You expect that anything you send down the drain in your house will be taken out of sight and become the city’s problem. We take that for granted until we have a sewer backup. Then everything we’ve flushed down, and maybe even our neighbor’s sewage flows back into our homes. The resulting mess is quite the headache. But there are many ways you can prevent a sewer back up from ever happening. Here’s our complete guide on sewer backup prevention.
What is Sewage Backup?
Sewage backup is when your sewage pushes back into your home instead of continuing into the city’s sewer main. Stormwater and your neighbor’s sewage may also back up into your home.
At first, you’re likely to find the sewer backup in your fixtures, like your bathtub and toilet. A sewer backup can overflow your fixtures, especially if it is caused by flooding, excess stormwater, or a clog in the city’s sewer main.
A sewage backup can be a costly problem. It can be a challenge to fix, especially if you’re on a budget. Also, as sewage water brings so many health risks, it is a challenge to clean up after them. Anything that sewer water, or black water, touches needs to be sanitized. A serious sewer backup can do a lot of damage to your home, not just your valuables but also your drywall and carpeting.
The best thing to do is to prevent a sewage backup before it ever happens or to catch to when it’s only a minor problem.
Sewage Backflow Symptoms
Most sewage backflow problems start small, with slow drainage, an unusual smell, or other symptoms. What usually happens is that homeowners miss these signs, simply because they don’t know to look out for them. They may not notice the sewer problem until it is severe.
So, notice and address these sewage symptoms quickly in order to prevent damage:
- Drain backups: Water backing up in the shower, tub, or any fixture is a cause for concern.
- Water in lawn, basement: Water can also back up into your lawn, foundation, or basement.
- Trees or landscaping doing well: Even if the water isn’t visible, plants will find it. Unusual, especially unseasonal growth in trees may indicate they have broken into the sewer with their roots.
- Sewer smell: Sewer water can release hazardous gases, or create a big stink.
If you discover any of these symptoms you should quickly have your plumber check it with a camera sewer inspection.
How to Prevent Sewer Backups
The two keys to preventing a sewer backup are proper use and regular maintenance of your plumbing system. If used properly and kept in good order, your sewer system should continue to function, unless there is a problem with the city’s sewer or there is extreme weather (and we’ll address those problems next).
First, be sure that you don’t flush anything down the drain that could cause a clog and thus a sewer back-up.
Don’t flush the following down the toilet:
- Sanitary products
- “Flushable” wipes
- “Flushable” diapers
- Paper products
- Dental floss
The only paper or wipe product that can safely go down your toilet is toilet paper. It breaks into tiny bits relatively quickly after exposure to water, so it can’t create clogs. Even “flushable” wipes don’t break down fully or quickly enough.
Clogs from sanitary products are common. So, be sure that any young women in your home know how to properly dispose of sanitary products. If there are no women in your house, be sure you provide a garbage bin in the bathroom for female guests.
Next, you can also cause a sewer back-up by using the kitchen sink to dispose of grease or fibrous foods. The combination is especially troublesome, as grease will solidify around the fibers and make a stubborn clog. To avoid this, don’t pour the following down your garbage disposal or kitchen sink:
- Potatoes and starchy foods
- Bacon grease
- Cooking oils and fats
- Banana peels
- Coffee grounds
Even if you use your sewer system properly, sewer backups can still happen if your plumbing isn’t maintained properly. Regularly ask your plumber to perform the following maintenance tasks:
- Check the backflow valve annually
- Deal with trees roots by cutting them back, replacing the pipe, or by using chemical solutions to limit their growth
- Investigate the sewer system to look for small problems, such as cracks, developing clogs, or poor condition pipes
How to Resolve Sewer Backups
If you’ve previously had sewer backups you have a few options to prevent that same back-up from happening. Depending on what caused the sewer backup, you plumber may recommend you:
- Seal cracks in the basement to prevent floodwater intrusion
- Install and maintain the sump pump to remove the excess water from your foundation quickly
- Raise or remove plumbing fixtures that regularly get backup problems
- Raise the house drain itself if the problem is in multiple fixtures
- Install a new backflow valve or another valve in your sewer lateral or in fixture drains
- Remove problems trees or install stronger pipe
- Ensure all of the fixtures and appliances involved are installed correctly
A sewer check valve (also called a backflow valve) is just one option you have to stop floodwaters or city sewer backups from entering your home. A check valve is usually recommended as it works automatically and it is easy to install. However, there are other types of valves you can install in your sewer lateral.
- Automatic flood gate valve: This valve works well and automatically, but it is more challenging to install.
- Manual sewer gate valve: You must close a manual sewer gate valve yourself before a storm. As it’s easy to forget, it’s typically not recommended for homeowners.
- Air gap backflow preventer: These valves can be installed on individual fixtures that have backflow problems, but they don’t protect the whole house.
Whichever valve you choose, remember that it only protects you from outside forces that can cause a sewer backflow. If you develop a clog somewhere in your plumbing system before the valve, it won’t help.
Develop Your Sewer Backflow Prevention Plan
It’s wise to install a valve, get your sewers maintained, and develop your prevention plan before your sewer develops problems, or before a storm blows into town. Reach out to your plumber for personalized advice today.