Among the myriad responsibilities of home ownership, some involve run-of-the-mill maintenance like vacuuming and mowing the lawn and changing the furnace filters. Sometimes, however, bigger problems arise and that’s when patience, determination, and some DIY mojo come in handy. One of these times is when you have a backed up sewer, something none of us want to experience.
A back-up sewer can easily result in serious damage to your home’s walls, floors, electrical systems, and furniture, just to name a few. Let’s take a look at traditional responsibilities in maintaining a sewer system and preventative steps to avoid a homegrown disaster.
A homeowner’s sewer maintenance responsibility
Many homeowners don’t know that they are responsible for upkeep and any repairs of not only their home’s sewer system but that of the lateral—the pipe running between the main city sewer line and the house. The lateral (and its repairs) falls under the ownership of the homeowner, including all parts of the lateral that reach into the street. If the lateral at your property develops a crack or roots from your big maple tree perforate the pipe; repairs are up to you.
But tree roots are not the only culprit inspiring sewer calamities. Interestingly, the number of backed up sewers in the U.S. is rapidly increasing. Here are some of the most common causes:
Old sewer systems
Did you know that America is laced with more than a half-million miles of sewer lines? That’s a lot and the average age of all that piping is over 30. In the frenetic pace of growth and headlong sprawl in our cities and suburbs, increasing numbers of homes are being connected to aging sewer systems which leads to backups, overflows, and flooded basements.
As mentioned above, encroaching tree roots searching for water will find the tiniest crack in sewer pipes and joints, prying them apart as the roots grow. Little cracks become big ones and then come severe water damage and blockages.
Sometimes blockages happen at a city’s main sanitary line and if not recognized soon enough, backed up sewage can gradually work its way up through the floors of nearby homes and businesses. Look for seepage at floor drains or water flowing into your basement.
Strategies to address a sewer backup
A backed up sewer is a bad thing; it can lead to tremendous structural damage, electrical failures, and disease. The best strategy is prompt attention to cleanup to mitigate further damage and mess:
- Remove and wet-vac the liquid mess
- Flush and disinfect all plumbing fixtures
- Mop the floors and clean walls with a strong disinfectant
- Remove and repair damaged drywall to prevent mold
Preventing sewer backups
Included in your homeowner duties are steps to take to help prevent backups in your home’s sewer lateral as well as the city’s main. Here are some of the most common and effective defenses:
- Proper disposal of paper products
Nearly all of the paper towels, diapers, feminine products, hand wipes, and other related products we use today take decades to deteriorate and are very adept at creating all manner of disarray in sewer lines. Don’t flush these products down the toilet.
- Proper disposal of grease
Cleaning that frying pan by washing the grease down the drain is a bad idea. As the grease cools it solidifies right there in the sink’s drain, sewer line, or city lines and eventually become a damaging clog.
- Replace old lines
If your sewer lines are old and brittle, replacing with plastic pipe will keep tree roots at bay and rigid plastic lines almost never crack.
- Cut the roots
If tree roots continue to present a challenge by infiltrating your sewer lateral, consider cutting the roots yourself or call in a pro.
- Install backwater prevention valves
A backwater prevention valve is a highly effective fixture that is installed into a sewer line in a home’s basement. The valve lets unwanted seepage to exit but not return and clog up the works. Enlist the help of a professional plumber to ensure this complex procedure is done right.
- Illegal plumbing connections are trouble
Never install sump pumps, French drains, and similar flow management fixtures to your sewer system. Not only is it illegal, silt and assorted debris will quickly cause a blockage.