SEWAGE BACKUP IN BASEMENT - WHAT TO DO
A sewer backup is an extremely unpleasant situation to find yourself in. Unfortunately, according to the Civil Engineering Research Foundation, the number of backed-up sewers is increasing by about 3% per year. As sewer networks age, and the volume of sewage they have to deal with increases, it becomes ever more likely that a homeowner will experience a backup at some point.
Dealing with a sewer backup is an unpleasant situation, but one you should be prepared to face, as the chances are it will happen to you at some point. This guide will walk you through the key steps to take when it comes to a sewage backup in your basement. When the worst does happen, time is of the essence, so knowing what to do and who to call can save you valuable minutes; this helps to minimize any damage – saving your property, your money, and your sanity.
What is "Sewer Backup"?
As the name may suggest, a sewer backup is when water (and other material) can no longer pass through your sewer, and sewage starts to ‘back up’ into your home. It’s usually caused when there is a blockage at some point in the sewer system; these are most commonly caused by blockages in your own private property rather than in the municipal drains. The potential causes are explained in the section below.
Regardless of the cause, once the blockage begins, it often gets compounded by solid waste and, eventually, prevents any material from being able to pass through the pipe system.
What you’ll most likely experience is water and other sewage beginning to seep out of your toilet, or up through the plug holes in the sink or bath. In whatever way you notice it, it is an extremely unpleasant experience and is something you’ll need to address as soon as possible.
In some cases, there may be a backup in the city’s sewer system. Due to the size and capacity of these pipes, that is a rarer occasion, although it may happen during times of heavy rainfall or flooding. If this happens, multiple homes may experience a sewer backup.
One of the biggest problems that comes from sewage backups is the damage to property. Because sewage is a biohazard, most objects that it comes into contact with will either require extensive cleaning by a professional or removal. Both of these are expensive processes (particularly given that damaged items will need to be replaced).
Compounding this bad news is the fact that insurance companies very rarely pay out for sewer backups. Under most homeowner and business insurance policies, sewer backup problems are not covered unless they have been specifically added as a clause.
If the blockage is caused by the city’s sewers, then you may be eligible for a payout from the city. However, the definition of what is classed as the city’s property is fairly narrow and doesn’t include any part of the sewer system that is on private property. This is known as the ‘sewer lateral’ and refers to any part of the sewer pipe before it joins the main city pipe.
This means that the homeowner may be responsible for part of the pipe that is under the road or other public property. Any problem here will mean that you are on the hook for costs – often without insurance to cover expenses.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A SEWER BACKUP?
As mentioned above, acting quickly is critical when it comes to a sewer backup. The quicker you act, the more likely you’ll be able to stop the problem from getting too bad. Every second counts. As such, noticing the signs are vital in helping you address the issue quickly.
Some of the signs of a sewer backup are as follows:
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF A SEWER BACKUP?
As with so many things that can go wrong in a home, prevention is better than cure. Staying on top of maintenance will lead to a home far less likely to experience problems – this is particularly true when it comes to sewer backups.
The most common causes are:
AGING SEWER SYSTEMS
As pipes and joints get older, they can corrode and break. Any sort of imperfection can lead to a build-up of solid material and, eventually, to a blockage.
Tree roots (or even large plant or bush roots) can be seriously problematic for sewer pipes. Not only do they crack the sewer pipes as they grow, but they will grow through the sewer pipes, therefore blocking sewage from traveling down through the pipes. On top of this, they can be extremely difficult to remove.
If your basement is flooded, the problem can be compounded by the sewers backing up. Because water flows from your basement into the sewers, it can lead to them effectively overflowing back into your home.
SUMP PUMP FAILURE
As with a flooded basement, a sump pump failure leads to water building up and not draining where it should.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS WITH A SEWER BACKUP?
It shouldn’t need to be stated that a sewer backup in your basement is a bad thing. However, aside from the presence of sewage in your basement, there is a number of other issues to consider:
Sewage is a biohazard because of the potentially harmful bacteria it contains. One of the most dangerous of these is E-coli, which can very quickly spread and, if ingested, cause major health problems.
Many of the diseases present in sewage are extremely easy to spread, such as from hand-to-mouth contact. Even a short period of time being exposed to the biohazard can lead to illness. Indeed, in some cases, it is possible to get sick simply by inhaling the vapors from raw sewage. One of the most notable examples of this is gastroenteritis, which can lead to fever, vomiting, and even death.
Damage to Property
As mentioned above, because of the biohazards in sewage, it can require you to throw away items that have been in contact with the sewage. Even if nothing is damaged, you may need your entire basement to be professionally sanitized.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT A SEWER BACKUP?
Once the sewage starts to back up in your basement, it is already too late. You’ll need to call a plumber, who will then be able to put you in touch with a professional restoration company (if needed). Instead, you should start thinking about how to prevent a sewer backup in the first place.
The following are the key steps to take to keep your sewers flowing:
Dispose of grease properly.
When grease is poured down a sink, it is in a liquid form; however, when it solidifies it clings to the side of sewer pipes, which can lead to a blockage. Instead, you should pour grease into an empty can and then dispose of it in the trash or recycling.
Dispose of paper properly.
Toilet paper is designed to break down when it comes into contact with water; other types of paper are not. Disposing of wet wipes or similar products down the toilet will very quickly lead to your sewer pipes becoming clogged.
Upgrade your pipes.
Old or antiquated sewer systems are prone to clogging. Spending the money on updating them will potentially save you thousands.
Install a backwater valve.
A backwater valve is a clever device that makes it impossible for water to flow the wrong way up a sewer. These are cheap and easy to install but make a huge difference.
In 2005 a major rainfall event hit southern Ontario, Canada. The resultant flooding was extensive and lasted for multiple days. The final total of the insurance claims was $500 million – making it Canada’s most expensive storm of all time. Roughly half ($247 million) of the claims were for damages caused by sewers backing up as a result of the flooding.