City Sewer Backup? Keep It Outside Your House & Prevent Damage

Sewer Service
June 2, 2014

by David Balkan

sewer backflow preventer

When a city sewer backup occurs the results can be devastating if you are a property owner. Besides actual property damage, there are serious health concerns as well. For instance, in the case of a food establishment such as a restaurant, the consequences are far-reaching. Not only can valuable stock and equipment get ruined, but experts must be called in to clean the entire environment.

A recurring city sewer backup can render a valuable portion of one’s house unusable, thereby lowering the value of the house. In terms of a business it can mean having to vacate the property and relocate. Mold and bacterial issues can have far reaching and long term affects your property.With the current pattern of extreme weather cycles, a city sewer backup occurs with ever more frequency. Thankfully, there are usually cost effective remedies to solve this problem.

Using gravity to solve city sewer backup issues in your home

One often overlooked solution is to raise the house drain located inside the building to a higher elevation. This is a most ideal solution when the house drain is located inside an unfinished basement. There is a potential drawback because once raised, a house drain will be exposed to view. In some cases a portion of the outside main house sewer may have to be raised as well.

city sewer backup
Backwater level of clogged City sewer

House drains are most typically located under a finished basement floor. If a city sewer backup raises the water level in a basement to say 1′ above the floor, the solution may to raise the house drain to 2′ above the finished basement floor.Raising a house drain above the backwater level from a typical city sewer backup eliminates the need for mechanical devices such as a pump, sewer valve, or specialty fittings.

By raising the house drain above the sewer backwater level, even when at an elevated level, backwater will remain below the level of the new drain. This will prevent any waste water from exiting the house drain and into a basement or other sensitive area. Once raised, this type of  a drain is known as a hung house sewer in the plumbing trade.

house drain
Example of raising a house drain

When the house drain in above the basement floor a ejector pump will typically be required to allow any basement fixtures to drain properly. Besides the pipe being exposed, this is the other major drawback of a house drain being above the floor.

In most cases it is still a good idea to install a sewer backwater device in front of the house sewer trap. Sewer backwater devices come in a variety of styles and are meant for different applications. Only trust a Licensed Master Plumber to correctly analyze what sewer back-flow device is appropriate for your situation.

When raising a house drain is not the best solution

In a finished basement having a house drain above the floor will require the installation of an ejector pump to allow all the plumbing fixtures in the basement to drain. A mechanical device such as a pump is never ideal. However if a basement contains one sink and a toilet that is lightly used an ejector pump can be quite feasible.

There are other issues to consider as well, such as the noise and reliability of a pump. Having to cover exposed unsightly drain pipes is also an expense worthy of consideration.

In addition if there are area way drains, floor drains, or underground rain line drains, raising the plumbing will not allow them to function. If rain water drain lines are accidentally cut off a flooding problem can be exasperated instead of cured. This is another reason why only an experienced and licensed plumber should be trusted for such work.

Other ways to prevent damage from a city sewer backup

Prevent sewer water
Knife edge stop backwater 100%

Homemade remedies such as installing sump pumps or placing concrete blocks over the sewer trap plugs are a futile exercise. The volume and force of a city sewer backup requires a professional. The typical electric sump pump is not match for flood water. Nor will adding weight on top of trap plugs make up for ill-fitting plugs or a worn out and leaking house trap.

If a house trap is not water-tight it must be replaced. If a sewer backwater device is installed a new trap is usually part of the installation. When raising the house drain is not feasible, there are three devices typically utilized to prevent a city sewer backup from causing damage. What follows is a brief description of each:

  • Sewer check valve

A sewer check valve works automatically. A flapper inside the body of the unit closes when backwater is present. While is stops the vast majority of backwater, it is far from 100% water-tight. It is ideal when a city sewer backup occurs after a flash storm. It is not ideal when a city sewer remains backed up for a prolonged period of time.

A check valve requires to be cleaned every six months or so. This only takes a few minutes and does not have to be done by a professional.

  • Sewer flood gate valve

A sewer flood gate valve is the most sophisticated and fool proof device on the market. Like most sewer valves, it is fully automatic. Flood gate valves stop backwater 100%, and work on air pressure not electricity. An automatic flood gate valve is likewise the most expensive of the three devices listed to install. It also requires the most knowledgeable installation crew to work as designed and be long-lasting.

  • Knife edged sewer gate valve

While a knife edged sewer gate valve stops backwater 100%, it is manually operated. Therefore in most instances a manual knife edged valve is not the preferred product. In addition many of these valves are not full port opening. Meaning the opening is smaller than the inside of the drain pipe itself. This can lead to an accumulation of sediment and debris inside the drain system.

All of the above devices requires routine maintenance, such as exercising the gate inside the valve or cleaning. Each individuals property and the use of the property dictates which is the best solution to prevent backwater and the associated damage from it. [Read more about preventing sewer back-water]

prevent sewer water damage
Inside a sewer check valve

A closing statement about solving city sewer backup issues

On the bright side NYC is building more dedicated storm sewers. This lessens the load on the public sewer system. In addition green technologies and detention tank systems for new development are also meant to lighten the load from flash floods and the like.

However for the property owner still suffering with issue of sewer backwater the dilemma remains. It cannot be stressed strongly enough not to act and hire in haste. Plumbing problems such as this are complicated and require care and thought to address permanently. As stated previously one should trust a Licensed Master Plumber, and one who specializes in house sewer and house drain issues.

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sewer pit
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David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

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