Protect Your House from Sewer Backups
Sewage backups are amongst the worst things that can happen to a homeowner. They occur when damage or an obstruction prevents wastewater from draining away from your house. Backups usually happen in the main sewer line that connects your home to the municipal sanitary sewers, but it could also happen elsewhere. The obstruction causes wastewater to continue to fill your sewer lines and drain pipes, eventually causing a sewer backup in your house.
Causes of sewer backups
- Aging sewer systems ‒ The increasing number of homes connected to aging sewage systems has led to rapid increases in sanitary sewer backups, flooded basements, and overflows.
- Combined pipelines ‒ Systems that combine stormwater and raw sewage into the same pipeline create problems. During heavy rainstorms, the systems are exposed to more volume than they can handle, which can cause backed-up sewage to spew out into basements and other low lying drains.
- Tree roots ‒ Small roots of trees and shrubs seeking moisture make their way in to sewer line cracks and service pipe joints, causing extensive damage or blockages as they grow larger. The cost of the clean-up will fall to the owner of the problem tree. When the issue is a combination of city and private trees, the cost may be split between the city and the property owner.
- Sanitary main blockages ‒ Sometimes a blockage can occur in a city sanitary main. If the blockage isn’t detected in time, sewage can back up into homes and businesses through floor drains. There are usually early indications of a problem. If you see seepage at the floor drains, call a licensed plumber to evaluate the situation and damage. Leaks are normally slow, but if water is entering your basement at a rapid rate, call the city and report the problem immediately.
How you can help prevent backups
- Properly dispose of grease. Cooking oil should never be poured down the drain, but into a heat-resistant container and disposed of properly after it cools off. Washing grease down the drain with hot water is not a good idea. As the grease cools, it will solidify in the drain, the property owner’s line, or in the main sewer eventually causing a clog.
- Properly dispose of paper products. Paper towels, diapers, hygienic wipes, and feminine products don’t break down quickly and can cause a lot of trouble in the property owner’s lateral as well as in the city main.
- Periodically cut tree roots. If you have problems with tree roots in your lateral, you may have to regularly have the roots cut by a professional.
- Replace your line with new plastic pipe. Plastic pipe will prevent tree roots from entering your line.
- Correct illegal plumbing connections. It is illegal to connect French drains, sump pumps, and other flood control systems to your sanitary sewer. It will cause debris and silt to clog your line. With any pre-existing illegal connections, call a plumber to correct.
- Install a backwater prevention valve, which is a fixture installed into a sewer line (and sometimes into a drain line) in the basement of your home or business to prevent sewer backflows. A properly installed and maintained backwater valve allows sewage to go out, but not to come back in.
What to do if you experience a sewer backup
A sewer backup can lead to disease, home damage, and can even result in electrical problems. Quick cleanup can help prevent mold or further damage. If you experience a sewer backup situation, arrange for immediate cleanup. This should include:
- Wet-vacuuming or removal of spillage
- Mopping floors and wiping walls with soap and disinfectant
- Flushing out and disinfecting plumbing fixtures
- Steam cleaning or removing wet carpets or drapes
- Repairing or removing damaged wallboard or wall covering
- Cleanup of ductwork
To facilitate a sewer backup claim, take “before” photos of your basement (or any area likely to be affected) and create a home inventory. If you have an incident, be sure to take “after” photos of the affected areas and itemize any property losses. Save all receipts related to repair, cleaning or damages and contact your insurance professional as soon as possible.