WHY IS MY BASEMENT DRAIN BACKING UP?
According to U.S. government statistics, there are more than 400,000 sanitary sewer overflows per year. If you have a basement, you are particularly susceptible to a backup because the sewer pipes will most likely be at the same level as (or below) the basement. Any blockage in the system will prevent water from flowing down the pipes, and you’ll experience a backup.
This guide will explain what causes a backup, what you can do if you notice one, and how you can take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s not a pleasant situation, but it is an avoidable (or at least manageable) one.
KEY INFORMATION ABOUT A BACKED UP DRAIN
If you have a backed-up drain, then acting quickly is critical. Part of this is diagnosing and understanding exactly what has gone wrong. Central to this is knowing how drains work. The more information you have, the more prepared you will be to address the issue at hand. Generally, therefore, there are certain key facts that you need to bear in mind when it comes to a backed-up drain.
The first key point to note is...
that a basement floor drain that backs up is normally a sign that there are larger issues at play within your plumbing system. While this can be true of any drain that backs up in your home, a basement floor drain is a particularly good sign that there is a bigger problem elsewhere. Basement floor drains are designed to quickly and efficiently remove water from your basement; if they are not functioning properly, it means you have a large blockage elsewhere in the system.
The second key point is...
that if you notice water in your basement – or anywhere in your home – and you suspect a backed-up drain, the first place you should look is the basement floor drain. This is by far the most common source of water when it comes to flooding. After all, if this drain is not blocked, then it will usually siphon off excess water from another blocked drain. It’s when this is backed up too that you have real problems.
In some older buildings or buildings where the lowest level is at the same level as the sewer lines, any overflowing wastewater may exit through the lower drains and toilets. This can also be true if you have a toilet in your basement. Generally, therefore, the basement (or the lowest level of your home) is the first place you need to check.
CAUSES OF A BACKED UP DRAIN
If you have run an initial diagnostic, then you will have identified the source of the water from the backed-up drain. However, knowing what has caused a backed-up drain is not always as straightforward. There is an extremely wide range of potential causes – hence why it’s usually best to call in a professional plumber to diagnose and address the problem. However, there are some common causes of backed-up drains.
The majority of backed-up drains are caused by one of the following three issues:
Tree roots in your yard may seem innocuous and static, but they are neither. Tree roots are constantly growing, seeking out nutrients. They can cover a surprising distance under the ground. When they come into contact with a pipe, they can eventually break through and cause a blockage – or crack the pipe and cause a leak. Either way, it’s bad news for the plumbing, and can lead to a backed-up drain.
Older pipes tend to be made of material other than plastic (which only seldom degrades over time). Pipes made of copper or other materials can crack and warp over time. This leads to materials in the pipes eventually becoming blocked and therefore leading to backups, as water cannot drain down the pipes as quickly as it should. If you have extended your home or added bathrooms or showers, then your plumbing may need updating to deal with the added volume.
If there is a problem with an appliance, it may cause the rest of the drain to back up. This is most commonly caused by appliances that use a lot of water, such as washing machines and dishwashers. The good news is that this is the easiest of all of the causes to fix (as well as usually being the cheapest).
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DRAIN IS BACKING UP
As mentioned above, if your drain is backing up, it is crucial you act quickly. Not only will you need to address the rising water, but you’ll need to take steps to protect your property and to prevent further damage.
Below is a checklist of steps to take if you notice that there is a backup in your drain:
Get everyone safe
Although a backed-up drain may not seem like a dangerous situation, if you have small children, any standing water at all can be dangerous. Similarly, if you have electrical appliances that are in the water, it can become a hazardous situation very quickly.
Protect your property
You should remove all property from the water, as well as anything valuable that is within the water’s path.
Stop the drains
Use a stopper or a plug to close the drains and prevent further water leaking in. You should aim to do this all the drains on the lowest level of your home – even ones that are not yet leaking.
Add a small amount of chlorine or bleach to any standing water to help to sanitize it. This will kill any harmful bacteria – be aware, though, it may take the color out of any carpet. This is, however, preferable, to contaminating your carpet with biohazards.
Stop using your drains
Before the problem is addressed, don’t use your sinks, baths, showers, or toilets. You want to avoid adding any more water to the drains.
Speak with your neighbors
Check to see whether your neighbors are experiencing the same problems. If they are, the fault most likely lies with the city plumbing. If not, the problem is with your private plumbing. If the latter, you’ll need to call a plumber yourself. If the former, you will need to call the city.
Call your insurance company
Regardless of who is at fault, you’ll need to notify your insurance company. They will be able to let you know what is covered (if anything). Typically, backed-up drains aren’t covered under a typical home insurance policy. However, they will be able to advise what is covered.
HOW TO PREVENT BASEMENT
DRAINS FROM BACKING UP
What’s better than responding to a crisis is preventing one from occurring in the first place. That is absolutely true when it comes to drains. As the above section showed, it is far from a pleasant situation if and when a basement drain begins to back up. Instead, you should take active steps to keep your drain from backing up.
The following are the key steps to take:
Old pipes are far more susceptible to blockages; so keeping your plumbing working well is the number one tip to prevent a backup. If your pipes are more than 20 years old, you should consider replacing them. It is expensive but less so than dealing with a backup (after which you’d need to replace the pipes anyway).
Avoid dumping grease
Grease from cooking is liquid at high temperatures but solidifies at room temperature. Pouring it down the sink guarantees that you’ll eventually experience a backup. Instead, pour it into an old, empty can and then dispose of it with your household waste.
Add a backflow prevention valve
These simple devices are designed to ensure that water cannot pass back up the pipes into your home. Although these deal with moderate flow, they may become overwhelmed in the face of a major flood.
Change your insurance
As mentioned earlier, a backed-up drain is not usually included in a standard homeowner’s policy. Instead, you’ll need to add it as a special provision (which will cost extra). This is worth doing if you think you are susceptible to a backup.
Move your valuables
If you think that you may have a backup, you should remove valuable items from where they will be damaged. Since backups will most likely happen on the lowest floor of your home, aim to have valuable items at least one story up.
During a basement backup, water can rise more than 12 inches. For many of us with basements, this means that water is more than capable of reaching into our homes. This doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely experience one. It’s more than possible to reduce your risk of a backup. Even if you can’t eliminate the risk, you can minimize the damage it will cause by being prepared.