fats, food debris, soap suds and fibres from washing machines. If you live in a hard water area like London, limescale congeals with these materials to prevent the flow of water.

Early signs to look out for include water which is slow to drain and bad smells rising from your sink. If you hear a gurgling sound as water drains away, this could mean air is passing through your pipework – the sign of damage somewhere in the system.

Ways to avoid issues include having a water softener fitted to prevent mineral deposits in your pipes. Fitting a plug strainer will catch food particles, preventing them from reaching your drain – look out for the mesh type which stop most bits from getting through. Fit one in your shower too – hair washing can be another culprit. You should also avoid flushing wipes or sanitary products down the loo.

Regularly adding a spoonful of baking soda, followed by hot (not boiling) water to your drains can help dissolve fat deposits – a cup of vinegar works well too.

If the worst happens, a plunger will help you dislodge material from a blocked sink. Place the head of the plunger directly over the sink, creating an air-tight seal. Apply pressure, pushing and pulling for 30 seconds until the blockage clears.

It’s also worth investing in a drain auger – a flexible tool for getting into your pipework to clear the blockage. For stubborn issues, always contact a plumber.

If your drains problem is caused by collapsed pipework, things are more serious and you will definitely need to call in the professionals as soon as possible. Whether it’s caused by tree roots or age, a collapsed pipe can have serious implications as wastewater will be unable to escape your property.

Always keep an eye out for any areas of your garden which are permanently saturated, particularly if they are close to trees.

Read more tips on drains in this article in Property Reporter.